Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Intriguing Romanian Wines Have Appeal for Curious Wine Lovers

The world of wine seems to get wider all the time, as new countries offer exciting indigenous grapes to a curious American market. I recently attended a media lunch at Avra Estiatoria hosted by Marinela Ardelean, ambassador to the Open the Romanian Wine program. This eastern European country offers Americans unique varieties, sophisticated winemaking, and new flavors to explore -- all while boasting a winemaking tradition that goes back 6000 years. Romania has seven wine regions with nearly 500 wineries that grow 165 grape varieties. At this media lunch, Marinela only selected wines made from native grapes for us to sample. 

The first was a sparkling wine, The Iconic Estate's Rhein Extra Magnifique Brut. This off-dry sparkler with notes of lime was made in the traditional method of having a second fermentation in the bottle, similar to Champagne. 

Next we were treated to a duo of roses. The Iconic Estate Hyperion Rose Feteasca Neagra had an inviting nose of savory herbs and on the palate there were strawberries and good acid. The second rose was noticably paler in color and more intensely aromantic - with aromas of lychee and white flowers. This was from Domeniile Averesti, the Spectrum Busuioaca de Bohotin -- legend says this wine was drunk by Stefan the Great. The wine had a perceptible sweetness balanced by lime and cranberry on the palate. 

Our first red was light-bodied and fresh, La Sapata Babeasca Neagra from Crama Delta Dunarii. The wine offered a mix of berry flavors and a dash of balsamic in a refreshing wine that can be served slightly chilled. 

We moved on to The Iconic Estate Hyperion Feteasca Neagra 2016, a medium-bodied red with good balance of red and black fruit, acid, and tannin. 

The Avincis - Olt de Vie Negru de Dragasani had a deep garnet color, a rich tannic structure, black and red fruit, and a long finish - definitely a wine that can age but which was also delicious at its current state. 

The group of American media and wine professionals agreed that the Romanian wines we tried were deliciously food-friendly with the ample spread of Greek dishes we tried at Avra. They were all very palatable -- but also offered unique flavor notes and aromas. These nuanced differences make Romanian wines a great find for curious wine consumers who are looking for new taste sensations to explore.       


Monday, December 6, 2021

Discovering Oltrepò Pavese Northern Italian Wines

In northern Italy lies a wine region in the southwest corner of Lombardy, nestled between Piedmont and Emilia-Romagna – Oltrepò Pavese.  Although little known in the U.S., this Italian wine region is Europe’s third largest area for Pinot Nero (Pinot Noir). Unsurprisingly, the region is on the 45th parallel, which Burgundy and Oregon – of course two of the world’s very famous Pinot Noir regions - share. I had the opportunity to taste through a number of this area’s wines with Susannah Gold, who is a brand ambassador for the region.

Wine has been grown in this area for two thousand years. Today, the region’s main grapes include Pinot Nero, Croatina, Barbera, and Riesling. 

There are a host of historic family wineries in Oltrepò Pavese that date back to the early 19th century – a rarity in Italy.  You'll find both large cooperatives and tiny wineries. One unusual aspect of the region is that many of the wineries are run by women.

One of the more noteworthy wines from Oltrepò Pavese is Bonarda, which is a blend of Croatina (from 85% - 100%) as well as Barbera, Ughetta/Vespolina, and Uva Rara.  Bonarda is often made in the sparkling style here – similar to the frizzante Guttornios in Emilia-Romagna.  I sampled the Bonarda from Calatroni Vini, which is bottled with the label Mon Carul. The name of the wine is Viggio. A light, friendly, sparkling red with lively red fruit flavors, this would work well with pizza and casual snacks with friends.

One noteworthy fact is that this is the only part of Italy that makes classic method sparkling wine, i.e. with second fermentation happening in the bottle, from Pinot Nero grapes. The rosé version is called Cruasé. The sample I tried from Mazzolino made a sophisticated impression, with persistent bubbles, a dried strawberry nose and palate with some baking spice on the finish – delicious with hors d’oeuvres and cheeses before Thanksgiving dinner.

Sangue di Giuda is a sweet wine blend of Barbera, Croatina, Uva Rara, Ughetta, and Pinot Nero. This wine is only found in this region. It has a lightly carbonated texture and a medium level sweetness – the alcohol is only 6%. Perfect for lightly sweet cakes or cookies, such as the Offelle di Parona of Lombardy. Susannah told us that, traditionally, every family would make this at home and offer it to guests.

Among the samples I tried was the La Versa Pinot Grigio 2019. La Versa was founded in 1905, and the winery joined a larger cooperative in 2020. The Pinot Grigio I sampled had a fresh nose of lime and was crisp on the palate with a zesty citrus profile, as well as minerality and good body.

Having only sampled a few of this small wine region’s varied bottles, I was left yearning to taste more of these interesting and delicious wines. I recommend putting Oltrepò Pavese on your list of new wine regions to explore.