Wine: if you’re after a bargain, look to Romania
Romanian winemakers look set to take advantage of 2017’s poor harvest elsewhere in Europe, and of Brexit, too
Brows are furrowed among European winemakers and their UK customers: the slump in sterling has already hit the cost of our wine imports, and the disastrous 2107 harvest – yields are down by 50% or more in some regions – means things are only going to get worse.
Those with a sharp eye for value are now looking to eastern Europe, and to those countries shaking off their Soviet shackles and reviving historic winemaking traditions. Wine has been made in Romania for centuries, but was terribly brutalised under communist rule. When Ceausescu’s dictatorship ended in 1989, the country began the slow process of returning land to its rightful owners and some are now making very good wine – and at brilliant prices.
The Cramele Recaş winery was one of the first to be privatised; canny Bristolian Philip Cox took ownership 22 years ago, alongside a local partner, and now makes 20m litres a year. Cox thinks Brexit is bonkers for Britain, but concedes it’s good for his business: Romania is in the EU, but has not adopted the euro, and this, along with cheap labour costs and the scale of his operation, means his wines have a razor-sharp competitive edge over producers in the Eurozone. And unlike many of them, his 2017 harvest was the biggest ever (this year, he sold both grapes and juice to producers in Italy and Spain whose own crops had failed them).
Cox makes wine for many UK supermarkets and on-trade clients, often bottling the same wine under different labels (which, it should be noted, sometimes sell for wildly differing prices). Asda’s Bradshaw Pinot Grigio (£5.08; 12% abv) should tick the bargain box for any PG lover, while Sainsbury’s House Pinot Noir (£4.60; 12.5%) is a steal: it’s light and soft, and vegan to boot. Aldi’s Nonius (£5.49; 13% abv), a blend of syrah and the native fetească neagră grape, meanwhile, is a bargain wine for winter, with its ripe, black fruits and rippling muscles. Ever-innovative, Cramele Recaş even makes an on-trend orange wine for Tanners called Sole (£11.95; 12% abv).
Elsewhere in the region, the Prince Ştirbey winery in Drăgăsani was handed back to its aristocratic owners in 2001 and is now once again making splendidly aristocratic wines from local grapes. Try its peachy and very pretty Tamâioasă Româneasca Sec 2016 (£10.50 The Wine Society; 14% abv), or the meaty and chewy, but very elegant Negru de Drăgăsani 2016 (£14.50 Oddbins; 14.5%). Both may be twice as expensive as the others listed here, but they’re both more than twice as nice, too.