Romania has a romance language, deep connections with France, and a wine culture that dates back to the Romans from which the country’s language, and name, derives. Although on the same latitudes as France, one cannot stretch the parallels too far. The Romanian climate and topographical configuration is quite different, and the French did not see their vine growing culture compromised by communist collectivization. The take on 21st century Romania is that it is adding quality to the quantity of wine it was known for during the 20th century.
Romania’s climate is dominated by mountains. The Transylvanian Alps and Carpathian Mountains combine to bisect the country on the north-south axis, with various plains and elevated regions on either side. Climates are diverse, but generally favorable for viticulture, except in the highest of the mountains.
Romanian wine grapes are a mishmash. On the one hand, the country has its fair share of admirable indigenous grapes, and on the other it is still in the process of following an EU mandate that it eliminate the many American hybrid vines planted during the collectivization, quantity-over-quality era. Among white grapes, Fetească Albă and Fetească Regală are the most prevalent, producing wines in all levels of sweetness. Welschriesling (Italian Riesling) comes in at number three. Aligoté, Sauvignon Blanc, and Muscat de Ottonel round out the list. Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot lead the reds. The indigenous reds Roșioară and Băbească Neagră are in the process of losing ground to Fetească Neagră. Pinot Noir and Blaufrankisch are also on the upswing.
Transylvania sits in the north center of Romania on a wide plateau surrounded on all sides by the Carpathian Mountains. The most important grapes here are Fetească Albă, Fetească Regală, Muscat Ottonel, Pinot Gris, Sauvignon, Pink Traminer, Italian Riesling, Neuburger, and Rhine Riesling. Grapevines are cultivated on wind-sheltered hills. White wines here are well balanced and dry. Within Transylvania, the Tarnave region is sandwiched between two rivers, Târnava Mica and Târnava Mare. Both the rivers and the altitude create a cool local climate, resulting in fruity white wines and with very good acidity. Alba Iulia-Aiud is to the west of Tarnave, producing Italian Riesling, Fetească Albă, Fetească Regală, Pinot Gris, Sauvignon, and Muscat Ottonel, on hillside vineyards. Lechinţa covers a small, fragmented area in northern part of Transylvania, producing still white wines, available as dry, semi-dry, semi-sweet and sweet, from Traminer Roz, Pinot Gris, Muscat Ottonel, Sauvignon Blanc, Neuburger (an Austrian crossing), Welschriesling, Fetească Regală, Fetească Albă, and Chardonnay.
Crisana and Maramures are in Romania’s northwest. Crisana makes red wines from Cadarca, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Merlot), while Maramures produces acidic white wines excellent for brandy.
Banat is situated in the west of Romania. Its best known region is Minis-Maderat, The most important grapes are Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Italian Riesling, Sauvignon, Burgund Mare, Fetească Regală, Merlot, Muscat Ottonel, and Cadarca.
Muntenia, Oltenia, the Danube Terraces and the Southern Lands. This region takes up the southern third of Romania, and includes its capital Bucharest. Vineyards here sit on the south-east facing slopes of the Carpathian Mountains, on the hills south of the mountains, along large rivers and in some locations near the Danube river. This is a warm south-oriented region with plenty of sunshine. In the east of the region, the well known Dealu Mare appellation makes sweet whites with firm acidity, and bright reds from Fetească Negara and Cabernet Sauvignon, two grapes that extend through this most productive region of Romania.
The Moldovan Hills in the northeast of the country produce the famous Grasă de Cotnari botrytised sweet wine, whose residual sugar content may approach 300g/liter (30%). Climate here is generally continental, with vineyards planted on south facing slopes in order to maximize sunlight. Grapes include Fetească Albă, Francusa, Grasa de Cotnari, Tamaioasa Romaneasca, Muscat Ottonel, Chardonay, Pinot Gris, Sauvignon, Fetească Regală, Fetească Negara, Babeasca Neagra, Aligoté, Busuioaca de Bohotin, Zghiara de Husi, Italian Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Alicante Bouschet, Oporto, Zweigelt, Sarba, Galbena de Odobesti, and Plavaie.
The Region of Dobrogea covers Romania’s Black Sea coast and the Danube delta. Murfatlar here is known for concentrated dried grape wines. Production includes Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonay, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Columna, Merlot, Muscat Ottonel, Italian Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Fetească Negara, Fetească Regală, Aligoté, and Babeasca Negara. Babadag produces still red, white and rosé wines, available as dry, semi-dry, semi-sweet and sweet. Nikulitel, site of the renowned vineyard of Sarica Niculitel, growing the whites Aligoté, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, and Fetească Albă, and red varieties Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Fetească Negara.