Choosing the Best Romanian Wines by Reading Labels
If you are in Romania or plan to visit it, you can’t miss tasting Romanian wines. Be sure to put it on your bucket list. Called “the land of hope” for wine, Romania has excellent geography and has invested heavily in this industry in the last decade. With the largest production in Eastern Europe and the (lucky) 13th place in the world, you certainly have some diversity and volume to choose from. This brings us to our question of the day:
How do you select a Romanian wine by reading the label?
Even for those who are well versed in looking beyond the label both in the Old World and the New World wines, Romanian labels could be cryptic, since they are a mix. Most labels, especially those from young wineries have a New World feeling, which also translates to the style of wine.
Having a pocket guide to help you can only enhance the experience. It will also relieve some of the frustration that most of them don’t have translations in international languages on the back label. Just take a look at the picture above and try to select your favorite wine or imagine having them on a menu at a restaurant. Feel the pressure?
The Producer (Wine House)
Most Romanian wines have on the front label the name of the producer, especially those coming from wineries with a long-standing reputation. This acts as a seal of quality, and it’s good for marketing. Even new wineries use the same technique and state their name prominently on the label. This is inspired by the French way of labeling which focuses on the “Chateau” instead of the type of grape. Since most Romanian wines follow the terroir rule, it makes sense to focus on the name of the producer.
The Name & The Type of Grape
Wine created from only one type of grape is usually named after it, and you can see this on the front label.
If it’s a blend, then creative naming comes into play to suggest the qualities. You will probably not understand most references since Romanian winemakers have a love for local tradition and symbols. Don’t worry, just ask in a comment or follow the Instagram feed where we also tell the story of each wine. For example, a bottle of wine from Licorna is named “Bon Viveur” to suggest the French heritage of the underlying grapes (Cabernet Sauvignon & Merlot) and the social status of the ideal client.
On the other hand, another one is called Dragaica Rosie (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah / Shiraz, Pinot Noir), which refers to a Romanian agricultural custom celebrated in summer. The Dragica is a beautiful spirit of fertility, the Romanian equivalent of a nymph attracting young gentleman with her charms. The wine potentially has the same alluring qualities.
Producers who try to create independent wine brands within their portfolio are more like the New World approach.
The Type of Wine
Romanian Wines are classified according to the level of sugar into four categories:
- sec (dry) (<4g)
- demi-sec (mid-dry) (<12g)
- demi-dulce (mid-sweet) (<50g)
- dulce (sweet)(>50g)
Most of the wines you will find in restaurants are dry since they pair better with food, but you can occasionally get a sweet one for desserts. Mid-sweet ones are a wild bet since the range of the sugar level can vary greatly from one producer to the other.
The alcoholic level is also written on all labels by legal requirement.
The Region& Special Indications for Romanian Wines
Following the rules from the Old World, Romanian wines state the region where it was produced if it comes from a designated area. We also have DOC similar to IGP from France and AVA from the USA. Currently, there are seven regions. Each region has sub-divisions which can be found on the label. You can learn about each or check some quick facts by searching the names on our site or using the name on the label as a hashtag on Instagram.
Other info that you can find on a label includes details related to the time of harvest or maturation as follows (for DOC wines)
- CMD (harvested at full maturity)-minimal sugar levels, expect dry wines
- CT (harvested late)- overripe grapes, most likely mid-sweet wine
- CIB (contains noble rot)- sweet wines in the Sauternes style
- Reserva- it was matured in barriques for at least 6 months and aged in bottles for another 6 months;
- Vinoteca- aged in the bottle for at least 4 years.
And the winner is…
As you can see, there is no shortcut to choose a good wine, but you have some guidelines to help you make the most of your experience and not feel lost in translation. If you do however feel lost after diligently tasting a few glasses of Romanian wine and some fine cuisine, please do share whatever you remember the morning after.
*Featured photo courtesy of Le Sommelier, Brasov
* Unless clearly stated otherwise, all pictures are own property and depict wines that we’ve tasted (and lived to tell the story).