A Pocket Guide- Red Romanian Grapes- Feteasca Neagra

3 min

When it comes to traveling, each country has a specific landmark like the Eiffel Tower, the Statue of Liberty or the Pyramids of Egypt. The same is valid for wines. You can taste the Spanish passion in a glass made from Tempranillo, see the beauty of Tuscany reflected in a Chianti pressed from Sangiovese and enjoy the Hungarian beauty through a Tokaji Furmint.But what should you choose in Romania? Of course, you could play it safe and go for a local taste of Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot, but you would be missing out on a true gem, the Feteasca Neagra (Black Maiden) The name suggests a mix of purity, seduction, playfulness, and mystery. If the wine made from this grape would be a person, it would probably be one of the peasant girls painted by Nicolae Grigorescu

Just like the young peasant, it’s simple but delightful; it can be moody but soothing. Also, just take her to the big city, dress her in fine silk  (or French oak) and you’ll be surprised. It becomes hard not to compare it with the refined red vamps of Western Europe.

Feteasca Neagra- A short description

You can find Feteasca Neagra in all wine regions of Romania, and almost all Romanian wine producers carry at least one label in their portfolio, as you can see in the following picture taken at a blind tasting of over 30. It’s considered to be one of the oldest native grapes, deriving from Vitis silvestris (wild vine). It ripens in the second half of September and requires extensive exposure to sunlight to accumulate the expected sugar levels of at least 200g/l. This grape has low fertility and needs extensive work in the vineyard.

The Feteasca Neagra has deeply colored skins which give it a medium-intense ruby color which turns slightly tawny when aged over a decade. The nose always includes dried plum, black fruits (black cherry, black currant) and sometimes overcooked red fruits. The jamminess is not a fault, but a character. In the upper end, we can find spicy notes (white pepper, cloves, cinnamon), as well as chocolate and tobacco. At its best, you can expect bold, decadent and savory. Meanwhile, the lower quality wines might have some pungent vegetable notes (wet forest floor, leaves). Usually, it’s dry, with high acidity when young and has medium-high tannins which can improve significantly by oak aging.  The alcohol content varies between 11,5-14%. Best enjoyed at 16-18 degrees.

Lately, some producers have used it for rosé wines with interesting outcomes. Due to the deep coloring of the skin, these wines have a bright pink color and burst with red fruit aromas including strawberries, cherries, and redcurrant.

International ”Cousins”

The temperamental grape is easily mistaken for some of the international varieties due to its increased versatility. Depending on the producer, yeast, and winemaking methods it can resemble a Cabernet or a Merlot. Even some well-versed sommeliers, during blind tastings, can make the confusion or try to identify it by elimination. When it’s balanced with a smooth finish and rounded tannins, it can be a budget-friendly alternative to some Bordeaux or Rioja reds. You could love the black peasant girl if you usually enjoy:

Bordeaux blends (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot & Cabernet Franc) – You can expect similar notes of black fruits, high but soft tannins and an acidity that allows storing a few bottles in your cellar.

Rioja (red)- Feteasca borrows some of the versatility of a Rioja. It can replace a Crianza or a Reserva depending on the amount of time spent in contact with wood. It has the same notes of ripe black fruits, full body, and pronounced tannins.

Chianti- Same astringency and medium to full body, notes of pepper, leather and some spices. The Feteasca will be more inclined towards the black fruits department than the red ones. Yet, you can still pair it with the same foods you would enjoy with a Chianti.

Food Pairing for Feteasca Neagra

This is your to-go wine for any red meat, from veal in a goulash to wild game. It has the ability to withstand heavy sauces, pierce through fatty meals or even accompany dark chocolate desserts.

We would recommend it next to aged hard cheese; the tannins work well with the texture.

It also is an excellent companion for heavy meats, like pork ribs with barbecue sauce, or any type of fried minced meat. The traditional Romanian pairing is with minced meat rolled in cabbage leaves  (called sarmale, which is originally a word for a Turkish dish also rolled in cabbage or even vine leaves) served with sour cream and polenta.

Even lighter meat like duck breast with herbs or chicken organs in sauce can benefit from the flavors of the Feteasca Neagra. It brings some necessary spiciness to an otherwise dull meal. For these dishes, you could also try the rosé variant.

Although it’s a dry wine, it can also work for more refined desserts which are not necessarily sweet. A dark chocolate cake is in harmony with a Feteasca neagra if it also has some subtle chocolate hints. Also,  French patisserie desserts can be in good company next to the feisty maiden.