New Wine of the Week – Prince Ştirbey Negru de Drăgășani, a fine Romanian red

Typical traffic in rural Romania - snapped through the coach window.

Typical traffic in rural Romania – snapped through the coach window.

My visit to Romania last year impressed me very much – and you can read all about it here. I had no idea what to expect at all, not from the country, its culture, food or wines. What I found though was very exciting indeed. The countryside was fantastic, Bucharest a beautiful city and all the wineries that I visited were really passionate people with amazing drive and commitment. What’s more I did not taste a single wine that wasn’t decent and most were much better than that.

My only gripe with Romanian wine – and it is aimed at the UK wine trade, not the producers – is that it is very hard to buy the good ones here in the UK. Most stockists carry an affordable range of wines from Romania, you will see that many of the cheapest varietal wines are actually from Romania if you study the label closely. At the top end though it is very hard to find them, so I am really delighted to share this wine with you. I showed it in a tasting of Romanian wines that I tutored for Dulwich Wine Society the other week and it was one of the favourites on the night. It was a wonderful tasting, although I say so myself, what’s more it was 23 years to the day since I had first appeared at Dulwich – that can make you feel old you know. Just as on my trip to Romania, all the wines found favour, indeed they all went down very well with the tasters and I will mention more of them over the coming weeks.

In a tight field though, this lovely wine stood out just a little, as not only was it delicious, but it is also available to buy, which many of the others were not. I loved it so much that I have made it my Wine of the Week.

Sketch wine map of Romania – click for a larger view – non watermarked PDF versions are available by agreement.

Sketch wine map of Romania – click for a larger view – non watermarked PDF versions are available by agreement.

Baroness Ileana Kripp of Prince Ştirbey.

Baroness Ileana Kripp of Prince Ştirbey.

Vines at Ştirbey.

Vines at Ştirbey.

prince_stirbey_negru_de_dragasani2011 Prince Ştirbey Negru de Drăgășani
IGP Dealurile Olteniei
Domeniile Ştirbey

The Ştirbey estate is in the south of the country – about 130 km West of Bucharest – on a narrow ridge overlooking the River Olt. The estate has a long history that goes back over 300 years and their wines were considered to be some of the country’s finest in the nineteenth and first half of the twentieth centuries. They were even available in the dining car of the Orient Express during that golden age and they still have some fascinating advertising material from the 1910s and 1920s.

The estate was nationalised by the post-war Communist government, but in 1999 Baroness Ileana Kripp, the great-granddaughter of Prince Barbu Ştirbey, together with her Austrian lawyer husband, Baron Jakob Kripp, set about reclaiming her family’s long lost property. They were successful and by 2001 were producing wine, with the help of Oliver Bauer a modest and jovial winemaker from Württemberg in Germany. Today they farm 25 hectares and produce around 100,000 bottles.

I like their wines – they make a particularly fine traditional method sparkling wine from the indigenous Crâmpoşie Selecționată grape. It is called Prince Ştirbey Vin Spumant Extrabrut and is available from company in Germany – click here.

My Wine of the Week though is their fine Negru de Drăgășani. As its name might imply, this grape comes from this region of Romania and is a crossing of  Negru Vartos, indigenous to southern Romania, and the Saperavi from Georgia. The grapes were handpicked, carefully selected and then de-stemmed before being fermented in stainless steel tanks. It was then aged for 12 month in 300 litre Romanian oak barrels.

The colour is gorgeous, like freshly crushed blueberries, while the nose is aromatic and intensely fruity with a soft spice and gentle smoke. The palate is rich and concentrated, bursting with ripe blackberry, cherry and blueberry fruit. There is spice here too, black pepper and something softer and exotic like clove. There is some nice freshness that makes the wine feel very balanced, while the tannins are really velvety and smooth, which gives the wine an almost creamy feel. In many ways this reminds me of a very fine and ambitious Barbera and gives us a relatively rare chance to try a top-end Romanian wind – 91/100 points.

Try this with charcuterie – Romanians eat a lot of things like that – and with rich warming casseroles, even spicy chilli con carne would work.

Available in the UK at £14.50 per bottle from Oddbins.

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