Romania isn’t a country that tops many oenophile’s bucket lists. While it may be better known for its brutalist architecture and gothic horror, this little-visited eastern European escape is hiding a corker of a secret.
It’s a nation with a surprisingly rich heritage in wine, food and culture. So it’s high time you made like the country’s most famous Count, and sunk your teeth into the luxury Romania has to offer.
Does Romania really do wine?
Summer in Romania is far from the dark, stormy nightmare painted by Bram Stoker. On the same latitude as Bordeaux, and with a mineral-rich soil, it’s an ideal location to grow many varieties of vines. The nation also enjoys long and languid autumns, which allows grapes to develop rich flavours as they ripen slowly.
And grow grapes they do. Vineyards have dated back even to before the Soviet Era, and today the founder of specialist wine importer Wanderlust Wine, Richard Ellison, has decided that Romania presents a perfect business opportunity.
With 191,000 hectares under vine — the most in Eastern Europe — there is more wine coming out of this country than you’d expect. They’re actually the thirteenth-largest wine producer in the world, and produced almost half a billion bottles last year alone.
Ellison has found what he believes to be the finest vineyard in Romania to source wine from, Dagon Clan, and is now importing them back to Britain for us to enjoy. He invited Gentleman’s Journal out to Eastern Europe to see just how good the wine is.
The vineyard is a hidden gem for wine lovers
After arriving at the Vinalia Hotel — about two hour’s drive from Bucharest — you could be forgiven for thinking you’d landed in Tuscany. Vines heavy with fruit hug either side of the hotel’s driveway and oak barrels are stacked high in the courtyard.
Besides the outdoor swimming pool and fire pit, the grounds contains Dagon Clan’s very own wine cellar. Holding all of their oak and steel barrels, this is also the location where wine is pressed — a tannin-infused Nirvana for any wine lover.
Native grapes and hand selection is what sets Romanian wine apart
Dagon wines have been bottling with modest success since 2014. But what is the secret to their success? That’s simple. Using grapes that are native to Romania. Feteasca Neagra, Feteasca Alba and Feteasca Regala varieties give Romanian wine its signature dry and intensely-perfumed flavour. That means even though you’ll spot a Romanian bottle on the nose, it’ll hit you even more once it reaches your palate.
Of course, they don’t just use those three grapes. They also grow fantastic Sirah on their picture perfect vineyard, which overlooks the breathtaking Dealu Mare region. Dagon grows their vines in an amphitheatre-like valley, which gives a curvature to their terraces allowing for some massive differences in sun exposure and rain drainage.
This variety in conditions is masterfully overseen and checked by Australian winemaker extraordinaire, Mark Haisma. Romania might not be the natural habitat of a bearded Australian, known for his Burgundies. But, every month or so, Haisma visits Romania to check on the vines and see how long the current vintages need to stay in barrel.
But the hard work is done by the sun-kissed locals who are tasked with going vine to vine, bunch to bunch and picking grape by grape. Not our idea of fun.
But drinking it is. After tasting a range of Dagon Clan wines, we can attest that all the hard work is worth it. And if Haisma isn’t fully happy with the vintage, it will never leave the cellar. Rather like a Rolex watch, only the perfect product reaches the public. A true luxury item.
If you’re looking for a light-bodied and aromatic white, we would recommend Dagon’s Clar. Produced in limited quantities and also available in the UK exclusively through Wanderlust Wine, who will get a bottle sent straight to your door.
Clar by Dagon Clan
However, as the weather gets colder, you might fancy reaching for a more full-bodied and jammy red. In that case, you can’t go wrong ordering a few bottles of Jar. Nothing better for a winter warmer in our books.
Jar by Dagon Clan
And for when you have a special occasion, Dagon Clan and Wanderlust Wine have you covered. With their Sandridge red, the grapes are entirely Fateasca Neagra from a sandy ridge — hence the name — in their vineyard. This area produces very low yields but the fruit that does form is super aromatic and will transport you straight to that sandy ridge in the Dealu Mar region. This has also been produced in a super limited number with only a few in the UK, so grab a bottle while you can.
Sandridge by Dagon Clan
If you fancy something closer to home, check out our guide to English wine…