A taste from the east, Crama Ferdi

One judges wine competitions neither for fame nor money which is good as both are in staggeringly short supply for the activity. So, why do it? Well, to challenge yourself into being more analytical about wine and then to meet other like-minded people.

This isn’t a terribly easy proposition in Spain as there are few wine competitions that I consider to be at an international level with many judges being very local and very untrained, which is a pity as winemakers in Spain are pretty much the complete opposite. There is one competition that seems to be striving for a higher level and that’s Bacchus in Madrid. They bring in knowledgeable wine people from outside of Spain as well as mixing in the few nationals who have proper training.

They invited me to participate this year which was in turn how I met Fernando Mihailescu, a Romanian who has been working to start up his own winery in his home country called Crama Ferdi. We judged for four days together and got to know each other well as I did what I could to translate from Spanish to English as we had one member of our panel who, despite speaking English well, usually didn’t feel like it. Said individual also though absolutely every dessert Sherry should be a Gold but that’s another story…

Fernando recently came out to Priorat to visit the wineries in the region and in doing so, asked me if I’d be interested in tasting his wines. My response, as it should always be the case, was an emphatic yes. We see essentially nothing in Spain from Romania which is unfortunate as they’re the 10th largest in terms of vineyards and 13th largest in terms of wine production in the world, although I bet few people realize this.

What’s more, Romania has a number of interesting native varieties that are just starting to come into their own as people have grown weary of the standard French/International offer. Fetească neagră is perhaps one of the most well known as it produces hearty, full-bodied reds. There are others of course including whites such as Fetească albă, Crâmpoșie, and Fetească regală.

What Fernando ended up bringing me however were his takes on international varieties. He does make wines with the local varieties as well but his production is still quite small, currently at just 6,000 bottles although he just upgraded capacity this year to produce 12,000. He’s located in the Dealu Mare region about 80km north of the capital, Bucharest which is considered to be Romania’s best grape-growing region, especially the Prahova County where Crama Ferdi is. Perhaps there’s a potential Romanian “Napa Valley” there given the very close proximity to a main city although time will tell on that.

I enjoyed both the wines and would very much like to try more of what he’s producing. The varietal Merlot was the more interesting of the two and it’s not really like any other Merlot I’m familiar with. There’s the smoothness and soft plum notes but it branches off into its own thing from there and that, I like.

Merlot-Cabernet Sauvignon 2015
Red cherry, wild strawberry compote, touch of graphite, gum drop, shaved truffle. Red fruit dominates on the palate, medium acidity and length. Bit tight and compact at the moment. Needs more time to flesh out.
Merlot, Cab Sauvignon 14.5%
* 89+

Merlot Rezerva 2015
Inky jet ruby in color. Plum, scratch of dark cherry, fresh herbs, oregano, cocoa, vanilla spice, licorice, tar, and a clay limestone base. Excellent, crisp acidity on the palate, quite lively fruit that’s well balanced and vibrant, balanced tannins and a nice chewy point of fruit in the finish. Finish nearly medium plus and the alcohol pops up a touch initially but overall well balanced.
100% Merlot 14.7%
** 92