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%
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%
Ancestral Wine Cellar - Khikhvi 2014 95
First harvest of Khikhvi. Light apricot notes, peach skin, lemon peel. Citric in the mouth, fresh, lively acidity, vibrant. Very holistic, full and deliciously good.
100% Khikhvi · 12% · 30GEL
Petriaant Marani - Khikhvi 2015 94
Bruised red apple, touch of lemon peel, limestone minerality, and some white pepper notes at the back of it. High acidity and full in the mouth. Luscious, involving, elegant wine.
100% Khikhvi · 14% · 25GEL
Domaine Augustin - Adéodat Blanc 2016 93
Lemon and white peach, strong kick of salinity, and toasted notes. Very fleshy and full on the palate, peach notes more prominent as well as Meyer lemon, medium plus acidity and a lengthy finish.
100% Grenache Gris · 14.5% · 20EUR
AA Badenhorst - Secateurs Red Blend 2012 93
Forest bramble with ripe red fruit, touches of cherry, ripe red plum, tiny bit of prune, cumin, anise, black licorice, wet cement mineral note, underlying fig jam. Crisp medium plus acidity, medium tannins, medium plus length, medium alcohol, overall medium plus body that’s ripe and lively but super fresh and balanced at the same time. Bit of rugged wildness to it but doesn’t get out of hand. Easy to drink but with just enough underlying complexity so that it stays interesting.
56% Syrah 27% Cinsaut 6% Grenache 4% Cabernet Sauvignon 7% "Others" · 13.5% · 12EUR
Domaine Treloar - Motus 2015 93
Dark ruby, minor rim. Big, mighty bouquet of red cherry and other brambly forest fruit, vanilla, almond blossom, orange peel, and cocoa. Rich and full on the palate with a wealth of tannins still integrating, leading into a crunchy, lingering finish.
80% Mourvèdre 10% Syrah 10% Grenache · 14% · 14EUR
Domaine of the Bee - Cuvée 2015 93
Ruby with minor garnet rim. Rich red fruits with an underpinning of ripe plum, orange peel, licorice, cocoa. Broad, round tannins with a touch of toast and sweet cocoa in a long finish. Manages to stay very light on the palate despite the higher alcohol.
50% Grenache 50% Carignan · 15% · 25EUR
Tchotiashvili - Khikhvi 2014 93
Apricot, yellow peach, orange peel, and a touch of honey. Quite complex aromatically. Orchard fruit much more prevalent in the mouth with young apricot notes. Rich and elegant, touch of astringency in the finish.
100% Khikhvi · 13.1% · 28GEL
Domaine Fontanel - Prieuré 2014 92
Dense ruby with brick flecks. Crisp red fruits, lifted by a waft of volatility making for a light nose with a spicy licorice and leather component. Crisp and lively with red cherry fruit in the mouth and a nudge over medium acidity. Nice, lingering finish.
50% Syrah 25% Grenache 25% Mourvèdre · 14.5%
Cave Abbé Rous - Cornet & Cie Blanc 2016 92
Peach, orange peel & blossom, honey, dried apricot, and a hint of green apple. Very nicely balance in the mouth, green apple notes more prevalent, medium plus acidity and a lengthy finish. Fresh, lively, very pleasing wine to drink.
60% Grenache Gris 25% Grenache Blanc 5% Marsanne 5% Roussanne 5% Vermentino · 14.5%
Clos Henri - Petit Clos Pinot Noir 2016 92
Earthy, red cherries, young, crisp cranberry, light herbal notes, leafy, minor chalk. Medium tannins and medium plus acidity as well as length. Light sweetness on the palate but with a very pleasant, lingering structure and lightness to it.
100% Pinot Noir · 13.5% · 16.50EUR