A week or two back I took an early look at wines from Eastern Europe and lauded the great value that many of them offered.
As I said then, the combination of geology, climate and terrific local grape varieties make Eastern Europe a potential jewel for wine enthusiasts.
It will especially interest people who prize modest prices when quality is not sacrificed to achieve them (aka MidWeek Wines subscribers).
I indicated last time that I would be having another look at that area, and this is the promised follow-up piece.
I have extended the territorial scope a little and include Croatia this time plus a nod towards more expensive wines.
As ever, hyperlinks and pictures should help you find – or, indeed, buy – these wines.
It’s that grape again
Picking up on Asda’s success with feteasca regala, Aldi have now also introduced a white wine from that variety and made by the same excellent producer (Cramele Recas).
My spies also tell me that another major retailer is poised to introduce a (slightly drier) version shortly.
Soft yet typically lively, 2020 Dealuri Romanian Feteasca Regala (£4.99 at Aldi and 11.5% abv) contains floral quince and apple flavours with a neat prickle of lemon acidity and suggestions of allspice and butterscotch.
But here is a more familiar grape
Pinot grigio’s ability to provide uncomplicated wine with floral and tropical fruit foundations “earns” it the patronising description of “crowd pleasing”.
Here, though, the variety demonstrates the other side of that particular coin – attractive, light, undemanding lunchtime (or anytime) wine costing very little money.
Low in alcohol yet enjoyably bright, Hungary’s House Pinot Grigio (£4.50 at Sainsbury’s and 11.5%) adds hints of sweetness, mace and green herbs to its clean, apple and peach flavours and the fresh grapefruit acidity that supports them.
And with more weight
Demonstrating that variety’s versatility, a Romanian PG sails in with a much weightier option that contains a few nods towards the characteristics we expect from wine labelled as “pinot gris”.
Still clean and fresh but more substantial than the “House” version, 2019 Sorcova Pinot Grigio (£6.39 – instead of £7.99 until 6 April – at Waitrose and 12%) brings us zingy melon and red apple flavours with textured hints of honey but the same grapefruit centred acidity.
Haunted by the past
Croatia’s grasevina grape (called welschriesling in Austria) is a star, producing weighty, concentrated and often nutty wine but its Slovenian name – laski rizling – can be a totally unjustified inhibiter.
Years ago, the UK was flooded with Laski “Riesling” (which was neither high quality nor actual riesling) and its legacy lingers on – even though current producers now use the grape to create beautiful wine like this.
With fruit-based aromas and an attractive roundedness, 2020 Kutjevo Grasevina (from £10.79 at Laithwaites and 12%) has greengage and orchard fruit flavours made more vivid by grapefruit and sherbet lemon acidity, an orange peel and pithy depth that also incorporates hints of sweeter spices.
But it’s not all about whites
Once again that Cramele Recas operation comes up with the goods by blending Romania’s feteasca neagra grape with cabernet and merlot to create this superb, terrific value red containing sufficient texture and fruitiness to carry its substantial alcohol level well.
Rich and concentrated, 2019 Solomonar Reserve Red (from £8.99 in Majestic stores – although stocks online are low – and 14.5%) delivers medium bodied plum, black cherry and loganberry flavours with good acidity, soft tannin and a background of aniseed, mocha and liquorice.
But if we want to get more serious
Despite the bargain priced wine it often delivers, there is – of course – a serious wine industry in most Eastern European countries.
The fantastic range of (often little known) grape varieties available gives innovative winemakers the “clean sheet of paper” pioneering scope they crave – and from which we wine lovers eventually benefit.
Inevitably, the results will not be cheap but good ones will be worth digging a little deeper.
So, keep an eye out for wine from that part of the world that will grace a future Sunday Best feature.
On that note, I hear good reports of the activities of the importer Croatian Fine Wines so that could be a good place to begin.
Let’s meet again – on Monday – when I take my weekly look at supermarket promotions and reveal my latest Top Tips. Hope to see you then.
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