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Great Value Eastern Europe Revisited

Here's my follow up look at Eastern Europe where geology, climate and terrific local grape varieties lead to great value wines.

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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6 Responses

  1. Hi Brian , Some interesting wines you mention, the Solomonar is pencilled in as is the Feteasca for £4.99 that sounds like a steal. I really enjoyed the Sorcova Pinot Noir so I will give the Pinot Grigio a go. I came across a bottle from Croatia a while ago made from the ‘Plavac Mali’ grape, it was one of the best red wines I’ve tasted in a while. It was brought back by my daughter when she went to Croatia (holidays , remember them !) not cheap but if anyone finds a bottle (A few independents sell it) it would be worthy of a ‘Sunday Best’.

  2. Thanks Dave. I think you will enjoy that Feteasca and will keep an eye open for that Sunday Best suggestion of yours ….. Brian

  3. Hi Dave. Plavac Mali is a fantastic grape producing some excellent wines (both red and rose). I am working Stina Vineyard on the island of Brac importing their wines into the UK. I normally have their Plavac Mali 2016 and Plavac Mali Majstor 2016 in stock; I am currently sold out. I hope to have more very soon. I do have in stock a fantastic Red Cuvée which is reasonable on price, excellent drinking and predominantly Plavac Mali. Then there is the Opol Rose again Plavac Mali. Let me know if you want any more info. Guy

  4. Thanks Guy, that is very helpful and I, for one, will follow up on your suggestions. It is really good when suppliers provide further information on wine featured in posts and, I know, it is something that subscribers really appreciate ….. Brian

  5. Thanks Brian.
    The Stina Cuvee Red is a great blend of Plavac Mali (70%), Merlot (10%), Syrah (10%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (10%). This makes for a truly excellent wine that is drinking well now. The wine is produced on the island of Brac – due to the steep slopes, everything is harvested by hand.
    Further to the north, the wines from Istria are also superb. The whites, in my humble opinion, are led by the Malvazija Istarska – an indigenous Croatia grape; particularly good examples are the Malvazijas from Franc Arman, Benvenuti and Kabola whose wines are all organic. The reds in Istria are led by the Teran grape. The Franc Arman Teran Barrique 2016 is superb; drinking well now but also for another 5 to 6 years at least. Then we have a favourite of mine the Benvenuti Caldierosso 2018 which is a blend of Teran (50%), Merlot (17%), Nebbiolo (16%) and Tempranillo (17%). It is extremely drinkable, balanced and harmonious. Guy

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