It’s not often that I can say I’ve tasted a wine from a grape variety that’s completely new to me, but I did so recently. The grape was Novac and the wine came from the Romanian producer Prince Stirbey (Wine Society, £13.95). A little research showed Novac to be a cross between another Romanian variety, Negru (which I had also never met before), with the rather more common Saperavi, widely found in vineyards in Russia, Georgia, Moldova and Bulgaria. To add to its mystery, it seems that Prince Stirbey own the only vineyards planted to Novac in the world.
This is a shame because the example I tasted had lovely fresh, juicy red fruit flavours and an attractive smoothness. Not too heavy – in fact, it’s one of those rare reds that could quite happily be chilled for a brief while to make a really refreshing summer glass.
Romania may not be the first place you think of for quality wines, but much of the country has a favourable Mediterranean climate and vine growing in the region dates back more than 4000 years. Indeed, the family of Prince Stirbey first owned vineyards in the foothills of the Transylvanian Alps near Dragasani around 3 centuries ago. The present generation reclaimed the historic family property in 1999 and have since worked hard to restore its former high reputation, installing modern equipment but concentrating on traditional local grape varieties. Apart from Novac, the delicious, fragrant, but almost unpronounceable white variety, Tamâioasa Româneasca is certainly worth looking out for and is also available from the Wine Society (£10.50).
Romania and Prince Stirbey are both names to remember, especially if you are looking to find new grapes and new and exciting flavours.