1st of May at Crama Stirbey – part I
I spent a lovely 1st of May attending the 6th year celebration from the rebirth of Crama Stirbey. There were far more people than I expected: 320 persons. I enjoined the event as it felt like the 1st day of summer with sun and a pleasant temperature. It gave me the feeling of a rustic celebration but made in an very classy and elegant manner, almost like the time stopped and I traveled back in the past being invited at a royal anniversary from hundreds of years ago. The hosts were baron Jacob Kripp and baroness Ileana Kripp-Costinescu and the celebration was organized with class, being a real success. It was such an antithesis between the image of this party and the 1st of May that all the media channels presented, broadcasting from the seaside, mountains and all other regular barbecues. But, hey, one can make his own choice how to spend his time. If you attended the party you probably know what I am talking about, if not I am really sorry you missed such a great event.
Crama Stirbey is located near Dragasani and they produce wine from International grape varieties: Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Romanian grape varieties: Feteasca Neagra, Feteasca Regala, Tamaioasa Romaneasca (here Tamaioasa comes in two different styles: the usual sweet wine as it is known in Romania and the second produced dry) and local grape varieties: Cramposie Selectionata(dry white), Novac and Negru de Dragasani(both dry reds). What is remarkable about the winemaker, Mr. Oliver Bauer, is that he insisted in maintaining these local varieties, rather than planting Chardonnay or any other International grapes. Therefore they kept the old vines and also initiated a plan to replace some parts of the vineyard with new ones. They are using the Guyot double cane training on the old vines and probably for the rest.
Developed by Jules Guyot in 1860, both the double and simple forms represent the most conservative style of cane training possible. It is the least complicated concept for growers to learn and, providing the number of fruiting canes and the number of buds on them are restricted, Guyot is the easiest means of restraining yields. Even when growers abuse the system, it is still the most difficult vine training method with which to pump up production. This system is commonly used in Bordeaux, where the number of canes and buds are restricted by AOC rules. Guyot is also used for some of the finest wines throughout the wine-making world, both Old and New.
The average age for the vines is 30-35 years old so the vines are not being prone to suffer of hydric stress in hotter years. They have some small parcels of Sauvignon Blanc older than 50 years old. For the old vines the average rootstock number is about 3500, for the newly planted 5500. The yield per ha varies between 3,500 – 5,500 kilos from one year to another, with an all time high of 7000 kilos per ha of Cramposie. The winemaker admits that his goal is to harvest maximum 1 kilo of fruit per vine. For maturing they use four different types of oak: French (usually old oak from Grand Cru’s from Bordeaux), Austrian, Hungarian and Romanian (Transylvania). Their goal is to use only Romanian oak.
Mr Bauer is firm about the use of oak for the wine aging: oak is just a tool that should not be overused and the wine should be made in the vineyard.
I tasted 7 whites, 1 rose, 6 reds, all their current releases and in the afternoon did a vertical tasting of their Merlot 2004-2009.
The whites are all dry, unless specified:
– Cramposie Selectionata 2009 – this is an easy going white with light body, very aromatic.۫
– Tamaioasa Romaneasca 2009 (dry) – dry Tamaioasa has peach flavors similar to the sweet wine. These 2009’s wines are lighter in body than 2008’s, almost watery like, which I didn’t like.
– Feteasca Regala 2009 – a lively wine with good acidity.
– Sauvignon Blanc 2009 – very delicate with nice floral and mineral flavors.
– Cuvee 2007 – this is a blend of Feteasca Regala and Cramposie. Last time I tasted this wine last summer, in 2009. Since then the wine gained more in complexity showing greater flavors and a nice medium- aftertaste. For 29 RON(7€), the ex cellar price, this is a serious competitor to any 30-50 RON(7-15€) Romanian white wine.
I want to talk more about their two top white cuvee’s: Feteasca Regala Genius Loci and Sauvignon Blanc Vitis Vetus. These 2 cuvee’s are produced in very limited quantities: about 3000 bottles each. Both wines are fermented with in house yeasts, therefore the winemaker takes a higher risk and so far the reward is amazing. For the rest of the wines they are using controlled yeasts.
– Sauvignon Blanc Vitis Vetus – made from a parcel of 1.2-1.4 ha of 50+ years old vines located on a hilltop just next to the actual building where the wine is made. This wine was not offered for tasting at this event, but I remember drinking it last year and was more concentrated and complex than the regular Sauvignon Blanc.
– Feteasca Regala Genius Loci 2006 and 2007 – according to Mr Bauer, Feteasca Regala is a grape that needs hotter weather to fully ripe. In 2007 there were more than 3 months of constant 40+ Celsius degrees, so they have been able to achieve the full potential of this indigenous grape.
FR Genius Loci 2006 spent 14 months in Romanian oak. The 2007 spent 22 months in oak. I think this is the very first Romanian white wine that undergoes such a long aging process in oak. Frankly speaking, I do not know any other white wine to spend so much time in oak. The result is EPIC.
I was fortunate enough to be one of the very few guests to do a comparative tasting of the Genius Loci 2006 and 2007. The 2007, already bottled, will not be released on the market sooner than July 2010, and even that month is still under question mark. Mr Bauer confessed on making a big mistake by releasing the GL 2006 too early. This time he decided to let the wine overcome the bottle shock and also let it evolve more prior to release.
Genius Loci 2006 has a nice acidity, lovely flavors of honey, white flowers and a medium to long aftertaste. A very good wine. One of my favorite whites for 2009.
Genius Loci 2007 is a big wine. It has a clear gold color. The wine was bottled unfiltered. There are tartaric crystals in the wine, commonly referred to as “wine diamonds”. There is another interesting correlation between wine stones and the quality of a wine: the longer the grapes hang on the vine, the more wine acid will accumulate in the grape, and it is this wine acid which is the building block of wine diamonds. Furthermore, the more time the wine is given to ferment, the less wine diamonds will fall out during fermentation, but the more they will instead build up later in the bottle.
In other words, wine diamonds are an indicator that the grapes ripened for a long time, and that the winemaker fermented the wine slowly and with great care. Both are important precursors to crafting high quality wines.
GL 2007 has an extremely complex nose with lots of honey, flowers, spices and mineral flavors. In the mouth the wine is full body, highly concentrated, almost oil like, with the same flavors of honey, mineral,white flowers and spices. The wine has a nice long aftertaste finishing spicy and leaving you with a desire for more. This wine is already Excellent, but I believe in 2-3 years will become Exceptional.
Part II available here.
Thanks for reading…