A brief overview of Romanian wine

A brief overview of Romanian wine, its scale statistically and brief history

Romania is home to one of the oldest wine growing cultures in Europe, predating ancient Dacia, shaped by the Romans, the monasteries and subsequently influenced by the French. It now has a clear focus on quality and harmonisation with European standards.


Romanian viticulture predates ancient Dacia where the cult of Sabazios might have inspired that of Dionysus, said to be born in Thrace. The Greeks also brought grapevines to their colonies via the Black Sea between 600 – 500 BC. The vineyards, located in present-day Dobrogea, were still well-known during the Roman colonisation.


Monasteries contributed to the development of vines and wines in the Valea Călugarească, Drăgăşani region, or Transylvania. Prior to phylloxera, writers continuously mentioned vine growing and winemaking in the Romanian Principalities.  Phylloxera struck in the early 1880s near Arad and was officially declared in 1884 in Prahova.


French ampelographers and viticulturists helped Romania overcome the crisis by introducing rootstock and French varieties while studying the local grapes. “Une introduction à l’Ampélographie Roumaine” was written in 1900 by G. Nicoleanu, in collaboration with P. Viala et V. Vermorel.


Phylloxera and World War I changed the Romanian viticultural landscape – although the regions remained the same, certain old varieties and winemaking methods were lost. Due to the threat of fraud, vine regulations emerged by 1915, with the first designations around 1929 and the first wine map established in 1932.


During the 1944-1989 period, Romanian viticulture became highly industrialised under Communist rule to ensure productivity for the 5-year plans. Most of the indigenous plantings diminished – only a few really survived – while certain varieties were created through crossbreeds or pollen selection at this time for consistency and productivity purposes. Some revealed themselves to be highly interesting.


After 1990, slow changes occurred, but there was still a lot of backpedalling as the new market economy system lacked the requisite legal framework. De-collectivisation and privatisation were boosted by a new set of laws and encouraged by a couple of historic estates. With the new millennium, SAPARD European funds and foreign investment helped to reconstruct the country’s wine heritage after some challenging years during the 1990s, also providing new regulations for grape growing and winemaking.


Romania ranks 5th in Europe and 10th in the world in terms of surface under the vines, with the 6th largest wine production in Europe for the 2021 vintage. With 189.000 ha planted (2,6% of the international vine surface), as denoted by the OIV in its last report, Romania has a huge potential to show. However, less than half of this area is used for commercial purposes, the rest being composed of yet un- approved plantings or non-homologated grape varieties. For instance, an incredible area of 83285,61 ha is planted with interspecific varieties and therefore remains un- approved.


The country relays almost entirely on itself as a customer for its wines. With a mere 5- 6% of export, only some acceptable to good, inexpensive wines reach a handful of clients abroad, especially through retail, buyers – own – brands, or bulk sales.


However, 2021 was a good vintage both in terms of production and exportations. Exports improved both in volume and in value, reaching 170.000 hl and 34.2 mill. € in 2021. Germany, the Netherlands, and the UK are our classic and most constant clients summing up 72% of the exports. Traditional wine producers such as Italy and Spain start opening to Romanian wine, while USA and China are still among the export destinations, despite the Covid crisis.


One should not forget that Romanians love drinking wine, with a 27-l per capita annual consumption. Not only do they drink almost all their domestic wine, but they also imported 562.200 hl in 2021, valuing 92,9 mill. €.


With such a development both on the domestic and the export market, tremendous evolutions of the sector are to be noted over the last couple of years. Over 500 entities are approved as grape growers, wine producers or both, but the list is shortened to a half when summing up the wineries and other facilities belonging to the largest producers (e.g. producers such as Cramele Recaş, Jidvei, Casa de Vinuri Cotnari, Domeniile Alexandrion Rhein 1982, Beciul Domnesc, Crama Ceptura etc own various plantings in different areas, many winemaking facilities 2and different companies). Out of the approximatively 250 registered producers or “crame” (source Crame Romania), even fewer commercialize bottled wine in accordance with legal sanitary standards.


Despite all these developments, local wine authorities are rather skeptical for the export situation, only estimating a maximum of 7% for the 2021 production. Not only does Romania export few, reported to its capacities and compared to its neighbours, but the exported wine is very cheap for the market: 1,5- 2 €/l, which completely dilutes the identity of the national Brand.


It is, however, encouraging to see that exports have increased continuously since 2018 while before they had never reached more than 3-4%.

Important support has also come recently from the EU with 47,5 mill. € annual funds for renovation, reconstruction and reconversion for the 2019- 2023 period.


Romania had been isolated for 50 years from the all the viti- vinicultural progress and developments and mostly continued to produce wines in the 90s from the same exhausted vines and with the same old communist facilities. Very few pioneers arrived with own funds that decade, namely Guy de Poix (SERVE), Sergio Faleschini (Vinarte), Karl Reh (nowadays Crama Oprişor) and John Halewood (ex- Halewood Romania, member of Alexandrion Group).


During the 2000s, plots, equipment, and techniques improved considerably with the arrival of most private investors and EU funds (especially the SAPARD programs). Owners of the new estates uprooted and replaced the old, exhausted vineyards, planted selected clones with an adapted choice of rootstock, replaced the moldy and musty oak casks with new French and Romanian barriques or Italian wooden barrels, and changed the concrete vats to shiny, temperature controlled, stainless-steel tanks.

The Romanian wine regions are situated between the 44 and 48° Northern latitude, in a moderate continental climate with hot summers (the average temperature in July is 23.5°C) and relatively harsh winters. The Black Sea brings mild influences, however temperatures of -20°C can still occur at least once every 10 years. With a relatively low rainfall rate of 540 mm on average, drought can occur during the summer.


The Carpathians (33% of the country’s land area) block the polar and Siberian air masses coming from the North/ North-East; only the Transylvanian Plateau is in EU Zone B.


Main regions – see with illustrative map 


Romania has three distinct zones: the intra-Carpathian plateau; the Carpathian foothills; and the Pontic-Danubian area. These are divided into 8 growing regions, 33 PDOs approved by the UE with a 34th still pending and 12 PGIs, which are endorsed by a certification seal from the ONVPV institute.


Banat – Regiunea viticolă a Banatului


Hills of Dobrogea- Regiunea viticolă a Colinelor Dobrogei

Crişana and Maramureş – Regiunea viticolă a Crişanei şi Maramureşului


Hills of Moldova – Regiunea viticolă a Dealurilor Moldovei


Hills of Oltenia and Muntenia – Regiunea viticolă a Dealurilor Munteniei şi Olteniei

Transylvanian Plateau – Regiunea viticolă a Podişului Transilvaniei
Danube Terraces -Regiunea viticolă a Teraselor Dunării


Sands and other favourable lands in the South – Regiunea nisipurilor şi altor terenuri favorabile din sudul ţării


Geographical Indications

  • IG Viile Timişului
  • IG Dealurile Sătmarului
  • IG Dealurile Zarandului
  • IG Viile Caraşului
  • IG Dealurile Crişanei
  • IG Dealurile Transilvaniei
  • IG Colinele Dobrogei
  • IG Terasele Dunării
  • IG Dealurile Olteniei
  • IG Dealurile Munteniei including the IG Vin spumant Dealurile Munteniei for sparklings
  • IG Dealurile Moldovei
  • IG Dealurile Vrancei


Main grapes and most planted ha / indegenous varieties

Main indigenous white grape varieties

 Crâmpoşie Selecționata 134,41 ha a free pollination of Crâmpoşie (Beala Debela x Iordană) approved in 1972 at SCDVV Drăgăşani

 Fetească Albă 12003,49 ha no link with the Fetească Neagră

 Fetească Regală 12215,93 ha Fetească Albă x Frâncuşa

 Galbenă de Odobeşti 372,44 ha same DNA as Zghihara de Huşi

 Grasă de Cotnari 545,98 ha same DNA as Hungarian Köverszölö, Heuinisch crossing

 Tămaioasă Românească 1742,79 ha long time supposed to be a Muscat à petits grains, it is indeed a Muscat variety

 Plăvaie, Şarba (Welschriesling x Muscat de Hambourg), Mustoasă de Maderat, Iordană, etc…


Main international white grapes varieties

 Aligoté 5142,07 ha

 Welschriesling 6963,79 ha

 Sauvignon 5683,37 ha (including Blanc, Gris and Petit clone as well as Sauvignonasse although a distinct variety better known as Friulano!)

 Muscat Ottonel 5138,49 ha

 Chardonnay 2000,38 ha

 Pinot Gris 1467,92 ha

 Rkatsiteli, Rhine Riesling, diverse Traminer varieties, etc


Main indigenous red grape varieties


 Busuioacă de Bohotin 687,69 ha pink skinned Muscat variety

 Babească neagră 2535,99 ha

 Fetească neagră 3176,22 ha

 Negru de Drăgăşani 58,13 ha Negru vârtos x Saperavi

 Novac 73,24 ha Negru vârtos x Saperavi

Main international red grape varieties

 Merlot 11108,59 ha

 Cabernet – Sauvignon 5384,44 ha

 Pinot Noir 2030,38 ha

 Burgund mare (Blaufränkisch) 691,42 ha

 Cabernet Franc, Cadarca, Zweigelt, Syrah, etc…


Quality classification

  • Table wines – Wine;
  • Wines with geographical indication (IG) – PGI;
  • Wines with controlled origin (DOC) – PDO
  • DOC-CMD (full maturity 187- 204 g/l min.(W-R) for the grape must);
  • DOC- CT (late harvested grapes 213- 220g/l min.(R-W) for the grape must);
  • DOC- CIB (noble harvest 240g/l min. for the grape must).
  • All these wines can range from dry to sweet and minimal sugar level at harvest time varies according to DOCs in some areas in the B chaptalization zone going as low as 155 for CMD.


Other traditional labelling terms

  • Rezerva – 6 months in wood/ 6 months in the bottle;
  • Vin de Vinoteca – 1 year in wood/ 4 years in the bottle;
  • Vin tânar – « primeur » type wine sold before the end of the vintage year ;
  • Vin Varietal –wine without neither DOC, nor IG, but using the grape variety name provided that it represents at least 85%: Aligoté, Burgund mare, Babeasca neagra, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Feteasca neagra, Feteasca regala, Merlot, Muscat Ottonel, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Riesling Italico, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah.


Wine making techniques (sparkling wine production)

Out of the 33 Romanian PDOs, eleven can produce sparkling wines under denomination, 6 of which can also elaborate “pétillant” and among the 4 have the right for Asti method using aromatic varieties.

Here are the 11 DOC producing sparkling wines:

Hills of Moldova: DOC Cotnari, DOC Iasi, DOC Coteşti, DOC Odobeşti, DOC Panciu with DOC Cotnari, DOC Iaşi and DOC Panciu also producing aromatic Asti method sparklings and DOC Cotnari, DOC Iaşi, DOC Odobeşti and DOC Coteşi go for “pétillant”- semi- sparkling too.

Muntenia: DOC Dealu Mare for the 3 categories

Oltenia: DOC Drăgăşani for traditional method and aromatic sparklings

Transylvanian Plateau: DOC Târnave only for traditional method sparklings

Crişana et Maramureş: DOC Crişana, DOC Minis, the latter also producing « pétillant »

Banat: DOC Recaş only for Traditional method and Charmat

Some ONVPV regulations for sparkling wines are extremely complex providing precise information about the pH, total acidity in H2SO4 on the must, minimum and maximum gluco-acidic index of the juice, plus the acidity in tartaric on the base wine together with minimum and maximum alcohol, not to mention all the parameters since the beginning of the second fermentation on… Some only mention a generic paragraph such as: “Winemaking for Sparkling, pétillants, pearlings etc…” Others decided to separate the decree for sparkling wines, aromatic sparkling and “pétillants” semi- sparkling wines from the generic text (such as DOC Dealu Mare, DOC Panciu and DOC Târnave, which are also among the oldest and most traditional to produce bubbles), while several still include it.

Conclusion, what does the future hold for Romanian wine?


Romanians drink almost all their home-grown wines, not only due to their strong domestic appeal, but also because of the lack of information on their wine which would help promote it abroad. The top brands are often too expensive to penetrate export markets; the mid-range can be good, but sometimes lacks inherent character to perform well in export markets. The entry-level wines slake the thirst of the average consumer in Romania and can also align well with the needs of discount channels in certain countries, sometimes labelled under buyers-own-brands, which dilutes their identity.


Having spent so much time under Communism, Romanians sometimes refuse to put their energy into shared endeavours because they have bad memories of collectivisation and co-operation. We must now work, learn and grow together again as a team. Some regions are beginning to join forces through vintners’ associations, such as Dealu Mare DOCg or Drăgăşani, but the trend is still in its early stages.


Romania needs to find a flagship variety, a national brand, or an iconic wine/ designation/ producer to move out of the shadows. Some point to Fetească Neagră, but plantings are still diminutive at around 3,000 ha. Neither has an accurate profile of the grape been defined, taking in the array of climates and meso-climates where it is planted. The individual personalities of brands often prevail, instead of the varietal definition in a pedo-climate. Romania has no iconic designation yet, akin to Hungary’s Tokaji, though Dealu Mare and Drăgăşani could be serious contenders.


I strongly believe in the potential of our local grapes and am confident that we will better understand their varietal definition, paving the way for introducing signature wines to export markets. Our unique selling proposition could be an authentic Fetească Neagră. Each area is starting to roll out its own “catalogue” of local grapes based on the traditional ‘assortment’ in each zone, mostly lost after phylloxera.


Some wineries also excel in international varieties. Others successfully blend Bordeaux varieties with a local touch, specifically Fetească Neagră. Reds are the new signature of Romanian wine, though the country also produces easy-going, enjoyable whites, very few of which are age-worthy. Climate change is naturally pushing reds towards the pinnacle. However, if I had to mention one local white with tremendous potential, it would be Fetească Regală, the most planted variety in the country. It is versatile and can show exciting site-expressiveness, alongside its own varietal definition, both of which offer a strong USP, ranking second after Fetească Neagră.


Romanians have almost forgotten sweet wines, but domestic consumers still search for the taste through dry wines, asking for over-ripe characters, high alcohol, over-extraction, and lush oak influence. I appreciate efforts by some producers to revive sweet wines made from Tămâioasa Românească or Busuioaca de Bohotin. This would better educate palates and extend the portfolio for export markets.


Rhein & CIE Azuga 1892 is the oldest traditional method sparkling wine company, and Romania has a taste for bubbles, boasting well-suited local grapes such as Fetească Regală, Fetească Alba, Mustoasă de Măderat, Crâmpoşia Selecționată and Frâncuşa and cool meso-climates. Domestic tastes favour fruity versions with mild dosage. Higher proportions of reserve wines, lower dosage and longer lees contact are now emerging in the marketplace and are major assets for exports.


Many readers will undoubtedly be unfamiliar with Romania, not just as a wine producer but also as a country. Be curious to discover the potential of Romanian wines as I hope to offer readers some insight into this traditional wine producing country, its numerous native grape varieties and array of regions combining sense of place with a unique personality.