Romania - the wines of Oenoterra Tohani and Cramele Halewood
23 May 2007

Oenoterra is a small company with 110 hectares of vineyards in the DOC Tohani Dealu Mare.  The vineyards are planted with feteasca neagra, merlot, cabernet sauvignon, feteasca alba, busuioaca de bohotin and chardonnay, all of which make DOC Dealu Mare wines, plus muscato bianco.  The winery has a capacity of 600 tons per year: in 2005 100,000 litres were produced.  In 2006, production rose to 250,000 litres, of which a maximum of 75% will be bottled.

2005 Vŕrful cu Dor, Feteasca Alba Sec, Dealu Mare, Romania, Oenoterra Tohani, 12.5%
A floral, fragrant nose, like a cross between sauvignon blanc and muscat.  Clean, round palate with some good floral and spicy notes, feeling like a cross between a riesling, a muscat and a pinot gris.  Very dry, but it doesn’t high overly high acidity.  An interesting wine.  Very Good/Very Good Indeed.  88/100

2005 Legendele Toamnei, Feteasca Neagra Sec, Dealu Mare, Romania, Oenoterra Tohani, 13%
An interesting nose: quite mushroomy, but also with some blackcurrant fruit, but there’s also some less attractive green stalky notes.  Very direct palate.  It has high acidity and is very astringent on the tongue, almost to the point of hurting.  Apparently 2005 was a long, but rainy sunny which they claim has diluted the wine.  This isn’t especially wonderful, but it’s probably worth seeking out if you want something different.  It would make an interesting ringer in a pinot noir tasting.  Good.  83/100

2005 Barricat Cabernet Sauvignon, Dealu Mare, Romania, Oenoterra Tohani, 12%
This has an oaky, cedary nose with some cabernet sauvignon fruit behind.  This is a nicely made, if rather straightforward cabernet sauvignon.  Lots of oak, but they’ve not overdone it.  Good finish.  Apparently the vines are still very young, so this is a wine which should improve as the vines age, so there’s distinct promise for the future.  Good+.  84/100

2005 Brutus, Feteasca Neagra sec, Dealu Mare, Romania, Oenoterra Tohani, 13%
Aged in oak for 3-4 months.  It has an interesting nose: there are some pinot overtones, but there’s also some stalky black fruit.  Nice palate.  There’s lots of acidity immediately, but it is balanced – just! – by the sweetness of fruit and oak.  This has more than a hint of nebbiolo to it, and isn’t that dissimilar to a lightweight, young barbaresco.  Very Good.  87/100



Cramele Halewood

Halewood International was founded by John Halewood in 1978 and began importing Romanian wines in 1987.  In 1997 Halewood established their first Romanian subsidiary.  Now, following investment of some $10 million, Halewood International own three subsidiaries in Romania, one concerned with growing the grapes, one with winemaking and one with distribution.  They produce around 42,000 hl per year from over 400 hectares of vines in three major areas: Dealu Mare, Podisul Transilvaniei and Murfatlat.  One of the ranges they were showing was the Byzantium brand, with its Byzantine mosaics labels.  I asked what on earth Byzantium had to do with Romania, as they are not two names that automatically fall together in the mind.  The rather lame explanation was that in antiquity, present day Romania fell under the Byzantine empire, which is a bit like saying that English wine should be called Chianti.

2005 Prahova Valley Chardonnay Special Reserve, matured in barrique, Cramele Halewood, 12.5%
A relatively austere tropical nose with some milky oak.  This is a rather pleasant, if straightforward chardonnay, representing very easy drinking.  Good/Very Good.  86/100

2006 Byzantium Blanc de Transylvania, Cramele Halewood, 12.5%
This is a blend of gewurztraminer, pinot gris and feteasca alba.  It has an attractive nose, very much showing the character of a pinot gris/gewurztraminer cross with a bit of something else with higher acidity.  On the palate, there’s quite a Friulan character in the depth of flavour.  This is a nice wine, with good character and very good balance between the varieties.  Very Good.  87/100

2006 Prahova Valley Reserve Tămâioasă Românească, Muntenia Hills, Romania, Caramele Halewood, 11.5%
An interesting nose: quite nutty with some dry fruits.  Apparently it has 50g/l of residual sugar, and this makes itself felt immediately on the palate.  There’s decent character and it has an acidity (which is added) which gives it a fair balance and stops it becoming cloying on the finish.  Probably, it could do with a year or two in bottle.  Apparently, Romanian sweet wines age very well.  Good.  84/100

2005 Pinot Noir Reserve, Prahova Valley, Cramele Halewood, 13%
There’s sweet cherry fruit on the nose.  It has a simple, manufactured palate, reminiscent of a young vine pinot noir.  Avoidable.  OK.  79/100

2005 Pinot Noir Barrique aged, Cherry Tree Hill, Cramele Halewood, 14%
From estate grown fruit, aged in Romanian oak barrels.  It has a restrained cherry and bilberry nose.  There’s forward fruit on the palate, but it is very quickly dominated by tannins.  There’s quite a spicy oak feel on the finish.  This might repay another 18 months in bottle.  Good.  83/100

2006 Pinot Noir Barrique aged, Cherry Tree Hill, Cramele Halewood
The 2006 was aged in American oak: this was a barrel sample.  There’s quite toasty, sawdusty oak on the  nose.  Very young on the palate, with high acidity, and it’s yet to integrate at all on the palate.  There’s some decent fruit character in there.  Might be 83 or 84/100 in time.

2004 Feteasca Neagra Special Reserve, Prahova Valley, Cramele Halewood
Rounded and open on the nose and palate.  It just feels a bit commercial and industrial.  Very spicy on the finish and there’s quite interesting character inbetween.  Very Good.  86/100

2005 Byzantium Rosso de Valachia, Cramele Halewood, 13%
This is a feteasca dominated blend with some pinot noir and merlot.  The nose is very integrated with black fruits and fresh leather.  It works very well in the mouth and there are lots of interesting, but unchallenging flavours.  A good, well made wine.  Very Good.  88/100

2003 Merlot Cherry Tree Hill, Cramele Halewood, 13.5%
Matured in Romanian oak, though their Australian winemaker, Stephen  Bennett is not convinced by the Romanian oak from this particularly supplier.  It has quite a woody, spicy nose with some blackberry fruit behind.  Good palate.  Very oaky though, which makes it feel very tight.  Good.  85/100

2005 Merlot barrique aged, Cherry Tree Hill, Cramele Halewood
This is much less oaky on the nose than the 2003 and it’s much less challenging with a lot more merlot character.  This is apparently the modern Romanian style.  There are lots of chunky oak and tannins on the finish, but it’s much less aggressive than the 2003.  Very Good.  86/100

2004 Byzantium Cabernet Sauvignon, Cramele Halewood, 13%
A good leathery nose with some cabernet sauvignon fruit.  Nice balance.  This isn’t bad, especially with food.  There’s some good fruit, though tending to greenness.  Good structure with firm tannins.  Good/Very Good.  85/100

2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, Cherry Tree Hill, Cramele Halewood, 14%
At the time of tasting the wine was still maturing in American oak, and this was just a barrel sample.  There’s quite pure fruit on the palate, which follows on from sweet oak and black fruit on the nose.  Easy drinking.  Very stocky tannins at the moment.  Very Good.  86/100

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Last updated: 16 July 2007