Value Brands of the Year 2015: Eastern Europe - Wine & Spirits Magazine

Value Brands of the Year 2015: Eastern Europe

illustrations by Megan Piontkowski

Great wine doesn’t need to cost a bundle. These 39 brands prove it. Each one of them boasts multiple recommendations for wines that cost $18 or less, all standouts among the 14,000-plus wines we’ve tasted over the last 12 months. We’ve presented them by country, along with stats from three years of our blind tastings. Here are the brands and regions to check out for great buys.

In the search for great values, it pays to look where most people don’t. Romania, for instance.

While it’s true that we don’t see much wine out of this country, more than half of the Romanian wines W&S has recommended over the last three years have come in at $18 or less. Hemmed in by Hungary, Serbia, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Moldova and the Black Sea, the country’s generally gentle climate and mountain slopes make a genial home for grapevines.

There’s also plenty of space: Just west of Transylvania, in Banat, Englishman Philip Cox began renovating an old winery in 2000; with access to more than 1,400 acres of vines, his Cramele Recas winery puts out 16 lines of wines. At $7 each, it’s hard to beat the Dreambird and Dreamfish labels. Look especially for the 2013 Dreambird Pinot Noir: it’s vinous and clean, with brisk spiced cherry flavors.

Georgia is right behind Romania for affordable, reliable bottles, with 40 percent of its recommended wines falling under $19. It has also been an exciting region to watch—a place with a winemaking history that dates back to at least 4000 BC, more than 500 indigenous varieties and 111,000 acres of vines ranging from the coast of the Black Sea to Kakheti, on the other side of the Caucasus mountains.

While the Georgian wine industry has traditionally been quite robust, few wines made their way to the States until the Russians banned Georgian wine imports in 2006. Forced to fi nd other markets, the Georgians found an opening among acolytes of natural wines, who were intrigued by the traditional winemaking methods still regularly employed there. Many vintners still ferment their wines in qvevri—huge clay vessels that are buried in the ground, then filled with grapes, stems and all.

Georgia has also developed a reputation for being a welcoming place to conduct business; that, combined with plentiful natural resources and low labor costs, has made the country attractive to outside investors.

Burkhard Schuchmann is one of those investors, a German who established a winery in Kakheti in 2008. Working with Georgi Dakishvili, a third-generation winemaker, he makes wines in both qvevri (under the Vinoterra label) and in stainless steel. His 2012 Vinoterra Mtsvane was the most impressive Georgian wine we tasted for this issue, a rich, golden wine that continued to reveal new details over the course of a week. It’s especially fascinating to taste it next to his stainless-steel version, a satin-textured white with raw almond notes and hints of florals. Both are terrific—and affordable—introductions to a little-explored corner of the wine world.

Cramele Recas (Tri-Vin Imports, Mount Vernon, NY)
2013 Colinele Dobrogei Dreambird Pinot Noir (87 pts., $7, 6/15)
2013 Colinele Dobrogei Dreamfi sh Cabernet Sauvignon (86 pts., $7, 6/15)

Schuchmann (Georgian House of Greater Washington, Beltsville, MD)
2012 Kakheti Vinoterra Mtsvane (93 pts., $17, 6/15)
2013 Kakheti Mtsvane (90 pts., $14, 6/15)

This story was featured in W&S June 2015.
illustrations by Megan Piontkowski

is W&S’s editor at large and covers the wines of the Mediterranean and Central and Eastern Europe for the magazine.

This story appears in the print issue of June 2015.
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