By Patti Morrow, Epicure & Culture Contributor
I’m not much of a wine drinker; that is, unless it has bubbles.
You’re probably thinking expensive champagne, right? Champagne is the most well-known bubbly and always a good choice; however, there’s more to sparkling wine than just Champagne. There’s cava from Spain, Prosecco from Italy and a whole new popularity of fizzy beverages cropping up in less familiar European countries.
On my recent journey through Central and Eastern Europe, I was fortunate to be hosted by JayWay Travel, a tour agency specializing in finding local wineries that run the gamut from award-winning to off-the-beaten-path. This meant we were able to sample a good selection of Eastern European wine.
Wines from Central and Eastern Europe are increasingly modern and consumer-friendly in style. Many offer a wide range of deliciously crafted and varietal wines at bargain prices, and sparkling wines are increasing their market share.Did you know that sparkling #wines are becoming popular throughout Eastern #Europe? Here's where to find the best sips! Click To Tweet
While the terrain, climate and culture may differ slightly throughout Central and Eastern Europe, there is one thing that many of the sparkling wine producers have in common; they employ the traditional méthode champenoise, which requires a second fermentation in the bottle.
After the first fermentation in the barrel, a syrupy mixture of sugar and yeast called tirage is added to the still wine. It is then bottled with a metallic stopper. The pressure produces carbon dioxide, which creates the bubbles or “sparkle” when the bottle is opened.
In the final stage, unappealing-looking remnant yeast, called lees, is removed by turning the bottles over and over. Some Eastern European wine operations still perform this process manually, while others have automated.
Romania is the sixth-largest wine producer in the E.U., but despite the long history, it has only come to recognition after shaking loose from its communist occupation. Great success has come from expanded attention on their unique native grapes and improving quality through upgraded technology.
The Romanian mountain climate is perfect for the second fermentation of white and rose sparkling wines, passively-cooled in both above and underground cellars.
Viniculture: Cramele Halewood
Cramele Halewood in Transylvania, established in 1982, exclusively produces its own delicious sparkling brut wine in Romania’s oldest sparkling wine cellar. Rhein Extra is produced here, the oldest Romanian brand of sparkling wine and the most famous between the two world wars.
True to their traditional method, after the second fermentation, the bottles are kept in the horizontal position for nine months. Then, twice a day for two months, the bottles are turned 45 degrees, all by hand, and stored at a constant cool temperature. In eight hours, one person can turn approximately 50,000 bottles.At this Romanian #winery, bottles are rotated by hand during the fermentation process. One person can turn 50,000 bottles per day! #Romania Click To Tweet
In 2006, Cramele Halewood once again became the official Supplier to the Royal House of Romania, after having this honor between 1920 and 1947.
The countryside grounds provide a lovely natural backdrop for wine pairings and tastings. Halewood has a very mom-and-pop feel to it — it’s small and personal, and in truth, it was my favorite Eastern European wine experience.
Enchanting town plazas that date back to medieval times, rolling hills as far as the eye can see, castles cloaked in the mystery of Count Dracula, craggy mountain vistas and a seemingly infinite array of fortresses and churches. Transylvania’s natural beauty and cultural diversity is captivating.
Sighisoara is widely considered one of the most beautiful and best-preserved medieval towns in Europe. The unspoiled 16th century mix of hilly cobbled streets, turrets, towers and town squares has been compared to the magical ambiance of Old Prague or Vienna.
Framed by the Carpathian Mountains, Brasov is one of the most visited cities in Romania. Founded by the Teutonic Knights in 1211, it’s a mix of colorful gothic, baroque and renaissance architecture, with a cobblestone square and lively cafes.
Built in the 12th century by Saxons, Sibiu’s pristine old town is one of the prettiest in Romania. It’s a pedestrian city, with an imposing medieval wall, well-preserved towers, narrow streets, gabled 17th century buildings, the infamous Liar’s Bridge and two church-dominated squares.
This land-locked country is still mostly unfamiliar to the U.S. — both in tourism and in viniculture. Once one of Russia’s largest wine suppliers, Moldova has increased its market share in other parts of Europe and has been targeting the Asian and U.S. markets to the extent that now most of its excellent wine is exported.
Founded in 1952, one of Moldova’s dominant operations is the Cricova vineyards and winery. Overland are acres and acres of vineyards and endless panoramic views.
But the highlight of Cricova is hopping in one of the trolley cars and being whisked through the frigid underground shafts. Miles of paths crisscross under Cricova in a labyrinth of tunnels. Some lead to storage cellars containing old and valuable wines, including Hermann Göring’s collection of rare wines won by the USSR as war reparations after World War II. Be sure to bring a warm coat for this excursion, no matter what time of year!
Cricova claims to be the first winery in Moldova to make sparkling wine, as it was prepared by monk winemaker Pierre Perignon in 1986.
The underground metropolis at Cricova also contains the bottling facilities, as well as multiple tasting rooms, each a different size and décor to accommodate a variety of visitors.#Moldova may be one of the least-visited countries in Europe but it's a destination #wine lovers should not miss! Click To Tweet
Moldova is one of the least-visited countries in Europe, but on a continent suffering from over-exploration, the world is beginning to submit to the allure of this culturally unique and affordable off-the-grid destination. Moldova has a rich history dating back to discovery of 1.2 million year old Paleolithic era Oldowan flint tools and Middle Age influencers such as the Romans, Huns and Mongols.
Chișinău, the lively capital, offers tourists a plethora of sites, from the city’s many green spaces, government squares and churches, to more offbeat opportunities like the former KGB headquarters or cannabis coffee cafés.
Similar to Moldova, Ukraine originally made its mark as one of the Soviet Union’s top wine suppliers. The Soviet name for imported sparkling wine was Sovetskoye Shampanskoye, or Soviet Champagne, and most of it was sweet. Ukraine is also targeting new sales in the U.S. and Asia.
Wine Culture Center Shabo is not your ordinary Eastern European wine experience. Just a short drive from Odessa’s city center, the 2.5 hour comprehensive tour is more like Disneyland for wine lovers. The slick automated operation starts with a walk past the vineyards, onto the wine-making and storing process, past modern sculptures, fountains and underground exhibits.
There is an elaborate “walk-through-time” museum complete with mannequins depicting their 200-year-old Swiss heritage from the first grape harvest in the area to current times, to a company promotional film.
At the end of the tour, there’s an opportunity to taste some of the Shabo wines in their sleek, modern bar/tasting room. Tasters are offered sips of red, white and sparkling wine.
And lastly, before exiting the glittery operation, visitors must go through the ubiquitous company store where they have an opportunity to purchase wine and branded souvenirs.
Odessa is a port city on the Black Sea, founded in 1794 by the Russian empress Catherine the Great. Its reputation as the summer capital of Ukraine draws in visitors who are eager to stroll around the city’s tree-lined “Old Town” taking in the pastel neoclassical architecture, historical monuments, delicious cuisine and seaside resorts.
There’s much to explore in Odessa, including the opulent opera house, the famous Potemkin Stairs, the underground catacombs used by the partisan army to hide from the Nazis, chic and frenetic Arcadia Beach and the 13th century Akkerman Fortress.Looking for the best #wine in #Europe? We've got you covered! Click To Tweet
Disclosure: The author was honored to be the guest of JayWay Travel during her stay in Eastern Europe, but as always, the opinions, reviews and experiences are her own.
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