VINUL.RO EXCELLENCE AWARDS 2011 – OFF-COMPETITION TASTINGS (3)
After the great lunch at Hanul-lui-Manuc, including the presentation and tasting of wines from the Dragasani region (see earlier message) we had little time to rest for a while or have a short walk in the centre of Bucharest. The next off-tasting and dinner was planned at Chez Marie Restaurant in Bucharest. Our wine host was Murfatlar Romania from the Dobrogea region close to the Black Sea. I visited the winery in 2002 and was much more impressed by the site and by the joviality of the Australian winemaker at that time, Stephen Bennett, than by the wines themselves. A lot of things changed in the meantime, so I hoped the quality of the wines did improve, even after Stephen Bennett left. Stephen brought huge changes to the very old-fashioned Murfatlar, but it might not have gone as fast as it should have been. However, the basis of the changes was there, and I did expect a huge progression.
Chez Marie restaurant was definitely not exactly what I expected after what was told us and what I found on their website. The location is good; the ambiance is cosy and intimate, nothing bad about that. Unfortunately, we were ‘parked’ like cattle in the smoking area. No one thought about the fact that many people, especially wine professionals would not really fancy the idea of eating in a heavy tobacco damp. After such a heavy day, we would have liked to sit in a quieter place than in such a very busy restaurant. But, we did survive. The food was OK but far from perfect. A quick glimpse on the menu card showed Mediterranean influences, especially Italian. What we got to eat was a kind of stereotype international bistro level dishes. The grilled meat was much too overdone and quite chewy, and the fillet (!!!) under the tiny slice of foie gras looked much more like a piece of overdone beef eye round steak than like a delicate, rare fillet mignon steak. The mushroom sauce was too salty (Oscar fonds?) and the mushrooms had not much taste… The dessert looked great but reminded us much more the ‘moelleux au chocolat’ that you can buy at Metro than a delicious home-made chocolate fondant pastry… But we did survive, and many of the guests did have a great evening. At our Italian-French-Dutch table, it was not really the case. It is clear that the people in the kitchen are really professionals and can do much better, but this might not have been the good day. Actually I am sure we would have preferred typical Romanian dishes than mock-French or Italian ones.
Tasting Murfatlar wines at the NL-F-I table with Dan Bundur (left)
picture courtesy Vinul.ro ©
What about MURFATLAR wines?
Well, we have been told that we did taste the very best Murfatlar wines that evening… Right… What should I say? Well, let’s start with compliments for the representatives of Murfatlar, very nice people, and I am sure very capable too. Unfortunately, there is still a long way to go. The white pinot gris-sauvignon blanc 2010 and rosé cabernet sauvignon 2010 from the 3 hectare Sable Noble range didn’t really impress or convince the Franco-Italian-Dutch jury at our table… Not bad, drinkable, well-made but not much more than that. Fortunately, the two red wines we tasted were much better: 3 Hectare Sable Noble Red 2008 (?) Cabernet sauvignon-merlot-feteasca neagra and especially M1 Syrah 2010. This reminded me the common opinion shared with my French colleague and friend Mathilde Hulot when we visited Romania together during a week in 2003: “Excellent potential and “raw” material (some red wines are beautiful)”. This remains for me absolutely true with this M1 Syrah.
Murfatlar wine tasting – picture courtesy Vinul.ro ©
M1 Syrah 2010: The ‘raw material’ is excellent; unfortunately the quality of the oak barrels that have been used for this wine is not what it should deserve. Dare to buy good quality French oak barrels with fine grain and you’ll see that this syrah could get much better! The nice fruit, freshness, minerality, the graphite accent on the back… please give this little jewel the right oak frame! Price is not relevant when you make an icon wine, you should make it in a way that it is WORTH it…
The fact that Murfatlar is a big company producing huge amounts of wine, is well-known and it will be difficult to get rid of the old negative image. But it could be too an extra stimulant, a strong kick to produce better wines. The more choice you have in raw material, the less excuse you have to make average wines! I do believe in Murfatlar, but they will have to make the right choices. Maybe it is indeed time for them to split the company brands in bulk and quality wines. Maybe they should totally drop the name Murfatlar for the better quality wines, to get rid of the bad image of the past. It takes a lot of bravery, but I am sure they will succeed in their goals.
Mathilde Hulot report from 2003 on Wine Business Monthly