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Rose Murray Brown: Journey down the Danube Valley, bottle by bottle

Wine columnist Rose Murray Brown picks out some great wines from the Danube Valley

Published: April 4, 2016
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Europe’s second longest river, the Danube, flows through ten different countries. All have vineyards alongside the river valley – although we only see wine from seven of them on our shelves in the UK: Germany, Austria, Croatia, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania and the Republic of Moldova.

A trip down this famous river is a fascinating vinous adventure. We begin at its source in Germany, head through Central and Eastern Europe on to the Danube Delta where the river meets the Black Sea near Moldova and Ukraine – some 1,770 miles later. Here are a selection of the best wines from regions which benefit from the microclimate of the Danube Plains and valley along the way.

Germany

The Danube rises near the Black Forest in Donaueschingen village where the Breg and Brigach rivers form the Danube. The white and red wines show great similarities to Burgundy in style and weight, so they tend to be more typical of French, rather than German wines.

Kaiserstuhl Pinot Noir 2012 Karl H Johner
This is well priced German pinot noir which is vibrant and fresh with sweet cherry fruits. Karl Johner is a very experienced pinot noir winemaker, who also has a vineyard in New Zealand.
£13.95, The Wine Society,  www.thewinesociety.com

Austria

Heading through Austria, the fast-flowing Danube cuts between narrow valleys with steep forested banks. The best vineyards here hug the river on steep terraces on the northern banks in the Wachau region – and on the southern banks in Kremstal and Traisental.

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Taste the Difference Gruner Veltliner 2014 Markus Huber
This is the best value gruner veltliner on the market. Herbal, citric and vibrant – a minerally dry white.
£7, reduced from £8, Sainsbury’s until 5 April

Hungary

After passing the Hungarian Gates near Bratislava, the Danube flows down through the centre of Hungary. Half of Hungary’s wines are produced south of the capital, Budapest, in the Danube Plains – the best known is Kunsag region with its charmingly light, aromatic dry whites.

Cserszegi Fuszeres 2014 Frittmann Testverk - STAR BUY
This reminds me of a dry muscat with its grapey, floral aromas and, light spicy palate. Fresh and brilliant value.
£9.95, Berry Bros & Rudd, www.bbr.com

Croatia

The Slavonia wine region in eastern Croatia benefits from the Danube river microclimate. Slavonia is well known for the grasevina grape (otherwise known as welshriesling) where it produces its richest, fullest styles, as well as being home to the Slavonian oak forests used to make wine barrels.

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Grasevina 2013 Ilocki Podrumi
This very elegant creamy rounded example of the grasevina grape would suit white Burgundy lovers.
£12.90, Croatian Fine Wines, www.croatianfinewines.com

Bulgaria

In the middle and lower courses, the Danube becomes shallower, slower and more like a flat-bed river – at its widest almost a mile across – with marshy banks and low terraces.

Gamza Black Pack 2013 Borovitza
The gamza grape, also known as kadarka in nearby Hungary, makes deliciously juicy Beaujolais-style tangy reds with very sweet cherry fruits, chunky red fruit palate and good length.
£10.95, The Wine Society, www.thewinesociety.com

Romania

Romania has a vast number of vineyards (more than Australia), many of which are based between the northern banks of the Danube in Romania and the southern slopes of the Carpathian mountains. With its strong French influence, there are plenty of chardonnays and pinot noirs here – but the native feteasca neagra red grape is very characterful.

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Feteasca Neagra 2012 Crama Ceptura - STAR BUY
Hugely popular at our recent tasting: there are crunchy red fruits, smoky undertones, and it’s herby as well as being a vibrantly fresh red. Would suit merlot drinkers.
£8.95, Berry Bros & Rudd, www.bbr.com

Republic of Moldova

Viticulture is Moldova’s main agriculture along the lower Danube plains but investment has been limited due to its proximity to Ukraine and Russia. It’s at its best with full-bodied claret style reds and sensational dessert ice wine.

Negru Du Purcari 2010
Remarkably good cabernet sauvignon-dominant blend with a little saperavi and rara neagra grapes matured in French oak. A fascinatingly spicy red which shows what potential Moldova has. n
£18.95, Berry Bros & Rudd, www.bbr.com

• Join Rose’s Taste of Scotland Food & Wine Masterclass on 1 July at Abode Hotel, Glasgow, £40, rosemurraybrown.com

Rose Murray Brown is one of only 323 Masters of Wine worldwide and is the only one to host wine courses and regular wine tastings in Scotland.

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