Discover / Varieties / Grasă de Cotnari

This now rare Romanian variety was once famous for its sweet Cotnari wines, occasionally found in those of Tokaj in Hungary.

MAIN SYNONYMS: Bajor, Feher Koverszolo, Fejerszolo (Hungary), Gras, Grasă (Romania), Grasă de Cotnar (Romania), Grasă Mare (Romania), Grasă Mică (Romania), Grași (Romania), Grassa (Romania), Koverszolo (Hungary), Poamă Grasă (Romania), Resertraube


Ampelographers (Galet 2000; Dejeu 2004) seem to agree that the Romanian variety known as Grasă, meaning 'fat', or Grasă de Cotnari, and the Hungarian variety known as Koverszolo, meaning 'fat grape', are one and the same, however this has not yet been confirmed by DNA profiling. In Hungary, this variety has been known since the 19th century but it might be much older because, according to Balassa in Varga (2008), Koverszolo is identical to Fejerszolo, an old and unidentified variety frequently mentioned in old variety lists in Tokaj. In Romania, it has long been cultivated in the region of Cotnari, hence Grasă de Cotnari, and at least three morphological types have been described (Dejeu 2004): Grasă Galbenă (yellow berries), Grasă Verde (green berries) and Grasă Crocantă (crunchy berries). This biodiversity points to a Romanian origin for Grasă, supported by a recent study showing that it is genetically close to other varieties of the historical Moldova region (including today's Republic of Moldova and Romania's eastern Moldova region) such as FETEASCĂ ALBĂ and FETEASCĂ REGALĂ (Bodea et al. 2009).

Grasă de Cotnari is sometimes said to be identical to FURMINT (Roy-Chevrier 1903b; Galet 2000) but the two varieties might simply be morphologically similar (Dejeu 2004).

In Romania, legend has it that Stephen the Great (1433-1504), Prince of Moldova, was very impressed when he tasted the wine in Alba lulia (Transylvania) while visiting Prince Matthias Corvinus (1443-90), King of Hungary and Croatia, and he was offered cuttings of what was later called Grasa de Cotnari (Dejeu 2004). However, a Transylvanian origin is doubtful because Grasa de Cotnari has traditionally never been cultivated in this region.

According ro another legend (Roy-Chevrier 1903b), this variety was introduced from Hungary at the end of the 15th century by a German named Gutnar, who gave his name to the village of Kutnar, which eventually became Kotnar and then Cotnari, where the original vines planted by Gutnar were supposedly still growing in the Valea Ungurului ('Valley of the Hungarians').

Early budding and mid- to late ripening. Low yields of far, rounded, sugar-rich berries that are a welcoming host to noble rot. Moderately resistant to cold winter temperatures and drought but susceptible to downy mildew. Best suited to warm, volcanic soils and slopes.

There were 415 ha (1,025 acres) of Grasă de Cotnari in Romania in 2008, mainly in the hills of Romania's eastern Moldova region in the far northeast, where it makes the sweet botrytized Cotnari wines which once rivalled Tokaji at the courts of northern Europe. It may be a varietal wine but its 'fat', full-bodied character is better balanced when blended (minimum 30%) with its traditional partners Tămâioasă Românească (see MUSCAT BLANC A PETITS GRAINS), FRÂNCUȘĂ and FETEASCĂ ALBĂ. Semi-sweet and dry styles are also found and Cotnari wines are generally less exposed to oxygen and oak than Tokaji is, producing wines with a greenish tinge even after several years in the bottle.

In Hungary, Koverszolo almost disappeared after the phylloxera, but it experienced a limited revival in the late 1990s, although there were only 37 ha (91 acres) planted in 2008, almost exclusively in Tokaj. Its high sugar levels and susceptibility to noble rot make it a useful if minor ingredient in the sweet botrytized wines of the Tokaj appellation, in which it is the fifth authorized variety. Varietal wines are full-bodied, soft, slightly aromatic and not suited to ageing, which is why producers such as Tokaj Nobilis use only a small percentage in some of their sweet FURMlNT-dominated wines. Rare varietal examples are made by Dorogi, Hetszolo (mostly Aszu wines but also late-harvest styles in some vintages) and Tokaj Nobilis.