Wines of Romania are just like wines of every other place. They cover a range starting with vinegar-like, barely drinkable ones, going up to wines that were awarded the gold medal in the Brussels Wine Awards Contest (Concours Mondial de Bruxelles). Funny enough, although this contest has the “Bruxelles” name in it, it is held in a different country each year. Even funnier, here’s what you can read on their website:
Created on impulse by Louis Havaux, the Concours Mondial de Bruxelles was held for the very first time in April 1994 in… Bruges!
I just found out a couple of days ago that the Concours Mondial de Bruxelles is one of the most important wine competitions worldwide. When registering their wines for the competition, wine producers have to declare how many bottles of each specific wine they made. In case a wine gets a medal, the producer earns the right to print labels with the award and stick them on all bottles in that batch.
What wine bloggers, earthquakes and my mother have in common?
This past weekend I joined a community of local bloggers to a wine tasting. Born from an idea of Alin, owner of one of the best Romanian wine blogs, the tasting was organized by one of the big players on the wine market: Vincon Vrancea. Vincon is the company. Vrancea is the region of Romania where it is located and where the guests were from. It is also the region where Romania’s biggest earthquakes and my mother come from. Actually this is the first time I realize my mother and those earthquakes have the same origin.
How the love for wine almost led vineyards to extinction
Back to Romanian wines, the following story comes to my mind. History teaches us wine must have been quite popular here even from old times. Burebista, one of the country rulers, back when the country was called Dacia, gave the drastic order that all vineyards be burnt to the roots, to put an end to his soldiers’ drinking habits. Sources mention that Burebista was instructed by his adviser, Deceneu, to proceed like that. Later on, Burebista was murdered by some of his people. I don’t know if the unquenched thirst for wine turned into the thirst for blood that marked the end of the powerful Dacian king. Guess who took the power after Burebista’s death… Deceneu himself.
The above story happened in the year 44 before Christ. Since then, vineyards recovered pretty well, judging by the fact that Romanian hills are full of them.
I didn’t know brandy could be such a friendly drink
I always thought I didn’t like brandy, whiskey and other spirits. They are good to keep one’s feet and spirit warm, but there’s nothing pleasant to the mouth. Saturday’s wine tasting trip started at Crama Paradis (Paradise Cellar) in Focsani with the sampling of two brandy products of Vincon: Miorita XO and Jad XO.
Miorita was good. My feet were grateful, because they got so cold in Paradise! I was not prepared for the 12 degrees Celsius we found inside the cellar. If I think about it now, it makes sense: paradise is the opposite of hell. If hell is hot, paradise must be cold, hence if you believe you’re going to paradise after death, instruct your beloved ones to dress you properly. Anyway, Paradise Cellar lodges the biggest distilled grape wine reserve in Eastern Europe. I forgot how many liters, but even if I told you, you’d forget it too. Who remembers figures, anyway?
After Miorita, there came Jad, a 34 year old brandy. That’s when I had the revelation I actually like strong drinks. It was nicely flavored, smooth to the mouth, gentle to the throat, awesome from the first scent to the last drop. Made from distilled wine and preserved in oak barrels, this brandy is enriched with dates and raisins flavor. It went straight on my must-have list for a romantic date. Jad is available in stores all over Romania and I believe it is a better value for money than international brands. Why buy an international VS or VSOP, when you can get an XO with such an exquisite taste for the same amount of money?
How to tell a good brandy from bad?
This is the trick I learned from our Vincon hosts: pour a drop of brandy on your hand, rub it until it evaporates, then smell your skin. If the fragrance persists, it means that’s a good brandy. In case of fakes, this doesn’t happen because they are usually made with added spirits instead of pure distilled grape wine.
I also learned the meaning of those initials on brandy bottles, which I noticed a while ago but didn’t think there was anything to know about. So we have the following grades:
VS = Very Special
This is the equivalent of three stars on some bottles and it signifies a minimum of two years of aging in oak barrels.
VSOP = Very Special Old Pale
This mention tells us the brandy is aged for at least four years in oak barrel.
XO = Extra Old
In theory, XO Cognac needs to be aged for at least six years. In practice, however, the average XO brandy is about 20 years of age.
Wine cellars, spiders and repeated happiness
Beciul Domnesc Cellar in Odobesti is old. Like 15th century old. Spiders on its ceiling seemed a bit younger, though. The oldest bottles of wine were also younger: they were from 1949. Did you know spiders are good in a wine cellar? Their cobs help keeping a constant temperature, which is a must-have if you want your wine to preserve its qualities for a very long time and age in a beautiful way.
The temperature inside the Beciul Domnesc cellar is constant all year round: 8 degrees Celsius. It’s funny how, if somebody would have forced me to go inside a dark, cold cave full of dusty bottles and spider webs hanging from the ceiling, I would have been very unhappy. Since I went down there by my own will, I found it quite neat. Of course, the conditioning I’ve been subject to in my past had a big influence.
Just think: if by some miracle, you woke up one day and forgot your entire past, what would you enjoy and what would you hate? We love to see old, dusty bottles only because we were conditioned to believe there’s an awesome liquor inside. I still remember the oldest wine I ever tasted, which was a bottle of Feteasca Regala from 1975. When I see such an old bottle, my mind associates it with pleasure automatically. I don’t dwell much in the past, but I guess it influences me unconsciously anyway: I enjoy things that used to provide me pleasure and I stay away from those which caused me pain. I want to go back where I once found happiness, be it in a glass of wine, a place on Earth or another soul. Repeated happiness is something we all want. Even my cat wants it. Your cat wants it, too. Just ask him!
To keep a long story short, if your conditioning is to like old wines, Beciul Domnesc is worth a visit. It is not open to the public, but if you are interested, I might be able to help. Use the contact form here to leave me a note of your interest and give me some dates when you are in Romania and want to do the trip. From Bucharest, it takes one full day. If I can gather a group of 10-20 people, I might be able to organize this cellar visit and wine tasting trip for you.
Wines we tasted and what I think about them
Beciul Domnesc Sarba (read Sharba)
This white, dry wine is specific from Vrancea and it is produced exclusively by Vincon. Its name comes from a hill named Sarba, located nearby Focsani. I’m not a fan of white dry wines, but this is one I liked because it’s light and easy, it flows and it leaves a discreet floral perfume after swallowing. I’d drink it at a casual chat with my friends, in the afternoon or at dinner time.
Beciul Domnesc Sarba is available in shops.
Ambrosio Muscat Ottonel
This is another dry, white wine. Unlike Sarba, this one is not available in shops. All wines from the Ambrosio range can be found only in restaurants. I liked it, but I’d rather have this one with food because I felt like I could get drunk pretty easily on it. Its perfume was strong and fruity. Ambrosio Muscat Ottonel won the Gold Medal in Concours Mondial de Bruxelles in 2012. If you visit Romania and you want to try it, ask for it in restaurants.
Rose Verite Cabernet Sauvignon
As the name says, this is a rose wine. It has a beautiful color, salmon pink and a very appealing floral scent. I would drink it at a pyjama party with my girlfriends.
Ambrosio Feteasca Neagra
For those of you who don’t speak Romanian, “Neagra” means black. Feteasca Neagra is a Romanian red wine. There would be many wine producers making it, but what made this one different was the incredible plum taste and aroma. I loved it, but I found it too heavy to drink a lot of it at once. In my opinion, it is excellent for lunch or dinner, paired with red meats. Ambrosio Feteasca Neagra is available in restaurants only, so if you visit Romania, ask for it with your food.
Casa Vrancea 1949 Cabernet Sauvignon
Red, dry wine, this one had a little bit too much of a character for my taste. I’d have it with food, but I’d definitely need some water to wash it away a little bit. I think this is a wine for men.
Beciul Domnesc Special Reserve Busioaca de Bohotin 2012
This wine is so young that it isn’t even available on the market yet. It will be soon, though, and I can tell you something: it’s going to be my favorite for a long while. I loved it. It is sweet, it smells a bit like roses and tastes like a mix of fruits I can’t name. It’s a very friendly wine. Do you want to know a secret? From all previous wines I only took a sip or two, then I discarded the rest. I could not make myself discard this one, it felt such a shame to waste it!
Tamaioasa Romaneasca 1989 Pietroasele, Vinoteca
White and sweet, this dessert wine was awarded the Silver Medal in Concours Mondial de Bruxelles. It was so good, that for the second time I had to drink it all. It has a strong yellow color and it is slightly thicker than usual wines. It’s a delight and the after taste is excellent.
How the other guests saw this wine tasting trip
I gathered the posts written by the other bloggers who attended the visit. You can find them below. They aren’t in a specific order. The list is going to be updated as soon as I discover more posts getting published. They are all in Romanian, but that’s what Google Translation is for, isn’t it? Anyway, if you follow the first link, you’ll see a video made by Cristian, the blog author, showing how wine bottles are sealed with wax and labeled.
Did you try any Romanian wines? Which one did you like most? Don’t forget to let me know if you’re interested in a wine tasting trip in Romania.