Category Archives: The neighbours

Popping around to the neighbours for a quick drink – Bucharest – Time for some tasting

The Saturday dawned wet and windy, but I set off gamely for a bit of a wander around the centre prior to meeting Razvan Stoenescu, author of the Vin2 blog and organiser of Monday evening’s #winelover hangout. Razvan had offered to take me on a tour of a couple of wine bars in the evening. Always glad to have the insight and knowledge of a local, I had quickly agreed.

After a few hours of sightseeing in the blustery rain, discovering the historic town centre and the ‘ostentatious’ avenues and P1040083People’s Palace (now housing the Parliament and various other governmental bodies) built by Communist dictator Nicolae Ceacescu, and taking a look around the fascinating Bucharest Historical Museum, I headed back to the hotel to try to make contact with Razvan.

This had proved quite difficult, as my phone had decided not to register itself automatically on the local network as is usually the case when crossing into another European country. Anyway, finally I manage to speak to Razvan via the hotel reception and half an hour later we were heading off into the northern part of Bucharest on the quest for Romanian wine.

Our first port of call was Vinoteca Mea, a specialist wine shop and wine bar, where I was surprised to see the range of non-Romanian wines they had on offer, including some quite good Hungarian ones, including from Somló. I am sure this situation is not reflected in Hungary, where you rarely see Romanian wines on the shelves. Here we tried several wines.

P1030993First up, a Fetească Regala 2013 (Királyleanyka in Hungary) from the Crama Ratesti winery. A fresh elegant wine with exotic fruit and some floral notes. Flavours of ripe apple, stone fruits, some stoniness, and a slightly bitter finish.

Our next wine was a Crămposie Selecţionată 2013 from the Crama Cepari winerP1030994y in south Romania. A nutty, oaky wine with high acidity, with flavours of pear, mandarine and ripe apple. Warming alcohol.

Moving on to Ethic Wine, a wine shop just round the corner, we tried a further Feteasca Regala 2013, this time from Via Sandu. A complex, full-bodied wine with floral, with mineral notes which linger on the finish.

IMG_4382We also tried a Fetească Negrea (Fekete Leanyka), but by then we were standing outside with the other patrons of the wine shop, and I’m afraid to say, I didn’t take any notes or even a picture in this case. However, I remember that it was rich and mouth-filling with velvety black fruits. I’m starting to become a big fan of this grape variety.

P1030999Next day, lunch at the Crama Domnească Restaurant saw us tasting an example of the grape variety dubbed the Romanian Furmint, Grasa de Cotnari – Colocviu at Moscow 2014. A fresh, elegant wine with flavours of hazelnut, green apple and citrus, perhaps a little less bitter on the finish than a Furmint.

P1040005After lunch, we set off to do a bit more wine-tasting at Corks, situated in the historic centre and the only wine bar that appeared to be open that Sunday afternoon, where we tasted our way through a good range of native varieties, a Cabernet from Dragașani and a blend from Moldova.

Here I discovered the deliciously different rosé, Busuioaca de Bohotun, made from grapes that are pink-skinned rather than black.P1040017

We tasted a Via Sandu Crămposie and another Crămposie from Prince Stirbey, a Mustoasa de Măderan from Balla Géza, La Petite Sophie (a blend of Fetească Neagra, Chardonnay and Riesling) from the Moldovan Gitana winery, a Novac, a Furmint and the highlight, in terms of being unusual, the highlight was discovering the abovementioned Busuioaca de Bohotun, here in a blend with Tomaioasa Romaneasca, deliciously, fruity, fragrant and floral.

P1040019And the main reason for my visit to Bucharest was still to come, the next day’s #winelover hangout, organised by Razvan, when I was looking forward to continuing my Romanian wine odyssey.

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Popping around the neighbour’s for a quick drink – Bucharest – Prelude – The journey

Perhaps you could argue that spending fourteen and a half hours on a train is hardly popping around to the neighbour’s. Maybe you could dispute the fact that three days of wine tasting – I swear, I wasn’t tasting the whole time! – is not really a quick drink. Well, that’s beside the point. That’s the name I’ve chosen for adventures outside Hungary.

A #winelover hangout had been organised in Bucharest and it was suggested that Bucharest is not far from Budapest, and wouldn’t I like to join the event. I thought, well, we are neighbours, I’ve always been interested in visiting Bucharest, but had never made it further than Brasov, put off by rumours of packs of wild, rabid dogs roaming the streets of Bucharest. Any Brit who grew up in the seventies was instilled with a horror of rabid dogs, foaming at the mouth, on the ‘continent’; Britain being rabies free and due to quarantining any poor animals arriving on to ‘our green and pleasant land’ was likely to remain so.

I took a look at the Hungarian Railways website and discovered that it would take me nigh on fifteen hours to get there by train and there were no attractive flight offers. I was dissuaded for a while, but then thought, “what the hell! I’ve got plenty to read”. In the end, it turned out that I, in fact, had plenty of work to do, so the journey passed, I wouldn’t go so far as to say flew, unfortunately.

The day started well. Having woken up at, what for me, is the crack of dawn, I waited in vain for a trolley bus to take me to Keleti, and two did not show up. Now, do I trust in the gods or take things into my own hands. I decided that if the next one did not arrive, I would be up the proverbial creek without a paddle, so I set off at a trot to Keleti, pulling my case behind me. I made it to the station, sweat pouring, heart beating hard, breath rasping, with three minutes to spare. The next trolley bus following me in. Hmmm.

I settled in for the duration. Tapping away on my computer, we reached the border after three hours or so, where we sat for what seemed like hours.

Shortly after the border, the fun began. Ensconced near the window, concentrating on my work, I had no idea what was going on. Raised voices in Romanian. Raised voices in Hungarian. People pulling their bags here and there. Finger pointing. More shouting. A large number of people hovering in the aisle. I continued to work, completely oblivious, or at least, I pretended to be.

The Romanian ticket inspector arrived. More confrontational voices. I continued to work, trying to pay no attention, despite the piercing quality of the elderly Hungarian ladies’ voices behind me.  The inspector asked for my ticket, took one look at it and stared at me as if it were not valid, but said nothing at all, simply scrawling something on the ticket.

A few moments later, a lady sat down opposite me and informed me I was in the wrong seat. No, I showed her my ticket. She showed me hers – same seat number, but different carriage. But this is 434, I told her. No, it’s 435. Well, in Budapest it was 434. The Hungarians, I was told, had put the wrong numbers on the carriages in Budapest. Now they were correct. I saw this later when using the ‘facilities’, it was indeed now 435. Somehow it had mutated at the border. So, in actual fact, I should move into the other carriage. However, she didn’t mind, so unless someone else came and kicked up a fuss, we settled in for the rest of the journey, still about eleven hours at this point. Now I understood what all the shouting had been about. But, I have to ask myself, who, in their right minds, changes the carriage numbers at the border on a long distance, international train. I make no comment here.

The rest of the journey passed rather uneventfully but for Dana showing me numerous pictures of her family and soothing my now rather nasty cough with a supply of throat sweets she had in her bag. Although, admittedly at every (extended) stop, there was a bit of a frisson – would anyone come to oust us from our seats?

I now understood why it took so long to make the 850km journey. The train stopped for not inconsiderable times at many stations and crawled along at a snail’s pace.

Finally, arriving in Bucharest, close to 11pm, I braced myself for the packs of stray dogs I would doubtless encounter as soon as I exited the station. I strode forward purposefully, ignoring the gangs of ruthless taxi-driver criminals I was also sure to meet on my way out. My strategy worked, after a short detour into a shop to replenish my depleted supply of water, I tried to look like I knew where I was going. I had consulted my map in great detail before getting off the train, in the hope I would not have to produce it in order to orient myself. I left the station, the taxi drivers’ coercions just bouncing off me. I was out. Where were the dogs? There was not a dog to be seen. Not even one. Perhaps it was the rain.

I made my way to my nearby hotel, still no dogs, and checked in.

I was out like a light. However, perhaps I heard a dog barking during the night!