Romania’s wine history is very deep and rich and yet its wine culture is tantalizingly undiscovered. Winemaking here has been going on for 4,000 years without interruption. Conquering armies have come here through the ages in part because of the lure of Romania’s exceptional vineyards. Now, after the destruction of World War II and the wasteful communist years, winemaking of extraordinary quality and character is being revived. Clearly there is something going on here and I think we should go check out the wines of Romania.
Romania occupies a mysterious and exotic place in most peoples’ minds. I think a lot of us picture Romania as being really kind of lost in time. That vision of a quaint and rural Europe populated by small villages in rolling forests and traversed by horses pulling wagon loads of hay. Well there is some truth to that vision of Romania. It is indeed still a very rural place. But let’s try to cut through some of the stereotypes as we visit Bucharest and Dealu Mare. Romania deserves to be better known for its charming capital of Bucharest and the revival of its wine culture. Let’s go to the Dealu Mare wine route to see how the new wines of Romania are changing perceptions.
Why Bucharest And Dealu Mare Are A Great Wine Destination
Bucharest is one of the unsung capitals of Europe. It is an intense cultural hub with its museums and theatres. And it has a particular charm that comes from the combination of classic, elegant European architecture and gritty communist-era features. This is a city that felt the brunt of World War II. Many of the buildings that made Bucharest “the little Paris of Europe” have been lost. Some of these damaged cultural treasures were replaced (or partially built-over) by soviet-style buildings of the “brutalist” school. But therein lies a beautiful, edgy counterpoint: the old, the brutal and the new. Bucharest is safe and friendly but with a feeling of cold-war suspense lingering over it.
But there is something deeper about the Romanian people that colours the culture here and gives Bucharest a unique feel. The Romanian people are a Latin people. Slavic cultures predominate on the east and west but Romania’s language and cultural ethos has more to do with Italy and France than with eastern Europe. And this cultural influence extends to the wines of Romania as well. The long wine history of the country combined with new energy and investment have catapulted the wines of Romania onto the world stage.
First Things First – Sampling Bucharest’s Wine Bars
Before heading to Dealu Mare wine country, let’s wander around the heart of Bucharest’s historic city centre and try some wines. Let’s use the Calea Victoriei thoroughfare as the base for our tour. A little north from the heart of the old city is Revolution Square. Scattered around this area are major museums, art galleries, the music school etc. For more wine and less high art, let’s go south down Calea Victoriei to the famous Macca-Vilacrosse Passage, a remarkable covered shopping arcade. Within a short distance we have a range of fantastic wine bars to help us get introduced to the wines of Romania. A few minutes walk east up Strada Lipscani is Pâine si Vin at Ion Brezianou 4, a bright, friendly space with an excellent wine menu and good bistro food. Energiea is right here as well, another excellent bistro with healthy food and good wines.
Walk along the Dambovita River and just after you cross Calea Victoriei as it goes over the bridge you will find the excellent Abel’s Wine Bar up the alley at Nicolae Tonitza 10. Follow along the pedestrian streets a couple of blocks to the famous Bucharest landmark of Caru’ su Bere at Stravropoleos 5. For well over 100 years this place has been home to a rousing experience fuelled by beer and live music. This place is a tourist mecca – well worth the visit but make reservations for the evening.
Stay on the pedestrian streets to discover the old city. Walking up Strada Lipscani you will pass the prettiest book store in the world, Carturesti Carusel at no. 55. After a visit, continue on and turn left to find the stylish and inviting Corks Cozy Bar at Strada Bacani 1. From here you can wind around the streets to find Bruno Wine Bar at Covaci 3 and also Industry Wine Bar at Sepcari 3 with its proper, rugged wine cellar feel.
For travel and tours try the following:
Romanian Friend is a group of passionate locals that offer tours in Romania – including bicycle wine tours in Dealu Mare
Bucharest Uncovered also offers a variety of tours including in Bucharest but also to Dealu Mare and Sinaia
The Convenient and Compact Dealu Mare Wine Route
Dealu Mare DOC is a relatively small and compact wine region spread along the foothills of the southern Carpathian mountains. This is a natural wine touring route as the wineries are spread over a 50 km stretch of the E577 highway between Ploiesti and Buzau. It is about the best place to sample the wines of Romania and it’s remarkably close to Bucharest. This is Romania’s premiere red wine making region. The indigenous Feteasca Neagra grape is the local hero and makes resonant and elegant wines capable of aging. But other varieties including Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah are very well adapted to the region and make excellent wine.
Visiting The Winemakers And Trying The Wines Of Romania
There are a large number of wineries sprinkled through the local villages and here is a small sampling. Make sure to make appointments in advance!
Basilescu is one of the mainstays of the Dealu Mare wine region and is just outside the town of Urlati
Nearby find Crama Budureasca with its noteworthy winery architecture. And also make sure to arrange a visit at the lovely Domeniile Tohani. And the Domeniile Blaga is just a little further up the highway.
Further a little bit up into the hills find the highly-regarded LacertA Winery named after the popular local lizard
Take In Enchanting Sinaia On The Trip
An hour beyond Ploesti and much further up into the mountains is the resort town of Sinaia and the Prahova valley. Sinaia was a summer getaway for Romanian elite and King Carol I build the iconic Peles Castle here. Sinaia is a destination for hiking, mountain biking and skiing – and also for the architecture.
Check out the very helpful Romanian Wineries site Crame Romania
Revino is a very substantial site for all the information you could possibly need on the wines of Romania
Romania Tourism has a wealth of travel information for the visitor
Premium Wines of Romania has loads of information on grape varieties, regions and wineries