Why on earth would we leave nice, cool Sinaia in the beautiful Bucegi mountains to retrace our route back down to the blazing-hot Wallachian flatlands? Ploiești wasn’t even a tourist town. It was an oil producing and refining center.
Had we finally gone mad? Were we being over-protective of our scotch?
The voices didn’t think so… and, maybe.
While in Sinaia, and not busy setting up surveillance systems (See Pat’s last post), we learned that the Dealu Mare region was considered the premier wine region in Romania. After tasting a few of the wines from the region, we could understand why they would say that. Determined to get the juicy story on this premier wine region, we decided that we needed to be closer to the source, and set our sights on Ploiești.
A Swig and a Miss
We arrived in Ploiești at our windowless — but deliciously cool — air-conditioned, room late afternoon. We were hot and hungry and asked for a restaurant nearby. “Sure!” our perky hostess chirped. “Vintage is just down the street.” How is that for luck? It was like the wine was calling us.
In hindsight, it was a good thing Vintage was only a block away. The 100F+, blindingly sunny walk was punishing. We found Vintage’s shingle and climbed down the steps beneath it into a basement. We couldn’t see a thing in the darkness because our pupils were the size of pinholes, and we wondered if we were in the right place. At least it was cool. Out of nowhere, the owner corralled us and guided us to a table the way you’d guide a blind person.
Once seated, we looked at the menu. “Do you see the wine list?” I asked Pat. “Not yet,” he answered, not because his eyes hadn’t dilated, but because he couldn’t find it. We kept looking; cocktails, beer, soft drinks, coffee, but surprisingly little wine and no house wine which is always fun to try. We settled for swigging cold beers with lunch instead.
The lack of wine was a disappointment, but the owners were nice and the food was decent. I guess “Vintage” had nothing to do with grapes and more to do with the age of the place.
Not to be deterred in our quest for Dealu Mare wines, we headed back to the cool confines of our windowless room. Back in our third-floor cave, we got down to researching the wineries and wine stores. The winery websites weren’t very informative and a search for wine stores was dismal at best.
Only two wine stores came up. One, Halewood, had good reviews. “How far is it?” asked Pat. “Not far, but we should go early,” I replied nonchalantly. He knew that was darn near a fib. 2.5km is nothing unless it is hotter than a habanero suppository, which it was. Pat did the scowl-thing. I plotted our course.
We showed up at Halewood bright and early the next morning soaked through like Kleenex in a steam room. Obviously, it was going to be a ghost pepper kind of day.
Since it was so early, we had the shopkeeper to ourselves. He told us about the wines of the region and based on his descriptions, we picked a Feteasca Negra and a red blend. We mentioned that we were curious about the whites and he asked — almost incredulously — maybe because normal people were just finishing their Cheerios, ” You want to taste?” Has a sillier question ever been asked? Of course, we wanted to taste!
He poured us handsome portions of the wines we had purchased and then a Feteasca Alba, a white. Ok, wrong tasting order, but we were in a good mood, and nearly perspiration free, by the time we got to the white. “We’ll take one of those too!” My back and backpack gave me the evil eye and let me hear about it all the way back to our cave… room.
Solid line drive, just a little foul. Strike two
Nibbling at the Corners
Ploiești, being an industrial town, didn’t have a concentrated area of restaurants like tourist towns do. That can be a good thing or a bad thing. We found two restaurants with good reviews within walking distance. “Hello. Do we need reservations and do you have air conditioning?” I queried on Orizont’s Facebook page. “No reservations required, and yes, we have air conditioning,” they replied in short order.
We showed up around 8 pm and it was still hot as jalapeños. A few people were seated outside, but no one was inside. Whew, this is going to be some sweaty dining.
A little outside, ball one
The manager/owner/one-man-show greeted us, took us inside, sat us under a mini-split and turned it on. Hey, how did he know it was us? The little unit struggled, but by the time the wine arrived the temperature was comfortably in the mid-80s.
The food was excellent and the house wine was delightful. Sitting inside all alone was a little weird, though, and we felt bad about having the a/c turned on just for us.
A little high, ball two
The next night we tried the other restaurant with good reviews, La Plăcinte. It was actually a Moldovan chain restaurant. We ordered dishes that were new to us, Mother-in-law’s Tongue and potato-stuffed dumplings. Although the food was new and exciting, the ambiance was along the lines of a Denny’s and the house wine was unremarkable.
A little low, ball three
Our last gasp attempt at finding our way into a couple of tasting rooms at wineries was placed squarely on the shoulders of our perky hostess. She had offered to make phone calls for us since she spoke much better Romanian than we did. We made a list of four or five wineries with websites that indicated tasting might be possible and jotted down the phone numbers for her.
We gave her a couple of days to make the phone calls then asked her after breakfast one morning if she had any luck. Her perkiness waned. Nope. She left a voicemail that was never returned at one winery, she received no answer at another, and “no we don’t do tastings,” and “only for groups of eight or more” at the others. She was sad to give us the news and we were out of ideas.
Caught looking, strike three. Take a seat.
Unfortunately, our backtrack to Ploiești wasn’t as successful as we had hoped as far as wine was concerned. They just don’t seem to do the whole wine tasting thing. A tasting room at the wineries, or in Ploiești, or even Bucharest, would have been great. Of course, we would have parted with some lei (Romanian bucks), and I’m sure many others would too. The wines are great. The marketing is nil. If they build it, will they come?
Hike Drink Live Laugh
p.s. At least Pat snapped some good photos (below)
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