On Wine

When in Romania…

Christopher Pincher explores the Wine Ambassador restaurant and emporium in Bucharest

Despite the best efforts of Ceausescu, much of Bucharest remains beautiful. Between the wars — and before first the bombs and then the Bolsheviks wrought demolition and decay — it was known as the Paris of the East. Micul Paris, if a little faded, is found around every corner in modern Bucharest. Look for it and you will see it in the neoclassical façade of the Athenaeum, the art nouveau interiors of the Caru’ cu Bere, the stately Palace of Justice designed by Parisian Albert Ballu; even the street signs are the same elegant blue enamel as the City of Light. So it is quite natural to find that, whether walking down the Avenue de L’Opéra in Paris or up Lipscani in Bucharest, you will be able to slake summer’s thirst with a decent drink.

A little along the way from the National Museum of Art you will find the Intrarea Biserica Alba. Next door to the gentlemen’s barbers, though a little too close to some hideous communist-era flats, the Wine Ambassador restaurant and emporium stocks the widest range of Romanian liquors, beers and vino, not to mention charcuterie, cheeses and Cuban cigars (for those with a taste for them).

Wander in and you will be welcomed by owner Adrian more as a party guest than a customer. The shop may be small but it has a big personality. So have some of the wines. The Marama winery, named after the chic traditional fabric beloved of Queen Marie, produces a Feteasca Regala, a quite wonderful white (almost apple green in fact) contrasting a soft, nearly undiscernible nose with a zesty swoosh on hitting the tongue with the speed of an express train, rattling to the roof of the mouth and hooting into the tunnel at the back of the throat.

There is a stoniness to the palate suggesting a very sandy topsoil but the fruity flavours — apple, apricot and a touch of lemon — still find their way through for a long finish. The sensation is entirely unexpected and really rather nice. Shades of King Carol abound. The late and controversial king, a lover of fine French wines as well as of Madame Lupescu, would be proud of his vintners.

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