Red All Over

Article excerpt

VICTORIA MOORE discovers the simple pleasures of eastern bloc plonk

Let's free-associate for a moment. I say: "Romania." You say: "Ceansescu, communism, orphans and war ravaged grey cities. Oh, and Dracula." Probably. What you definitely don't say is: "Beautiful place, lovely wine, too."

We have a very emotional attachment to wine and its origins -- which makes Romanian wine very hard to sell. "You can go skiing in the Carpathian Mountains," the press officer for a newish brand called Prahova Valley offers lamely. In an attempt to sell the wine, she has been reduced to acting as a travel promoter for the whole country.

It may come as a surprise to learn that Romania is the world's tenth-biggest wine producer. It is less of a shock to hear that the wine is very cheap. But the critical question is, as always, can you derive any pleasure from swilling it round your gums and swallowing? I am interested to find out, not least because I spend far too much on wine these days. I seem to have forgotten how to buy a decent bottle of plonk for everyday drinking. Will Prahova Valley Pinot Noir 1999, at [pound]3.49 a bottle (from the Co-op, of all places), do the trick?

"Don't look for complexity in Romanian wine, or try to compare it with Burgundy, which is also made with Pinot Noir," an expert warns me. "Buy it young, drink it young. End of story."

Thus prepared, I am worried I might give Prahova Valley an easy ride. So I do something really mean. I take it to Corney & Barrow, an upmarket merchant that specialises in Bordeaux and Burgundy (palates attuned to the intricate structure of Old World wines are always going to be harder to impress with anything simpler), and ask the gentlemen -- I use the term mainly to flatter -- there to taste it with me. Blind.

Most people in the trade hate blind tastings because the chances of covering yourself in glory are slim, while the chances of making a fool of yourself are high. …