Ruffian Romanians

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By Robert K. Stephen (CSW)

(TORONTO, ON) – I ran into a few ruffian Romanians in Romania before the Berlin Wall came tumbling down. Yes I have a few stories.

  • Involved with a defector, tailed by the local gendarmes,
  • sneaking into a Communist Youth Village discotheque (where the Russian Young Pioneers were avoided at all costs),
  • dealing currency on the local black market and selling used jeans, and
  • being surrounded by fiddle armed Gypsies at 3:00 am in Herastrau Park in Bucharest (asking for a “donation”) after drinking East German beer sitting in tubs of ice.

While other patrons were refused East German beer, one of my tablemates was the son of the Minister of Energy so we were saved from the vile Romanian beer.

Yes life was a bit of a cabaret for me back then. But there were loads of good Romanians, victims of Communist repression, always willing to take a risk by talking with me. And life was not pretty back then in Romania with Nicolae Ceausescu as supreme leader. One day while hitchhiking the presidential motorcade whizzed by. Nicolai didn’t pick me up and I’m thankful his security detail didn’t either.

I really have no wine memories of Romania other than my last night in some border town where I had enough money for a nice meal and a bottle of wine. I was at the point I could not stand the vile Romanian beer which is the only beer I had ever had where, it was so bad, only half a half litre could be consumed before you had to order another bottle.

The dinner was tasty, the wine appealing, but only as a substitute for undrinkable beer.

A teenager came up to me in wonderment, asking if he could take a picture of me and my ponytail. This sort of ruffianism was not permitted in Romania and, quite frankly in those days, I was rather lucky not to be detained by the police and sent under armed escort to a barbershop for a haircut, a fate many longhaired tourists in Bulgaria and Romania faced.

I am not quite sure how I survived my trip to Romania being no doubt seen as a ruffian myself, with long hair, knapsack, and a curious attitude, so after all these years I sit down enormously distracted by my memories and try and review a couple of Romanian wines and ask, are they Romanian ruffians?

If they are I’ll hug them and dry my eyes realizing the suffering I participated in, often as a very special guest, and at a very high risk to my hosts.

Setting aside these memories, I try my first Romanian wine in some 40 years. The red is a Cramele Recas La Putere Feteaca Neagra 2012, which has pleasing aroma of smoked rhubarb, black cherry and rhubarb pie, with some cassis and plum candy notes, all with a certain sweet cloyness.

The palate is somewhat vacant, reminiscent of Cuban cigars, and boysenberry, all with a short finish.

This wine is too weak and diffuse to be a ruffian. Ruffians would usually have a determined taste and look about them.

(Cramele Recas La Putere Feteasca Negra 2012, DOC Recas, Recas S.A, Romania, 750 mL, 14.5%, $14.95, LCBO,#178830, Square Media Group rating 85/100).

The 2011 Cotnari Feteasca Alba is light gold in colour. On the palate, loads of melon, Flemish pear, mint, and spice, and it’s off dry. If my Romanian translation is correct, on the label it is semi-sweet, which is accurate.

The finish is medium with a raspy traction, despite its off dry character. The raspiness isn’t quite enough to make this sweetie pie a toughie ruffian.

(Cotnari Feteasca Alba 2011, DOC Cotnari, S.C. Cotnari, Judetullasi, Romania, 750 mL,,11.5%, $14.95. LCBO #012088, Square Media Group Rating 87/100).

I believe history has shown the biggest ruffian of all was Nicolae Ceaucescu and his wife Elena, and ruffian may be an understated word for those two bastards. They were executed by firing squad on December 25, 1989, by the provisional government of Romania.

Hate him, if you wish, but he criticized the Soviet Union continuously, including its 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia. Brave man or, like Tito, a tactic to justify repression under the guise of nationalism?

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About the Author

Robert Stephen (CSW)
Robert K Stephen writes about food and drink, travel, and lifestyle issues. He is one of the few non-national writers to be certified as a wine specialist by the Society of Wine Educators, in Washington, DC. Robert was the first associate member of the Wine Writers’ Circle of Canada. Be it Spanish cured meat, dried fruit, BBQ, or recycled bamboo place mats, Robert endeavours to escape the mundane, which is why he loves The Square. His motto is, "Have Story, Will Write."Email Robert Stephen
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