With so many fascinating places to explore and things to discover Romania has much to offer. Whilst there make sure you stay long enough to enjoy its excellent wines – and also its silky smooth, rich and delicious whisky – Carpathian Single Malt.
Romania lies in the south east of Europe with Bulgaria, Hungary, Ukraine, Serbia and Moldova as its neighbours, not forgetting the Black Sea. It’s the twelfth largest country in Europe and the sixth most populous member of the European Union.
The mighty Danube runs through it, as do the beautiful wild and dramatic Carpathian Mountains with their snow-capped peaks, the second longest mountain range in Europe –– where primeval forests are home to bears and wolves.
Adding to the charms of Romania are medieval castles, Saxon villages and painted churches nestling in idyllic countryside or picturesque towns.
And of course, there is the capital city of Bucharest with its huge, seriously impressive and imposing Palace of Parliament building in marked contrast to the city’s tiny churches, quaint old town and elegant 20th century architecture (not for nothing is Bucharest sometimes referred to as ‘Little Paris’).
Away from the capital head for the hills and the likes of Corvin Castle, Peleş Castle, and the world famous castles of Vlad the Impaler (Poenari Castle) and Bran Castle – (aka Dracula’s Castle).
And so to wine
Apart from, famous castles, and indeed monasteries, Romania is famous for much more including a varied and tasty cuisine, vineyards producing excellent wine, and now … whisky.
The wine region and its wine routes make for a popular holiday highlight with most of the wine cellars welcoming visitors. The gentle foot hills of the Carpathian mountains, and its moderate climate provide excellent viticulture conditions.
Wine has been produced there since the Daco-Roman days (approx. 106 -275 AD). Today there are seven noted wine regions – Crisana and Maramures, Muntenia and Oltenia, Transylvania, Banat, Moldova, Dobrogea and the Danube terraces. Traditional Romanian grape varieties include Fetească Regală for white wine, and Fetească Neagră for red.
Award winning wines from the Alexandrion Group
And some of the best award-winning wines in Romania are produced by the Alexandrion Group.
The Group includes vineyards, a distillery and cellars in the Dealu Mare (Big Hill) region (incidentally on the same parallel as Bordeaux), and are noted for their delicious wines thanks to the special microclimate and the calcareous marine fossil soil both aiding the growth of healthy vines, plus the slow ripening of the grapes.
The Alexandrion Group actually began life in 1789, and from relatively humble beginnings. Today, under its Founding Chairman Dr Nawaf Salameh, it is also one of Romania’s largest producers of award-winning spirits and liqueurs including the likes of Kreskova vodka, Saber Elyzia liqueurs and Brâncoveanu brandy.
Recently their Fetească Neagră wine was awarded the Double Gold medal by the Concours Mondial de Bruxelles. They also produce the award-winning sparkling wine made in the traditional method which has been supplied to the Royal House of Romania since 1904.
Dr Nawaf Salameh – A man of vision
It took a man of vision, and enthusiasm like Dr Nawaf Salameh to realise that there was something missing from his extensive Alexandrion portfolio, and who also had the determination and drive to do something about it – Whisky!
Born and part educated in Syria as well as studying in Romania and Greece prior to moving to Romania in 2000 Dr Salameh became involved in the drinks industry, in time investing in vineyards along with a distillery and cellars. Today the Alexandrion distillery is one of the biggest and most modern distilleries in the south east of Europe.
100% Romanian malted barley and pure water
Dr Salameh was well aware that Romania was renowned for its top-quality barley and for the purity of the natural sub-Carpathian water. Further he knew that in the distillery cellars were well-seasoned wooden barrels and casks which had once contained wine. But something was missing – he knew that he would need to find an expert distiller to produce his whisky – he found his Master Distiller – Mr Allan Anderson.
Allan Anderson – a Master Distiller
Allan Anderson’s early career took him from being a technician for a grain distillery, which also had a single malt distillery in Scotland, to becoming the Distillery Manager. The next career move was to Ireland making high quality grain spirit, “In the 1st year” he says “we were making all types of whisky including Pot Still, Grain, triple & double distilled malts”.
His extensive work background and experiences in the distillery industry plus an introduction took him to Dr Salameh and the Alexandrion Group – first as a consultant and then full-time working on the single malt whisky project.
He considers that the Carpathian Single Malt perfectly showcases the terroir of the distillery, because of the use of Romanian malted barley and the pure sub-Carpathian water used; and also because the quality wine casks from around the world used in the maturation process imbue the single malt with their unique flavours. “And maybe”, he reckons, “it has been helped by its maturation in a warmer climate, compared to that of Scotland”!
Allan Anderson distilled the first distillate in September 2017 from malted barley harvested in 2016, and proudly signed the first release bottles as Master Distiller in 2022. Romania’s first whisky, and indeed single malt.
Interestingly Capathian Single Malt is the first single malt whisky to be matured in wine casks actually from the company’s own winery.
And the Carpathian Single Malt?
In the beginning there were three expressions: Fetească Neagră and Madeira which were initially matured in first-fill Bourbon casks of white American Oak, plus a Pinot Noir exclusively matured in Romanian Pinot Noir casks.
I have to confess that I cannot drink whisky, it gives me a headache. But now there is one exception – and I am thrilled – Carpathian Single Malt is delicious, and I have no headache!
I enjoyed all three of the expressions. It was a close call, but of the three my hands-up favourite has to be the Fetească Neagră. I adored it – silky smooth and rich tasting – truly a Single Malt with the WOW factor.
I don’t have a sweet tooth, but I loved all three – each with their own subtle, rich, mellow sweetness. To be honest they all had the Wow factor.
Congratulations to Dr Nawaf Salameh for his vision and determination, and to Allan Anderson for his intuitive use and skilled blending of the Romanian ingredients, and indeed to all their colleagues who have played a role in creating a stunning new Single Malt whisky – named quite simply – Carpathian Single Malt.
And as a post script, in 2016, Dr Nawaf Salameh was awarded the honour of ‘Keeper of the Quaich’, in recognition of his services to the whisky industry.
Making the Carpathian Single Malt range even more exciting the original three expressions of Fetească Neagră, Pinot Noir and Madeira have now been joined by Oloroso, Pedro Ximénez, Tawny Port, Cognac, Burgundy and Commandaria. All of them distilled using the Scottish double distillation method with that final finishing in wine and cognac casks.
Their launch in the UK is expected early 2023 with prices from £50.00 but in the meantime they can be ordered from iconicdrinks.shop/brands/carpathian.html.
Carpathian Single Malt – Heaven in a bottle and in a glass.