Wine enthusiast Fred Skulthorp samples Romania’s £2 a bottle Legend of Dracula wine whilst flying from Cluj to Stansted and considers national decline.
This summer’s travel chaos provides a welcome opportunity to savour the novelty wines of the duty free – and reflect on the decline of our nation.
One of the few pleasures left afforded by the budget holiday to the continent is the chance to take advantage of the discounted duty free wines. Cluj is not the obvious destination of choice for the seasoned drinker, but a post-lager wonder through the cobbled streets of this Transylvanian gem, with its mediaeval churches and the resentful stares of ageing locals and you could be in Languedoc, Bordeaux or Plovdiv.
This stretch of the imagination is confirmed by the unashamedly bold and vibrant reds on offer in the airport’s duty free. Too often, a novelty wine for the jaded traveller is very much the sum of its carefully marketed label and alcohol content – and at first glance, The Legend of Dracula, Cabernet Sauvignon seems precisely this.
Yet, persevere with the tricky corkscrew in the departure lounge (the pop of the cork drowned out by the sound of feral children and announcements for delayed flights) and you’ll be setting yourself up for a mid-air treat.
First sips tend to go well with whatever marketing copy has made itself onto the back of the bottle. In this case, there’s a tasteful prose poem that soothes the initial acidic taste, and comes to pass for something quite moving as the plane taxis in the late afternoon haze of Romanian runway:
A restless traveller through time, that’s who I am, 500 years ago I was known as Vlad the Impaler. I wanted to change the world for the better – so I became a rule-breaker and rule-maker, a warrior taking all the risks to follow his vision.
What a risk it is to open a second bottle at 30,000 feet, the Carpathian mountains in your wake, and a feeling of smugness as your fellow travellers opt for whatever plonk has made its way into the Ryanair drinks trolley. A second bottle is a necessity really, as you go in search of the promised blackberry aftertaste, and though increasingly sour, some stale fizzy water and a forgotten flapjack from your carry-on luggage rejuvenates the bouquet. Stubborn perseverance is rewarded with something vaguely fruity.
What really should be a final indulgence leaves me longing for more deals at Stansted. But where is the novelty wine for Britain? Where is our Legend of Dracula? The absence of such a bottle, I suspect, points to a profound sense of national decline. A nation that lacks the confidence to whack a picture of its national icon on a bottle of plonk, a Sir Francis Drake or a Sue Barker, is one mired in a sad and seemingly irreversible crisis of identity.
Fred Skulthorp is a freelance critic of the finer things in life. He first wrote for ‘The Steeple Times’ in 2013 about amongst Tesco’s Everyday Value Chardonnay and wines fit for students and after a significant hiatus has returned to share his thoughts on all things 2022.