Valentin Ceafalau is called by many professionals in the world of wine "the best taster among journalists and the best journalist among tasters". As you found out in the first part of the interview, his qualities as a taster were recognized in one of the world’s most prestigious wine competitions, Concours Mondial de Bruxelles.
He is among the first wine journalists in the post 1990 history of Romanian wine and, like many others, he left the media to explore the infinite universe of wine from other angles – from actual production, working in the winery, to distribution or developing an importer’s portfolio. In the second part of the interview, we talk about the National Tasting Team and how the paths of wine are… well, mysterious.
What is the national wine tasting team?
Wines of Romania: You are also a member of the national wine tasting team, a project initiated by Radu Rizescu…
Valentin Ceafalau: Yes, Radu Rizescu, people often confuse him with Radu Rizea (laughs), although the sizes are different.
Wines of Romania: I know, I got phone calls from many people who wanted to call him, in fact, I even set up meetings with strangers, good thing they realised in time… Back to the team, what does it mean, exactly, to be part of such a team?
Valentin Ceafalau: Well, there were several people who left a mark in my evolution. You, Radu, are one of them, Cezar Ioan is one, Catalin Paduraru, obviously, and another one who left a deep mark on my evolution was Horia Hasnas. My Siamese brother, or twin, however you want to call it. He learned a lot after coming to Vinul.ro, we have many memories together, trips, business trips, tastings, many, many things. In 2019, Horia came to ask me if I want to be part of a tasting team, – just like that, let’s make a team and go to the World Blind Tasting Championship. He told me that it was a private initiative, started by Radu Rizescu, and that’s how everything started. Radu had already chosen Iulia Gosea (Scavo), she indicated Horia and me as potential members, then Zoltan Szabo joined, for a while, he is no longer in the team today… The first participation was in 2019, at Chateau de Chambord, and here I have to make some things clear: we went as a Romanian team, not as Romania’s team. Because there were many discussions afterwards, as there always are – why do you represent Romania, why was there not a members’ selection… I invited everyone to put up a team and have a first competition here, as preliminaries, and the winning team would go to the competition. Because it is not enough to know wine, the team must be in harmony, you must trust the one next to you. It’s just that they didn’t want to build teams, they wanted to be part of ours, I think.
Wines of Romania: And did anyone participate in this challenge?
Valentin Ceafalau: Not yet, but from next year we will definitely try to do something in this regard. In 2019, we came in 11th place, during the pandemic we didn’t participate, we climbed to 9th place in 2021, and last year we took 5th place.
Competition, so training? Yes, just differently
Wines of Romania: What do the training sessions look like and how often do they take place?
Valentin Ceafalau: We try to train as often as we can. But we’re talking about 4-5 people with different schedules, with jobs, families, from different cities… We try to train at least two or three times a month, but it’s not always possible. In August, we didn’t meet at all, for example. The conditions are the same as within the competition – you receive the wine in the glass and you have to say the variety, the year, the region, the country, the producer, if you can… We sometimes pinpoint the producer, because we learn their style. It depends a lot on intuition, how fit you are for tasting, your experience. When I was talking about harmonising, about the fact that we made the fine tuning, I’m actually saying that each one knows what the other knows. For example, if Iulia says something about a wine from France, if we all agree that it is a French wine, no one contradicts her. In fact, playing in a team means trusting the other’s opinion, accepting their area of expertise. I, for example, have a taste for Malbec and Chardonnay, when I identify them, we don’t waste time quarrelling in vain. Horia Hasnas is the same with Greek wines and wines from South-Eastern Europe, where his expertise is. Nowadays, the team includes Horia, Iulia, Cosmin Udrea, who is great, and myself.
Wines of Romania: What do you win in such a competition?
Valentin Ceafalau: Nothing, we have no awards, and about the recognition… you often get more reproaches. Moreover, in the past two editions there was an incredible energy and emotional consumption that I can only describe as trauma. You can’t imagine what it was like in the last edition, when we were in 3rd place before the last wine, we could have climbed to 2nd place, but we fell to the 5th… At the last wine, we were seriously mistaken. It is simply traumatising, to feel that everything sliips away, is swept from under your feet.
Wines of Romania: So, where is the pleasure, then?
Valentin Ceafalau: The pleasure of discovery is always there, and this is the essence in being passionate about wine. To discover, to understand new things, but above all to discover a great wine, it is just as great a pleasure as discovering a good book, a work of art or a theatre play. It’s about Beauty. I have said this many times, in all the interviews I have ever given, in conversations, in tastings, in discussions with wine lovers, this is what I always say – wine is beauty, but it is not necessarily obvious, sometimes it is revealed slowly. And wine education helps you recognize a beautiful wine before it reveals all its secrets.
Wines of Romania: The journey through the wine world has taken you to many positions. Joys, regrets?
Valentin Ceafalau: I learned a lot, a whole lot, in and about the wine world. I worked as a wine journalist, I switched to the reality of production, I have worked with M1, Crama Atelier, with Razvan Macici, with Daniel Negrescu, Cosmin Popescu…
Wines of Romania: You continue to work with some of them, at the Rasova Winery.
Yes, and I even worked in production, in winemaking, together with Razvan Macici, I also learned what distribution means, because there are things you bump into, sooner or later. Then I moved on to Vinimondo, where it was a true new school for all things imports. Because it is a completely different thing to go to international wine fairs as a visitor or as an importer, as a buyer, in which case you have to choose wines that have the right potential for your portfolio, right price, right quality, fit for the taste of your audience… Today, I couldn’t and I wouldn’t do anything else. The only thing I regret is that I abandoned the writing part, writing about wines, something broke in me then. And once you’ve stopped, it’s hard to restart the engines. I still have a few interventions, occasionally, I work with Cosmin Tudoran on "The Wine Teach’ ", some of those jokes are mine ( laughs), and we are now preparing a new TV format for television, it will be a surprise for sure, hopefully this fall.
It doesn’t end here!
Two decades are hard to summarize in a few pages. Even to score the most important milestones, it takes time and "printing space". So we’ll be back soon with the third (and last) part of the interview. But, because the name of Cezar Ioan, the founder and soul of Vinul.ro, has already been mentioned, we promise to be back soon with a cool interview with the man who ran the longest-running Romanian wine magazine.
Photo source: Valentin Ceafalau