Moldova. Have you heard of this country? Vaguely familiar with the tiny republic that is sandwiched between Romania and the Ukraine and whose southernmost border is the Black Sea, I was surprised to discover that it is a huge wine producer. Most of its agricultural landscape is devoted to vines and vineyards and the country boasts ownership of one of the largest wine cellars in the world.
Christy Canterbury led the guided Moldovan wine tasting at the Astor Center. When she mentioned the salient facts about Moldova reds and whites and discussed the number of hectares of land used for wine production in her introduction, my ears perked up. I was anxious to begin tasting this historic (from 3000 BC) wine that the Russians had been enjoying for decades until a recent embargo banned the wine for large import into Russia. Why? Most probably geopolitical reasons. You see, Moldova was beginning to market to the EU. The embargo may have backfired in that Moldova has risen to the occasion and is encouraging their country’s producers to expand their markets to Europe and the United States. Russia’s loss is our gain as we broaden our horizons and our palates becoming familiar with Moldova’s delicious wines which were predominately marketed to eastern block countries.
Here are a few interesting facts about Moldovan wines which include both reds and whites. One fun fact is that the country is shaped like a bunch of grapes. The Republic of Moldova has 112 thousand hectares of vineyard planted with over 30 types of technical varieties. There are 4 historical wine regions, three of which are designated for the production of wines with protected geographic indication. The largest plantings are the white varieties (Rkatsiteli, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Aligote to name a few.) In the southern region 30% are red varieties (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Saperavi, etc.). Aromatic varieties account for 36% of the vineyards.
What makes Moldovan wines unique and authentic are the indigenous varieties which are 10% of the vineyards: Feteasca Alban, Feteasca Regala, Feteasca Neagra, Rara Neagra to name the dominant ones. These unique wines were prestigious at the Tsar’s residence in the early 1800s and in Europe. After an anti-alcohol campaign (set by Mikhail Gorbachev) in the 1980s in which production was curtailed, Moldovan wine production revived. After the country became a republic in 1991, the modernization of wine making began in earnest.
At the tasting there were 10 wineries, all looking for markets in the US: Vinaria din Vale, PURCARI, Castel Mimi, Ampelos, Chateau Vartely, Albastrele Wines, Cricova, Lion-Gri, BOSTAVAN, ASCONI, and the wines of the Moldovan Small Wine Producers Association. The strongest and most popular offerings of whites and reds were the tasting selections, 11 in all.
Among my favorites and those of the tasters were the Cricova 2007 Grand Vintage Brut Méthode Traditionnelle, a White Brut Sparkling Wine whose suggested retail price was $50. The one we tasted was from a sparkling white classic collection of 5 years, made by Méthode Champenoise that includes a second fermentation in bottles with following cuvee maturation in a horizontal position for more than five years. What was interesting about this winery was that they hold wine collections of celebrities. If you want to store your collection there, this winery will oblige you. Indeed, there is a story that the Red Army confiscated Hermann Göring’s wine collection and it is stored at this winery. The price of the wine from the Göring collection goes for $25,000 a bottle.
There were two other whites that I enjoyed: the Château Vartely Traminer 2013 Sec Alb, a white dry wine from the Codru region that had a special flavor of rose-petals and moderate acidity, ideal for the summer. A white, Crescendo 2012 Chardonnay Barrel Fermented Alb Sec is a barrel fermented white dry wine that has intense flavors. Its elegant and seductive wood notes, well integrated structure melds with the ripe fruit that has significant influences of citrus acidity.
Of the five reds, I especially enjoyed two. One was Golden Land 2013 Feteasca Neagra. This is comprised of the Rara Neagra grape varietal which is in limited areas and is drought resistant and of a late harvest. The varietal produces a dark red color wine with a pronounced fruit taste coupled with spiciness. At $11.00 suggested retail, this was a particularly good value. Another red I enjoyed was the Negru de Purcari from Vinaria Purcari 2010 vintage. It has a rich structure and generous bouquet. The legendary PURCARI winery is the oldest winery in Moldova, which in the early 1800s sent shipments of their reds to Queen Victoria. This particular red is a blend with 70% Cabernet comprising most of the grape varietal.
Pictures from the Walk Around Tasting
Three vineyards are not pictured: