Story by Morton Hochstein
Photos courtesy Wines of Moldova
Someone mentioned Moldova to me. I thought she was talking about a farcical country in a Marx brothers comedy or some mythic, romantic land in a kitschy mittelEuropean operetta.
But no, there is a real country named Moldova, though its historic name Bessarabia may be more familiar. Moldova turns out to be an interesting player on the international wine scene, having once been a major supplier to Russia, as well as England, the Netherlands and Scandinavia. Moldova is near the Black Sea, but it is landlocked, bordered on the west by Romania, and the Ukraine on the east.
Though it has no seacoast, it is close enough to the Black Sea to be influenced by it, and by two major rivers which influence the terroir. Moldova is situated at 46 degrees latitude, similar to Bordeaux at 45 degrees.
For several centuries, about half of Moldova’s output went to Russia. Most of it was hardly high grade. Quantity - meaning cheap - trumped quality.
Those rough chugs were made in bulk for peasants who weren’t putting away vodka. For the cellars of the czars, however, Moldova supplied fine table wines.
All of that is ancient history now, since the czars are gone. Vladimir. Putin pouts nonstop about Moldova’s desire to grow closer to the European Union now that it is no longer a vassal of the former Soviet Union. Putin banned Moldavian wines in 2006, putting the blame on health issues, but objective observers say it was iron-fisted politics.
In 2013, after he had eased up on the ban, Putin reacted to renewed negotiation for Moldovan alliances with nations of the European Union by slamming down more rigid restrictions, thus doing grave damage to the country’s wine industry.
So, the Moldavian winemakers are desperately seeking new markets and hoping to increase acceptance in areas where they have a foothold. If you are looking for wines from this relatively unknown region, you may have to search hard, since they’ve had small impact in the United States, and almost none in wine books which almost unanimously overlook this little known region. That’s strange since Moldova is close to Italy in total production and the industry employs more than a quarter of million laborers, while accounting for close to 8% of its exports, a figure that has to grow to keep the wine production flourishing.
Change is coming rapidly in the vineyards and wineries, with financial investment by producers and the state as well as 75 milion in EUR funds invested in modernization and production of higher quality wines with new standards for geographic origin.
Moldavians trace their wine history back to 3000 BC and point to a peak level of achievement in the 15th century. When it was annexed in 1812 to the Russian empire, Russian nobility with a push from the royal family became the nation’s most prestigious customers.
One little known fact; Moldova has the world’s largest wine cellars, far more vast than the caves of Champagne in France. Whites make up about 70% of total output, with much of that coming from Feteasca Alba, a durable and attractive grape, bottled alone or in blends with Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio.. The reds are primarily standard European varietals, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Syrah, as well as the indigenous Feteasca Negra.
The standout white, among the 40 or so wines available for tasting, was a 2014 Pinot Grigio from Albastrele, dry, and well structured with hints of mango and other tropical fruits.
Among the reds I particularly enjoyed Bostovan’s Little Guy Cabernet a blend of Cabernet and Rara Neagra 2013; sturdy, yet elegant with its tannins still hovering in the background and Vertely Taraboste Cabernet, a 2011 with many good years ahead.
I sampled only one sparkler, a methode champenoise, though hardly French, the Cricova Brut 2007. It’s 100% Pinot Noir, with almost overbearing power, perhaps needing more time to polish its rough edges.
I mentioned price value. The top price for these wines is $25 and most hover in the teens. These are largely hand crafted, built to stand up against far more expensive bottles. How long the Moldavians can stick with those low prices is questionable, but for now, these are bargains .But they will be hard to find until producers make a bigger impact in the U.S. market. Right now, the smart buyer might unearth them on bottom shelves in the darkest corners of stores or in a few scattered shops catering to an East European clientele.
© May 2015 LuxuryWeb Magazine. All rights reserved.