Moldova: Looking to the Future
Moldova is a small country sandwiched between Ukraine and Romania that became independent in 1991 with the fall of the Soviet Union. The country has a long tradition of winemaking and viticulture, with the golden age of Moldovan wine making having been in the 14th century and 15th Centuries when wine was the main export from the region to markets across Russia and Europe.
While winemaking in Moldova has a long history, and the country is home to a sizable number of different grape varietals, the winemaking industry was completely transformed during the Soviet era. Under the centralized and planned economy, Moldovan varietals were replaced with the standard international Noble grape varietals like Chardonnay and Merlot. Moldovan wine was produced almost exclusively for use in other parts of the Soviet Union, and the styles of wine from the country still – for the most part – reflect the tastes of that market.
But everything old can be made “modern,” and Moldovan wine makers are looking towards the future. Over the past few years, traditional wine making families have begun to restore and revitalize Moldovian wine production, and while it still revolves around French varietals, the style of wines coming from the region are becoming more reflective of international tastes. Moldovan wines can be found throughout markets in Eastern Europe and the United Kingdom is becoming a large export market as well. That said, little Moldovan wine is available in the US marketplace, and as recently as 2013, the governments of Moldova and the United States have begun a series of trade missions to try to open up the market to Moldovan production.
One such mission was held in New York City on July 31, and the Advice Sisters attended the walk around tasting which featured about a dozen producers – only one or two of which had wine currently in the US marketplace.
At the tasting, I learned like the valleys in California, the terrain in Moldova featured long valleys that rose steeply from the sea, providing for warm days and cool nights. Most of the producers said that the terroir was perfect for the noble grape varietals that the Soviets had introduced, and there were almost no local varietals present. While grapes may grow well in the climate, wine styles are a product not only of the grape but of the winemaker, and the Russian influence was still strongly present. The preponderance of sweeter wines suggests why the UK market may be burgeoning, and is likely one reason why consumers in the United States have been cooler on wines from this region.
That said, however, there were some excellent offerings among those being shown, and the average price point of about $10 – $12 a bottle in the New York market places Moldovan wines well within any consumer’s budget.
One producer that we were particularly fond of was Mimi, one of the oldest producers in the country dating back to 1893. The vintner was showing three wines, including a Feteasca Alba, a white local varietal. All of the wines featured labels with four colors (kind of like those paint color samples that one picks up at a hardware store) with the colors denoting the character of the wine. This makes these very easy wines to select from and understand, a perfect feature for this price category.
A 2013 Feteasca Alba was reddish to clear in color with a slight red tint and has a super floral nose, with a lot of tea rose perfumes. The wine itself was floral up front with strong minerality, almost a saltyness on the finish. This wine will be an excellent food wine, for shellfish, seafoods, and spicy dishes, and at $12 a bottle, I very much hope that Mimi finds a distributor in New York for this one.
I also tasted the Cabernet Sauvignon (2012) from Mimi, and found it to be a good table wine, that compared well to the Cabs that one sees coming from the west coast of the US. Light purple in color with a nose harkening to raisin bran cereal, the wine itself had very light tannins making it drinkable young. The palette featured chocolates and some spiciness, and a slightly sugary finish.
Another producer that was showing some very good wines especially at this price point was called et cetera. This is a family winery started by two American brothers that went back to their homeland after the fall of communism to start a winery. The 2012 Cuvee Rouge, which features 4 varietals including the local Rara neagra showed much like a new world Merlot. Its color was a dark ruby red, and the nose featured a light vanilla scent. The wine itself was quite drinkable with soft tannins, and was well balanced. The plum tastes that one associates with Merlot were predominant, but there were other black fruits and some spice on the palate as well.
Albasterle Wines was showing sweeter wines that were not really to my personal taste, but they hwere showing an interesting Merlot Rose (2013) that fans of white zinfandels might find to be an excellent alternative. They also featured a 2013 Pinot Grigio which was quite good. Clear in color, with honeysuckle and some cheesy notes on the nose, the wine was very clean and refreshing, with good acid and balance. Priced in the $10 range this was a great summer wine.
While Moldovan production is dominated by larger and medium sized producers, there are dozens of small wineries, mostly family owned with 2 – 10 hectares of production. These wineries were represented in New York by the Moldovan Small Wine Producers Association. One wine that was being featured at this table was called 5 Elemente, from a producer called Equinox. The 2011 bottling was ruby in color with strawberry and raspberry dominant on the nose. The wine was similar to a California cabernet in profile with soft tannins – though the representative said that it was designed to age.
Much of the other production being featured at the event was honestly too sweet for my taste, and those looking to Moldovan wines would be wise to taste prior to purchasing as there is a huge dichotomy between wines designed for export and those designed for the local (mainly Russian) marketplace. Even so, at price point of just $10-15 a bottle, these wines are certain to become part of most store’s selection as they become more known in the American marketplace.
This report was written by wine enthusiast John Dunham for the Advice Sisters