@ Lysses House Hotel, 4th February 2015
My colleague, Daria Kenefeck, has been running wine education classes in the Fareham area for over 20 years. The classes are currently held at Lysses House Hotel and run three times a year, roughly equating to school term times. In 2015 one of Daria’s long-standing class members, Malcolm Swire, visited Moldova to attend a Moldovan Wine festival (which was cancelled!) and visit some wineries. Malcolm offered to make a presentation to the wine class about Moldovan wine if some Moldovan wine could be sourced in the UK. It turns out that finding Moldovan wine in the UK is no easy feat, but Daria found some. Having never tasted Moldovan wine before, I decided to gate crash the class. Malcolm gave a very informative talk, not just about Moldovan wine but about the country in general with a slide presentation followed by a tasting of 5 wines.
Moldovan Wine – A Little Background
Moldova is a land-locked Eastern European country located bordered by Romania to the west and Ukraine to the north, south and west. Moldova has a long viticultural history (there is evidence of grapes being grown in the region in 2800BC) but grape-growing and wine production really began to flourish under the kingdom of Stephen The Great in the 15th Century. It is one of the poorest countries in Europe but has a higher wine production by volume per capita than any other country in the world (in part due to the fact that many people grow grapes and make wine at home for their own consumption). A report by the World Health Organisation in 2011 also found that the Moldovans are the heaviest drinkers in the world, drinking an equivalent of 18 litres of pure alcohol per person per year (global average 6.1 litres, UK 13.4 litres).
Moldova’s relationship relationship with Russia and the former USSR has always been very important if somewhat fractious. The largest export market for Moldovan wine has always been Russia where the traditional, sweeter style of red wines are popular. Mikhail Gorbachev imposed an anti-alcohol campaign in the 1980s which resulted in many of the vineyards in Moldova being grubbed up. After the break up of the Soviet Union and following Moldovan independence in 1991 the wine industry began to re-awaken and modernise. Russia remained the largest customer export customer for Moldovan wine despite the 2006 Russian ban (eventually lifted) on imports Moldovan and Georgian wine. However, the industry has further been damaged by yet another Russian ban on the import of Moldovan wine imposed in September 2013 due to Moldova announcing plans to sign a draft association treaty with the EU. Both bans have caused considerable damage and serve to underline how important it is for Moldova to develop other new export markets outside of their traditional channels.
There are four wine growing regions of Moldova – Balti in the North, Codru in the centre, Purcari in the South-East and Cahul in the South. They are also known as the Northern, Central, South-Eastern and Southern zones. Of these the Southern is the most important. There are some 140 Moldovan wine companies, employing 250,000 people, with 148,000 hectares of vineyard.
There majority of grape varieties grown in Moldova are French varieties including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling et al. There are also plantings of Rkatsiteli and Saperavi, which I have come across in Georgian wines. Domestic grape varieties are estimated to make up only 16% of vines planted. The most important domestic white grape varieties are Feteasca Alba, which is also grown in Romania, and Feteasca Regala (a Feteasca Alba / Furmint Cross). The two most important domestic red grape varieties are Rara Neagra and Feteasca Neagra.
Perhaps Moldova’s main vinous claim to fame are the Milestii Mici underground galleries. According to the Guiness Book of Records it is the largest wine collection in the world with over 2 million bottles of wine. The galleries stretch for 250km with 120km currently use. As well as Milestii Mici, there are several other very large underground cellars in Moldova including the Cricova wine cellars which have galleries stretching for 70kms through which there is even an annual running race, the Cricova Run.
Chateau Purcari – Moldovan Wine Tasting
The wines we tried on the evening were all from Chateau Purcari. Founded in 1827, the iconic Chateau Purcari is arguably the most famous winery and producer of Moldovan wine. It is located on the Dniester River not far from the Black Sea (in the South-Eastern Zone). In 2003 the winery and vineyards were completely renovated, modernised and 250 hectares of vineyards were planted which are now coming to maturity.
Negru de Purcari, a dry red wine from the Purcari region is made by a few wineries including Chateau Purcari (the fifth wine tasted below). It was originally made from Rara Neagra and found great fame in the 18th Century. Nowadays the blend is normally Cabernet Sauvignon, Saperavi and Rara Neagra.
Chateau Purcari Pinot Grigio de Purcari 2014 – 100% Pinot Grigio. I thought this was the most commercial of all the Moldovan wines we tried. Typical Pinot Grigio character with lots of floral, citrus and pear-drop aromas on the nose. The palate had a sweet, confectionery character. A bit too sweet for my taste, although labelled as a “Alb Sec” or dry white. The only wine of the evening to have geographical classification, a Vin cu Indicatie Geografica Stefan Voda.
Chateau Purcari, Alb de Purcari 2012 – A blend of 50% Chardonnnay, 45% Pinot Gris and 5% Pinot Blanc. Barrel-fermented and aged in French oak barrels for 6 months with malolactic fermentation. This was an oaky beast. Good, golden straw colour with very oaky, herbaceous nose. I detected sulphur on both the nose and the palate, to the detriment of everything else. Labelled as a “Vin de Calitate Matur“, a quality mature wine, although no-one could find out whar “matur” meant, i.e. did it represent a minium aging period.
Chateau Purcari Freedom Blend 2011 – another Vin de Calitate Matur Rosu Sec (dry red) bottled to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Moldovan independence. A rather interesting blend of 5% Bastardo, 45% Saperavi and 50% Rara Neagra aged 1 year in French oak. The three grape varieties representing Romania, Georgia and Moldova. I am quite familiar with Bastardo from the Douro and Saperavi from Georgia. I didn’t really detect any Bastardo character (only 5%, after all) and the Saperavi was quite dominant. This wine had a good bright, clear red colour with a fruity, smoky nose developing coffee and vanilla aromas as it breathed in the glass. The palate was not particularly complex but demonstrated rich fruity flavours (plums), a bit more smoky / earthy character and some more coffee character. Soft, fruity and dry.
Chateau Purcari Rara Neagra de Purcari 2014 – a Vin de Calitate Selectat Rose Sec. 100% Rara Neagra, unoaked. This wine had a good garnet red colour. The nose was reminiscent of sweet, jammy red fruit, particularly strawberries. These aromas follow onto the palate which has more sweet, jammy, confit fruit, damson, plums and a touch of spice. Round and fruity with a touch of sweetness on the finish.
Chateau de Purcari, Negru de Purcari 2010 – 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Saperavi and 10% Rara Neagra aged for 3 years (or 18 to 24 months, depending where one looks) in French oak and bottled as a Vin de Calitate Matur Rezerva. Chateau de Purcari Negru de Purcari has a dense red / black colour. The nose was quite intense with aromas of black fruit, blackberry, blackcurrant, hints of spicy black pepper and slight balsamic notes. The palate was full and complex with a firm tannin backbone and structure. There were more blackberry / cassis flavours on the palate and I detected just a hint of stalkiness. A fine wine, with surprising structure that could almost be mistaken for a Bordeaux. Good length and potential for aging.
Other Moldovan wines to look out for are those made by Cricova, Chateau Vartely, Mezalimpe and Et Cetera (Malcolm had high praise for Et Cetera).