Wine Discoveries: Moldova

This little country in southeast Europe sits between Romania and the Ukraine not far from the Black Sea and is home to a region that has been making wine for thousands of years! Attending Taste of Washington, DC last fall, I came upon an eight table wide sampling station of Moldova Wine hosted by the Moldova Wine Guild. This was their first ever U.S. consumer event.

Welcoming event attendees to sample their numerous offerings, I met Daniela Luca, executive director of the Moldova Wine Guild. This non-profit association was created in August 2007 by leading Moldova private wineries, including Lion Gri and Acorex Wine, to raise awareness of the wine region.

Moldova gained independence from the Soviet Union in August 1991 and has a population of 4.3 million people. The country’s 146 wineries produced 3.45 million hectoliters in 2010 with 90-95% of this wine exported to 55 countries. Russia, Eastern Europe and China are big consumers. The U.S. is a new frontier for them with only New York and New Jersey distribution at this time.

A little on the wine regions and grape varietals…

Wine Regions

Moldova shares the latitude of Bordeaux, France as well as northern Italian wine regions. Due to its diverse and fertile soil, moderate climate and many days of sunshine, the country can produce a wide range of wine styles.

  • Northern (BălÈ›i): The smallest wine region has longer colder winters and warm dry summers. Its most suitable for white varietals such as Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Traminer, Feteasca Albă and Aligoté. Much of the area’s grapes are used for brandy production (locally known as divin).
  • Central (Codru): Landscape is woody hills that protect vineyards from winter freeze and summer drought. This favors white varietals like Feteasca Albă, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Traminer and Aligoté. Wines from here are soft and fresh with floral aromas.
  • Southeastern (Dniester): Its moderate climate influenced by the Black Sea and the Dniester River make the region perfect for red grape varietals like Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and the indigenous Rara Neagră.Wines produced in this region have a rich bouquet and aroma of leather, black currant, violet and noble oak.
  • Southern (Cahul): Similar to the Mediterranean, this region has warm dry summers and short mild winters. Most vineyards are located on the slopes of the Nistru and Prut river valleys. Common red varietals here are Pinot Noir, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, producing full-bodied wines. The region is also famous for Moldova’s red dessert wines (Cagor / Kagor / Cahor… local favorite which shipped from Cahors, France until the Napoleonic wars, then French wine couldn’t be imported so a similar style was developed in Moldova).

Grape Varietals

70% of the countries grape varietals come from Europe introduced in the 1950s and 1960s and 16% are indigenous to Moldova.

  • White: White grapes make up 70% of the country production with most commonly used Aligote (23%), Rkatsiteli (15%), Sauvignon Blanc (9%) and Feteasca Albă (7%).
  • Red: Red grapes make up 30% of the production with most commonly used Merlot (9%), Cabernet Sauvignon (8%) and Pinot Noir (7%).
  • Indigenous: The two grapes specific to Moldova are Feteasca Albă (white grape used to make still or sparkling wines that are dry to semi-dry, crisp and fresh with peach, apricot and floral aromas) and Rara Neagră (red grape of ancient origin mostly used for blending but several wineries have started to make single origin wins that are full bodied with good fruit aromas and soft tannins).

Wines from Moldova range from varietals to blends to sparkling to dessert. I really enjoyed the sparkling wines I tried…a Moscato Rosé and a Sparkling Pinot Grigio. The few reds I sampled were soft and mellow.

Cheers to a very intriguing wine region, new to many of us!

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