There are some increasingly exciting wines coming out of Eastern Europe and Moldova is no exception.

Moldova – where exactly is that? That was most people’s reaction when I said I was going to visit this small landlocked country that is sandwiched between Romania and the Ukraine. The second reaction was surprise when I explained that there are great value direct flights from the UK to the capital Chisinau.  This brings one of Eastern Europe’s historic centres within easy reach for a weekend or even longer.

The other surprising point to note about Moldova is the amount of wine it produces.  Grapes and vines have been found in the ancient history of the country, with fossils of grapevines going back 10 million years and even as far back as the 16thcentury there was a thriving wine trade with Russia. As borders changed in the 19thcentury there was a move to repopulate empty land in the south.  Already knowing that the land was good for agriculture, people with the right experience from Germany, Poland, Switzerland and France were encouraged to move to what is now Moldova, and given land and tax breaks. This brought a wave of expertise and investment to the Moldovan wine industry.

Another shake up of the borders post World War II took Moldova into the Soviet Union and collectivisation took place.  Large estates were taken over by the state and quantity not quality became the driving force.  In the 1980’s Moldova was the sixth largest wine producing country in the world supplying a quarter of the total wine required by the USSR.

The real change in Moldova came in 1991 when the independent Republic of Moldova was founded.  About three times the size of Yorkshire with a population of 4 million people, the main problem, as with all countries easing their way out of Soviet domination was deciding who originally owned which piece of land.

The result is that the Moldovan wine industry is a mix of small, individual producers farming their own small plots, estates that have managed to re-establish themselves and the echoing remains of the giant collectives.  What hasn’t changed during these extended battles of ownership is the quality of the land.

Moldova lies on about the same latitude as Bordeaux with a climate similar to Burgundy.  Good sunshine, with moderate rainfall and deep soils that make it a natural place to grow grapes.  There are three main regions, Codru in the centre, Stefan Voda in the southeast and Valui Lui Traian in the south.  What has really set the Moldovan wine industry on the right path is the creation of a National Office for Vine and Wine, which has set out the basis for wine legislation and provenance.

Grape are largely the usual range of international varieties but the real interest is in the 10% of indigenous grapes. These grapes are local to Moldova and some are grown in neighbouring countries but they were not permitted during the Soviet era and so it is taking time for plantings to increase.  These are the grapes that give individuality to Moldovan wines with names such as Feteasca Neagra (red) with its intense, spice-drive flavours; Feteasca Regala (white) with its dry, exotic style; aromatic Viorica (white) and the light, fresh flavours of Alb de Onitcani (white).

What surprised me during my visit is how many companies are intent on raising quality and producing wines that appeal to European tastes.

Here are some of my best finds.

Purcari

Established in 1827 this winery used to supply wine to Queen Victoria.  Now with 265 hectares of replanted vines and new owners since 2003 Purcari make seriously good wines.   Top wine is the complex, deep-flavoured Negru de Purcari made from a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Saperavi and Rara Neagra, available from local importer Transylvaniawine.co.uk at £24.95.

Also good, the light, cherry fruit of Purcari Pinot Noir 2018, Martinez Wine, £14.99.  www.purcari.md

Castel Mimi

A breathtaking chateau that has been lovingly restored after the Soviet era saw this fabulous 19thcentury building converted into the largest wine factory in the whole of the USSR.  Train tracks and huge storage tanks used to cover the courtyard, but now it is serene, elegant and has opened up not just as a winery but also a stylish hotel with swimming pool.  Sadly the wines are not yet in the UK but if you go there you should try the bright, fresh Pinot Gris, and the elegant blend of Feteasca Neagra and Rara Neagra.  www.castelmimi.md

Chateau Vartely

Just 50 km north of Chisinau, Ch. Vartely is a wine tourism complex with a hotel, restaurant, winery and 320 hectares of vines.  Winemaker Arcadie Fosnea trained in Germany which accounts for his fresh, crisp white wines and rounded, fruit-driven reds.  There are also some seriously good sparkling wines and since winters are cold here, they make ice-wine as well. www.vartely.md

Cricova Winery

One of Moldova’s top tourist attractions, the Cricova winery is state-owned and the site started out in the 15thcentury as a source of limestone to build the capital city. In 1952 it became a wine cellar and its 120 km of tunnels were transformed into wine cellars and you have be driven around, surveying barrels and bottles as you go.  There are underground tasting rooms, one is where Vladimir Putin held his 50thbirthday party and if you are important enough you can rent space to keep your own wine there. Famously there are wine bottles seized from Hermann Goering on display. www.cricova.md

Vinuri de Comrat

Located in the southeast of Moldova, in the region of Gagauzia, this winery gave me the opportunity to see how things were in the Soviet era.   Massive tanks, echoing empty buildings and equipment that has seen better days this is a winery trying its best to pull itself up to modern standards. Even so, the welcome was warm, and inclusive with several other smaller wineries given the chance to show their wines. This is the spirit of Moldova – now with independence and the will to show the world that they can make quality wines.

As was said to me several times  – ‘Moldova is a country that is shaking off its Soviet past and is definitely looking to the west.’

 

 

 

About The Author

Christine Austin

Christine is a wine writer, broadcaster and a wine judge for several international wine competitions. She has a technical background and spent five years as a buyer for a major supermarket before moving to wine writing.She writes for The Yorkshire Post Magazine and organises the York Festival of Food and Drink. She has won both the Lanson and the Roederer prizes for wine writing.

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