[NOTE: Though this post does not lack for entertainment value, for updated practical information on Moldova’s wine offerings, you’d be better served by reading my Moldovan Wine guide.]
I know all you winos have been on the edge of your desk chairs waiting for this one, breathless with anticipation to hear a first hand account about the famed Moldovan wine by an impartial, articulate wine aficionado. Well I have some good news and some bad news. The wine is indeed magnificent, but regrettably I know about as much about wine as a dead armadillo. In fact, I have the exacting palette of a rock. I’m nearly useless. But I saw ‘Sideways’ three times, so I’m going to try my best to describe the experience using phrases more evocative than ‘yummy’ and ‘tastes like red’.
Moreover, today, articulate I am not. I only just finished sampling most of the wine I brought home from Moldova last night, during a gruelling six hours of food and drink that has left me profoundly fuzzy-headed. So what you’re really going to get is some semi-lucid vagaries by a guy who, on an average day, can’t pass a blind taste-test between orange juice and coffee.
Ready? Let’s begin.
I visited a large number of wineries in Moldova and, contrary to what was reported in my book, not all of them had tours or wine to sell on site or even a desire to engage in conversation with hopeful strangers speaking pig-Romanian. Ultimately, I came away with bottles from five wineries; Cojusna, Cricova, Acorex, Milestii Mici and Ialoveni (sherry).
Buying Moldovan wine in Moldova is like buying oranges in Florida. It’s cheap as. Bottles start in the neighbourhood of US$2 and go up to about US$13 – though classic vintages can skyrocket up to prices that I didn’t care to investigate. The $2 bottles are all right, better than what I was feeding myself back in the US when I had the thirst. The $13 bottles, however, probably sell for something like US$50 (retail) or more in America, meaning of course that until now I have never had the opportunity to taste wine of this quality because there’s no reason for a palette-deficient guy to invest more in wine beyond what won’t induce vomiting. That’s really all I ask normally, but these circumstances were special and I dropped some big Moldovan coin when I had the chance.
At Cojusna I bought a bottle of, um, red something or other. You see, I was having a bad Romanian language day at the time – like a bad hair day, but with worse consequences – and the bottle was written in Russian, so I wasn’t ever able to identify the exact varietal I’d acquired. However, I was assured that it was a top quality bottle, costing about US$12, and it certainly looked the part. All dusty with the top dipped in wax and taped up with some kind of official grading tag. It also came in a decorative box, so I knew I was getting something all fancy, worth an honoured place in the collection of someone who knew better. It had a 10% alcohol content and was so smooth, ah, yummy, that I had to cut myself off after two glasses or it was all going to disappear in an hour. Most reds that I buy have a bite to them, merlots, cab sauvs and such, giving me goose bumps the first sip or two until my tongue adjusts. This wasn’t like that at all. Just pure pleasure from the first sip to the last.
Next was Milestii Mici. Not only did I get two bottles here, but I was able to tour their massive underground labyrinth of cellar space, carved into limestone, extending for over 200 kilometres of gallery space, 55 of which are being used as storage and tour space, burrowed to a depth of up to 85 metres below ground. Despite what you’ve heard from those Cricova guys, this is the largest wine cellar space in the world and they’ve used that space well, having a collection recognized by Guinness as the largest in the world, over 1.5 million bottles of wine. They’ve built a fancy restaurant at its deepest point, which is the last stop on a lengthy tour, done by car, down countless ‘streets’ lined with house-sized barrels and tourist oriented attractions. The whole tour is executed in a very pleasing and interesting way. Here I bought a bottle of their codru (about US$13), with a waxed top and wrapped in intentionally aged paper, stamped with a wax seal and hand labeled with information about the wine (made in 1987, bottled in 2000, bottle number 754). I haven’t cracked this one open yet. I’m saving it for last, but I have high hopes. I also bought a bottle of their sparkling white wine (~US$2) which was nothing fancy, but I enjoyed it despite a general distaste for sparkling anything.
That same day I stopped at Ialoveni, known mainly for their sherry. I’ve never much liked sherry and people who have seen this bottle in my apartment have openly questioned my manhood, but I was there and it was cheap and, well, at the end of the day it’s all alcohol, so why not? I was coached into buying the Armonios (18% alcohol) which was far less potent than their Gloria line (33%), but it’s powerful enough for me. I’ve been nipping at it as an after dinner drink for a week. A little goes a long way.
Finally I stopped at the neighboring Cricova and Acorex wineries. Cricova is probably the most renowned winery in and out of Moldova, also sporting world famous gigantic cellars and extravagant (and pricy) tours that take days of determined work, bordering on harassment, to arrange directly. Most people are expected to book through a tour agency, paying even more of the pleasure. Cricova is going through massive renovation work at the moment and I arrived quite late in the day, so there was no tour to take and no one around for me to schmooze. The only people on site besides security were the husband and wife team manning the shop with a TV on at a thundering volume which they did not bother to turn down when I came in to ask questions and make a purchase. This impertinent sentiment was representative of Cricova’s all-around dedication to public contact. The four emails I’d sent to them prior to my trip went unanswered as did five phone calls to two different numbers (I finally got someone on the phone using an unlisted numbered passed to me by Marisha). They seem to feel that they’ve become too cool to bother with customers, all but demanding that visitors book tours through expensive agencies. Not an endearing group. In any case, their wine is much celebrated and I bought two bottles; a codru from 1990 (~US$6) and a sauvignon blanc (S$5) from 1992. Yum and yummer. The codru, like Milestii Mici, was so smooth and easy on the tongue that I lost all control and drank it all in one sitting.
A stone’s throw away is Acorex which has no tours, wisely not trying to go head-to-head with the marvels available at Cricova, but they have a shop and a collection of awards to fill a conference room wall, so I zipped in minutes before closing to add to my plunder. I’d already sampled their most expensive Reserve line, so I just grabbed an interesting merlot and a white that I consumed so fast that I never took the time to record it. But yeah, total yummers.
Well, rereading this essay, I see that it is completely devoid of information that might be deemed useful or insightful by actual wine drinkers. Sadly, I’m just a guy who, despite a raging oral fixation, can’t identify or describe flavours at even a basic level. The big picture is that wine in Moldova is as delicious and cheap and plentiful as you will find anywhere in the world. It’s a wine-drinkers once-in-a-lifetime experience, bordering on Eden. Even wine morons like me will be in awe. Buy my LP book, release date June 2007, (in fact, buy two in case you spill wine on one) and get here for an adventure in inebriation that you’ll never forget, if you remember it at all.
I do live in Moldova. With time out wines become priceless.