Every once in a great while, a wine or two comes across one’s desk with a compelling story. The below wines exemplify how politics can influence markets, as well as destroy or create new opportunities for local economies; in this case, the ancient viniculture of a struggling new republic.
Moldova is a small, landlocked country, with Romania on its western border and the embattled Ukraine wrapping around it to the north, east, and south. Vladimir Putin has declared an embargo on all wines from Moldova, which leaves the country struggling to find a new market for the wines which account for 7.5 percent of its total exports.
Hailed in Homer’s Iliad, Moldova is actually one of the oldest and most dense wine-growing regions in the world, boasting indigenous varietals such as feteasca alba, feteasca neagra, rara neagra, traminer, and saperavi, as well as more familiar cabernet sauvignon, syrah, sauvignon blanc, and merlot varietals. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has been instrumental in helping this beautiful country introduce its wines to the West: one door slams shut, another opens.
The Albastrele Sauvignon Blanc 2013 is like no other sauvignon blanc I’ve ever tasted before, but it is a very pleasant wine — white flowers and citrus in the nose, good structure, and pleasant mouthfeel, it opens to honeydew with a hefty squeeze of lime on the palate — there’s another, more elusive flavor, which the winemaker identifies as pea shoot. There’s definitely a hint of green, subtler than grass, which adds an interesting depth of flavor. The finish has a pleasing acidity; overall, this is a very accessible, pleasant wine. At $9, it is also a wine worth exploring — plus, you can tweak the bully Bear’s nose in the process — and is simply irresistible.
Albastrele Sauvignon Blanc 2013
Region: Valul lui Traian
Grapes: Sauvignon Blanc
The Chateau Vartely 2012 was more challenging. It is a deep ink in the glass, with good structure, but the finish flirted with sour, a taste common among foods in Eastern Europe but less welcomed by Western palates. I could taste the Merlot quite clearly; it added chocolaty dark fruit flavor and body while the Syrah contributed blackberry and pepper and some softer tannins. So the wild card, contributing, according to the tasting notes, leather and toast, is from the indigenous rara neagra varietal, one with which I am woefully unfamiliar. It benefits from and softens with a good airing: uncork this one at your next dinner party and stump your guests. The back story alone will insure a lively conversation.
Château Vartely Winemaker’s Selection 2012
Grapes: Rara Neagra, Merlot, Syrah