Proctor : February 2019
53 PROCTOR | February 2019 Wine There is a European country blessed with fine vineyards that are filled with mature international vine varieties. It has thousands of years of winemaking experience, great soils, the largest wine collection in the world, 1 an ideal climate, and is on the same latitude as Burgundy. Yet it is the poorest country in Europe and at the centre of an East/West tug of war around wine. Unheard of in Australia, few would feel confident pointing to the Republic of Moldova on a map. However, its critical strategic location – wedged between Ukraine and Romania and the mighty Dniester and Danube rivers – has blessed and cursed in turn its winemaking fortunes as the tides of geopolitics wash over it. The people are Romanian, by a slim majority, yet within Moldova’s borders is the disputed pro-Russian unrecognised state of Transnistria. Unfortunately, the political tug west to Europe and east to Russia has kept Moldovan wine out of Dan Murphy’s. Amphorae winemaking in the region goes back thousands of years. Greek settlements at the mouths of the major rivers were wine centres in the 5th Century BC. The Romans traded wine in the 1st Century AD, and the medieval kingdom known as Moldavia exported high-quality wine to the nearby kingdoms of Poland, Ukraine and Russia. The Ottoman Turks closed down the wineries in the 15th Century and winemaking did not return until the 19th Century. The same period saw much political uncertainty as Moldavia was split and annexed to the Tsar of Russia before breaking away to be united with Wallachia to form Independent Romania, and then ceded back to Russia again. Following the Russian Revolution of 1917, Moldavia once again broke away and reunited with Romania. Its independence was disputed by Russia, but it wasn’t until 1940, under the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, that Moldavia was abandoned by Romania to the Russians. It briefly regained independence during World War II, but Russia reasserted control in 1944 and it remained within the Soviet Union until its collapse, regaining independence and a name change to Moldova in 1991. Despite the political turmoil, wine was reinvigorated by the Russian Tsars, who encouraged the planting of modern European varieties and investment in technology and imported skills from France. The Tsar then stocked his cellar with the fine wines of Moldova. During the Soviet era, quality was forsaken for quantity, with mass planting programs and mass production, as wine was seen as a healthier option for the workers than vodka. Gorbachev’s 1985 anti-alcoholism campaign stopped that, and land privatisation following independence conspired to decimate the over-planting of vineyards and reduce over-production. Following independence, the majority of Moldovan wine production was exported to Russia, but politics intervened again in 2006 when Russia issued a health ban on Moldovan and Georgian wine imports citing contaminants – strangely, this coincided with a dispute between Russia and Moldova on the breakaway Transnistria. The silver lining was a renaissance of quality- focused production and international joint ventures lifting the industry with a western focus. The Russian ban was lifted in 2007, but with limits on volume. A subsequent ban was introduced in 2010, lifted and imposed again in 2013 when Moldova flirted with signing a treaty with the European Union. There are signs that this ban may be lifted, but given the country’s turbulent history, nothing is certain. Moldovan winemaker Alexandru Luchianov2 summed it up when he said, “Moldova is split between Europe and Russia. Half of us want to go one way, the other half a different direction. But both will gain, at least when it comes to wine.” 3 The first was the Asconi Sol Negru Pinot Grigio 2014, which had the light gold colour of age and full body. The nose was greengage plum sliced on a granite worktop. The body was light but with a viscousness in the mouth, the balance of sweetness carried away with the acid and a long palate unique with spice appearing after some time. Perhaps the attack was lemon with beeswax and mineral tones; it was delightful and engagingly different. Matthew Dunn is Queensland Law Society Policy, Public Affairs and Governance General Manager. Moldova in the middle with Matthew Dunn The tasting Two Moldovan wines were obtained and examined for this article. Verdict: The two wines were hard to compare, and it was impossible to select a favourite with the cabernet being as familiar as the pinot grigio was exotic. The second was the Albastrele Wines Select Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, which was red black in colour and had very familiar blackcurrant, black pepper and capsicum leaves on the nose. The palate was textbook cabernet with tannin, blackcurrant and red forest fruits on spice which moved into a frame of oaken wood. A long palate and a very varietal expression. Clean, crisp and very approachably familiar. Notes 1 milestii-mici.md/en. 2 etcetera.md. 3 politico.eu/article/winemakers-in-moldova-eye- thirsty-russian-market.