By Rose Murray Brown MW Published in The Scotsman 5 June 2021
Moldovan sisters Irina Hriplivii and Aliona Braileanu enjoyed a childhood immersed in winemaking traditions in their home country.
After moving to the UK, the sisters began importing wines for friends, who were so impressed with the new taste and flavour of Moldovan wine they persuaded them to set up their own importing business in 2016.
In just a few years, assisted by Irina’s husband Sergiu Hriplivii, Moldova Wine (www.moldovawine.co.uk) has established itself as UK’s leading specialist importing from a new generation of wineries across Moldova’s three main wine regions: Codru, Stefan Vodu and Valul lui Traian.
“Our great-grandparents and grandparents were winemakers in Valul lui Traian in southern Moldova and my parents have a small Pinot Noir vineyard”, says Aliona. “We grew up with wine; it was a tradition for all relatives to work in vineyard and cellar during harvest”.
“To say that wine runs through the fabric of Moldovan history and culture is a bit of an understatement. Wine is such an important part of life here; there are more vines per person here than anywhere else on earth”, she says.
Moldova is the smallest country in Europe. Lying between Ukraine and Romania, on the same latitude as Bordeaux, but it is climatically closer to Burgundy with its continental climate and is widely believed to have high quality potential, if political barriers can be overcome.
For years Moldova was completely reliant on exports to Russia, which disappeared overnight with embargoes in 2006 and 2013. This really kickstarted Moldovan winemakers into modernising sloppy winemaking standards and reinvent themselves. Fifteen years on, the quiet Moldovan wine renaissance is starting to bear fruit.
“Moldova is often overlooked, yet with 81,000 hectares of noble vines it is a bigger producer than Bulgaria, Hungary or New Zealand. So many people depend on grapes for living here, which is a great motivation to get it right”, says Eastern European wine expert Dr Caroline Gilby.
Gilby details the brutal economic and political battles in her recent book, ‘The Wines of Bulgaria, Romania and Moldova’ (Classic Wine Library).
“It used to be pretty impossible for small wineries to establish themselves in the past with the thousands of pages of contradictory regulations and costs”, she says. “Whilst 70% is still sold as bulk wine, there has been a dramatic change here with new privatised wineries appearing - especially since the wine law changed”.
“What Moldova’s wine producers association is particularly good at, in comparison to other Eastern European countries, is working together to promote a national identity”, says Gilby.
First of the new era wineries was Chateau Vartely, launched in 2004 by Nicolai Ciorni in Orhei, a town 50km from the beautiful capital Chisinau. Vartely own extensive vineyards in the centre and south of the country, with 150 hectares in Codru and 110 hectares in Bugeac. I have been impressed in the past by their late harvest wines sold by Laithwaites.
Vartely was closely followed by Fautor, a modern winery with high altitude vineyards (300m) run by mother and daughter winemaking team, Tatiana Croitoru and Ruxanda Lipcan who even grow Albarino. Others to watch are Gitana who have certified organic vineyards, Salcuta who were the first to realise the importance of owning vineyards, Timbrus, Novak, refurbished Castel Mimi and Moldova’s C19 flagship winery, Purcari.
International grapes are in the majority here, with four European varieties making up 55% of plantings and more international grapes than any other ex-Soviet Union country. Whites include Aligote, Rkatsitelli, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Muscat and Pinot Gris – with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot dominating international red grapes.
More interesting is the potential and quality of Moldova’s indigenous grapes. Of the whites, the aromatic perfumed Viorica, a crossing of Seibel and Aleatico, shows potential for crisp dry whites, performing better now with warming temperatures. Feteasca Alba is also capable of making elegant wines and the unusually named grape cross Alb de Onitcani and grapey floral Ritou.
Red local grapes include Rare Neagra (same as Romania’s Babeasca Neagra) showing potential as a Pinot Noir-lookalike with pale colour and soft tannins, but sadly not an easy grape to work with. Feteasca Neagra, also grown across the border in Romania, shows good promise having been revived in Moldova since 2000.
VIORICA 2019 Timbrus (14%) £15
Grape: 100% Viorica
Aromatic floral pear skin and sherbet nose, spicy herby undertones, citric fruits, quite textured creamy palate, but still fresh and vivid – which reminded me of both Albarino and Pinot Gris.
ALB DE ONITCANI 2019 Novak (12%) £16
Grape: 100% Alb de Onticani
Novak is the only winery to make a varietal wine from this unusual grape cross. Initially floral and appley, on the palate it is Viognier-like with sweet-sour notes, fresh bright with good long finish for such moderate alcohol.
TAMAIOASA DE SALCUTA 2020 Salcuta (13%) £15 ***STAR BUY***
Grapes: 70% Pinot Noir & 30% Muscat Hamburg
Zippy fresh rose with rosewater and white blossom bouquet, cantaloupe melon and bergamot flavours – a great new example from the new refurbished Salcuta winery.
INDIVIDO 2018 Chateau Vartely (14%) £16
Grapes: 45% Rara Neagra, 35% Malbec % 20% Syrah
Very rich juicy with sweet extracted blackcurrant fruits, balancing acidity, smooth soft tannins with oaky peppery undertones.
NEGRE 2017 Fautor (14.5%) £23 ***STAR BUY***
Grapes: 70% Feteasca Neagra & 30% Rara Neagra
From higher altitude vineyards, this mature blend shows Moldova’s potential. Evolved bouquet, blackberry fruit, smooth palate with tart cherry flavour and spicy undertones – well-made red blend with 6 months in new French oak.
All wines available from www.moldovawine.co.uk
Join Rose’s ‘Discover Moldovan Wine’ virtual wine tasting with guest host Dr Caroline Gilby MW Friday 11 June 6.30pm www.rosemurraybrown.com