Local grape varieties can be a strong point for wine countries. The wine enthusiast is more and more looking for the unusual and the unknown. Moldova, in the easternmost part of Europe, is in many ways a new wine country despite having many centuries of wine history. To make its voice heard in a competitive wine world, it would be wise to promote its exciting local grapes and the grape varieties that the country shares with neighbouring Rumania and Georgia.
Let’s take a look at some of the exciting and unusual local grape varieties that you can find here in Moldova:
- Feteasca alba
- Feteasca regala
- Alb de onitcani
- Feteasca neagra
- Rara neagra
- And more
But first, a little background on Moldova and its wines and wine regions.
Read all our articles in our series on Moldovan wine here:
In Moldova, there are three main regions with a protected geographic indication (PGI): Valul Lui Traian in the south-west, Stefan Voda in the south-east and Codru in the centre and closest to Chisinau, the capital. Also, Divin, the Moldovan brandy, has its own PGI, which in fact is the whole country. Divin can be produced anywhere.
Although Moldova is a small country there are differences in soil, climate and topography. These differences, the three PGI want to highlight. So far, it is not easy to distinguish the characters of the different region, to tell for instance a wine from Stefan Voda from one from Valul Lui Traian. This is however not a specific Moldovan issue. We have the same difficulties in most wine countries.
Moldova currently has around 75,000 hectares of vines devoted to winegrowing. In 2018 the production of still wine was 1.9 million hectoliters, according to the National Office for Vine and Wine (NOVW, ONVV in Moldova, or simply Wine of Moldova). As a rule, the red grapes are planted in the south and the white grapes further north but there are many exceptions. Around 70% are white grapes and 30% red grapes.
The vineyards are planted mostly with so-called international grape varieties. This means mostly French, such as merlot, cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, pinot gris, pinot blanc and aligoté. Muscat ottonel and riesling are also present and the Georgian grapes saperavi and rkatsiteli.
Around 10% of the vineyards are planted with varieties native to Moldova or Rumania. And their plantings are growing, says Gheorghe Arpentin, director of NOVW. Many of the producers we have been talking to say there is a big interest in these varieties both from consumers and the producers themselves.
During Soviet times local grapes were not encouraged in Moldova. But since then producers have realized that many of these varieties are well suited to the climate in the country as they are resistant to the cold temperatures that often occur in wintertime.
Here are some of the interesting local and regional grape varieties found in Moldova that you should put on your list of “grape varieties you must taste at least once”. And preferably many times.
This is an ancient grape with floral and citrus aromas. It is quite light in body with a good freshness. Often made in an easy-drinking style. The variety is resistant to cold temperatures but susceptible to downy and powdery mildew.
There are a number of delicious feteasca alba wines available, from Gogu, Atú, Asconi and others. Some producers also blend feteasca alba with other grapes, often chardonnay and/or sauvignon blanc.
Its relationship with feteasca alba is not totally clear. This is also an aromatic grape and from a good producer it gives a wine with plenty of personality. It often has hints of exotic fruit on the nose and a dry but fresh finish. It doesn’t mind hot summers and is also resistant to cold winter temperatures (down to as much as minus 20 degrees C), so perfect for the Moldovan climate.
The excellent Fautor Winery makes a very good feteasca regala called “Aurore”. Another recommendation is “Autograf” from Gitana Winery.
Alb de onitcani
This grape is very rare but it has a promising future, according to some producers. It is used for Divin and the only winery that uses it for wine at the moment is the ambitious Novak Winery in Valul Lui Traian.
Alb de onitcani is a so-called interspecific crossing from the 1970s, so it is actually a hybrid. It doesn’t mind extremely low temperatures and it is also resistant to fungal diseases. It is important, however, to keep the yields down if you want to make an interesting wine.
Novak’s Alb de Onitcani is a superb wine with lemon and grapefruit aromas. The acidity is very high, a hallmark of the grape, but not at all aggressive. It is quite full-bodied which helps balance the acidity. We look forward to more producers starting to make wine from this.
Viorica is, according to Timbrus Estate in Stefan Voda, a symbol of Moldovan white wines. It has a strong personality with floral, citrus and spicy aromas, sometimes also a touch of honey. It can be full-bodied but is always fresh. It is true that a viorica can be a bit overwhelming at times, but a talented winemaker keeps it a little bit restrained.
Try viorica from Timbrus and Atú.
Rkatsiteli is originally from Georgia and here in Moldova, it is mostly used for Divin. Its somewhat neutral character and high acidity make it perfect for brandy production (Divin). But it can be used for more than volume production and we have seen some interesting wines from rkatsiteli so maybe we will see more of it in the future.
Riton is a crossing created during Soviet times. It is normally used for Divin but some producers, notably Gogu in Stefan Voda, makes really good wine out of it. It took Ilie Gogu a few years, however, to figure out how to handle the grape. It is very pleasant, with a firm texture on the palate. It is fresh and floral, a bit discreet.
Feteasca neagra almost disappeared during Soviet times but now, luckily, it is back again. The grape gives structured and full-bodied wines with spices, black fruit and an often very good ageing potential. It is vigorous so probably the producer needs to keep an eye on it in the vineyard. It resists cold winters and also drought.
Vinaria Nobila in Stefan Voda makes a nice Feteasca Neagra Matur Rezerva with raspberries and other red fruits on the nose and on the palate. Sol Negru Feteasca Neagra from Asconi is another recommendation.
This is an old Rumanian variety called babeasca neagra in Rumania. It is not the easiest grape to grow as it is susceptible to both powdery and downy mildew as well as to drought and botrytis, But, in return, it is resistant to low temperatures. To avoid diseases the producers can make sure they keep the yields low. It is quite pale in colour, high in acidity with plenty of red fruit.
Look for Château Vartely Individo Editie Limitata Rara Neagra with intense flavours that remind me a little bit of pinot noir. Rosu Imparat from a small producer called Minis Terrios is also very good. Here they blend feteasca neagra and rara neagra. I also recommend Unicorn Estate’s Private Collection Symbioz made from cabernet sauvignon, merlot and rara neagra.
A powerhouse is Echinoctius from the small but famous producer Constantin Stratan at winery Equinox. Here he blends cabernet sauvignon, rara neagra and merlot.
This is the famous grape of Georgia that is also doing very well in Moldova. Prominent features are a dark colour, black fruit and aromas of exotic spices. It is often a powerful wine but with a good freshness. It is important to handle the oak ageing carefully so as not to hide the fruit. The dark fruit of saperavi is worth showing.
The famous Negru de Purcari from Purcari, a big producer in Stefan Voda, is cabernet sauvignon blended with 25% saperavi and 5% rara neagra. For a 100% saperavi, try a wine from Vinuri de Comrat in Valul Lui Traian. Their Wine Master Selection 2017 and Saperavi 2018 are both good examples.
There are plenty more, but so far, we don’t see them so often: florichia, condrinski, bianca, galbena, graca… Maybe soon? We look forward to it!