This rare varieties ship has sailed away from Sardinia and onto Moldova. Winemaking in Moldova dates back more than 5,000 years. Yet somehow Moldovan wines have relatively flown under the radar for years. Though these wines are finally getting the attention they deserve, especially Feteasca Neagra.
Sandwiched between Romania and Ukraine, Moldova is the most vineyard dense country in the world. Not to mention that something like a quarter of all Moldovans are winemakers. If this is the case, then how is the world just now discovering the wines of Moldova?
Well, Moldova has had somewhat of a tumultuous history. Moldovan wine almost vanished completely on multiple occasions. First, the wine industry had to withstand Mikhail Gorbachev’s anti-alcohol campaign in the 1980s. Next, came the collapse of the Soviet Union, which Moldova was part of at the time. Actually, one in every two bottles of wine produced across the Soviet empire came from Moldova. Finally, the Russians, Moldova’s largest importer, threw up some sanctions in 2006 and 20013 that made business a little rough. Thankfully, close ties to the west and western Europe inspired an explosion of exports to new markets that allowed the Moldovan wine industry to continue to thrive.
Moldova is Home to the Largest Wine Cellar in the World
Have you heard of Millestii Mici? This wine cellar houses over 2 million bottles in Moldova, making Millestii Mici the largest wine cellar in the world. The cellar sits 270 feet underground and contains around 34 miles of tunnels. Travel by car is needed to get through the cellar. The tunnels were originally excavated for mining purposes and the first bottle of wine was stored in the tunnel in 1968.
A Bit About Feteasca Neagra
Feteasca Neagra is a Moldovan indigenous variety that has been grown in the country for more than 2,000 years. The name translates to “Black Maiden” and while the variety is native to Moldova, Romania claims more plantings of Feteasca Neagra today to the tune of 2,900 hectares. For a long time, many believed that Feteasca Neagra was a color mutation of the white Moldovan variety, Feteasca Alba. However, genetic research disproved this theory and found no direct genetic connections between the two varieties.
This variety saw no plantings in Moldova under the Soviet empire. For this reason, Feteasca Neagra almost went extinct. Thankfully that did not happen, and we are able to still enjoy this lovely red wine today. So, I was curious to see if this variety was ever rated by Wine Enthusiast. Though I am by no means a points person and never choose wines based on point ratings. I have never tried this variety before, but for some reason the name ‘Feteasca Neagra’ was familiar to me. I was pleasantly surprised to find that upwards of forty different Feteasca Neagra wines from Moldova and Romania scored 80 points or higher. In fact, many of them were in the 90-point range. Way to represent the indigenous varieties, Moldova and Romania!
Feteasca Neagra in the Vineyard
Feteasca Neagra is a difficult grape to grow because the vine is extremely vigorous. High vigor vines require more manual work and much more attention in the vineyard. The berries of this variety are also very thin skinned. This makes Feteasca Neagra extremely susceptible to fungal diseases, such as powdery mildew.
Feteasca Neagra is also prone to accumulating high sugar levels prior to reaching phenolic ripeness. Grapes with higher sugar levels can cause difficulties in making quality wine. Why? Because high sugar results in high alcohol wines. This becomes a challenge when there are not enough additional components to balance out the high alcohol, such as tannin, acidity, and fruit aromas and flavors.
Feteasca Neagra in the Glass
Feteasca Neagra often has moderate acidity and low to moderate tannin. When grown in cooler climates, the variety can offer higher acidity. Many winemakers will throw oak on the wine to add tannin in an effort to balance out the high alcohol. In the hands of a skilled winemaker, this can work beautifully. However, in the hands of an unskilled winemaker, this results in over oaked wines.
Traditionally, wines made from Feteasca Neagra were often sweet or semi-sweet because of those naturally higher sugars. Today, this variety typically produces dry red wines. At the very basic level, sweet or semi-sweet wines may still be found.
Feteasca Neagra shows beautiful aromas of red fruits, black fruits, ripe black plum and spicy, toasted nuances from oak aging.
Cricova, Feteasca Neagra, Orasul Subteran 2017
Founded in 1952, Cricova is considered the “pearl of Moldovan winemaking.” Originally, Cricova was an underground wine storage facility. Petra Ungureanu and Nicolae Sobolev had the bright idea to use these old, underground stone mining tunnels to store wine. Business was booming and before long, Cricova was producing wine. Today, they offer a whole range of wines, including international varieties, indigenous varieties, traditional method sparkling wines, ice wine, and even brandy. Head to their website and check out what they have to offer!
- Low intensity color, beautiful ruby red with amber hues
- Medium pronounced aromas of sweet spices, black plum, black cherry, juicy raspberry, and dried herbs
- A very enticing bouquet that I just want to keep smelling
- Medium-minus body, medium-minus acidity, delicate fine-grained tannins
- A little flabby, but the notes of plum, raspberry, and sweet spices linger on the palate
- A long, persistent finish
I could see this specific bottle of Feteasca Neagra going really well with pork bao buns or peking duck pancakes. Would easily be tasty along any roasted or grilled meats. Lamb gyros or souvlaki with tzatziki perhaps. Even carne asada street tacos would be yummy with this wine. This is why Feteasca Neagra is perfect for summer. This wine can go with just about anything on the summer grill.