Wine is synonymous with livelihood in Moldova. In fact, the wine industry employs one in every five Moldovans. The country’s history of winemaking dates back to 3,000 B.C. Moldovan viticulture began even earlier with the first vines recorded in 7,000 B.C. Remarkably, Moldovan wines are only just starting to break onto the international wine scene.
According to the National Office for Vine and Wine, Moldova’s vineyard density is higher than any other country in the world. In the past ten years, around 330 million Euros were invested in new winemaking technology, equipment, and vineyard plantings. Furthermore, the Moldovan wine industry accounts for 7.2% of the country’s total exports, distributing over sixty-seven million bottles worldwide. Do these stats have you curious to taste Moldovan wine yet?
Prior to these investments and impressive export numbers, the Soviet era stunted the Moldovan wine industry. The Soviets planted international varieties and ramped up production of regimented wines. As a result, many native Moldovan varieties were on the brink of extinction. With the fall of the Soviet Union, Moldovan producers were able to refocus on producing quality over quantity. Thankfully, indigenous Moldovan varieties are thriving once again. We are even seeing wines from these native varieties in America. However, international plantings still dominate Moldovan vineyards.
For more on the history of Moldovan wine, please visit the Wine of Moldova website. The National Office for Vine and Wine has done a fabulous job of compiling information on Moldovan wine history, famous legends, wine regions, varieties, and more all in one convenient place.
Moldovan Wine Country
Located in southeastern Europe, Moldova rests along similar latitudinal lines as other famous European wine regions. Therefore, this suggests that the country offers preferable terroir for viticulture. Moldova has a moderately continental climate influenced by the Black Sea. The terrain is mostly plains and plateaus with some low hill country. There are many streams throughout Moldova and the country has two large rivers. The Prut runs along the country’s western border and the Dniester runs within the eastern half of Moldova. Most white varieties grow centrally while the red varieties thrive in southern Moldova.
Moldova has three historical wine regions, which together boast 112,000 hectares of vineyards.
Located in central Moldova, Codru produced most of the country’s white wines. Feteasca Alba, Muscat, Chardonnay, Traminer, and other varieties planted here produce sparkling and still wines. This region houses the massive wine cellars of Cricova and Milestii Mici (which I touched on in the Feteasca Neagra post), along with many other wineries.
Stefan Voda is Moldova’s southeastern wine region, whose vineyards rest at lower elevations on dominantly brown chernozem and podzol soils near the Dniester terraces. The Black Sea significantly influences this region, resulting in a more moderate continental climate. Stefan Voda is home to the Moldova’s famous Purcari winery. The region has an ample 10,000 hectares under vine.
Valul lui Traian
Valul lui Traian (or Trajan’s Wall) is in southwestern Moldova and boasts an expansive 43,203 hectares of vineyards. Red wine accounts for 60% of the region’s total production. The climate here is warmer, even with the Black Sea influence, and soils of the region are more aerated.
The Variety: Rara Neagra
Rara Neagra is a variety native to Moldova. The name roughly translates to ‘rare black’ or often ‘loose black.’ The latter refers to the loosely packed clusters that are characteristic of this grape. The variety is known for its depth of color, rich acidity, and pronounced fruity character. In the late 18th century, Rara Neagra helped elevate Purcari Winery to fame. This variety is a main blending component in Negru de Purcari, the winery’s most celebrated and world-renowned wine.
Known in neighboring Romania as Babeasca Neagra and many other names in Moldova, Rara Neagra has wholly adapted to sunny southern Moldova. Additionally, this is one of the most widely cultivated grape varieties in Romania today. Rara Neagra originally grew in the territory that lies between present-day eastern Romania and southern Moldova. This variety was even widespread along the Moldovan-Ukrainian border. The Ukrainians call this variety Sereksyia.
Surprisingly, Rare Neagra is also cultivated in America! The variety was brought to New York’s Finger Lakes region by Dr. Frank. He was an early advocate of planting eastern European vitis vinifera varieties in the Finger Lakes region because he know that they could withstand the characteristically cold temperatures there. Rara Neagra has been around for centuries, and in such has undergone many mutations over the years. There is a mutation with bigger berries called Copceac. Then, a variation with split clusters called Coada Rândunicii (meaning Swallowtail) and a third mutation with called Coada Vulpii (Foxtail) elongated, cylindrical bunches. A pink mutation of this grape also exists called Babeasca gris or Sereksyia Rose
Rara Neagra in the Vineyard
Rara Neagra is very late-budding and late-ripening variety. Since the variety experiences a later bud break, the vines are less susceptible to spring frosts and much more winter hardy. Actually, Rara Neagra is able to withstand exceptionally cold eastern European winter temperatures of -18°C. This is a very vigorous vine that needs to be tirelessly maintained with winter and green pruning in order to yield quality fruit. Unfortunately, the loose clusters are prone to powdery and downy mildew and noble rot. So, Rara Neagra require careful attention in the vineyard throughout the growing season in order to have a successful vintage in the fall. Grapes are typically mature and ready to harvest by the end of September or early October.
Cricova is a massive Moldovan winery located in the central wine region of Codru. Originally founded as an underground wine storage facility in 1952, Cricova produces an awe-inspiring range of wine styles today. Their central location is known for sunny days, a mild, favorable climate, and black chernozem soil. This is an extremely fertile type of soil with a high percentage of phosphorous, ammonia, phosphoric acids, and humus. Chernozem also has a high capacity for moisture retention.
Cricova, Rara Neagra, Orasul Subteran, 2017
- A gorgeous ruby red, almost pomegranate color with medium-minus intensity
- I let the wine sit in the glass to breathe a bit before tasting and was astounded by the pronounced aromas exploding from the glass, wafting up to my nose from the table.
- Pronounced aromas of raspberry, strawberry, juicy red berries, and white pepper
- This wine has a garrigue like quality of dried herbs, rosemary, and just a hint of red florals.
- On the palate, this wine was medium-minus body with medium-plus acidity.
- Velvety tannins present, but well integrated with the wine
- Juicy red fruit flavors linger on the palate
If you enjoy drinking Grenache, Cinsault, or fruit forward California Zinfandel, then you will love Rare Neagra.
The juicy red fruit flavors of this wine make it a great option to pair with spiced dishes and umami flavors. Creole jambalaya. Chorizo and chicken paella. Chicken tikka masala, one of my favorite Indian dishes. Soy and ginger marinated grilled skirt steak. Balsamic and soy roasted garlic mushrooms. Umami flavors in foods (like mushrooms) tend to emphasize the bitterness of tannins. So, umami dishes should be paired with wines that are more fruit forward. Just some food (and wine) for thought.