An American, a Swede, a Norwegian and Dutchwoman walk into a Moldovan bar… It’s not the beginning of a joke, just the beginning of my exquisite experience with Moldovan wine.
“Tre,” I said to the waiter, pointing to a Cabernet-Sauvignon on the menu, then pointed on a white wine and asked, “I Adin.”
I was trying to order one of the red, three of the white.
Unfortunately, there was some confusion and we ended up with three red wines and one white wine. Fair enough. We didn’t know enough Russian, and almost no Romanian, to really send it back and complain, particularly when he waiter was being so nice. Not that it mattered. One sip, and we were more than satisfied.It is, quite simply, the best I have ever tasted. As a dedicated wino, I had often favored Swiss and Italian wines, but after my first sip of Moldovan reds, I was converted!
In Chisinau, in a cellar not far from my friend, Stefan Cel Mare (A large statue of Stefan the Great, Moldovan hero), is the Milestii Mici, which has the largest wine collection in the world (certified by the Guinness Book of world records). It’s got an underground tunnel system spanning 250 km, filled with nothing but delicious, delicious vino. After my first week, I began making a habit of buying a bottle of cabernet sauvignon, and considered making the rounds through their entire gold collection.
Milestii Mici is what heaven must be. It has extensive, underground tunnels which hold a treasure trove of wines that, frankly, I will never have a chance to explore. For less than 200 Lei, approximately 15 USD, you can find yourself with a bottle of wine so delicious that, in the states, it would go for several hundred dollars a bottle. I wanted to buy a crate and ship the glorious thing home.
Unfortunately, the post office said no. I checked. I even bargained and begged the confused postal worker to no avail.
One quick trip into the villages (what we english speakers would refer to as “the country” or “the country-side”), one gets the distinct impression of green – of lush, effulgent, greenery. Vin de Casa, or homemade wine, is commonly found at the dinner table, and their recipes and strands of grapes have been passed down generation after generation, with the same reverence as the holy wines of France and Italy.
It’s Moldova’s biggest export and had once accounted for 10% of all the wine consumed in Russia and was ranked 7th in the world for one exports. Not bad for a country that’s only 13,068 sq miles (33,846 km²). Then Russia cited supposed traces of “plastic” in the export – though Russia permits higher amounts of the same element in their water supply, which is still lower than what is permitted in the EU! – to ban Moldovan wine. The embargo was felt, as Russia had once received ~60% of Moldovan’s exported vino.
Russia’s embargo was widely felt. Wine is the backbone of it’s agricultural sector – fact that made me love Moldova even more.
What was the real reason for Russia’s ban? Well, Moldova signed agreements with the EU on political and free trade reform and was the first giant leap towards integrating into the Union, pulling further west, away from Russia, who wanted it to become part of it’s customs union with the likes of Belarus and Kazakhstan, and the Eurasian economic union of which Moscow is the hegemon.
To take some of the pressure in this new, post-Cold War clash of civilizations, the Obama administration has opened America’s doors to Moldovan wine exports and has encouraged their greater consumption in the USA (Get that, Mom and Dad? Time to buy Moldovan!) In light of Russia’s ban, the US government had said that it will help find new markets for its wine and the EU has lowered it’s tariffs agains the Moldovan vino. With the new partnership agreement with the EU and increased support for their number one export, Moldova is splitting from Russia and aligning itself with the West – a loss that was largely catalyzed by the Russian embargo anyway. In that way, the victory of the west’s economic influence to Moldova may, at least partially, be attributed to bottles of wine.
In Vino, Victoria!
Disclaimer: Cellar photos (the featured image) and Milestii Mici photos were taken from Google Images, and not taken by me. If I am remiss in giving someone credit, please let me know and I will correct the error.