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the wines of Cricova, Moldova

by Tom Cannavan, 02/09

Cricova is probably the best-known wine name of Moldova. The state-run winery includes an astonishing underground tunnel system, the labyrinth of galleries running for 120km, or about 75 miles.

Most of Cricova's production facilities are 60-80 metres underground, providing a constant, cool natural temperature and humidity for wine maturation. Cricova makes a great deal of traditional method sparkling wine in these cellars, but also a full range of dry and sweet wines. The 'Circova Collection' is an intriguing portfolio of wines, released only after decades of maturing in these cellars.
  

Most of Cricova's plantings are of 'international' varieties inlcuding Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. There are also small amounts of local varieties like Rkatsiteli, familiar to me from my time judging the wines of neighbouring Georgia.

the wine industry


   Moldova shares a painful vinous link with Georgia. In 2006 its wines were banned by Russia - until then a major market. As with Georgia, the Russians claimed the wines were 'contaminated', but no evidence of this was produced. Co-incidentally however, both Georgia and Moldova were fighting a diplomatic war with Russia at the time over breakaway regions within each country - later to escalate into bloody conflict with Georgia in 2008. Happily, Russia approved Moldovan wines again in 2007, but by then an estimated $180 million had been lost from the Moldovan ecomony - already one of Europe's poorest. Wine-pages columnist and expert on the region, Caroline Gilby MW, tells the full story here.

Now, we have a chance to buy the wines of Cricova in the UK thanks to importer Vadim Chobanu, a Moldovan living in London, and his company Exquisite Wines. Vadim sent me a selection of Cricova's wines to taste, including wines from the aged 'Collection' series. All wines available from exquisitewine.co.uk.

the wines

Cricova Prestige Chardonnay 2005
This has a surprisingly pale golden colour given it's relative maturity and a fresh, appetising nose of pear and apple with a little oatmeally richness. On the palate it is a bold style of Chardonnay that has good fruit on the mid-palate with lots of orchard fruits and melon, before a powerful lemony acidity is tempered by some vanillin oak. It is a solid and tasty Chardonnay with only 12.5% alochol, and pretty good value at it price of £6.99. 86/100

Cricova Prestige Cabernet Sauvignon 2005
There's a leafiness on the nose of the wine that is typical of lighter, less ripe styles of Cabernet, with a herbal and olive notes to cherry fruit. On the palate it is medium-bodied and fresh, with a nice, sweet layering of cherry and blackcurrant fruit, and again that slightly mossy, herbal quality. The tannins are actually quite fine and it stays fresh and juicy thanks to good acidity. A pleasant food-friendly Cabernet with its modest 12.0% alcohol, though undoubtedly a touch on the herbal side of the spectrum. £6.99. 85/100

Cricova Collection Dionis 1992
The first of three wines from the Cellar Collection, this one with 16 years spent buried deep below Cricova. These wines are immediatelt intriguing, coming individually boxed, wrapped in a plastic sheath, but the bottles inside sealed with wax and still bearing the dust of the cellars. This unusual Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir blend has a fading but still bright ruby colour, and a very attractive nose, where the truffly, woodland fragrance of the Pinot dominates. On the palate the sweet earthiness continues, but there's a backing from the Cabernet, giving a juicy, black fruit edge that is savoury with herbal notes and touch of green olive. The tannins are resolved but still add spicy structure, and cedary old wood notes meld with good acidity in a wine of considerable length. £16.95. 89/100

Cricova Collection Cabernet Sauvignon 1990
At almost two decades old, this Cabernet smells like old claret, with a dusty earthiness, traces of woodsmoke and cedar from French oak and just a glimpse of quite elgant and ripe black fruit. On the palate this has wonderful life about it: it is medium-bodied and quite fresh and breezy in style, tha taut black fruit is linear and lean, but it doesn't taste tired or thin. It's a fresh style of wine, unencumbered with too much oak and allowing the naturally fine tannins and acidity to give support into a clean, fruity and spicy finish. Really enjoyable old wine this, and should have a good few years cellaring potential. £15.50. 90/100

Cricova Collection Gratiesti Nectar 1990
This is a wine made using a method similar to making Port, with spirit added to wine that has partially fermented, whilst there is still plenty of sugar remaining. Made from Rkatsiteli, it pours a tawny colour and has an alluring aroma of sultanas, walnuts and leaf tea, with little nuances of honey and coffee. On the palate it is quite sweet, with a nice, medium-bodied freshness and plenty of lemon and orange acidity to lift it, whilst those soft, developed flavours of dried fruit, figs and honey build on the mid-palate. The finish shows a little spirity heat, but it is entirely in context and works beautifully in this wine. At £17.50 for a full 70cl bottle, a bargain for a mature and elegant wine such as this. 91/100.

Cricova Tatius Iceberg Select Icewine
A fascinating 11% alcohol icewine made naturally from Sauvignon Blanc grapes frozen on the vine. It comes in a tall, elegant 37.5cl bottle, packed in its own presentation tube. The nose is not as luscious as I'd expect from an icewine, with some herbal and grassy Sauvignon notes and a little pear-drop boiled sweet character. On the palate this is light and fresh - seeming more like a late harvest wine than an icewine, with medium body and moderate sweetness of pear and ripe, juicy apple. It is fresh in the finish, the acidity good and doing a fine job of pulling this through and elongating the finish, which develops a little bit of spice and more tropcial character. This is a decent wine, but easily shaded for me by the glorious Gratiesti. £22.15 per 37.5cl. 87/100

Note: Exquisite Wines, a minor sponsor of wine-pages, is offering all readers free delivery on any order saving you up to £9.99. Quote winepages1202 at checkout: exquisitewine.co.uk.

This offer is valid until the end of February 2009. wine-pages.com makes no commission or 'referal fees' on sales of these wines.