Monday, February 14, 2011

A Wine Tasting at the Purcari Winery in Moldova

In December 2010, I was performing an evaluation of a USAID program to build competitiveness in the Moldovan wine, IT and apparel industries. One of the benefits of evaluating the wine industry is you do “field visits” to wineries which essentially means … wine tastings. With my colleagues, Colin and Veaceslav, we braved a horrendous ice storm and nearly skidded off the road while driving to the Purcari Winery in Moldova.

Purcari, one of the more successful Moldovan wineries, produces more than a million bottles per year and sells in 23 countries. The winery built a pleasant country inn near its vineyards with a nice dining room, billiards area, pond and wireless internet in a rustic valley. The fare offered in the dining room, a bit on the expensive side, was disappointingly bland and cold. The menu emphasized continental specialties rather than local.

Before dinner, we had a tour of the Purcari facilities. The facility was impressively clean and modern with imported processing equipment and French oak casks. We wound our way through the cellar and saw bottlings specifically for British royalty.

After the tour, we returned to the hotel for a wine tasting featuring Purcari’s eight principal wines. All of the wines we drank were produced by Purcari in 2007. The wine tasting was a bit academic. Because of the bad weather, the hotel guests all checked in late and the wine steward wanted to go home. The result was a lecture on the wines that seemed like a class in didactics rather than a fun wine tasting.

The first two wines were whites, a Chardonnay and a Sauvignon Blanc. The Chardonnay was acceptable; good for an Eastern European Chardonnay if you will. But the price difference with a good California Chardonnay is minimal, so there is not much reason to drink it unless you are unable to buy a California, French or other Chardonnay. The Purcari Chardonnay was flowery and more on the crisp side as opposed to being buttery. The Sauvignon Blanc was significantly better. Moldova and Romania are able to produce reasonable Sauvignon Blancs, dry with enough fruit, not as subtle or as smooth on the palate as a high-end Sauvignon Blanc but drinkable and tasty.

We then moved to the reds moving from the lightest wines to the heaviest. We started with a Pinot Noir which was solid. A friend who went to medical school said that when you received a “solid” in your student evaluation that it meant there was nothing wrong with you but you were not impressive. The Pinot Noir was solid. The Merlot was medium bodied and not quite as dry or robust as one would hope. It may have been one of the more disappointing wines because Moldova can produce some fine Merlot. The Cabernet was next. It was nice and had some fruit but it finished rather quickly. For the price, it’s definitely worth drinking if you’re not insistent on a “Big Red.” The varietals we tasted ranged from $8-12 per bottle.

The next two wines were the two premium blends made by Purcari, Rosu de Purcari (Red by Purcari) and Negru de Purcaru (Black by Purcari). The wines blend Cabernet, Merlot and Saperavi, a Georgian grape. Negru is the super premium wine and sells for $20 per bottle or more which is quite high by Moldovan standards.

The Rosu had nice color, balance and fruit. It was a little timid. I had a difficult time smelling the bouquet. The Negru was the event’s best wine. (Colin thought the Rosu was the best wine. Slava thought the Sauvignon Blanc was.) With a dark color and the strongest scent, Negru de Purcari had the most complexity and flavor of the group. Despite its relatively young age, the Negru clung to the glass and gave us some ‘legs.’ We finished by tasting the Cahor dessert wine. I must admit I am not much of a dessert wine drinker and really am unable to properly judge the Cahor. Nonetheless, my opinion is the Cahor is pleasant, not too cloying and would accompany many desserts well.

I should note that I may be a bit overcritical of the wines because I drank a number of Purcari wines from 2003 and they were a superb value. The 2003 Pinot Noir was outstanding. Lush and velvety on the palate, the Pinot was great with food or solo. I gave a consulting client a bottle of Rosu de Purcari 2003 as a Christmas gift and had a new project two months later! Thus, 2007 may not have been a great year. The winery staff told me that 2010 was not a great year for grapes because the weather was too wet. I would summarize by saying that the Purcari wines are eminently drinkable and enjoyable wines, particularly at their price point, but not superlative, and look out for Purcari wines from 2008 and 2009.

What made the wine tasting particularly nice was that they left the opened for the three of us to finish. So, we managed to polish off nearly all of the seven drinking wines and stumbled upstairs to the winery’s nicely appointed hotel rooms to sleep off the wine tasting and begin the difficult work of evaluating another wine producer.

2 comments:

  1. Start with the lightest wines if you're interested in tasting the full range of wines available in the tasting room.

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  2. Thanks, Shantel. It was a structured wine tasting by the vineyard. We did not have a choice. Nonetheless, they did start with the lightest wines.

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