Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2018: Day 7

7 12 2018

By Raymond Lamontagne

Now THIS I was not expecting. Seeing tonight’s label takes me back to an industry tasting maybe a year ago. I finagled an invite as “media” (delusions of grandeur) and it was a standard event, really: big crowds and tiny pours. Even at such large events, however, I am consistently astonished by how generous and approachable wine folks are. (Sure, there were a few awkward moments. Me: “I think I like this Viognier the best…really nice floral stuff on the nose”. Guy pouring samples: *blank stare*.) I won’t ever forget meeting these two dudes at the Purcari table, representatives from the near-anonymous wine nation of Moldova. One was maybe in his 20s and the other was on the older side of middle-aged. I wish I could recall their names. The younger guy seemed quite business-savvy, and the older gentleman was more focused on vines and harvest dates and the like. My friend (none other than fellow Pop & Pour author and wine guy extraordinaire Dan Steeves) and I must have spent an hour there, tasting through the entire ensemble and hearing the stories behind each of their wines. The older guy reminded me of my maternal grandfather, a no-nonsense, bright member of the proletariat, very willing to share these unprepossessing but fascinating stories. What a marvellous hobby we have, and what a tremendous memory, revisited in full force by tonight’s Negru de Purcari red, from the winery of those very gentlemen.

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A brief primer of this lesser-known wine region is certainly in order. Moldova is one of Europe’s poorest nations but has the third greatest vineyard area of the former Soviet republics (only the Ukraine has more, if we are talking about states with significant wine production). Grapes have grown in Moldova for millennia, and wine production reached an apex in the 15th century. Turkish occupation struck a severe blow to wine production due to the Islamic prohibition of alcohol, but then recovered after the country was annexed by Russia in 1812 (phew!). Vine varieties from France became ascendant until phylloxera smacked them back down. Grafting was adopted in 1906 and the tzars provided incentives to grow higher quality varieties, only to have the Second World War once again devastate the vineyards. Undaunted, the resilient and industrious Moldovans set about planting more international varieties while simultaneously preserving at least some of the native vine diversity, weathered a few Soviet importation bans on Moldovan wine, and basically kept flipping the proverbial bird at retrograde political, religious, and other forces that sought to threaten their vineyards.

There is much potential here. The climate is temperate continental. The vineyards and varietal diversity are extensive, with a large reservoir of “European” varietals as opposed to rustic, coarser “Caucasian” ones. The gently hilly, undulating land is blessed with numerous unique microclimates and “terroirs”. Finally, the replacement of Soviet winemaking technology with more modern equipment has helped the industry to converge on wines with good natural acidity, moderate alcohol, and expressive varietal character. Moldova seems poised today to take advantage of a world market more hungry than ever before for wines from exotic locales. The latter vinifications never fail to punch my nerd button, whether good, bad, or ugly.

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Purcari leads the pack in Moldova as far as producers go. The winery dates back to 1827, when the Emperor of Russia issued a decree granting it status as the first specialized winery in Stefan Voda in Moldova’s southeast, a region noted for its long-lived red wines. Purcari itself has a unique microclimate, benefitting from both warm winds blowing in from the Black Sea and some cooling influence from fog. Upon inception the winery immediately began to accrue various gold medals and other accolades, with one of their offerings fooling some French experts into thinking it was quality Bordeaux. Purcari wines became as nearly as popular as Bordeaux and Burgundy, gathering a following as far afield as England and continuing to ride an upward quality spiral until the hammer and sickle came crashing down. The winery sat derelict for 10 years after the Soviet Union collapsed. When it was re-commissioned and given a much needed makeover in 2003, the original cellar from 1827 was restored and is now the oldest in the country. It is worth noting that only one wine from Purcari was exported from Moldova during Soviet rule. This was the same wine the French mistook for Bordeaux. Which wine? Well, the very one I hold in my hand right now: a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (70%), Saperavi (25%), and Rara Neagra (5%), known as Negru de Purcari!

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“Negru de Purcari” in fact refers both to this specific wine and a regional red blend done in this same style. The cold-hardy Saperavi is an ancient Caucasian variety most associated with another former Soviet republic, Georgia. This grape is searingly acidic, high in sugar, and deeply coloured, with pink flesh and a tendency to show best in blends. Rara Neagra or “Babeasca” is another hoary old Caucasian specialty, indigenous either to Moldova itself or Romania. Late-ripening like Cabernet, this one (decidedly unlike Cab) yields a light coloured, tart wine that smells of red cherries. Sounds like Pinot Noir’s exchange student. All the grapes here are hand-picked and manually sorted, fermented in wooden tanks, and then aged for three years in French oak.

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Cork Rating: 5.0/10 (I’m a sucker for estate depictions on corks.)

This is a 2013, and I immediately detect some low key, tasteful signs of age: Cedar planks, Irish moss, leather but not super smoky leather, perhaps chamois. The predominant fruit is black plums, with a side dish of cassis-flavoured gummy candies, raspberry jam, and red-skinned table grapes in a plastic bag. Speaking of such matters, this gets rather weird at times, registering as a flash of burning, melting vinyl accompanied by a stroll through Ikea. Layers of spices and herbs flicker in and out…nutmeg or mace, old cassia bark, rosemary. Saffron is a unique note I’ve previously heard in association with this wine (and it’s right there on the back label). I see what the apocryphal “they” mean. The spice indeed has a unique honeyed, crocus-like character. Nerd button being hammered, and hard. The jury is out on whether I’d mistake this for Bordeaux. This is bringing me pleasure. It is certainly holding my attention. At times a vivisectionist mentality can make one forget that these things are important.

88 points  

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