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John Salvi about “CHISINAU WINES AND SPIRITS CONTEST’2014”

There is precious little Moldovan wine sold on the Western European markets and when looking for a bottle of wine for lunch or dinner most of us do not immediately think Moldova. However Moldova is a vast garden of vines, fruit trees and vegetable fields. Wine represents the major product of Moldova’s economy, with exports in a good year accounting for up to half of the country’s total export earnings. The wine’s share in Moldova’s GDP is some 25 per cent. Vine growing and wine making in Moldova (this geographical place is also known in the past as Dacia, Moldavia, and Bessarabia) counts for almost 5,000 years. Its principal market has always been Russia – an insatiable and thirsty market, but uncertain about its political attitude towards Moldova and when it decides to ban the import of its wines it is a veritable catastrophe for a very small country where the income of a simple working man is often not much above some 200 Euros per month.

There are two immense cellars in Moldova, both state owned, that are so large that one visits them in a sort of little train. Cricova, which was the one that we visited and where we dined, has 130 kilometres of tunnels carved out of the limestone that has gone to build the country’s capital Chisinau and the surrounding region. It is sometimes said to be the largest cellar in the world. The other one – Milestii Mici – has another uniqueness. The Milestii Mici’s wine collection of 1.5 million bottles has been included in the Guinness World Records in the category The Largest Quality Wine Collection In the World. On top of it all, some argue that Milestii Mici is a larger cellar than that of Cricova with 180 kilometres of tunnels? In the centre of both are opulent and magnificent reception rooms for entertaining, lunching, dining and hosting events. On the walls are many portraits and pictures of famous people who have visited and I am not at all sure how it comes about but somehow there is a portrait of me immediately underneath that of President Clinton – somebody must have made a mistake!

I was invited to judge the competition “CHISINAU WINES AND SPIRITS CONTEST” for the second year running. This contest is a well-established competition, being in its 19th year and long patronised by the OIV. This year the OIV representative was no less than the recently appointed Director General, Monsieur Jean-Marie Aurand. It is organised by Poliproject Exhibitions Ltd. and the Union of Oenologists of Moldova under the auspices of the Ministry Agriculture and Food Industry of the Republic of Moldova.

The competition was extremely well rune and organised under the rigorous supervision of Gheorghe Arpentin, President of their Union of Oenologists. Juries were of 7 persons each my commission judged 41 wines the first day and 31 the second. My panel was not asked to judge Sprits this year. Top and bottom marks were discarded. 80 points were needed for a bronze medal, 82 for a silver, 86 for a gold, 92 for a grand gold and 96 for the Grand Prix. On my commission we were Turkish, British, Russian, Rumanian and 3 Moldovan. Samples were submitted from 12 countries by 58 companies (Moldova, Czech Republic, Russia, Slovakia, Romania, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Turkey, Belarus, Cyprus, Armenia and 2 from Italy but none from France, Spain or Germany). 34 judges came from 18 countries (16 of them from Moldova). 28 judging and 6 Moldovans in reserve.

The Praesidium was composed of Grigore Cernomaz, Jurist, Gheorghe Arpentin, President of the Moldovan Union of Oenologists, Marina Tiron, General Director of Poliproject Exhibitions Ltd. and Dimitru Munteanu, Director of the National Office of Vine and Wine of the Republic of Moldova. The wonderful Lana Meiniciuc looked after us untiringly.

I think the competition could be described as thoroughly Eastern European. The OIV rules were adhered to throughout. Tasting conditions were excellent. The tasting room was the “Casa Vinului” room in the Poliproject Building, which was cool and well lit and was a showcase for Moldovan wines. White tablecloths, red and green spittoons, mineral water, paper napkins and a chunk of bread were all in place. Glasses for still wines were excellent but those for Sparkling Wines need improving. It was both distracting and irritating to have three different sized and shaped glasses during the same tasting which arrived at the table indiscriminately.

I had an excellent President in Nicolae Taran. Nicolae is Deputy Director Science “Viticulture and Oenology” at the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Industry of the Republic of Moldova and the Practical Scientific Institute of Horticulture and Food Technology. This amused us both because in the Sparkling Wine Competition in Novy Svet, in the Crimea, I am his President. (as I write this with the problems in the Crimea bubbling away I am doubtful that we will be able to hold the competition this year! It is close to Simferopol, which is disputed territory).

It became clear that some Eastern European judges have somewhat different criteria to those in Western Europe and this is perfectly natural given different grape varieties and different tastes. It is in no way a matter of right and wrong and indeed they certainly understand their terroir and their varieties better than anyone else, but the variation in the marks given by the 7 judges on the same panel were was sometimes very considerable. I asked for one Sparkling Wine with wonderful, persistent pinprick bubbles (it turned out to be Italian) to be re-judged but my request was declined.

Hospitality was warm and welcoming. The evening we arrived was a friendly and sociable “cocktail dinatoire” in the hotel with a range of Moldovan wines and plenty of excellent things to eat, including my favourite Red Caviar. The first day of the testing a simple lunch was served after the tasting in the Poliproject premises. That afternoon was a grand tour of the Cricova cellars and an important formal dinner in their splendid underground dining room. I was seated next to the exotically extrovert Minister, Vasile Bumacov, who told jokes non-stop throughout the evening and paid personally in cash for a second bottle when our first bottle of very special and aged “collection” wine was corked. On my other side was Diana Lazar, Deputy Chief of Party, Wine Industry Manager. I was a succulent filling for an important sandwich!

There was a similar lunch next day after the tasting, but this time in the splendiferous, exotically and richly decorated underground cellars of the Poliproject building. Here we were presented with our diplomas and this was the end of the programme. With the charming interpreter, as I had done last year, I spent a delightful afternoon at the National Opera and Ballet Theatre watching a Russian performance of La Traviata. I finished the day with a cosy and enjoyable dinner in an Uzbekistan restaurant eating their local dishes, which included bulls’ testicles!

A delightful visit, but more importantly a useful, informative and important competition of great value to the Moldovan wine world and its producers. It MUST continue and it is the duty of we wine writers to give this small but vital competition as much media coverage as possible and to help them encourage samples from around the world for future competitions. Moldova needs all the help that it can get and richly deserves it!

John SALVI,
MW, President of Wine and Spirit Association of Great Britain,
member of the International Academy of Wine and of the Academie du Vin de Bordeaux (Great Britain)