Most of us know very little, if anything, about Bulgarian, Romanian, or Moldovan wines, and the average wine store in the United States. is unlikely to have an appre- ciable inventory of these. I did a casual search for Bulgarian wines in www.wine- searcher.com and in most instances have found either no stores in the United States that carried the wine or at most one. The situation is similar for Romanian or Moldavan wines and the average reader would encounter substantial difficulties in building a representative cellar of these wines. Nevertheless, some of these wines can be found in some western European countries.
In any event, this volume would be a most reasonable beginning for somebody who would want to deepen his/her acquaintance with the wines of these three Balkan states. The book is divided into three parts and each part follows the same basic pattern: after a brief introduction we have chapters on history, followed by dis- cussions of the modern era, the relationship of the European Union (EU), the prob- able future, grape varieties the wine regions in the various countries, and profiles of the most important producers. Most importantly perhaps, these substantive chapters are followed by excellent summary statistics on wine production and related terms, and an equally useful bibliography. The tables provide a complete listing of Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) for Bulgaria as well as the acreage planted, the vine- yards harvested by geographic region, and the acreage devoted to the several major varieties. For Romania we get historical wine production trends and grape varieties planted, export and import statistics, and regional varietal distribution.
Similar statistics are provided for Moldova.
The cultivation of wine clearly has a long history in the region, and in Bulgaria, for instance, there is reason to believe that wine was drunk in the 9th century: Khan Krum is reported to have fashioned the skull of a defeated enemy into a wine cup.
There is clearly some similarity among these countries. Wine cultivation has a long history in each and they were all subject to Ottoman rule after the 16th century, which did not advance the cause of wine growing and drinking, as peasants were forced to sell their land. They were all impacted by the arrival of phylloxera in the later 19th century with which they all coped in the usual way, that is, grafting vines onto American root stocks. A notable exception was Bessarabia, a region of Moldova, where there were objections to the “Americanization” of wine growing and where they tried to rely, largely unsuccessfully, on pesticides and fumigation techniques. But this was clearly a period that encouraged research into the cultiva- tion of wine. All three countries fell within the Soviet orbit after 1945 with various forms of collectivization, and Bulgaria had established as many as 3,000 col- lective farms. In Romania privately owned land was largely expropriated without compensation and small landholders were permitted to retain 0.25 hectares. They all took advantage of the liberalization that followed the break-up of the USSR and ended up getting more or less technical and financial help from the West, par- ticularly from the EU.
Local varieties (most of which I had never heard of) continue to be planted along- side more familiar ones such as chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, pinot gris, and aligoté among the whites and cabernet sauvignon, merlot, pinot noir, and cabernet franc among the reds. The local varieties are likely to be unfamiliar to western drinkers such as the red Bulgarian wines Mavrud or Gamza (known in Hungary as Kadarka) or the white Dimiat known as Smeredevka in Serbia. One interesting white grape is Raksiteli which is an important grape in the country of Georgia. Romanian varieties include the white Fetească Albă and Frảncuşă, while in Moldova we find whites such as Alb de Oniţcani and Bastardo. It is a pity that we are not given much information about the sensory impression that these and other local grape varieties make. All three countries have introduced some classification of wines by PDO or Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) which bodes well for the future. However, the impression one gets is that none of the wines produced in this region is particularly memorable, and while the book does a good job in describing the climate and the varieties grown, there is relatively little conveyed about the sensory characteristics of the wines and their quality. It is clear that in some regions there is an excess of semi-sweet or sweet wine produced which may suit the Russian taste, but much of the quality was initially at least quite poor, due to inferior equipment left over from the Soviet period. The author remarks in the dis- cussion of Moldovan wines that in 2006 she witnessed some of the worst wine making she has ever seen. While Moldova, for example, does export wine to Poland, China, Romania, Russia, Czech Republic, and Ukraine, some of its wines are just plain bad, dirty old, and green. On the basis of this book I am not eager to invest a lot of time and effort to explore the wines of Bulgaria, Romania, and Moldova.
Richard E. Quandt