I was invited to a tasting in Thao Dien last month by Alex Sitari of Vinoteka Ltd, who is importing the sparkling wines of Cricova from Moldova. This was my first encounter with this producer’s offerings, despite an initial introduction to Moldovan wine in London, some 20 years ago.

Based 15km north of the capital, Chisinau, Cricova is not just any old winery. Established in 1952, Cricova is now one of the world’s largest producers of sparkling wines. In 1952 this establishment was conceived as a Soviet style co-operative or Integrated Production Factory “Soviet Combinat” (a vertically integrated structure, from grapes to bottles), however, the business has reverted to Moldovan ownership. Modern winemaking technology has arrived and sits next to many traditional methods of production to maintain wine quality. Cricova is famed for its vast network of limestone caves, which provided limestone for the capital’s construction in the 15th century but were later developed into wine caves and run to 120 kilometres some 100 metres underground. This cavernous underground maze of roadways has a riveting history. Alex is just the man to introduce the wines as he was formerly an employee of Cricova and knows all the stories.

Nowadays, Cricova makes sparkling wines both in the Charmat (tank) Method and in the Methode Traditionelle (the classic Champagne method of bottle fermentation). They also use the traditional varieties of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay plus some Sauvignon Blanc and Chasselas as well as the local grape variety Feteasca Alba.

Feteasca Alba is a white grape variety cultivated all over Eastern Europe and is particularly well suited to sparkling wines and dessert wines. I was impressed with this variety and by the Cricova Crisecco Brut NV which Alex described as “an excellent alternative to Prosecco”. I would have to agree as it has an attractive, slightly tropical aroma which is balanced by a soft mouthfeel, with lingering stone fruit flavours. A bargain at around 350,000 VND per bottle.

At the premium end the two Method Traditionelle wines, the Cricova Cuvee Prestige Brut NV and the Cricova Cuvee Prestige Rose NV Brut were also great value. The Prestige White NV had a rich toasty aroma with a prominent nuttiness and honeycomb character. On the palate the wine has soft fruits which are balanced with a good mouthfeel and lingering aftertaste.

The Prestige Rose NV was my favourite of the tasting, showing light red berried fruit with an elegant red currant, raspberry flavour with subtle spiciness. These also offer good value at around 500,000 VND per bottle.

For details on which retailers/restaurants stock the wines please call Vinoteka on 0903876856.