Lion Gri Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 Tasting Notes
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Lion Gri Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 Tasting Notes

I admit, Lion Gri is my first Moldovan wine, but I already know it will not be my last. Moldova is sandwiched between the Ukraine and Romania, and is a former republic of the Soviet Union. The Moldovan language is a close relative of Romanian. Though the nation is technically new, wine grapes have been grown in the region for several thousand years. When Moldova split from the Soviet Union, the country's wine producers found they had a ready market in their ex-overlord, but relations between the two countries have recently become rather strained. If these international events have anything to do with my finding this Cabernet Sauvignon on my table for less than $10, then I am indeed fortunate.

Like most eastern European wine producing countries, the Moldovans have their own indigenous grape varieties, including Feteasca Albă and Feteasca Regală among the whites and Rara Neagră among the reds. The country has been producing a wide range of international varieties, however, since the end of the Second World War. The Lion Gris is a product of the Talmaza Valley in the southeastern corner of Moldova. The Cabernet Sauvignon is oak aged (my research doesn't tell me how long and in what kind of oak). At 12% alcohol, it weights in on the low side compared to its Californian or Australian cousins. The bottle notes indicate “an intense blended aroma of saffron and black currents.” Not being truly sensitive to saffron in a wine, I cannot taste it, but the black currant is there, along with a pleasant aroma of tobacco and some excellent spice.

The label's rubric “full velvety and harmonic taste” is pretty much on the mark. The Lion Gri is an exceedingly pleasant and enjoyable wine to drink. It feels downright good in the mouth, smooth despite its youth, sporting a respectable tannic profile, some bright acidity and good, solid, non-esoteric fruit: cassis, blackberry and black plum. True to the label, it tastes like Cabernet, without the kind of compromise (vegetal notes, or lack of balance) one might expect of a wine in this price range.

The Moldovans drink only about five percent of the wine they produce in their 150 wineries; the remainder accounts for nearly half of the country's export income from all products of any kind. As you can imagine, these people are serious about their wines. Our market can only benefit from the variety.

As an interesting historical note, though former Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev is generally thought of as having had a positive effect on modern political history, he may indeed qualify as one of the great villains of the world of wine. Between 1985 and 1991, his anti-alcohol campaign caused about a third of all the vineyards in the Soviet Union to be destroyed; Moldova, as the Soviet Union's largest producer, took a few hits. On the other hand, since the Moldovan climate is ideal for viticulture, and since the grape has such a long and storied history here, we expect to enjoy more Moldovan wine as the country establishes its modern identity.

Verdict: I am impressed.
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food writer Elliot Essman James Beard Foundation Journalism Award
James Beard Award Nominee Elliot Essman

food writer Elliot Essman James Beard Foundation Journalism Award


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