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open season

With spring in full bloom, the wine season officially has kicked off in Moldova.

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Last week, we attended the Wine Vernissage, which has become a popular showcase at which Moldovan vintners debut their new wines. The Republican Palace was abuzz as several dozen wineries showed off their wares. In addition to the big names and familiar faces, there were also many up-and-coming wineries whose products we sampled for the first time.

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With most of the country off today to celebrate International Workers’ Day, we took advantage of the long weekend to visit a vineyard that is located just outside Chisinau. This is perhaps the biggest perk of serving in Moldova. A twenty-minute drive suffices to get out of the capital and into the gently rolling hillsides of Moldova’s farm country. And with various wineries nearby, one does not have to go far to enjoy an afternoon with excellent victuals out in the countryside.

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We already have toured many of Moldova’s better-known wineries, including the underground wine cellars of Mileștii Mici and Cricova; the far-flung Purcari and Etcetera wineries, which are a stone’s throw from the Ukrainian border; and the centrally-located Chateau Vartely. Today we went to Asconi. We had visited in the dead of winter earlier this year, so we were already familiar with the wines, but had yet to tour the grounds.

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Asconi is a bit unusual in that pretty much all of the 3 million bottles it produces annually are destined for foreign markets. Perhaps for this reason there are no signs leading to the winery, and even its gates are unmarked. It is possible to sample the wine and buy some directly from the vineyard, but it’s rare to see the Asconi label in local stores. Some Asconi wines are sold in Europe and some are shipped to the United States. A lot of the bottles are destined for China and Japan, and the winery also has relationships with distributors throughout Africa. Most improbably, Asconi ships quite a number of its bottles half a world away to be sold in the tiny Latin American country of French Guiana.

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Because we took Munchkin with us, we had to plan the visit around his nap time, making this the earliest wine tour we have scheduled ever. We felt a bit self-conscious, though by the time we finished the tour and ascended the stairs to the tasting room, it was already lunch time. There are a handful of wineries we prefer to Asconi. That said, their wines are good, the tour was informative, and the setting and location are hard to beat. Most importantly, the food is some of the best Moldovan fare we have tasted. Another couple joined us, but the spread that was included in the “small lunch” easily could have accommodated a group twice as big as ours.

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