Are you ready for the ultimate? It really doesn’t get better than this in wine circles and it’s simply a crime that so few people know about Moldovan wine. It breaks my heart. Seriously, when did you hear that Moldova had such great wine? Be honest. It was right here, wasn’t it. See? Tragic.
With this in mind, I took the initiative and wrote an article for AOL Travel about the exciting developments in Moldova’s wine sector: “Europe’s Next Hot Wine Destination? Moldova.“
Let’s get down to business.
The Wine Festival (aka Moldova Wine Day), held the first week in October, is the biggest event of the year for the wine industry and, arguably, the rest of the country too. Central Chisinau, along Boulevard Stefan cel Mare, is transformed into a giant wine tasting party. It’s a good time.
Wine tasting in Chisinau
There’s always the option of visiting the outlet shops and bigger grocery stores and staging your own tasting, but if you prefer a lecture with your tasting a good place to begin intelligence gather before plotting tasting tours is Carpe Diem.
Located on a peaceful residential street, just a few blocks from the dead center of town, sit down for a drink in here or just pop in and get a bottle to go.
They guy running the place is well versed in Moldovan and foreign wine, so you’ll get a full background of what you’re drinking and other wines in the region.
The only wine they serve by the glass is Et Cetera (see below), an excellent, multi-award-winning brand from southeast Moldova (30 lei per glass).
Otherwise, purchase wine by the bottle at a very reasonable mark up (about half what one might pay in some restaurants at the top end).
They sell Cricova, Equinox, Purcari, Acorex and other Moldovan favorites.
Wineries that offer tours and tastings
Cricova currently has top name recognition in Moldova. Their wines are great, their prices are decent, but the tours are formal and stuffy. Furthermore, you sometimes have to move mountains just to get a tour. Their website is kind of a disaster, navigation-wise and historically they haven’t been great at answering emails. You can also try calling their Chisinau office: 022-453-659. If all else fails, try to make a booking by showing up in person at their headquarters in Chisinau at Str Vasile Alecsandri 111/7.
Cricova’s underground wine kingdom, 15km north of Chisinau in the village of Cricova, is big, but not as big as Milestii Mici. (see below) It boasts 120km of labyrinthine roadways. These tunnels have existed under Cricova since the 15th century, when limestone was dug out to help build Chisinau. They were converted into an underground wine emporium in the 1950s.
Legend has it that in 1966 astronaut Yuri Gagarin entered the cellars, re-emerging (with assistance) two days later. The truth, apparently, is Gagarin entered at 11pm and exited a few hours later on the next calendar day, so two days in a manner of speaking. Russian president Vladimir Putin celebrated his 50th birthday here and it’s said that German Chancellor Angela Merkel spent more time at Cricova than the rest of Moldova combined.
Cricova makes one of my favorite wines in the world: a unique sparkling dark red wine called “kodrinskoie-sparkling,” made from cabernet sauvignon stocks and marketed as having a ‘rich velvet texture and a blackcurrant and cherry taste’.
The one-hour tour includes trips down streets with names such as Str Cabernet, Str Pinot etc; wine tasting; a snack of ‘placinte’ (pastries) and gift bottles of wine and champagne.
Once you’ve finished at Cricova, head to the much-awarded Acorex vineyard (hours: 9am-6pm), just down the hill. There’s no tour, but their shop sells limited lines not available in most stores or outside Moldova.
About a two hour drive southeast of Chisinau is Purcari winery, founded in 1827. Their sloped vine fields enjoy a temperate micro-climate moderated by winds from the nearby Black Sea, ideal for the production of red and black grapes.
Their Negru de Pucari was Queen Victoria’s favorite.
Pucari’s property is a pleasing Disney-esque, wino theme park. The stone foundation chateau sits above tiny lakes with gazebos on stilts, accessed via wooden bridges.
Character is added by an old grape press and a skeletal wooden wagon, while the wine collection is stored in an atmospheric, mildly claustrophobic series of hamster tunnels.
Tastings with or without meals are available, as are rooms for those who need several days to metabolize the winery’s offerings or want to use Purcari as a staging area for forays to other wineries clustered in the area, particularly Et Cetera.
Et Cetera, a young winery run by young people, is located just outside the village of Crocmaz, about a two hour drive southeast of Chisinau.
They put out their first vintages in 2009 and now produce 10 wines, including their 2010 merlot which won the bronze medal at the Decanter Asia Wine Awards 2012 awards.
Visitors can indulge in tastings, tours of the property led by one of the two brothers who founded the winery and, in September and October, hands-on wine harvesting and bottling activities. Tours and tastings start at 18 euros, with meals available for 20 euros.
While you’re in the area, consider folding in a visit to Purcari winery as well.
They are the featured by-the-glass wine at Carpe Diem wine bar in Chisinau.
About one hour north of Chisinau in the town of Orhei is Chateau Vartely, who are doing wonderful things with the local Feteasca white grape, among their many other lines.
The property is a full service chateau, with tours, tastings with snacks and/or full meals in their first-rate restaurant.
You can sleep off this wretched excess in one of their rooms (about US$100 per night for a double room) or soldier back to Chisinau with factory-priced road bottles from their shop.
On your way here, if traveling by private car, take a few minutes to stop at Safari Cafe and test the “Legend of Magnetic Hill.”
I love these guys. Not only because they have the largest collection in the world (two million bottles, recognized by Guinness) and not because they have 200 kilometers of ‘cellar’ space (it’s really a limestone mine, but let’s not split hairs) and not because the tours are so fricking awesome, but because they are just plain nice, wonderful helpful people.
Tours, done by car, wind down through the cellars with stops at notable collections and artistically executed tourist points, terminating at the elegantly decorated restaurant, with a sea-bottom motif, 60m below ground. These tours, which include, naturally, wine tasting, are stunning while being refreshingly informal and hilarious.
Tours can be arranged directly with the winery. Tour groups must have a minimum of four people – unofficially this is negotiable – while a Saturday/Sunday tour must have a minimum of 15 people.
This spunky winery operates 12km northwest of Chisinau in the village of Cojusna. The facilities aren’t as flashy as the big boys, but the tours are first-rate, down-to-earth and very friendly. What they lack in production they make up for with heart and charm.
These guys used to have a 12,000 bottle-per-hour capacity, but sales plummeted when their distribution network collapsed along with the USSR. Massive foreign investment (not forthcoming) will be needed to get the plant back up to its former productivity.
Cojusna tours are by appointment only. They offer 2-3hr tours, with an optional meal. Their relatively tiny cellars comprise six ‘alleys’, each 100m long. Meals are served in an impressive and seductively cozy hall decorated with wooden furniture carved by a local 17-year-old boy and his father.
Furthermore, you can buy wines from the shop ($2 to $25 per bottle).
It’s possible to get to Cojusna from Chisinau on public transport. Take Bus No 2; it runs every 15 minutes from Str Vasile Alecsandri. Buses to Straseni also stop at Cojusna or catch one of the frequent maxitaxis leaving from Calea Esilor – to get to Calea Esilor, take trolleybus 1, 5 or 11 up Stefan cel Mare, to the Ion Creanga university stop. Alight at the Cojusna stop, ignore the turn on the left marked ‘Cojusna’ and walk or hitch the remaining 2km along the main road to the winery entrance, marked again by a ‘Cojusna’ sign and by a white-washed Jesus-on-the-cross.
Also in the village of Cojusna (see above) is Chateau Migdal P, making for an easy one-two wine tasting trip.
Tours here start as low as 300 lei per person, with a tour, tasting and meal costing 900 lei.