Moldova is a country that isn’t necessarily part of the standard European tourist itinerary just yet. But if you are a lover of wine then planning a trip to do a Moldova Wine Tour is 100% a must. This part of Europe offers incredible local food, traditional hospitality and a Moldova wine cellar that is a Guinness World Record holder.
Moldova Wine – a short history
Moldova is situated in the South-East of Europe, sandwiched between Ukraine and Romania, and has a wine history that dates back to around 5000 years ago. Throughout history there have been many people that have occupied the area including the Romans, The Ottoman Empire, The Russian Empire and most recently The Soviet Union and even through these times, with its changes and upheavals having to adjust to a new way of living, there is one thing that the people of Moldova continued to do without fail….make wine! In fact, during the Soviet Union, every 2nd bottle of wine consumed in USSR was from Moldova and Moldova has continuously been a leader in wine production in this region.
As tourists in Moldova, unless you speak Romanian (the formal language of Moldova) or Russian you might find it difficult to organise an excursion to the Moldova wine tunnels and wineries by yourself. That’s why we teamed up with Wine Tours Moldova who helped us plan the perfect itinerary for our time in the country.
Moldova Wine Tour Reviews: Cricova Moldova Wine Cellar, Mileștii Mici Winery and More
This wine cellar is no ordinary cellar – in fact, it is an underground labyrinth that contains 70 kms of tunnels and is home to about 30 million litres of wine. Founded in 1952 it was discovered that the limestones mining caves were a fantastic place to keep the wine at a constant temperature all year round – 14 degrees Celsius and a humidity of about 97%. Since then Cricova has been making some of the best wine in the region with famous politicians like John Kerry, Angela Merkel and Vladimir Putin housing their own private collections here.
They are most well known for their variety of sparkling wine which is made using the exact same wine techniques and the same grapes that they use to make Champagne in France. This winemaking technique is the same one that was introduced by monk Dom Pierre Perignon – “Méthode Traditionelle” – they are just not allowed to call it Champagne. Crivoa wine cellar is the biggest producer of sparkling wine in Moldova with each bottle being nurtured and turned by expert hands until it is ready to be sold to the public. Sparkling wine is a specialised process and there are only about 1000 people in the world who are trained in turning the bottles using the Champagne regions techniques…..and 6 of those 1000 people work at Cricova Moldova.
After absorbing all of the fascinating history and stories from the tunnels of the Cricova Winery (for example the 1st cosmonaut in space Yuri Gagarin reportedly got lost in the tunnels and didn’t emerge until he was assisted out 2 days later) you then have the pleasure of a wine tasting in one of their 5 exquisite tasting rooms. We had the pleasure of trying 4 different wines along with local cheeses and snacks from the region.
There are quite a few tours that you can choose from and the one you choose might depend on how much time you want to spend at the winery.
Our tour included:
- an English speaking guide
- a trip to the underground cinema to learn more about the history of the winery
- The maturing section
- Sparkling wine production section
- The National Collection
- and tasting….we also got to take away some sparkling wine as a souvenir
NOTE: The winery is incredibly popular, especially in the summer months, so make sure you book in advance to avoid disappointment
Village Butuceni & Orheiul Vechi
You may or may not know this, but the history of wine production comes from the monks of days gone by and visiting an ancient region of Moldova that today is an open-air museum that showcases the fascinating history of this area is an incredible way to glimpse into the traditions of Moldova.
Here you get to see the amazing cave monasteries that were dug by Orthodox monks in the 13th century and remained inhabited until the 18th century. In 1996 a handful of monks returned to this secluded place and restored it to what you see today.
Also nearby is the village of Butuceni where you can see how the people of Moldova used to live in the 19th century. There are the old homes that you can see inside and see their basic but very functional way of living, also old clothes, rugs, even a dowry that would have been for one of the girls of the families. This is all topped off with a very local and traditional lunch at Eco Resort Butuceni where we were served everything from Zeama (Moldovan chicken soup) to Mămăligă a dish you will find everywhere and is much loved by the locals. We also had sarmale (vegetables and spices wrapped in cabbage leaves) a popular dish thought the region and also in Romania. Placinte cu branza (a pastry filled with cheese) and finished it all off with some sweet Plăcintă – Oh! and of course plenty of locally made wine. Delish!
For a winery experience unlike any other you 100% have to make sure that Branesti winery is on your Moldova wine tour itinerary. Branesti is also a winery with a fascinating underground labyrinth of wine tunnels but the thing that makes this place so unique is mould. That’s right – mould! The walls are all covered with a thick black carpet of mould that the winery is famous for. They also let the mould grow on the bottles they store in the tunnels as it helps to keep any air from getting into the bottles.
It is really unique and fascinating to see….it’s also a little creepy and walking around the tunnels I have to admit feels like being in a horror movie. In fact, a Romanian production of Dracula was filmed at this winery. But the winery doesn’t care and even plays up the fact that it’s a little creepy. We thought it was fantastic!
Not far from the actual winery the same company owns an underground restaurant and the site where Moldova’s first underground hotel and wine spa will be built.
Epoca de piatra which means Stone Age is like stepping into the days of the Flinstones. This place is amazing!!! Completely surrounded by limestone, the restaurant is decorated in a way that is totally out of the stone ages with a modern flare. Big fireplaces, animal skins and caveman-esque paintings on the walls all add to the atmosphere, and of course, this is a great place to actually taste test the wines of the Branesti winery.
Up until this point on our Moldova wine tour, we had spent a lot of time underground. Which can get a little chilly to be honest, as the limestone mines now turned into wine tunnels all sit at a constant temperature of 14 degrees Celsius. With a visit to Vartely Winery, you have the opportunity to thaw out a bit and experience a beautifully designed winery with some lovely views to match.
Here you, of course, get a tour of their modern winemaking facilities and see a different way that wineries are incorporating limestone to keep electricity costs down and therefore be more environmentally friendly in the long run.
It’s then time to head up to Chateau Vartely’s stunning terrace and enjoy a 4-course degustation menu with wine pairing. What a dining experience! We had a fantastic sommelier there with us the whole time to describe the wines and talk us through the different scents and flavours we should be experiencing with the wines individually and also when paired with the food.
We dined on:
Rabbit Liver Salad
Sarmale stuffed in peppers
Roast Lamb with Moldovan Stew
We had the pleasure of having this whole dining experience while watching the sunset on the horizon. What a view, what a location, what a degustation – we loved every minute of it.
The star of the Moldova wine tour show is, of course, Mileștii Mici Winery and their Guinness World Record holding wine tunnels. Back in 2005, they were awarded the Guinness World Record and they have worked tirelessly since then to make sure that they keep it! The award was for the “Largest Wine Cellar Per Number of Bottles” which at the time was 1.5 million bottles. Our guide Anna informed us that they are trying to make it to 2 million bottles one day….but they keep selling the wine LOL.
The winery was established in 1968 in an old limestone mine and is truly an impressive sight. Why? Because the tunnels are so big you can drive a full sized car around them. In fact, you have to take your own car for the experience so that’s why it’s a good idea to book a Moldova winery tour so you have a car and driver to take you around.
Just like the other wineries we visited, Mileștii Mici Winery has some incredible history and fascinating stories to tell. One of the highlights for us was the ‘secret cellar’. This is a secret space that was built by the winery to protect their wine from the Soviet leader Gorbachev and his anti-alcohol campaign in the mid 80’s. They hid 40,000 bottles in there and prevented them from being destroyed. Today these bottles sell for as much as 1500 euro a bottle and are considered a treasure if you can get your hands on one.
Another highlight is their tasting room which is accessed by entering through a secret door made to look like a giant oak barrel. As the doors open to reveal the tasting room a duo of an accordion and a fiddle start to play – that’s right – real live musicians and music fills the space and is amplified by the exceptional acoustics in the room. The band at one point even asked us where we were from and when we replied Australia, broke out into Waltzing Matilda, a beloved Aussie classic.
It’s at this point that you get to try their famous wines. We had a White a Rose and a Red and we then got to choose which wine we would prefer to have with our sampling of local specialities. Of course being us it was RED! yum!
We then sat back and enjoyed traditional Moldovan snacks like chicken roll, pork, beef tongue, cheese, cucumbers, tomatoes, and then Zeama (Moldovan chicken soup) which we had learned by this time is quite frequently served to get you in the mood for food. Mothers won’t let their children eat the rest of their food until they’ve finished their Zeama.
To finish we had a dish which is now firmly my favourite in Moldova – Mămăligă. Mămăligă is like polenta but it’s firmer and is served in Moldova with pork, local salty white cheese and sour cream. OMG it’s tasty!!!
With full and happy bellies it was time to leave the labyrinth of Mileștii Mici Winery and head back into the Moldovan sunshine. We’d like to thank Wine Tours Moldova for fully planning our itinerary and making sure that every aspect of our time in Moldova was taken care of – even recommending other great restaurants and wine bars in Chisinau to visit. We left knowing that we had been given the very best in wining and dining that Moldova has to offer!
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Disclaimer: We did receive our tour with Wine Tours complimentary – all opinions remain our own