Moldova's vineyards. Photo Credit: Moldova Te Iubesc
Welcome to Part Two of our Top Wineries to Visit in Moldova Guide. If you haven't read Part 1, find it here.
Cricova - For Sparkling Wine Lovers
Cricova is a very famous sparkling wine and dry wine producer in Moldova. Most locals would not go without a bottle of their sparkling wine on New Year’s Eve.
Cricova’s wine cellars are the second largest in Moldova, boasting 120km in total length. These tunnels carved in limestone have been here since the 15th century when they were dug out to build Moldova’s capital city, Chisinau. Post-Soviet occupation of Moldova in the aftermath of WWII, the tunnels were converted into a large subterranean complex of wine roads, as deep as 100 meters. The porosity of the limestone creates a perfect environment to store wines, where the temperature is about 12C all year round.
Nowadays, Cricova has several impressive ‘presidential’ style wine tasting rooms and some more traditional ones decorated with typical Moldovan artefacts and national instruments. An anecdotal fact is that the famous Russian astronaut, Yuri Gagarin, re-emerged from the cellars two days later, after a most enjoyable trip in the underground emporium. That’s at least if you believe the testimonial he left on their wall!
We visited the Cricova cellars several times - it’s a must visit if you like pomp, a bit of opulence with an Eastern European twist. It is only 15km from Chisinau, so very conveniently located. Here you can witness first-hand the unique process of making Champagne as they call it or Sparkling Wine - Cricova is one of the few wineries in the world that produce sparkling wines according to the traditional Champenoise method. We were shown the endless lines of pupitres (racks) holding the bottles at a 45 degree angle. Once a day a team of 4 women shake the thousands of bottles a few degrees, such that the angle gradually increases. Over a period of 8 to 10 weeks the bottles will be in a vertical position, with the lees sediment stored at the top of the cap.
We were shown the bottling station, where we witnessed the process of disgorgement - the sediment being frozen and then removed from the cap. Immediately after, the bottles are topped up with more wine, usually containing a sugary syrup depending on the sweetness of the Champagne, a process called dosage.
In a few minutes we learnt how Champagne is made in the traditional method - very different from still wine. We finished the Champagne tour by tasting a white Brut and a demi-sec version (Moldovans have a taste for sweet sparkling wines). Do not miss Cricova’s special red sparkling wine, made of Cabernet Sauvignon, it tastes of juicy blackcurrants and blackberries.
We also visited the impressive cellars, holding remarkable collections of vintage wines from Bordeaux, Burgundy, Tokaj and other wine regions. They even hold a bottle of Jerusalem Easter dessert wine from 1902. A few years ago the winery refused an offer of over $100,000 for this bottle, saying that is a priceless item in their collection. Cricova’s cellars are also a used as a personal vault by many wine aficionados and celebrities.
Our verdict: Cricova is a must stop on your wine tour of Moldova for the wow-factor and for their sparkling wines.
Photo: Flickr.com/Fred von Lohmann
Milestii Mici - the Largest Wine Collection in the World
The Milestii Mici winery is known in Moldova for having the longest wine tunnels in the country, with a total length of 200km, of which only about half are in use. The underground tunnels even reach the borders of Chisinau and are often nicknamed the ‘underground city’.
Here at a depth of 35-85 metres, you can find the largest wine collection of wines in the world. Milestii Mici was made world famous in 2005 when they won the Guinness World Record for storing the biggest wine collection with a whopping 2 million bottles in total!
The wines of Milestii Mici are exported across the globe from Europe, to Japan and USA. Curiously, it is also said that the Queen of England orders 1,000 bottles of the Milestii Mici red wine every year!
Milestii Mici is only 18km from Chisinau. On our latest visit to Milestii Mici we toured the underground city where each wine tunnel is named after a grape variety or wine. On your tour, there is a popular stop where you can find a natural spring and where you can discover the structure of the old stone, which used to be the bottom of an ancient sea.
The wine tasting was done in a very traditional Moldovan way - the wine was served in hand-made ceramic pots, paired with local delicacies and enjoyed to Moldovan instrumental music. Pure harmony. Our tour also included a gift in the form of 2 bottles of wines, which you could enjoy later or take home with you to show your friends.
Our verdict: Impressive underground wine city characterised by traditional winemaking and Moldovan hospitality.
Et Cetera - Family and tradition producing soulful wines
Et Cetera is a medium-sized, family-owned winery situated in the South-East of Moldova, in one of the most favourable zones of the country for viticulture. Owning 45 hectares of vineyards, the Luchianov family built the winery right in the middle of the estate, to give the visitors a breathtaking view. The first grapes planted at Et Cetera included well known varieties such as: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, Traminer, Sauvignon Blanc, Saperavi, Carmenere, Shiraz; but there are also local grape varieties such as – Feteasca Neagra, Feteasca Regala, Feteasca Alba and Rara Neagra.
Alexandru Luchianov, winemaker and Co-Founder is fully responsible for the quality of the product, monitoring production from the vine to the bottling process. If you meet Alexandru, you will understand why this winery grows soulful grapes. He is a young and dynamic individual who is dedicated to making high quality wines.
Harvest at Et Cetera is done by hand. The winery has a fun approach to grape picking and in the past it has given wine enthusiasts the opportunity to participate in the harvest. This gave its fans, family friends and supporters a better understanding of how wine is made, how much effort goes into selecting grapes and the technology behind it. Companies are also given the opportunity to do this as a team building exercise which looks like a lot of fun!
Production is on the increase and yields stay low at the winery. In 2013, the winery expects to reach 40,000 bottles which for a family business is a rather impressive number. When it comes to the wine, Alexandru supervises the process and elaborates the concept behind each wine. Aside from being the mastermind behind the brand, he also set the look and feel of each variety. You will find his initials on each bottle. This way, you know who you have to go after, if you are unhappy with your purchase!
The winery is open all year round although the best times to visit are June, August, September and October. This is when the landscape is at its most picturesque point. The tour costs approximately €12pp (depending on the number of visitors) and includes a visit to the vineyard and the winery, covering grape processing, wine aging and the bottling line. It also includes a tasting of 5 wines, directly from the barrel and home-made placinte (this is a local delicacy in the form of fluffy pastry with ricotta cheese, potatoes or sour cherries) offered by the host. For an additional cost (€20pp), you can have lunch with traditional Southern Moldovan dishes prepared from local ingredients, enjoyed in the vineyard or at the winemaker's cottage.
Our verdict: a visit to Et Cetera is a unique chance to get to know Moldovan winemaking on a small scale.
To see all the Top 6 Wineries to Visit in Moldova please visit Part 1 of this Blog. For more tips on things to do, where to stay, where to eat, wine festivals and events in Moldova please check out our travel guide.