August 27th marks a significant day in the history of the Republic of Moldova as this beautiful winemaking country, suggestively shaped like a grape, celebrates its Independence Day.
Beyond its green and quaint capital, Chisinau, lie beautiful hills covered with sunflower fields, beautiful apple, plum and pear orchards and vines as far as the eye can see. Moldova’s climate is greatly suited for winemaking. Fossils of Vitis teutonica vines date back 25 million years - evidence of these was found around the northern Moldovan village of Naslavcia, Ocnita. Further evidence suggests that this is one of the oldest wine producing regions in Eastern Europe - indigenous peoples began using grapes to make wine as early as 3000 BC.
Winemaking is deeply ingrained in Moldova’s culture through its history, tradition and economy. Once a large supplier of wine to the Soviet Union, Moldova had to reinvent its wine culture once it gained independence. With wine supplies to Russia being cut, Moldova’s wineries started producing better wine for international and national consumption, but also to boost wine tourism and its reputation. With National Wine Day being celebrated on the second weekend in October every year, wine tourists, Masters of Wine and adventurous travellers come to Moldova to taste its wines, try the food and experience authentic travel. In light of the Russian embargo on Moldovan wine on September 10, 2013, Winerist has built a case on why you should visit Moldova and drink our wine.
Moldovan winters tend to be quite cool and the summers are hot, but rarely seeing extremes which would destroy the harvest and be detrimental to the grape quality. Rainfall is moderate, creating close to perfect conditions for viticulture. In light of this, it is hardly surprising that Moldova’s wine has remained impressive, albeit distracted by powerful forces of politics and internal conflict. Read more about Moldova in our travel guide.
Winerist has its roots in Moldova. We were born and raised here and return to visit our country and the wineries on many occasions. Here is our list of the top 6 must-visit wineries in Moldova:
Purcari - Premium Moldovan Wines
Purcari has a long tradition of winemaking - in fact its cellars have remained unchanged since 1827. It attracts wine lovers from across the world and the cellars are are amongst the oldest and most famous in Moldova.
The winery is situated in the south of Moldova, 120km from Chisinau, close to Nistru and only 30km away from the Black Sea. The terroir is favourable for grape varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Saperavi, Chardonnay and Rara Neagra (a Moldovan indigenous red grape variety) used both in varietals and blends. Since 2012, Purcari also produce a beautiful Ice Wine from Muscat and Traminer grapes, hand-picked when the temperatures drop to -6-10C.
Since 2003, the Purcari estate has been extended to include wine tourism services such as a boutique hotel with 8 charming rooms, a wine tasting room, restaurant, two lakes, tennis court and a children’s recreation area.
On our recent visit to the tranquil winery, we enjoyed a glass of wine paired with stunning views of the vineyards and the small lake. We took a tour of the estate with Mr Aurel, a devoted employee who has been working for Purcari for over 40 years. He is such a great character - He knows every inch of the winery and is a real encyclopedia when it comes to the history of the place.
We were given a visit to the underground historical cellars, which are curiously built in a cross shape. Mr Aurel explained that the cross is reminiscent of the times when the production of wine in the country was controlled by the church. Here you'll see the French-oak barrels used to age award-winning blends such as Rosu de Purcari and Negru de Purcari. The cellar also has a vault that holds a private wine collection of vintage Purcari wines and other rarities from around the world.
After the great tour, we sat down for a vertical wine tasting of 10 wines. We were really impressed by the quality of the wines! Who would have known that Moldova is capable of producing such fine premium wines?
Purcari produces c. 500,000 bottles of wine a year, which is relatively modest among its peers. After tasting their wines, their motto may as well be ‘quality, not quantity’.
Our verdict: Purcari indeed delivers not only on the quality of the wines, but also on natural beauty and customer service. It is the perfect place for a day away from Chisinau.
Chateau Vartely - Modern Technology Intertwined with Local Tradition
Chateau Vartely was founded in 2008, but has already achieved so much. This young but ambitious winery has established itself as one of Moldova’s top wineries both locally and internationally, receiving over 10,000 wine tourists a year.
We visited them for the third time recently and were very impressed not only by the wines, but also by the tourism facilities and the high standard of service. First of all, the winery is dotted with the latest winemaking German technology, where the winemaker studied. He brought back all the modern techniques as well as a love for Ice Wine, which the estate now produces from bortrysed grapes. Another anecdotal fact is that the winery has more security guards than people working in the winemaking process!
Chateau Vartely is also the perfect place for wine tourists to stay the night in a rural environment. The estate has 4 villas, all elegantly decorated and equipped with the modern attributes for the discerning traveller including a sauna, pool table and swings. The villas also have their own private terraces overlooking the winery and the picturesque fields and villages.
In the main building of Chateau Vartely is an exceptional restaurant, specialising in Moldovan and European cuisine with a modern twist. The restaurant terrace offers wonderful views of Orhei town and the river Raut.
The cellar at Chateau Vartely has 2 tasting rooms and there is also an internationally themed room showcasing a worldwide famous collection of both Old and New World wines. The rooms are beautifully decorated with dark wood panels and candelabras creating a romantic atmosphere. Here, we tasted some of the estate’s Feteasca Alba white wines - Vartley is keen on promoting this old forgotten Moldovan grape variety that tastes of wild flowers and green apples. Very refreshing! We also left with a bottle of their Merlot, which won us over with its velvety aromas of dark cherries and the silky long finish.
Chateau Vartely is located near Orheiul Vechi, one of Moldova’s not to be missed natural archaeological complex, which is 45km from the capital.
Our verdict: the perfect day out from the city - visit Chateau Vartely for a wine tour, tasting and lunch followed by a visit to a natural monument marked by a monastery fully carved in stone.
Chateau Cojusna - For Dessert Wine and Cognac Lovers
Located in the heart of Moldova, only 15km away from Chisinau, is Chateau Cojusna, a place where you can discover some of Moldova’s traditional dessert wines and Brandies.
Chateau Cojusna is one of the largest wineries in Moldova with over 600ha of vineyards and an annual production of 14 million bottles of wine. A large part of the winery’s products are being exported to Russia, Eastern Europe and China, where many still prefer a sweet wine to a dry.
During our visit at Chateau Cojusna we were shown around their cellars containing thousands of vintage bottles covered with mouldy dust. It looks like a museum where time has stopped. We found some of the largest oak barrels ever used, enormous 10,000 litre casks.
We were then shown the distillery, and witnessed the distillation, aging and blending process of Brandy. Chateau Cojusna prides itself as being the first winery in Moldova to introduce the original Charentaise pots from Cognac, allowing them to produce brandies of a high quality. Distillates are then aged in oak barrels, as well as in large corrosion-proof reservoirs for a period of 3, 5 or 7 years.
Chateau Cojusna also produces dry red and white wines, but during our visit we thought the white and red dessert wines where the most special, and wines we have not tasted elsewhere. We were most impressed by the ‘Cahor’, which is not to be confused with the French Cahors wines. Moldovan Cahor is a delicious dessert wine made from Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, full of aromas of blackberries, currants, honey, chocolate and a silky long finish. It can be best compared to a pastoral wine, and is not incidental that Moldovan Cahor was also called a ‘church wine’ having been used at religious rituals.
Our verdict: Chateau Cojusna’s tasting rooms are grandiose - we were greeted with plenty of traditional Moldovan food, including a three course lunch. It really felt like a medieval banquet. Visit if you are dessert wine or brandy lover.
Read Part Two to find out the next 3 wineries in our Top 6 Wineries to Visit in Moldova. To arrange a visit at any of the above wineries, please get in touch.