With a winemaking history of more than 4000 years, Moldovans are one of the first wine producers in the world, together with the Chinese and the Greeks. By the end of the 3rd century BC, trading links were established between the local population of nowadays Moldova and the Greeks, and from 107 AD with the Romans. This strongly influenced the intense development of the Moldovan wine industry, and over time, Moldova pushed its wines on the international market and became one of the largest wine producers in the world.
Known as the country with some of the best wines in the world, the Republic of Moldova became one of the leading wine-producing countries after the 2006 Russia ban on Moldovan wines. The Russian embargo helped the industry reach the European, Asian and American markets, and it was the perfect opportunity to promote wine tourism in the Republic of Moldova.
Less than twenty kilometers north of Chișinău, the capital city of Moldova, you will find the pearl of Moldovan winemaking, Cricova winery. Cricova boasts nearly 120 km of underground cellars that are large enough for vehicles to drive through, and at their deepest point, the tunnels have a depth of 100 meters. The tunnels were created at the same time with Kishinev, but they were converted into wine cellars in the 1950s. The limestone helps maintain a temperature between 12 and 14 degrees Celsius, creating the perfect conditions for wine storage. The massive underground city has its own unique cellar-streets named after the wines, like Cabernet or Feteasca (Moldovan and Romanian wine).
Cricova has a huge collection of more than one million bottles of vintage wines, including French, Italian, and Spanish wines, as well as wines from South Africa, the Czech Republic, South America, North America, and many other regions from throughout the world. Vladimir Putin, the president of the Russian Federation is one of the famous owners of a collection of rare and unique wines, which he holds in the Cricova wine cellars. The oldest bottle of liquor in Cricova is the 1902 Jewish Easter Wine. It is also the oldest wine bottle in the country, with only one hundred being produced. Some legends claim that the Nazi General Herman Goring brought his private wine collection here during the Second World War in order to protect it from bombardments.
Vladimir Putin's wine reserve
Cricova is also the largest producer of sparkling wines in Moldova. The technology behind the sparkling is one that requires a high level of skill and is handled only by professionals. The journey of a grape from the vineyard to the cup of sparkling wine is long and difficult, but we can certainly say that it is totally worth it.
In the heart of the cellars, the lavishly decorated themed halls invite you to a wine tasting that cannot be compared with any other in the world. The European and Presidential halls are two of the tasting halls where the sommeliers of Cricova will reveal all the qualities of the wines that you will sample.
European Tasting Hall, Cricova Winery. Photo source: Been Around The Globe
Cricova organizes tours and wine-tasting sessions for its visitors on a daily basis. Tour packages range from basic tastings with simple snacks to large tastings with a full meal and a souvenir. Unannounced visits are pretty difficult to pull off, so if you plan on visiting, make sure to book in advance.
Mentioned in ancient books and chronicles, Milestii Mici is an ancient Moldovan village where wine is more than just a drink. It’s a way of life. Archeological research has found settlement remains from many different epochs and cultures, some dating back to the tenth to eleventh millennium BC. The first writing about Milestii Mici dates back to the 15th century, in an old manuscript found by the priest of the village the church’s attic.
With wine-making traditions of more than a thousand years, Milestii Mici Winery has the world’s largest wine collection, housing over 1.5 million bottles of wine. The winery produces more than 1 million wine bottles every year, exporting them all around the world. In 2005, the Mileștii Mici "Golden Collection" was included in the Guinness Book of World Records. Some of the oldest wine bottles in the cellars date back to the 1970s, and if you want to own a bottle it will cost you a little over €500.
Guinness World Records certificate
Mileștii Mici is famous for being home to the largest cellars in the world, spreading over a total area of more than 200 kilometers, but only 60 of them are used for storing wine. Just like in Cricova, the cellars are built in the old limestone quarries, and the mine was transformed into a wine cellar in 1965. Located at a depth of 85 metes, the wine is kept at a constant temperature ranging between 12 and 14 degrees Celsius with high humidity all year-round. This steady environment preserves the wine to a level of perfection and produces some of the best aged red wines in the world.
Wine fountain at Milestii Mici. Photo source: milestii-mici.md
The guided tours at Milestii Mici can be personalized to some extent. You can choose to only see the wine cellar, or you can opt in for a wine-tasting session at the end of the tour. You can also choose the number of wines that you want to taste, as well as the snacks that you want to serve it with.
Even though Purcari is not as famous as Mileștii Mici or Cricova among tourists, it is one of the most popular wine brands in the Central and Eastern Europe region amongst connoisseurs. The Purcari Winery has won over 250 medals at international contests such as the International Wine & Spirits Competition, Decanter World Wine Awards, or the International Wine Challenge.
Purcari became the first specialized winery in Bessarabia (the Moldova of today) in 1827, after a decree issued by Nicholas I, the Emperor of the Russian Empire. The wine was sampled in 1878 at a closed wine tasting at the Paris World Expo, and the French experts were impressed by its dry aroma and its ruby color. Initially, they believed that they sampled a new Bordeaux wine, and they were greatly impressed when they found out that the wine originated from a small village from Moldova. Thus, the Negru de Purcari wine won its first gold medal at an international exhibition.
Bottle of Negru de Purcari. Photo source: winestatistics.com
After the Paris World Expo, the wines of Purcari became as popular as the Burgundy and Bordeaux wines, and they were served to Emperor Nicholas II, Queen Victoria, and King George V.
A new era in the history of Purcari began in 1950, shortly after the end of the Second World War. The Moldovan winemakers returned to the original production techniques of the famous wine, and Pimen Cupcea, one of the greatest professionals of the time, managed to re-create the legendary Negru de Purcari. Ion Ungureanu, another professional, crafted a new masterpiece – Purpuriu de Purcari.
Besides the local varieties, the Purcari Winery also produces traditional varieties such as Fetească Neagră, Fetească Albă, Fetească Rară, and Fetească Regală, as well as international varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Gris. The large grape variety is processed using traditional methods, and the grapes are hand-picked. The grapes are cooled before fermentation, and each variety of wine has its own production process that is being supervised by professionals.
Purcari Manor. Photo by chicineta.ro
Wine production was slowed down considerably under the control of the Soviet government, and it came to a halt with the collapse of the Soviet Union. In 2003, the winery was reestablished and the facility was fully restored and upgraded. The old cellars were rebuilt an renovated, and the original wine vault that dates back to 1827 was restored, and it is now considered the oldest wine cellar in Moldova.
For its outstanding achievements throughout the years, the Purcari Winery was awarded the Grand Prix in winemaking by the Government of the Republic of Moldova.