The WINEding Roads of Moldova
Moldova is the seventh least visited country, right after North Korea, but you can think of it as a well-kept treasure ready to be discovered. And that is precisely what their national office for tourism and other local agencies are aiming for through the #BeOurGuest program and #WineOfMoldova. This small country with a population of 3,5 million inhabitants is home to over 80 wineries and to some impressive wine-related tourist sights, including the largest cellars in the world at Milestii Mici (funny name, as “mici” translates by small) and the second largest cellar at Cricova. I had the pleasure of visiting both during the 3rd Global conference on Wine Tourism held in the capital city, Chisinau, last week.
Now that I’ve recovered a bit after the pantagruelic feasts, I am ready to share a few impressions. First thing first, grab a glass of wine and maybe something to eat, because otherwise, you will feel too envious of what I am about to show you. Moldavians, as well as Romanians, are some of the most hospitable people you will ever meet. For them, love translates into food and wine. If you are their guest, they will take every occasion they get to stuff you like a goose with the most delicious things they have. The table and the glasses will never be empty and each day is a reason to celebrate.
Here are some facts and pics or each of the wonderful places I went to. I will soon come back with more details for each.
If somebody took you here blindfolded and asked you where do you think you are, you would probably say the Loire Valley. This “Chateau” which is over a century old was designed as a winery from the very beginning by its owner, a rich Greek boyar schooled in wine in France. Now, it houses both the processing unit and the cellars, as well as a lavish guest facility with pool and soon a wine spa (yes, you read that right). It is an excellent paradox, with European gardens in front, and a basement filled with Soviet-era wine
tanks. The collection includes bottles as old as the XVIII-th century and some late 80’s pieces.
If you go there, I recommend the “Rosu de Bulboaca” which is a full-bodied red with notes of blackcurrant, dark cherries and spices (black pepper, cinnamon, and vanilla). It’s a feisty number which complements well the hearty meals they serve here, including duck pate and steaks.
As soon as you get to this place, you will see the two “wine” fountains, but it is most famous for its 200 Km of underground lime-stone cellars (out of which 55 km are currently in use). You visit the ensemble by driving your car around (be sure to save one seat for the guide). All the walls are lined with oak barrels made on the spot due to their size, and they even have an artificial cascade underground. Yet, the coolest thing by far,is the secret room where they hid the fine wines during Mikhail Gorbachev’s anti-alcohol campaign held between 1985-87 which also included prohibition. Here is a video of how that works.
The family-owned business is very fond of traditions, and they recreated a small village on the premises which will soon be available as accommodation for tourists in 12 traditional houses. Although they adhere to the latest production methods, you will not feel overwhelmed by a modern vibe. Instead, you will think that time has stopped, and you are enjoying some wine and food in grandma’s backyard. Expect to stay on wooden benches and drink from handcrafted clay pots if you want to. Glasses are available, but why miss out on the experience?
The first cool thing here was the recreation of a traditional Moldavian wedding and dancing our hearts off to an upbeat “hora” tune made us feel part of it. Next, I loved the workshop, where journalist turned painter Vasile Botnaru, helped everyone get in touch with their artistic side. I genuinely let wine be my muse, but I concluded I am better at drinking and writing about it than painting.
The wine I loved most here was the Feteasca Neagra called “Sol Negru” which means dark land, a reference to Moldova’s unique terroir. It’s a bomb of black fruits with good acidity and maybe a hint too much alcohol and tannins, which will probably tame a bit in the years to come. Also enjoyed a glass of fresh must from Traminer which already filled the air with flowery and honey aromas
This winery gets its name from the Hungarian nickname of nearby Orhei which translates by fortress (var) place(hely). It really is a fortress of wine, and it has the ambition to become a place to remember for all guests. The overall feeling is of rustic elegance, neat and polished. It is impressive what they did here when you learn that the area was a limestone quarry just two decades ago.
This is the home of the “Taraboste” line of premium wines which will be discussed later, but I need to mention the sweet Chardonnay and the grappa-like spirit they produce here as noteworthy outliers.
Another limestone miracle, this 60-year old winery is probably the most famous one from Moldova due to its association over the years with important people. They love to tell the story about Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space and how he “got lost” for a few days in the cellar. More recently, it seems that Voronin and Putin enjoyed a stroll along the long corridors with kazas topped with wine bottles, about a million of them. The latter even has a private collection stored there. I am not sure how that works with the Russian embargo on Moldavian wine which was the driving force behind the entire strategy and investment in tourism, but we’ll have to take their word for it.
Here is a great place to learn about the traditional method of making sparkling wine like in Dom Perignon’s time. They still perform the bottle turning (remouage) by hand to help the sediments accumulate in the neck of the bottle. If you get curious about the finished product, they give you a sip during the presentation movie in the underground theater. For those who want to take their tasting seriously get ready to be pampered in one of the five tasting halls.
Stay tuned for more on each of these marvelous places!