To travel through Moldova is to journey into the heart of a winemaking country, a land of rolling hills, sun-drenched plains and an enviable climate tempered by the presence of the Black Sea. The diversity of the country’s landscapes and rich soil creates distinct terroirs, which in turn imbue Moldova’s wines with their unique character, and have done so for thousands of years.
Moldova’s history of viticulture has been traced back as far as 8,000 years, and still forms an intrinsic part of local traditions today. It has the greatest density of vineyards of any country, and the largest wine cellar in the world. The country hosts numerous wine festivals and cellar runs and even has an annual national holiday dedicated to wine. Even the shape of the country is often compared to a bunch of grapes.
Moldovan wineries don’t only produce quality wines, but they are also among the country’s top travel highlights with wine tasting tours, restaurants, and many have adapted to offer accommodation ranging from rustic simplicity to château elegance. Wine tourists now make up a sizable percentage of visitors to the country, and to meet this demand the Moldovan state has developed different ways – such as a series of ‘wine routes’ for drivers and cyclists – to make wine holidays as smooth and rewarding as possible.
Moldova’s wine routes through its wine regions
The wine routes comprise suggested itineraries that combine winery visits with nearby historical and cultural attractions through three of the country’s geographically protected wine regions:
- Codru makes up the central section of Moldova, and is known for being rich in black soil (chernozem). This favours the production of high-quality sparkling wines, along with some excellent whites. The predominant grape varieties used for Codru wines are cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, merlot, Rhein Riesling and sauvignon blanc.
- Ștefan Vodă, to the south-east, is slightly drier, and known mostly for its black grapes, cultivated here since ancient times. Wines here are mostly produced using cabernet sauvignon, merlot, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, pinot gris, malbec and local grape rara neagră.
- Valul lui Traian (Trajan’s Wall), is the area to the south-west. A variety of wines – dry whites, pale rosés, full-bodied reds and fruity sparkling wines, as well as liqueurs – are produced here, using cabernet sauvignon, merlot, saperavi, fetească neagră, sauvignon blanc, chardonnay and muscat ottonel.
There is a fourth PGI (protected geographical indication), known as Divin. This applies to the whole country and refers to the production of Moldova’s hugely popular brandy.
Come for the wine, stay for the hospitality
The subterranean wine cellar of Milestii Mici is famous throughout the world, not least for its appearance in the Guinness World Records as the largest collection of wines in the world. A staggering 200km of tunnels run under the ground, housing around two million bottles of wine, including 50,000 in a secret chamber built to keep them safe during Gorbachev’s prohibition.
In less than half an hour’s drive from Chişinău, Moldova’s capital city, visitors are greeted with fountains of wine outside this former limestone quarry, reappropriated in 1968 to its current use as a wine cellar. Making their way through the tunnels on foot, by car or on bikes, they can browse, sample and buy from a staggering range of wines before sitting down to dinner in a restaurant hidden deep below the ground.
Moldova is also home to the second-largest wine cellar in the world. Cricova, just north of Chişinău was also created from a former limestone quarry. With 120km of tunnels in this underground wine city, visiting Cricova is a truly unique winery experience like Milestii Mici. The naturally cool conditions of the limestone tunnels make for a perfect example of sustainable storage.
Electric trains whisk 80,000 tourists a year through these underground streets, each named after a wine, used for both wine storage and production. More than three million bottles of sparkling wine in production are kept in perfect condition by a team of remueurs, each rotating up to 50,000 bottles a day by hand using the traditional method.
Another firm favourite on the wine-lovers’ trail is Castel Mimi, an elegant turn-of-the-century château built for wine pioneer Constantin Mimi, who is widely credited with raising the bar for local wines via new technologies. With neatly manicured gardens and a maze, Castel Mimi’s grounds are the perfect luxurious backdrop for its annual VinOPERA and Rosé Day events. The winery also is home to the country’s first wine spa and wine-themed wellness package.
Château Purcari, located in the southwest of the country within the IGP Ștefan Vodă, is a landscape of rolling hills (79% of vineyards are on slopes) with fertile black soil which crucially lies over limestone bedrock, defines the ideal terroir for grape growing. The Winery was created in 1827, which has become an internationally acclaimed leader in the wine industry in Central and Eastern Europe, registering the fastest growth from this region. Since the 2000s, when the winery was privatised, it has become a beacon for quality, reviving local grape varieties like the indigenous red Rară Neagră.
The first medal received by Château Purcari was the gold one at the World Exhibition in Paris in 1878 for the Emblematic Negru de Purcari. The company won international gold and silver medals lately, among which several top awards at Decanter World Wine Awards including best-in-show, platinum and gold medals in 2020 and 2021.
The location of Château Purcari is of great importance on the oenological map of Moldova’s tourism. It is located in a stunning scenery, at the junction of the Dniester River and the Black Sea, where the guests can enjoy a distinguished gourmet dinner and an exceptional wine-tasting in our restaurant.
Around 90 minutes’ drive north from Purcari are the Asconi vineyards. Run by the same welcoming family since 1952, the winery pays homage to Moldovan traditions, with rustic painted furniture, artisanal wall hangings, hand-painted ceramics and some excellent home-cooking. Stay in one of its pretty stone cottages built in the style of a traditional Moldovan village and cool off in its vast swimming pools.
A perfect excuse to visit the little-known autonomous region of Gagauzia, Kara-Gani is a winery that not only showcases a selection of fine wines, but also gives visitors a taste of Gagauz culture and cuisine in its restaurant and tour. This winery’s land , bordered by the 3rd century Trajan Wall, is steeped in tradition and history, and has been in the hands of the same family for 150 years.
Moldova’s long history of viticulture means there are not only many such well-established vineyards going back decades or even centuries, but also new boutique wineries are springing up all the time. One such is Te Wā, meaning ‘time will tell’ in Maori. It was set up by Ella and Olga on their return from time spent studying winemaking in the Napa Valley and New Zealand. Their unique combination of integrating techniques learned abroad with the Moldovan terroir has won them much praise on the international stage. You can taste Te Wa’s wines, as well as those of other boutique wineries, at one of Chisinau’s hip wine bars like Plincuvin.
Other winemakers who have imported ideas and methods learned in classic wine-making regions elsewhere include those at ATU an urban winery located in Chisinau that offers wine tasting and graffiti tours where you can design your own wine label. Another example is Arcadie Foşnea, who founded the Crama Mircesti winery in his home village after studying viticulture for several years in Germany. The winery boasts the highest elevation vineyards in Moldova and has walking trails to enjoy the views over the hills and valleys. Relax afterwards with traditional Moldovan food at the restaurant and a peaceful sleep in the winery’s modern accommodation.
This approach to diversity and innovation are typical of Moldova, a country that has long woven tradition with modernity. Nowhere is this intersection of influences seen more clearly than within its vineyards and wine tasting holiday experiences.
Find out more at wineofmoldova.com