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There’s no doubting Moldova’s wine credentials – there’s evidence that grapes have been growing in the region for up to 25 million years. Plus, it’s home to the world’s largest wine cellar, and more than 25% of the population is involved in the wine industry. Clearly, you can’t leave without experiencing a wine tour in Moldova.
In fact, wine was one of the biggest reasons I was drawn to visiting Moldova. Actually – it was the biggest reason (the second biggest was the appeal of “the least visited country in Europe”). I make no secret of the fact that I’m fond of a delicious vino, and I was keen as a bean to find out more about Moldovan wine.
So, despite only having a lightning quick 48 hour visit to Moldova, I made visiting one of its wineries my #1 priority. If you too wish to experience the delicious (and slightly strange) experience that is a wine tour in Moldova, read on.
An Introduction to Wine in Moldova
I am a passionate believe that you don’t have to be an expert to enjoy a wine tour in Moldova, or anywhere else in the world. I grew up in the Barossa (a top Australian wine region), and I hate the snobbery that comes with wine drinking.
My golden rule for wine drinking: if you like it, it’s a good wine. Seriously, that’s it. Don’t let anybody tell you anything else – if you love a $5 bottle from Coles, thank your lucky stars! Then bring it to all your fancy dinner parties and watch as no-one can tell the difference between it and a $100 bottle.
I’ve added in this little rant because if you’re thinking, ‘huh, I didn’t even know Moldova produced wine, I definitely shouldn’t go there and hang out with the wine snobs’, DON’T!
A wine tour in Moldova is an amazing experience, and not just because of the wine. I mean, the wine helps (it usually does), but it’s just a super fun thing to do and you get a really interesting insight into the country’s history, culture, and foreign relations. Especially if you go to Cricova (more on that soon).
If you do, however, want to know a little bit about Moldovan wine before you go on the tour, here is some more in-depth information on wine in Moldova. If you want to skip the high-brow stuff and get to the booze drinking (go you!), skip on to the next section.
An in-depth look at wine in Moldova
There are four main wine growing regions: Balti (north), Codru (central), Purcari (south-eastern) and Cahul (southern). So, yeah, basically the entire country when you consider that Moldova is pretty tiny.
Of all the four regions, the south is the best known and produces sweet varieties of both red and white wines. However, within the
About 70% of the wine produced in Moldova is white, including sparkling, while 24% is red. Then 6% falls into the “other” category, which sounds like a fast track to a
Moldovan wine producers grow all kinds of well-known grapes such as Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Malbec. However, you can also find some indigenous varieties, which have been growing in Moldova for thousands of years.
Famous indigenous white varieties include Fetească Albă, which has a naturally high sugar content so is mainly used to produce sweet white wine. Busuioacă albă is another sweet indigenous white variety used in traditional winemaking.
For red lovers like me, the most famous grape in both Romania and Moldova is Fetească Neagră, which translates to “Black Maiden” (my inner emo child just loves that). It’s a very versatile grape that is used in both sweet and dry varieties. It usually has a spicy, smoky characteristic which I love.
Another popular red variety is Rară Neagră, which is mainly used for blending. Most famously, it’s one of the three grapes used in Negru de Purcari, a famous Moldovan wine of which Queen Elizabeth II is particularly fond. There you go, if you want a wine fit for a queen – do a wine tour in Moldova (and order the 1990 vintage).
What Wineries to Visit in Moldova
There are many different wineries that you can visit in Moldova. In fact, some people visit on a multi-day wine tour, taking in many of the region’s wines. Sadly, I did not meet those people on my trip (probably ‘cos they were not in hostels), but I’d have loved to since going wine tasting all over the world is definitely my plan for my retirement.
I was only able to visit one winery in Moldova, and I chose Cricova for reasons I will explain shortly. However, there are many more options. Here are a few of the most popular wineries to visit in Moldova.
Pros: Easily accessible, more affordable than Milestii Mici if you don’t have a car, world renowned wine, crazy and quirky decor, state-owned so you get a hearty side of Moldovan pride with your wine tasting.
Cons: Not the biggest in the world or Moldova, crazy and quirky decor, state-owned so you get a hearty side of Moldovan pride with your wine tasting.
I’m including Cricova first, as it is the winery that I visited when I was in Moldova. Cricova is a great choice to visit for your wine tour in Moldova if you don’t have a car but want to experience the massive underground wine cellars that Moldova is famous for.
Cricova has approximately 120 kilometres of wine tunnels. To get around them, you ride on a fun red train which is an experience in itself. The train navigates through the underground “city”, with all its streets named after wine varieties.
The unique thing about Cricova is that it is a state-owned winery. I loved this, as there is a heavy sprinkling of Moldovan pride throughout the experience. Highlights included a long documentary/movie epic about wine and the glory of Moldova; even better as the very generously poured glass of Prosecco went straight to your head.
Cricova also has some other unique features including a wine museum (home to a 1918 bottle of Jerusalem wine, which is considered priceless) and cellars where world leaders store their wine. Apparently one world leader locked himself in there and spent three days perusing the collection.
Pros: The world’s largest wine cellar according to the Guiness Book of World Records, perhaps Moldova’s most famous winery.
Cons: Only accessible with a car, some say the quality of the wine is not as good as others.
Milestii Mici was, in fact, the whole reason I was interested in Moldova. The idea of visiting the world’s biggest wine cellar seemed absolutely bloody fantastic (I get more Aussie when I get excited). Sadly, however, I was unable to go as I couldn’t get a car.
If you are able to get a car or join a tour group, visiting Milestii Mici means self-driving through the world’s largest wine cellar with almost 3 million bottles. You have a choice between simply visiting and touring the underground wine caves, finding out about the wine process, or tasting.
For me, I cannot possibly imagine visiting a winery and not tasting anything. But you do you, boo!
TripAdvisor reviewers are a mixed bag for Milestii Mici. From what I gather, the spectacle is better than the wine itself. As such, while I’m a little disappointed to have missed out on the “world’s biggest wine cellar”, I am also happy with my choice of Cricova instead.
Pros: Great quality wines, traditional Moldovan restaurant on-site, quieter than the others.
Cons: None of the “wine caves” that are famous in Moldova. Less well-known so fewer organised tours.
If you don’t mind about the underground cave part of the Moldovan wine tour experience, or you’d like to try something different, Asconi Winery looks like a good option. Again, I did not visit this winery but I did come across it while researching wine tour options.
Asconi Winery is close to Chisinau, so it is easily added on to an itinerary. 95% of the wines from the winery are exported, which is a big tick of approval for the quality of its wine. Although its more uncommon in Moldova, Asconi is well-known internationally.
The winery also has a traditional restaurant on site, which serves authentic Moldovan fare. I think it sounds like a great place to experience the traditions of Moldova (including wine-making, of course), and if I’d had longer in Moldova I would have loved to have added this on to my itinerary.
Pros: excellent wine, beautiful setting, very affordable, has the famous underground cellars
Cons: a bit further out of Chisinau
I should have known that 48 hours in a wine playground would be insufficient, but alas, I am an idiot. When I finally return to Moldova, Chateau Purcari is definitely on my list: it’s definitely the pick for those wishing to try some of Moldova’s absolute best wine.
Located about 2 hours from Chisinau, Chateau Purcari is one of Moldova’s best wineries. Since the 1950s, Chateau Purcari has been renowned by world leaders including (perhaps most famously) Queen Elizabeth II.
If it’s good enough for Queen Liz, it’s good enough for me.
The winery is also nestled amongst a beautiful setting. As the name suggests, there’s a gorgeous castle – but hey, I’m all about the wine, so it’s what’s under the castle that I’m really excited about. Here, you find an amazing underground cellar filled with delicious wine.
Oh, and if you’re feeling really fancy, you can stay in the castle for about 70 USD a night. Yep, this is Moldova, so even the fanciest of experiences are crazily affordable. I think I’ve got my next wedding anniversary weekend sorted!
How to Get Around on Your Wine Tour in Moldova
Depending on your budget and personal preference, there are a number of options for how best to get around.
Taxis are very cheap in Moldova, so getting a taxi to the wineries is definitely doable – especially if you have a couple of people to split the fare with. I recommend downloading the Yandex taxi app and booking your route – it’s the best way to avoid getting overcharged.
To give you an idea, the taxi fare from downtown Chisinau to Cricova was 100 Moldovan leu, or about $5.50 USD.
If you do get a taxi, make sure you book your tour to the wineries in advance. Unlike in Australia, most of the wineries (including Cricova and Milestii Mici) require advance reservations for defined time slots. If you just arrive, you may miss out on the delicious wine!
There are lots of great tours that range from half a day to a full-day wine tasting.
Although it’s not the cheapest option of all, it is incredibly cheap compared to what you’d pay in other regions such as Australia, the USA or France. You can expect to pay around $30 – $100 USD for a tour, including transport, wine tasting and meals. The price largely depends on how many wineries you visit, how many tasting you want to do, and if you want meals
I really like the convenience of Viator and have used this website a lot to find tours all over the world. They have several tours in Moldova, and although they tend to be a little more expensive, there is a fair bit of peace of mind that comes with booking with Viator. Their customer service is good, and so is the quality of the tours they feature.
In the lead up to my arrival in Moldova, I was in discussions with Moldovan Wine Tours about doing one of their trips. In the end, it didn’t go ahead due to it being easier to arrange through my hostel, but their customer service was excellent. They also have an amazing selection of wine tours and cater for everyone from the wine novice to the sommelier. If I return to Moldova, I’m definitely going to book a tour through these guys ahead of time.
Ask your hostel to arrange it
I arrived in Moldova without a tour pre-booked, which was not ideal but I needed the flexibility. I stayed at the Amazing Ionika Hostel, who managed to organise me a tour at the last minute. The thing is, wine tasting is the #1 activity in Moldova – hostels and hotels will be able to find you a tour if you are doing things at the last minute!
If you’re a wine lover (or wino) like I am, you might like to go on a multi-day our of Moldova. I seriously think wandering around Moldova for a few days and popping in to different wineries would be the bomb.com (I am showing my age with this sentence).
Another great option for doing a wine tour in Moldova is self-driving. There are plenty of car rental companies in Moldova, and renting a vehicle is cost-effective, especially if you split it.
I’d recommend opting for a car with a fairly high clearance, as some of the roads in Moldova are pretty shocking. You might want to opt for that comprehensive car insurance, too, since some of the drivers seemed, er, fairly assertive.
Five Tips for the Perfect Wine Tour in Moldova
Doing a wine tour in Moldova was one of my favourite moments of my Moldova/Romania trip. Here are a few tips to help you make the most of your own Moldovan wine tour!
1. Make sure you book in advance
As mentioned, if you just arrive at Cricova crying “I am here for the wine!”, you’re likely to be turned away. Book in advance – at least the day before, but more so if possible to make sure you get in the day you want to (they do get busy).
2. Bring a jacket
The wine cellars are kept at a constant cool temperature to stop them ending up with millions of litres of disgusting, off wine. Therefore, bring a jacket so you don’t get too chilly!
3. Eat lunch
You’re probably going to end up day drunk visiting Moldova’s wineries. This is fine, but perhaps try not to end up paralytic. Moldovans are master wine drinkers, so they are generous with their offerings. Have a hearty Moldovan meal so they don’t go straight to your head.
4. Don’t drink and drive
Moldovan wine is delicious. Moldovan roads are b-a-d. Don’t mix them together.
5. Buy some wine if you can!
Moldova is a country that is doing it tough economically, so you can feel really good about buying copious amounts of alcohol there. You’re just doing your bit! But seriously, Moldovan wine is affordable, great quality, and helps with a country that is still rebuilding after some tough times. Go for it!