It has been long since the last winery visit – and this one is a treat. Last week I visited nearly 70 year old Cricova winery in Moldova, half an hour ride from the Capital Chisinau. The winery is underground, housing a labyrinth of tunnels that have existed since the 15th century. The tunnels are over 120km long and 80 meters deep underground: Half of the roadways are used for wine storage and the rest for production, warehouses, tasting rooms and other facilities.
Before I continue to write more about the actual visit, I just have to say a few words about the winery’s vivid history: Cricova cellars are especially famous for hiding Jews in wine barrels during the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union. Additionally legend has it that in 1966 cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin entered the cellars, re-emerging (with assistance) two days later, and Russian president Vladimir Putin celebrated his 50th birthday there. The wall of fame houses hundreds of celebrities and world leaders who have supposedly visited: including John Kerry and Angela Merkel. I would not be surprised if it’s true as Cricova is at a very convenient distance from the Capital, and a historical site worth seeing. They also have a very impressive private wine collection.
Cricova has a large selection of different wines, but they are especially known for their sparkling wines. The bubblies are made with the Champagne method, aged to perfection and turned by hand (there are six ladies who come and turn tens of thousands of bottles every day). The grapes used for the sparklings are traditional Champagne grapes: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. The Rose sparkling is made from Pinot Noir and I must say that I actually liked it quite a lot. Additionally Cricova makes still wines like Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz, as well as ice wine.
The wines are well made and inexpensive. The reds are a bit too jammy for my taste, but the sparklings and whites where up to the job – exceeded my expectations. A bottle of entry level sparkling from Cricova costs 4-6 Euros, while a premium bottle is up to 9€. I bought a few bottles from the airport to be able to have a small tasting at home later.
It is possible to book a tour and dinner at the wine cellar, which is exactly what we did. We whizzed around the labyrinth cellar with an over-sized golf cart, ogled hundred year old bottles in the private collection and saw the dining room where Putin had had his party. Followed by the tour we had a tasting dinner – underground of course. We got the best chambre separe as well, which looked like it was designed by Aquaman or the Little Mermaid. During the dinner we tasted nine different wines accompanied by Moldavian traditional dishes: fresh and grilled vegetables, cheese, pastries, grilled fish and meat. The dessert was prunes with crushed walnuts sprinkled on top – perfect with the sweet ice wine. It was delicious.
After my visit to Cricova I really started considering making a proper wine trip to Moldova. Its prominent wine country and the wines are extremely cheap – Eastern European wines are very trendy right now. Some more tourism to Moldova wouldn’t be too bad for the economy either.