In deciding to go to Moldova, the last thing that occurred to me was that I could go and do wine tastings of the local wines – because I had NO idea Moldova made any amount of wine! A month before the idea was in my head, I would have laughed – blessed (or cursed) ignorance! I was to re-learn the lesson to look for the un-expected such as olive oil ice cream or wine from Michigan.
As I e-mailed with the guide I had found on what could be an itinerary for a 2-3 day visit, he mentioned visiting wineries. As I talked about the possibility of this trip, a fellow travel blogger mentioned that her husband had been to Moldova and had enjoyed the wineries he visited. Huh. Well, maybe I should check them out… In doing some research, Moldova ranked 22nd in the list of wine producing countries but its production is mainly for export since the Middle Ages!! Moldova was the largest wine producing region in the Russian empire. I guess as the Ukraine was the breadbasket of the Soviet Union, Moldova was the wine barrel of Russia! (Who knew, right??) Sadly, the two World Wars, among all the destruction, destroyed the wine industry which only got re-started during the 1950s.
Moldova grows grape varietals that are local or from the region as well as varietals introduced from France around the 19th century (Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, etc.).
Chateau Vartely – Excellent Setting, Great Food and Good Wine
Chateau Vartely was on my first day’s schedule. It was going to also be where we would have lunch. Besides the building with the restaurant & rooms for events, and besides the winemaking & storage buildings, Chateau Vartely also has accommodations on offer, both rooms and VIP apartments with all the amenities of a hotel/resort – probably a great idea if one is planning to sample lots of wines! Vartely is located on a hillside which offers a great view of the land around. It was a real treat to take in the views!
We were rather hungry so we proceeded first to eat. We chose to sit outside on a large balcony that overlooked some of the property. A very pleasant place to sit down for a leisurely lunch.
This meal was my first in Moldova but it would not differ much from my meal the night before in Iasi, Romania. That makes sense as both countries are very similar in culture and history. My meal started with a delicious broth – just right to open up the appetite!
Then, for my main course, I took the advice of Dumitru, my guide (and a super guy!), and went with the mamaliga along with pork (nothing better for a Cuban!). Mamaliga is polenta and, as you can see in the picture below, it is accompanied by sour cream and sheep cheese (a bit salty). Here it was also accompanied by a small serving of eggs. The whole thing was simply delicious!
After the lunch, we toured the winemaking facility. Nothing new to me in the tour itself. We moved to the wine tasting rooms. They had one with bottles of wines from all over the world for those interested in comparing the Chateau’s wines with comparables from other parts of the world (the World Collection Room). I was not there to do that as I wanted to maximize tasting Moldovan wines so we moved to the other room.
In this tasting, I was introduced to the Feteasca Alba grape that yields a nice dry white wine that is quite fruity and fresh – a white wine I can drink! The Feteasca Regala and the Merlot also merit a mention as I enjoyed them too – especially because I took the leftover from the tasting with me <grin>…
Chateau Vartely was a very pleasant experience from the food to the wine, though I have to say that the food was simply superb. It is a newer winery that combines the wine experiencing with tourism but done well and in a beautiful setting.
Milestii Mici – Great Wine and an Amazing Wine Cellar
Milestii Mici is in a category of its own when it comes to wineries – anywhere that I’ve been (Stellenbosch, Bordeaux, Hunter Valley, Sonoma, Tuscany, Mendoza, …). I do not know where to being but let me begin with what I saw first: I saw entrances at the bottom of the hill to my right that looked like small tunnels… More on that as this writeup progresses…
The Garden and Fountains
My first stop out of the car was the amazing little garden area near the store and offices. Besides the pretty flower and all that stuff relevant to a well-designed garden, what caught my eye were the two fountains in the midst of the flowers… One for red and one for white…
Is anyone else having heart palpitations looking at this ungodly scene???
There ARE more sober pictures of me from this trip. Somewhere. OK, let me get past the garden, I have quenched my thirst…
On to the store, which is built into a tunnel itself. It not only sells the wine, but also shows a few of the tools used in older times to make the wine.
The Tunnels and Cellars
So on we go and we get back in the car to begin our tour. Yes, back in the car so we can enter the tunnels of this incredible winery. You see, this winery is using the tunnels dug up when limestone was being mined here to build all those “lovely” Sovietish buildings and other structures with better looks and uses.
To be more precise, this winery has 160 miles (250 km) worth of tunnels out of which 75 miles (120 km) are currently being used to store over 2 million bottles of wine, making Milestii Mici the world’s biggest wine cellar. (My basement cellar pales a little.) These limestone tunnels keep a constant humidity and temperature throughout the year. Bottles are cellared here for DECADES before they are sold. And many an important collector actually pay to store their wines here (not just their Milestii Mici wines).
“99 bottles of wine in the wall, 99 bottles of wine. Take one down, and pass it around… 98 bottles of wine in the wall…”” (never mind, I WON’T pass it around – it’s mine to keep!)
We drove along the road (another tunnel) and got off at different points to see the different areas of the wine cellars. One of these had a false wall that looks like the ones above built in the 1980s. See, Gorbachev decided then that alcohol was a problem in the good ole Soviet Union and banned alcohol <the reader gasps>. The folks in this winery held a treasure trove of good wine so they built this fake wall so they could hide all these bottles which otherwise would have been destroyed.
Finally, the great moment: the wine tasting!! I could have done a lunch paired with the different wines but, alas, my time was short that afternoon as I had a plane to catch to return to Bucharest.
So, a simple wine tasting was it for me. My favorite: the dessert wine – Margaritar.
I love dessert wines and this one delivered! I waited until I was in duty free at the airport to buy some as I was not clear on security requirements/constraints at the airport so I did not feel like risking buy a bottle to lose it at the airport…
When I decide to open that dessert wine from Milestii Mici, I will remember that amazing winery with one of the most unique wine cellars I have ever seen! If you make it to Moldova, do NOT miss Milestii Mici and make sure you also check out Chateau Vartely and other wineries in Moldova!