Sampling Wines in Moldova – and a One-of-a-Kind Wine Cellar

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!

Chateau Vartely, a winery in Moldova

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.

Chateau Vartely winery - balcony area

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!

Mamaliga (polenta) and pork - typical food dish from Moldova

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.

Chateau Vartely wine tasting 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…

Tunnels in Milestii Mici winery in Moldova

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…

Fountains in Milestii Mici winery in Moldova

Milestii Mici winery garden in Moldova - large wine glasses

Is anyone else having heart palpitations looking at this ungodly scene???

Fountain in the gardens of Milestii Mici winery in Moldova

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.

Store at Milestii Mici winery in Moldova

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).

Dusty wine botles in Milestii Mici winery in Moldova

Dust on bottles CANNOT be faked!

Wine cellar wall in the tunnels of Milestii Mici winery in Moldova

“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!)

Wine cellar in Milestii Mici winery in Moldova

Private wine collection stored in Milestii Mici's tunnels in Moldova

Private wine stored in the wine cellars

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.

Entrance to wine tasting area at Milestii Mici winery in Moldova

Entrance to wine tasting area

So, a simple wine tasting was it for me.  My favorite:  the dessert wineMargaritar.

Milestii Mici's dessert wine (Moldova)

Nectar of the gods. Or this god, at least.

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…

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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!

 

 

 

Comments

  1. So I went from Ted’s Vietnam photo, to you attempting to pick up a giant wine glass, and now I’m literally chuckling uncontrollably amongst a crowded Starbucks. Awesome:)
    D.J. – The World of Deej recently posted..The Curious Case of Yountville, CaliforniaMy Profile

  2. Moldova is not somewhere that I would have thought of as having culinary charm, but the food and wine pics look deeeeelish! Sounds like you had a great time too :)
    Fiona recently posted..The Italy Edit: In Praise of Street ArtistsMy Profile

  3. I am SO glad you made it to Milesti Mici! I remember a poster of the tunnels that hubby brought back from his trip, and the idea of one day checking out the winery has not left me.

    The picture of you at the fountain made me seriously laugh out loud!! :D
    Pola (@jettingaround) recently posted..Photo(s) of the Week: Baker Beach in San FranciscoMy Profile

  4. THIS is a-w-e-s-o-m-e! I love it when you find something about a place that is unexpected. And knowing your love of wine, this is super-special. The photos paint such a lovely picture, especially the one of the life-sized glass of wine. I have no doubt that you tried to take that one back home, you know for your nightly glass of wine. :-)
    Leah Travels recently posted..I’m Big in ChinaMy Profile

  5. Leah is right, we are a bunch of drunks. Seems like every post is centered around beer or wine.

    Reading and meeting Raul I know two things: he loves wine and Chicago deep dish pizza. The look on your face going after the giant wine glass is similar to a picture I have of you eating a whole slice of pizza pie in Chicago.
    Traveling Ted recently posted..Join Leinenkugel’s for a brewery tour in Chippewa Falls, WisconsinMy Profile

    • LOL, Ted, it is uncanny the similarity in expression between those two pictures! Also, put a good dark chocolate mousse in front of me and I guarantee you will see this expression again!

  6. Diana Sturges says:

    Milestii Mici is a gem. The tunnels are amazing, the wine delicious and the atmosphere unique. I lived most of my life in Moldova and despite all economic and political problems, Moldova will deliver the best food and best wine at a fraction of the price. The Margaritar, the sweet wine, is not only tasty, but has an unbelievable color and aroma: a must have after a trip to Milestii Mici. You can also find wine from different collections at their store. I bought one from the 80s I think for about $6.
    There is another winery close to Chisinau, called Cricova. Both of them will have huge tunnels lined with barrels of wine and both will provide you with unforgettable memories.
    Thank you for sharing your experience!

    • Diana, we drove past Cricova a couple of times but I just couldn’t fit it in into my tight schedule! There’s always another trip! I agree that the food was really good!

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