It’s no secret that I love wine – not in a fancy ‘I know what I’m talking about’ way or anything, just in the way that I really really like wine.
It’s also no secret amongst the people who know me in real life that I have a slight obsession with Vladimir Putin (I know, I know – he’s not a nice guy but god damn he’s sexy).
You may be wondering how these two facts are connected, so let me dispel the mystery. Before I visited the Republic of Moldova, I had heard rumours that it was possible to visit a winery in the city of Cricova that is home to Vladimir Putin’s personal wine collection.
I mean, wild horses couldn’t keep me away from an opportunity like THAT.
My decision to attend a tour at Cricova Winery was cemented when I arrived in Chisinau and realised that it’s actually only 15km from Chisinau to Cricova, and so it seemed as if the only logical next step was to book a tour with Cricova Winery and drink all the Moldovan wine that I could get my hands on. Luckily for me, I met a fellow alcohol enthusiast by the name of Allira at my hostel, and so we decided to go to Cricova Winery together.
Fun Facts About Cricova Winery and Moldovan Wine
Moldova is the poorest country in Europe, but wine is the number one economic product of Moldova, with Moldova being the second largest wine exporter in the world.
Over 400 million litres of wine are produced in Moldova annually and 67 million bottles are exported – that’s 1 million more bottles of wine than there are people living in the UK!
Kazakhstan is the largest importer of Cricova wine.
Cricova Winery is the second largest wine cellar in the world, with 120km of underground wine storage!
The tunnels at Cricova were dug back in the 15th century, when limestone was carved to build Chisinau.
Vladimir Putin spent his 50th birthday at Cricova!
It is said that during Nazi occupation of the Soviet Union, the winery hid Jewish people in wine barrels.
In 1966, Russian astronaut Yuri Gagarin visited Cricova and didn’t leave until two days later, when he had to be assisted out due to the huge amount of wine he’d consumed!
Cricova Winery – Getting There & Buying Tickets
You can purchase tickets for wine tours at Cricova through tour agencies, but it is much cheaper to phone them yourself and book direct. Staff at Cricova Winery speak English so it’s very easy.
Their phone numbers are (373) 690 777 34 and (373) 79202999 and their email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
To get to Cricova Winery from Chisinau, we took a taxi (be sure to use an app like iTaxi or yandex for the best rates). The drive took 30 minutes and cost about 6 EU – bargain!
It’s also possible to take a public bus from the centre of Chisinau to Cricova and then walk to the winery, but it is so cheap to take a taxi that this is what I would recommend.
An Underground Tour of Cricova Winery
On arrival at Cricova, we met our fellow wine tasting buddies and our guide Maria.
The first part of our tour involved us taking a seat on a kind of golf buggy and being driven underground, deep into the labyrinthine twists and turns of this ‘underground city,’ where the streets are named after various wines such as Cabernet and Merlot.
As we descended deeper into this enchanting maze – the cellars are 80 metres deep at some points – it got colder and eerier, and Allira and I commented that we wouldn’t like to be lost down there alone! The temperature is actually very carefully controlled – to create the ideal environment for wine storage, the temperature in the tunnels is kept at a constant 12 degrees Celcius with a humidity of 90 percent.
After a short while, we stopped so that Maria could show us some of the barrels used to store the wine, from the smaller sizes to the gigantic barrels that are used to store tonnes and tonnes of the stuff!
We were then taken to a swanky underground cinema, where Maria poured us each a glass of sparkling rose wine and invited us to sit down and watch a film all about the history of Cricova and its wine making tradition.
As the short film compared a glass of wine to the finest poetry, I struggled to suppress a smile – I mean, I’m all for a good glass of wine but I’m not QUITE sure that it is comparable to the works of the best poets and philosophers – but hey, what do I know?
After the film finished, we all piled back onto the buggy and headed to the ‘maturing section,’ where 500,000 bottles of wine are stored for the maturation process. In order for this process to happen effectively, the bottles have to be stored at different angles and turned by hand to ensure that the sediment separates from the wine properly. Each day, a team of 5 women rotates as many as 35,000 bottles by hand!
Next was the sparkling wine production section, where we were able to see the machines used to make sparkling wine. Cricova is actually the first winery in Moldova that manufactures sparkling wine using the same method that Dom Perignon himself used!
Our next stop on the tour was the National Collection, or Oenotheque, which is comprised of almost 1.3 million bottles of wine, each with its own unique history. For example, there is the ‘Easter Jerusalem’ wine, which is the only piece in the world to have survived out of 400 bottles that were bottled way back in 1902.
This wine collection is priceless, and it was a very odd feeling to be walking among so much valuable wine, without any barriers or anything actually stopping you from reaching out and touching them – of course, you’re not allowed to touch the bottles but I’m just saying this to illustrate the proximity of the tourist to all of these unique and exquisite wines!
Another interesting thing about the National Collection is that the room is actually shaped like a wine glass!
As we walked through the collection, we got to the part where the real juice was – the personal wine collections of many of the world’s leaders, including Vladimir Putin, Angela Merkel, Joe Biden, Petro Poroshenko and many many more.
My secret mission at Cricova Winery was to actually reach out and touch one of Vladimir Putin’s personal wine bottles, and so I hung back and did just that as Allira took a photograph of perhaps my greatest achievement in life (yes, I broke the rules, no, you shouldn’t touch the wine).
Onto the Tasting!
After more than one hour of exploring the underground city of Cricova, it was finally time for the tasting! After showing us inside the five large tasting halls, all decorated in their own unique ways with tapestries, stained glass and wooden sculptures, we got comfortable in the tasting hall that we would be using – the ‘Sea Bottom’ tasting hall.
The Sea Bottom tasting hall takes its name from the depths of the Sarmatian Sea that existed here 12 million years ago. I’m not going to lie – it felt very random, but it was definitely my favourite of the five tasting halls, despite its eccentricity!
After we got comfortable, Maria led the tasting. We were taking part in the Business Tour which includes 3 types of sparkling wine and some nibbles (although we tasted 4 types of wine, and the website doesn’t state that there are any tours with 4 types of wine so I’m not really sure what happened there). Before we tasted each glass, Maria walked us through the process, showing us how to see the different colours in each wine, how to sniff out the subtle flavours, and of course, how to taste it (not that I needed any instruction on that!).
As we drank our wine, we got to know one another and picked at the nibbles on the table (nuts and biscuits, nothing out of this world). Despite the fact that the tours run on a schedule, at no point did Maria rush us, even after it was clear we’d been sitting there for longer than we should have!
Finally, after we’d finished the last of the wine, we exited through the gift shop. Now usually, as I’m travelling on a budget, I wouldn’t really stop to look at the wines on offer as I would assume that they are all super expensive. However, most of the wines in the gift shop at Cricova were around the 5 EU mark, and so it was impossible to resist bringing one back to the hostel!
Types of Wine Tours at Cricova Winery
As previously mentioned, Allira and myself took part in the Business Tour, which is the cheapest option. It includes 3 types of wine in the tasting (plus one glass in the cinema), plus nuts and biscuits. The cost is 23 EU.
Other tours include the Sparkling Tour, which includes 5 types of wine and a cheese plate and is 31 EU, and the Early Morning Tour, which, as the name suggests, runs early in the morning and does not include a tasting. This tour is priced at 10 EU.
To see the other tours that Cricova Winery offers and the price list, please visit their website here.
Cricova Winery – Final Thoughts
Wine tasting at Cricova was very different to my other two experiences with wine tasting (in Italy and Albania). While my other experiences felt very relaxed, almost like I was enjoying casual drinks in a friend’s garden, wine tasting at Cricova felt a lot more official, and even corporate (and seeing that Cricova Winery is such a huge business, it was bound to feel that way!).
Visiting Cricova Winery was fascinating, and I’d never before seen anything like the underground city that I got to explore with Maria on my tour – it was especially fascinating to learn about how Cricova produces such vast quantities of wine (the fact that 5 women turn so many bottles by hand still amazes me!).
Not only that, but seeing the personal wine collections of some of the most powerful people in the world was a once in a lifetime opportunity and definitely one of the most surreal moments of my travels.
I enjoyed the technical aspect of the tasting, as my other wine tastings have been so informal that I didn’t really learn about how to taste wine like a pro, and so that was another thing that I found really interesting.
My only criticism of the tasting was that perhaps because it did feel so formal, I didn’t bond with the other participants as much as I have done on other, more relaxed tastings. Perhaps this was due to the fact that Maria had only been working at Cricova for a couple of weeks when I attended the tour (so it’s very possible that she was a little nervous), or perhaps Cricova just prefer a more formal atmosphere at their tastings. Either way, it didn’t take away from my enjoyment of the experience and I would definitely recommend a visit to Cricova Winery if you find yourself in Moldova or one of the surrounding countries!
Have you ever visited Cricova Winery? Do you agree with my views or do you think I’m missing the mark somewhere? Let me know in the comments section below, and also if you have any other recommendations for wineries in Eastern Europe then be sure to tell me them!
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