The amount of the wine bottles in Cricova astonished me but I was also surprised that that collection of wine was not the biggest one in Moldova. If you want to see the record, which is also a world record, you have to visit another underground kingdom – Mileștii Mici, just 20 km of Chisinau.
Before you enter this underground world of wine, you will see two fountains with huge goblets. One fountain runs red and the other one white liquid. Like in Cricova, underground tunnels were dug to mine limestone. It was during the 70s of the last century. There is even a digging machine in one tunnel and you can see circle cuts on the ceiling made by that machine by digging the galleries which today are like streets with names after different sorts of wine.
You can enter the cellars only with your own car, a minibus or a taxi. First you will see endless rows of oak barrels. There are ideal conditions for wine storage here – the constant humidity of 85 – 95% and a temperature of 12 – 14°C (even in summer months you should take some warmer clothing with you). There is also a seismic station in one of the tunnels.
Later you will see bottles covered with dust instead of the barrels. Lots of bottles! There are almost two millions of bottles here! (70% red, 20% white and 10% dessert wine). Thanks to this amount Mileștii Mici was put into the Guinness World Records Book in August 2005 as the biggest wine collection in the world. Most of the wines are from the years 1986 – 1991. The oldest one is from 1969. They say that the first place belongs to Mileștii Mici not only for the amount of the bottles but also for its expanse – the limestone galleries have a total length of 200 km, but they use only 55 km. The depth is 30 – 85 meters under the ground.
A difficult period for not only Mileștii Mici but for the whole wine production in Moldova was in the years 1985 – 1987. Mikhail Gorbachev, the former Soviet statesman, carried out an anti-alcohol campaign, called “dry law”. Millions of wine bottles were destroyed. But in Mileștii Mici they managed to hide about 50.000 bottles in a secret room which is still used to store vintage wines.
In one part, there were niches with metal decorative bars (with motifs of grapes, of course) and with a tag with the name and nationality. These are the private collections of collectors from China, Russia etc. You can hire a niche for 150 € a year but you also have to buy at least 50 bottles of wine.
Of course, there was also a wine tasting. The rooms in Mileștii Mici are decorated with three natural elements: stone (galleries), water (a waterfall at the beginning of this underground empire) and a tree which you could see at the entrance to the tasting rooms. We entered them “through” barrels.
There is also a mirror on the wall. You should take a look at your face before you start tasting the wine. After the tasting your face will have a look of one of the three faces on the tree according to the amount of tasted wine…
Fortunately, our faces did not change very much after the degustation!
You can find more info or book your visit here.
The other winery is located 120 km from Chisinau, in the direction of the Black Sea. Just before we arrived at Purcari we had made a short observation stop. The view was beautiful and idyllic: gentle slopes with vineyards and behind them on the other side of the hill, exactly against us, a white building with a tower looking like a small castle. We were standing on the place just 30 km from the Ukrainian port Odessa at the Black Sea.
Then we reached our destination – Purcari on the right bank of the Dniester river. It is the first producer of high-quality wines in Moldova which was established in 1827 by French and German wine specialists on the territory of the Agon Zograf Monastery. In that year, Nicholas I, the emperor of Russia, issued a special decree which granted Purcari the status of the first specialized winery in Bessarabia (a historical region on the territory of present Moldova and Ukraine between the Black Sea). Today, there are not only vineyards (260 hectares), store and production rooms but also accommodation facilities, restaurants and a whole infrastructure for leisure activities.
The visit to Purcari was very interesting for me also because we had the possibility to see different stages of production live. First, they took us to the back yard where several tractors fully loaded with grapes were waiting in two rows.
Grapes are picked by hand, bunches are gently cut with scissors to avoid damaging the berries.
One by one, the tractors were moving towards an open wall. With the help of a crane, their load was poured out.
The grape came to a crusher and press where it was squeezed and a red juice was produced.
In another part of the production, we could see the tanks for fermentation, we peeped inside a lab and visited rooms where bottles are filled with wine, labels are glued on and the bottles are put into boxes and then to storerooms where they are waiting for the transfer to their consumers.
We did not miss a visit to the cellars either. Their ground plan has the form of a cross. The doors are small so we had to bend our heads down the same way you bow in a church before saint pictures. This symbolically reminds of the monastery from the past. In the cellars, there are also vintage wines from 1984, but the oldest bottle comes from the Queen Elisabeth II collection from 1947.
The wine tasting in Purcari was also an exciting experience for me. They arranged as a fan ten wine glasses with the Purcari logo in front of each of us on the table (I do not count the eleventh glass as it was just for water). After that, the waiters started to pour Purcari wines into the glasses from left to right. They started with white wine, the colour was changing little by little, after a while, it was rose and then ruby red. It looked like a palette waiting for a painter who would – instead of into dyes – dip his brush in those divine drinks. In the past, Purcari wines had landed on festive tables of the emperor of Russia and of rulers of England. Today, they export their wines mostly to the US, UK, Canada, Czech Republic, Poland, Norway and Baltic countries.
I am not surprised that Purcari had already won its first gold medal for its wine Rara Neagra at the World Exhibition in Paris in 1878. Experts had tasted it blindly and they had mistaken it for the real Bordeaux. Last of all, the waiters poured ice wine into the glasses so the colour was different once more.
So – first to observe the colour by eyes, then rotate the glass and observe how the liquid flows down after that absorb the aroma by the nose and finally to taste… And after that to decide which wine was the best one. I liked the Rara Neagra and the ice wine very much.
However, it is possible you would like something else. As they say on the website of Purcari: Better to taste once than to hear a hundred times! You will find more information about the winery, tours and wine tasting here.
Text: © Copyright Ingrid, Travelpotpourri
Fotos: © Copyright Ingrid, Travelpotpourri
Our thanks to the National Inbound Tourism Association of Moldova and the National Office for Vine and Wine for organizing the visit.