Unusual wines, part three: Moldova's wine cellars

Jacopo Mazzeo

Jacopo Mazzeo

29 April 2019

Nothing sells a wine quite as well as a memorable backstory. In this five-part series, Jacopo Mazzeo explores wine styles with impressive tales to tell


Wine plays a crucial role in Moldovan culture, so much so that Moldova National Wine Day is a public holiday. Traditionally, country houses had underground wine cellars to store the wine they produced for their own personal consumption. As a result, countless miles of hidden wine mazes run across the country, some tiny, some as big as towns. Their tunnels and corridors can even be travelled by car.

Brăneşti, Cojusna and Purcari are some of the most captivating wineries that contain mazes, but the biggest one by far is Mileștii Mici, which is located just south of the Moldovan capital of Chișinău. Its 120-mile-long cellars store over 1.5 million bottles in small vaults called cazas.

Cricova Winery transformed a former limestone mine into a cellar following its foundation in 1952. Today, the cellar contains 120km of tunnels, aptly named after grape varieties, as well as five tasting rooms and a winemaking history museum.

The tunnels are still being excavated, so the cellar continues to grow. Among other things, the cellar houses Cricova’s Oenotheque collection, which is not for sale. It includes bottles from classic regions, as well as ‘gems’ such as wines recovered from Nazi general Hermann Göring’s cellar. Its cazas can even be privately rented – and yes, Vladimir Putin is indeed a loyal customer.

In Moldova, international varieties still represent over 90% of total vineyards. However, plantings of indigenous grapes such as Fetească Neagră, Fetească Alba, Fetească Regală, Rară Neagră and Viorica are increasing.

A full-bodied Fetească Neagră can be outstanding, especially when paired with Moldovan classics such as lamb or goat stew.

One for your list

Château Vartely is an independent winery founded in 2005. Its vineyards are in central and southern Moldova, mostly planted with international varieties, plus Fetească Regală, Muscat and Traminer.

This white represents excellent value. Fresh minerality on the nose, fragrant and crisp. The palate is vibrant, with notes of apricot and orange blossom.

£9.20, Novus BH Magister

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