What European wine region is buzzing right now? Forget the old favorites: Piedmont, Mosel, and the Rhône Valley. It’s not the expanding Douro Valley. Or even Hungary’s underappreciated Tokaj-Hegyalja. The surprising answer is Moldova.
This little landlocked country—located between Romania and Ukraine—probably isn’t on your radar at all. Formerly part of the Soviet Union, Moldova now has the distinction of being Europe’s least visited country, receiving fewer visitors than even Bosnia and Herzegovina. But Moldova has been hiding a little secret all these years. Its rural villages are surrounded by vineyards that thrive on long, sunny summers, cool falls, and Black Sea winds. And now that Russia has banned the wine from one of its most-favorite wine regions—due, in part, to Moldova’s new trade agreement with the European Union—other European countries and the United States are embracing Moldova’s wines.
A Moldovan wine tour begins in Chişinău. The small capital has beautiful parks, a well-respected ballet company, and few tourists. Take lots of photos; the city you see today will surely change in the next few years. Start your wine tasting before you even leave the city. Carpe Diem is a wine bar and shop on a residential street near the center of town. The friendly staff pours local wines and dispenses helpful tidbits about the places you’ll soon start exploring.
Once you have your bearings, drive north through the green hills and the sunflower-filled fields. Only 15 kilometers outside of Chişinău, you reach Cricova Cellars. During the two-hour tour, you go deep underground, following a maze of streets with names like Cabernet and Muscat. The limestone caves may be the largest underground wine cellar in the world, and they hold more than a million bottles of wines, some dating back to the early 1900s. You taste familiar wines, like Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, before moving on to a dry Aligoté and a sweet Rkatsiteli. Don’t pass up a sip of their Kodrinskoie, a sparkling wine made from Cabernet Sauvignon grapes.
From Cricova, head southeast to Ștefan Vodă along the Nistru River. Purcari Winery has been making wine here since 1827. Their Rara Neagră—a fruity red wine—was one of Queen Victoria’s favorites. Now the winery looks like a cozy French château. Explore the sloping lakeside grounds, and stop at the gazebo. See the French-oak barrels in which the wine is aged. Try the Sauvignon Blanc, before gravitating toward the reds: Roşu de Purcari, Negru de Purcari, and even a dessert wine, Cahor de Purcari.
Ștefan Vodă is now your home base for the rest of your Moldova wine tour. Stay right at Hotel Purcari, where the suites have vineyard views. Check out a young winery down the road. The two brothers who founded Et Cetera Wines make a delicious Merlot. And try to figure out how many bottles you can stash in your luggage to take home to hold you over until there’s a Moldovan wine selection at your local wine shop.