Bulboaca, Moldova

Photo: Castel Mimi

There’s a surprise brewing in Eastern Europe. Actually, a surprise aging or fermenting is probably a better way to put it. Moldova is becoming a wine powerhouse. Yes, Moldova, one of the least-visited countries on the continent. Fair warning: It’s about to make a huge jump on your travel wish list.

Moldova is a small, landlocked country. It sits north of the Balkans. It’s wedged between Romania and Ukraine. While it used to be part of the Soviet Union. The Soviets hid Moldovan wine quite well. Grapes have been growing here for millions of years. The Greeks and the Romans started turning those grapes into wine. Rural villages, surrounded by vineyards, thrived on sunny summers, cool falls, and the Black Sea winds. The Soviets converted those simple vineyards into state-sponsored wine cellars. Their bottles were coveted by first the Soviets, then the Russians.

But Russia banned the mostly white wines when Moldova signed a trade agreement with the European Union. The Russians thought they could still control Moldova’s wine industry and cripple the country’s prospects. Instead, boutique wineries are flourishing, restaurants are opening, and hotels and spas are being built. Wine sales are boosting the economy of one of Europe’s poorest countries.

Your Moldovan wine tour starts in the Codru Wine Region. The Central Zone surrounds Chişinău, the quickly changing capital. Much of its land, covered with rolling hills and forests, is rural, though. Sixty percent of Moldova’s wine is produced here, as well. One of the wineries, Castel Mimi, first planted grapes in 1893. By the turn of the century, the Bordeaux-style château was selling its wine across Russia. It became one of the Soviet Union’s largest wine factories in 1940. That would usually be a huge turn-off.

Castel Mimi has completely reinvited itself, though. Gorgeous gardens—full of flowers, spices, and vegetables—now surround the château. Tours include the grounds and the cellars, a tasting, and pairings. The White Owl, a sleek restaurant, updates traditional Moldovan dishes into plates that belong in fine-dining restaurants. Fourteen minimal suites and an Olympic-size swimming pool recently opened. A wellness center, with wine-focused spa treatments, will soon follow. Now all you need is a glass of Rosé de Bulboaca, and this surprising trip will be complete. Noroc to Moldovan wine.

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