Moldova is famous for wine, and specifically, having lots of it stored in huge underground wine cellars. I was so excited to visit Cricova Winery near Chisinau, one of the largest wineries in Moldova and a premier tourist attraction of the country. With my tour of Cricova booked, I woke up early for the wine tour of a lifetime. And, that it was.
A group of us – a young American peace corp volunteer, and his parents; a Japanese couple; me, my new Romanian friend from the hostel, and an elderly Frenchman – were huddled around the door to the tasting room, having just hopped off our red wine train.
“And this,” our Moldovan tour guide said triumphantly, “is the door to paradise!”
With a flourish, she opened the door, revealing the most unique tasting room I’d ever seen in my life. It looked like Ariel’s Grotto, complete with a ship wheel as a feature artwork, several aquariums, and an “under the sea” themed chandelier. An interesting choice for a tasting room in a land-locked country.
It was quite the sight, especially considering I’d already consumed two large glasses of Prosecco and was feeling rather giggly.
I took my seat at the table and we started the tasting by going around the room introducing ourselves, which all went well except that the Parisian gentleman insisted on asking me how I enjoyed living in the Napa Valley, no matter how many times I explained it was the Barossa Valley, some ten thousand kilometres from California.
The Tasting during the Cricova Wine Tour
The tasting began – and it was delightful. Although I’m more of a red wine drinker, I really loved the whites I was given, and especially the sparkling white wine. No surprises, there – a Cricova sparkling recently narrowly lost out to Dom Perignon as being named the best in the world.
As much as I enjoyed the whites, the reds seemed even better by the time we reached them. It just might have been the fact that by this stage, Cricova had kindly poured us at least five (a little less than full) glasses of wine to try. You could never, ever call them stingy with their tastings.
You also couldn’t call them lacking in wine knowledge. Although I was struggling to get over feeling like I was in a kid’s birthday party room, I soon let it go and concentrated on the tasting. Well, as best as you can concentrate when you’re five glasses in and there’s an under-the-sea themed chandelier above you.
Our guide diligently took us through the steps to tasting. I’d considered myself a bit of a wine buff, but it was really fun to have it all laid out for you and to discuss your thoughts with fellow guests, and the tour guide. I certainly recommend touring Cricova winery for anyone who wants to learn more about how to taste wine.
The experience of indulging in a stereotypically-snobby activity like wine tasting in such a kitsch and colourful room, really is something. And that something is amazing.
At the end of our tasting, we’d all consumed about seven glasses of wine. To my disgust, I couldn’t actually finish it all. Anyone who knows me will know this is a true feat on Cricova’s behalf – to have given me more free wine than I could handle!
At this point, we’d all become best friends (doesn’t this always happen at the end of a wine tasting?), and our tour guide took the opportunity to ask us what we thought of the wine. There was a certain earnestness in her voice that you don’t always hear from staff in wineries. As we lavished (with a slight slur) praise on Cricova, she grinned widely and genuinely.
“Thank you. We are very proud here at Cricova.”
And proud, they are. Moldova is a country that is doing it tough economically – it’s the poorest country in Europe, and industry has been slow to grow. One thing Moldova does have, however, is truly exceptional wine – so it’s more than just a drink, but a source of national pride.
This is what makes a visit to Cricova unlike any other wine tour I’ve ever been on. Your (exceptionally generous) wine tastings are served with
I was so thrilled to find this video on youtube – but, you might want to skip it if you are planning to do your own Cricova wine tour (you don’t want to lessen the impact of watching this epic saga on the big screen).
My Thoughts on the Cricova Wine Tour
I honestly couldn’t recommend visiting Cricova Winery more highly. Even though the whole experience was a bit of an assault on the senses, frankly I think I’m going to struggle to go back to “normal” tastings now.
A common complaint about wine tasting is that it can be snobby, and while I really don’t think this is always true, it can happen. By contrast, touring Cricova puts a massive smile on your face and also helps you to understand the country, its history, and its people that little bit better. Maybe the epic movie was right, and there is plenty of philosophy in a bottle of wine!
How to Enjoy your Own Tour of Cricova Winery
I go into details of how to organise the ideal Moldovan wine tour in a previous post, so I definitely advise having a read of that if you haven’t already.
My wine tour of Cricova cost 550 Moldovan lei, which is about 27 euro. Tell me where else in the world you get a tour + crazy generous servings of delicious wine for that kind of money! (No, really, please do, because I want to go there).
You also need to arrange your own transport to Cricova Winery unless you are going as part of a tour where a pickup is included. I recommend getting your hotel or guesthouse to book, or you can use the Yandex taxi app. Just make sure that you actually get the taxi to Cricova Winery, not just to the town itself.
You need to book your tour ahead of time, and arrive 15 minutes beforehand. Cricova Winery is open 8am–5pm, seven days a week. I booked the day before in low season, but I recommend booking a couple of weeks in advance during high season and if you have a specific date you must be there.
As mentioned in my previous post, there are several companies that run day tours to Cricova or to other Moldovan wineries. They’re more expensive, but also easier to arrange and good fun.
For the tour, you don’t just go to the tasting room, but you also get to tour through the kilometres (150 kilometres in total) of underground wine cellar. The tour guide is super informative, and tells you all about how the wine is produced. All the different “streets” in the cellar are named after different types of wine that is produced at Cricova!
There is also a wine museum where you can see all kinds of special bottles of wine held by Cricova and the Moldovan Government. The most expensive is a 1918 bottle of Jerusalem wine, which is considered to be priceless but recently received an offer of $200,000 USD from a collector.
Finally, as mentioned, the servings you get from Cricova Winery are really generous. As much as I joke, actually one of the main reasons I didn’t finish all the wine was because making my way back through Chisinau half-cut didn’t seem terribly safe. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t find Chisinau to be particularly unsafe, but it’s just a general rule of mine as a solo traveller to try to avoid being intoxicated alone in unfamiliar places (see, Mum, you taught me well).
My biggest regret for my visit to Cricova Winery was that I was flying hand-luggage only and couldn’t pick up some wine to serve as a reminder of my bizarrely awesome tour of the winery. Looks like I’ll have to head back to let Tom into the fun!