Deep beneath the hilly slopes near Chisinau, the capital of the least visited of European countries, lies the fascinating underworld. Separated from Russia by Ukraine, tiny Moldova owns the state-owned Cricova winery, which stores a personal collection of Vladimir Putin's wine.
Cricova wine cellars are second only to the holder of the Guinness World Record - the nearby Milestii Mici factory. Former mines of the 15th century consist of winding underground tunnels and labyrinths that stretch 120 km and are 75 m below sea level. They were turned into a luxurious wine store in the 1950s.
Now Cricova is a popular tourist destination. In the underground storage of tourists carried in cars or a red tram. They say that there is even a gilded stroller in which President Putin was taken during his visit. The cellar resembles an underground city - there are roads with traffic lights and road signs, and the streets are named after wines that are stored along the walls, for example, Cabernet Street or Sauvignon Street.
The winery occupies 50 hectares, including five large tasting rooms with antique interiors and wooden furniture created by Moldovan artisans. The "European Hall" is intended for congresses and business meetings, the "Presidential Hall" - for summits, including receptions of statesmen from around the world. In the "Fireplace Hall" private dinners are held in a narrow circle. In the tasting room "Big House" the traditional Moldavian dwelling with wooden beams is completely recreated, and the "Sea bottom" hall is distinguished by an original limestone ceiling and acoustics resembling the sounds of the underwater world.
The winery was founded in 1952, when Moldova was still a Soviet republic. Now it produces more than 150 varieties of wine: from Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot to Rkatsiteli, Aligote and Sauvignon. Cricova is known as the first Moldavian company to start producing sparkling wine by the method of the monk of House Pierre Perignon. Visitors say that five women work there, who turn 35,000 bottles by hand every day.
In Cricova cellars, an outstanding collection of wines created in 1954 is stored. It includes almost 1.3 million bottles of wine, each of which has special properties and an unusual history. Wines in the collection were collected around the world. The most noteworthy exhibit is the Easter dessert wine in Jerusalem. This wine was created in 1902 and bottled in 400 bottles, of which only one is now preserved. The collection also includes the unique Jan Beher liquor, created in 1902 in the Czech Republic and containing an extract of 27 medicinal herbs.
The most notorious part of the Cricova enoteca is wine, once owned by the Nazi military commander Hermann Goering. This is almost 2,000 bottles of wines such as moselle, burgundy, port, tokai and chablis. All of them were made from grapes harvested in the 1940s and brought by Goering from the countries occupied by Germany. After the war, Soviet soldiers brought them to Moscow as trophies. Almost all of the wine was drunk, and the remains of the collection were stored at the Cricova factory.
High-ranking officials and world leaders who visited the winery include German Chancellor Angela Merkel and US Vice President Joe Biden. Since 2002, a private collection of Putin's wine has been stored in Cricova cellars. Each politician who visits the plant receives the right to a personal name collection with a personal nameplate.
For visitors who want to get acquainted with the world of Cricova wines, the best option is to buy the Premium Gold package, which includes a tour of the winery and a visit to a private tasting room where you can taste 11 wines. The price includes lunch and a souvenir set with sparkling and red wine. The total price is $ 185 per person. A traditional tasting package costs only $ 65 per person.