Cricova takes the notion of a “wine city” to another level, in more ways than one. About 260 feet below this little-known Moldovan town, over 75 miles of limestone caves are home to about 1.3 million bottles of wine.
The fertile region surrounding the town of Cricova had no problem becoming a major source of wine for the USSR by the mid-1900s. They did have a problem storing all of it, however.
Conveniently, the excavation of vast amounts of limestone to build the nearby capital of Chişinău left a sprawling underground network of cool, dry caves, ideal for aging and storing wine. As more limestone was mined to build the city, more space was created underground to host an imperial collection of bottled wine. After Milestii Mici, another underground Moldovan winery, Cricova is the second-largest wine cellar on the planet.
Today, the above-ground winery is a jack of all trades, producing more than 150 styles, including basics such as muscat, pinot noir, cabernet, and sauvignon blanc, but also unique local varieties such as rkaţiteli and aligote. The “streets” and “avenues” that make up the underground booze-storage metropolis are named for the wines they store, helping tour guides navigate visitors through the network by mini-train. The winery is most famous for producing a sparkling variety known as kodrinskoie, utilizing methods made famous by French monk Dom Pierre Pérignon. According to Balkan Insight, a team of five women rotates as many as 35,000 bottles of the sparkling vino 45 degrees in wooden slots to encourage the movement of sediments.
Though an over-the-top underground oddity, the site was made a visiting point for all official delegations to the USSR and, even after its collapse, still holds the collections of various political heavyweights. Angela Merkel, John Kerry, Joe Biden, and Petro Poroshenko all visited and were gifted private collection spaces. Vladimir Putin has an impressive assortment of wines here, and, according to Forbes, a gold-plated mini-car to take him through the tunnels. While no politician, the first man in space, Yuri Gagarin, is rumored to have gotten lost in the caves for hours (guides like to joke that it was easier for him to get into space than out of the wine cellar).
Perhaps most shockingly, the wine collection of Hermann Göring, one of Hitler’s henchmen, rests here, as well. After the Red Guard took Berlin, his collection of more than 2,000 bottles from regions occupied by Germany during World War II were brought here to continue aging.
After each tour, visitors can sample an array of wines in one of the facility’s five extravagant tasting rooms, including “The Sea Bottom,” a nautical-themed room; the “Presidential Hall,” meant to host official delegates; and the unambiguous “Fireplace Room.”
Feel free to purchase as much wine from the store as you’d like. Cricova’s not running out any time soon.