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Knights of the Vine RUSSIA


Seasonal Sips for a Supper Soiree or Shindig
Charles Borden

t’s that time of year again, a month of chaos and then stillness. Snow snarls traffic and shoppers sweep the aisles. Socials, soirees, suppers and all manner of shindigs crowd the afternoons and evenings. Finally the finish: a bash, binge and blowout, followed by fireworks filling the firmament. Silence, and hopefully a blanket of white to the horizon, as Moscow empties for a full two weeks of peace on earth.

If in the West, the obsession is sex, Russia is obsessed with alcohol. If western television is filled with sexual allusions, Russian TV jokes about vodka, drinking and drunks. At no time is this more apparent than the New Year, when I hear from hapless hosts hunting help.

The Company Party

I ask, “What about Russian wines? Even some elitny crowds, and certainly ex-pats, would be happy to try something from the Black Sea.” If the line falls quiet, I add, “You can always claim patriotism, support your local producers, ‘Buy Russian’, to explain the wine list.”

The selection of good Russian and Ukrainian wines produced near the Black Sea filled out a little this year, but Chateau Le Grand Vostock ( remains at the top of my list. French winemaker Frank Duseigneur has just completed his ninth harvest at this completely modern, French equipped, top-of-the-line winery. He and his wife Gael, who runs the winery laboratory, have settled down and started a family in this tiny village in Krasnodar region about 100 kilometres from the Black Sea coast. By now, Frank and Gael should be eligible for an Order of Lenin, or whatever honour they give heroes in Russia these days.

Frank Duseigneur in the Chateau Le Grand Vostock vineyards

Abrau Durso Imperial Brut

Boris Titov

Chateau Le Grand Vostock has pairs of red and white wines at four price levels starting with Terre du Sud at 199r per bottle to Chêne Royal at 740r. It has an English language website; the wine is stocked in Moscow; and it delivers case lots.

Russians must consume more sparkling wine (Shampanskoye) during the last two weeks of December than the entire rest of the year, perhaps excepting Women’s Day. In recent years Russian businessman Boris Titov rescued a Russian national treasure, historic sparkling wine producer Abrau Durso, which lies north of Novorossisk and a just a short jaunt to the Black Sea ( Abrau Durso has produced méthode champenoise (traditional in-bottle fermented) sparkling wines in an extensive network of caves for almost 120 years. AD’s top-level wines are still produced this way and, as I understand, they really are made from grapes grown in AD’s own vineyards and neighboring areas. AD’s Premium and Russkoye Shampanskoyea are made using the quicker charmat or reservoir method from imported bulk wines.

Two other Russian wineries, Fanagoria and Myskhako, employ an Australian flying winemaker, John Worontschak, and a few wines from either winery might be good holiday selections. Fanagoria’s Cru Lermont line is made from French varietal grapes that were planted in 1987. Fanagoria also makes a very rich, dark sweet herbal wine that is very reasonably priced wine called Chorny Lecker. Many of your Russian guests would prefer a sweet wine, even if they won’t admit it. Novorossiysk based Myskhako also makes some decent wines, particularly whites. I like the Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling.

Two newcomer Black Sea wineries are worth watching: Gai- Kodzor south of Anapa, and Vedernikov in Rostov region. I tried the Gai- Kodzor Merlot- Grenache 2009 (348r) and, though light, bright and refreshing, it had an almost overpowering exotic pineapple tone.

Other Notable Black Sea Wines

Novy Svet (Crimea, Ukraine) makes a Pinot Noir Brut (600 roubles), a sparkling rosé, that bested some of France’s most prestigious champagnes in a PASSPORT blind tasting in 2008. Serve very cold. Tsimlanskoye Winery in eastern Rostov region makes a sweet, deep purple sparkling wine “in accordance with an ancient Cossack method.” (500 roubles).

Praskoveya Winery near Budyonnovsk in Stavropol region specializes in brandies (called cognac in Russia), produced under a French-trained winemaker. It also produces a retro-labeled grape-based Samogon No.5 (Russian moonshine) that is 45% alcohol. Praskoveya has a large collection of wines dating back to 1945, right after the German occupation. These collector wines, such as a 1992 Uliybka (Smile: a sweet Muscat wine) at 1,460 roubles or a 1955 Buket Prikumya at 17,660 roubles, and its brandies and Samogan No.5 are available at a small shop off Krasnopresnya Prospekt near the Moscow zoo.

Russian Grape Harvest photos

Gael Brullon (Duseigneur)
at Chateau Le Grand Vostock

Buyer Beware

I am reasonably confident that the specific wines mentioned above are actually Russian, and made with Russian grown grapes. Russia does not have AOC/DOC laws or other protections for authentic local producers that invest in vineyards and wineries. From available information that compares grape harvests and wine production statistics, the vast majority of wines labeled as Russian could only have been made with imported bulk wine called “wine material” or grape concentrate. I have seen a warehouse full of Chilean concentrate, and additives such as Essence of Riesling at Russian wineries. I had a reliable report about a Krasnodar region vinzavod (wine factory) that makes 16 types of Russian red wines from one cheap imported bulk wine from Spain. Many other Russian and Crimean wines, even if made from local grapes and bearing a well-known historic name, can be pretty awful.

Shops with Russian Wines

Chateau le Grand Vostock
+7 495 785 8865  

Abrau Durso Shop
Smolensky Bulvar 15
+7 499 252 7701  

Myskhako Shop
Leningradsky Prospekt 10

Stavropol Wine and Cognac
Ulitsa Malaya Gruzinskaya 12
+7 495 252 1408

Massandra Shops
The Massandra shops in Moscow carry many Russian and Ukrainian wines including sparkling wines from Abrau Durso, Novy Svet and Tsimlanskoye, and the Russian Gai-Kodzor.
Zvenigorodskoye Shosse Dom 7
Oktyabryskaya Dom 5
Komsomolsky Prospekt Dom 15

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