Off on Safari
By Charles Borden
Photos by Yevguni Filonov
This month our crew went hunting “big game” in South Africa, a country that produces some red wines that can accompany just about any meat that bwana drags home for the table. Post-apartheid, the South African wine industry has flourished and international investors have flocked in. The results have been stunning, but prices have not yet shot through the lodge roof.
We went into the field for a few brace each of reds and whites. This time we passed over the Cabs and Chards favored in our previous two panels from Chile and California. Instead, we targeted Pinotage, a red grape that was born in South Africa in 1926 as a cross of Pinot Noir and Cinsault. The white selection was Sauvignon Blanc, a grape that has flourished in the Cape, where it produces fruity, light wines, perfect for an afternoon of lazing on the veranda. We also finished off three Chards that fell in our sights.
The selection of SA wines in Moscow is about as sparse as the Californian, so we sent our scouts to new territory: we consulted the price lists of some of Russia’s best importers. This brings me to one of my pet subjects – Russian wine importers. I have learned that a few importers actually care about quality. Though the name on the back of a bottle is not an absolute guarantee of a good selection, one can considerably improve the odds through selection by importer.
The importers we consulted are some of my favorite – Svarog-M, Simple Wines, VAGR. They represent a fair selection of good South African producers: Nederburg, Backsberg, Glen Carlou, Longridge, Fleur du Cap, Klein Constantia. Other respectable labels to be found in Moscow include KWV, Hazendel, Simonsig, Graham Beck. The SA wines in Moscow are a relatively good value, and mostly reliable, something you can’t say about the range from other countries. At the low end, South Africa is also represented in Moscow by the “generic” labels – Golden Kaan, Two Oceans, and others. These are bulk wines, selected and purchased from various wineries by a bottler. These wines can be good value, but don’t expect estate wine quality.
We settled into veranda at Uley, hosted by one of our regular tasters, proprietor Paul O’Brien. The service and food at Uley was, as always, perfect. Uley was the first to show Moscow fusion cuisine and it has retained its position as the king of the jungle.
While we were waiting for the bottles to be opened, we whet our appetites with a Russian wine from an Australian winemaker, Myskhako 2003 Chardonnay (see box). This is the opening round of a new section in our articles – a monthly wine selection from the CIS and Eastern Europe.
The tasting opened with a challenge – which wine on our list was a Wine Spectator 100 Best Wines of 2004? “Give us a hint,” cried our expat hunting party. At gunpoint I yielded, “it’s one of the whites.” After we finished off the whites, Geoffrey Cox bagged the prize, though others had aimed tentatively in the right direction – the Glen Carlou 2002 Chardonnay. Challenged, Geoffrey tenaciously commented that “this wine is unique, it’s not a copy of the same Chardonnay’s that one can find from any country these days. A wine should reflect the earth of its homeland.” If there is another of the Wine Spectator Best 100 wines available in Moscow, I would like to know what it is. And it is difficult to imagine any of them would retail at 800 rubles like this Chard. I’m ordering a couple cases to preserve before this article goes to print and poachers kill off this endangered species.
In my opinion, most of the SA wines we tried were keepers, especially the whites. We were off to a good start with our first wine, the Nederburg – I was glad I took a spare bottle of this wine to take home. Many liked number three, the Ingwe, which had clear notes of pineapple and peaches for even the dullest palette (mine). The Glen Carlou scores showed our panel has Wine Spectator grading skills.
It was clear that Pinotage did not please everyone, and many were glad to reach the top of the reds, a Bordeaux style wine from Rupert and Rothschild, one of SA’s top producers. The R&R score (see below) demonstrates the predisposition of our panel to this style. Don’t let that put you off Pinotage; the grape may not hold its own with city folk, but it definitely has a place at the camp barbeque.
Andrew Somers, Hunter Reed, John Ortega, Sammy Kotvani
After knocking off 15 bottles, it would have been nice to try Klein Constantia Vin de Constance. Alas, we went home empty handed on this Muscat wine that has long been one of the world’s great dessert wines. It is available in Moscow at around 3,300 rubles a split. We also did not find another personal favorite, Backsburg Pumphouse Shiraz, a truly great steak wine – the distributor was temporarily out of stock. You can find the Glen Carlou Chardonnay and Tortoise Hill Red, as well as the Backsburg Pumphouse Shiraz at Coconuts, the new restaurant on Mysnitskaya – it’s on my wine list.
John Ortega, sponsor for this safari (and Publisher of Passport), has recently been named head of the Russian chapter of Knights of the Vine. Check out his website at www.kovr.ru. KOVR is ready to accept new inductees; those who are dedicated “to introduce and recognize quality wines from around the world; and to rekindle the respect of wine and wine culture for mankind and country.”
Let us know what you think about our wine articles and your opinions about wines you find in Moscow. I promise a bottle of the Glen Carlou Chardonnay to the best (and most useful) email (email@example.com). You may have noticed that we are short on female panel members; this is not for lack of desire. If you want to apply for a seat, let us know.
LOCAL WINE OF THE MONTH
Myskakho Chardonnay 2003
Bronze Medal 2004 London Wine Fair
A light, bright, light straw colored wine perfect when fully chilled on a hot summer day.
Myskako Winery is located on Wizard Mountain overlooking Novorossiysk on Russia’s Black Sea Coast. For the past two years, Australian John Worontschak has been flying in to improve the wineries technology and production. Myskhako was USSR President Brezhnev’s favorite winery – he fought with the partisans there during the Second World War.
Available in Moscow at AM stores at about 117 rubles.
John Ortega, Publisher, Passport Magazine
Charles Borden, Director, Meridian Capital
Eric Boone, Antal International
Paul O’Brien, Owner, Uley, Guilly’s, Starlite Diners restaurants
Geoffrey Cox, Chairman, Astera
Philippe Der Megreditchian, Partner, Baring Vostok, Capital Partners
Gerald Gaige, Partner, Ernst and Young
Michael Geutebreuck, Director, Eureka Systems.
John Harrison, Editor, Passport Magazine
Sammy Kotvani, Imperial Tailoring
Andrew Somers, President, AmCham
Hunter Reed, Partner, Somers & Associates
Tony Wong, Director, Schering-Plough Russia
Glen Carlou Chardonnay 2002, 826, $28.98
Rupert and Rothschild, Baroness Nadine Church Chardonnay 2003, 1,642, $57.41
Longridge Chardonnay 2003, 1,037, $36.39
Ingwe Sauvignon 2003, 1,031, $36.16
L’Avenir Sauvignon Blanc 2004, 563, $19.74
Nederburg Sauvignon Blanc 2004, 259, $9.10
Siyabonga Severny 2001, 847, $29.74
Spier Sauvignon Blanc 2004, 501, $17.57
Rupert and Rothschild Baron Edmund 2000, 2,742, $95.87
Backsberg Pinotage 2002, 482, $16.85
Siyabonga Pinotage 2002, 1,145, $40.04
L’Avenir Pinotage 2003, 930, $32.63
Longridge Pinotage 2001, 1,302, $45.52
Glen Carlou Tortoise Hill Red 2003, 670, $23.51
Nederberg Pinotage 2002,410 ,$14.40
** Prices are estimate retail prices
Key: Shown above are year, rouble price, equivalent USD, location purchased, and rating.
EV = Elitnoe Vino, WC = Wine Collection, AV = Azbuka Vkusa, AM = Aromatny Mir, PV = Pro Vino