An Invitation We Couldn’t Refuse
Photos by Stas Arkhangelski
Don John Ortega called the Commission to Sicily for its first trial of Old World wines. Sicily has long been a backwater of Italian wines; it produces large quantities of jug wines and is best known for its Marsala dessert wines. However, that is recent history – in antiquity the wines of Sicily were prized throughout the region. As a crossroads of the Mediterranean, the Phoenicians first made Sicily a commercial center. The Greeks followed between the Eighth and Third centuries BC when they were also settling along the Russian and Crimean Black Sea coasts. It is not difficult to imagine that wine may have been part of Sicily’s culture even then, as it was on the Black Sea. Later, Roman colonizers arrived, followed by Arab pirates, Normans, Germans, and Spanish. When the Italian state was established in 1860, the newly born Mafia really did become the dominant influence on the island.
Left to right. John Ortega,Pier Bancale, Julia Evdokimova, Eric Boone, Elena Zaloznyn, Jeff Combs
Despite the poor reputation that Sicily’s wines garnered in the past century, recent years has seen a small but growing number of wineries that have traded quantity for quality and gained recognition for their wines. Surprisingly, many of them have made it all the way to Moscow, including Cusumano, La Planeta, Donnafugata, Firriato Paceco and Tenuta Rapitala. However, the market pressures that have kept prices low in Western markets are not present in Russia, hence relatively high prices. I was disappointed that we could not find Calatrasi wines; though I know they are being imported I have yet to find them in Moscow. Calatrasi owner Maurizio Micciche regularly visits Russia. He has transformed his Calatrasi family wine business, located not far from the village of Corleone, into a progressive producer through strict adherence to modern techniques – he even brought in Australian winemakers.
We again made the rounds of the wine boutiques in and around Kutuzovsky to purchase the Sicilians for this panel, but this time we took along a Robert Parker list to see if we could score some high numbers. Parker is the American publisher of The Wine Advocate and the popularity of his ratings have made him the person that wine critics from France to Russia love to hate. But through his simple, no nonsense approach to scoring wines, he is now one of the most influential people in the industry.
Moscow’s wine boutiques generally have reasonable selections of Sicilian wines and a number of them with Parker 90+ scores. We found a Donnafugata Mille E Una Notta (1001 Nights) 2001 that carries a Parker 93 in several locations, though also a high price at 3,040 rubles ($107). Our panel agreed with Parker and gave this wine its highest rating for a red at 4.09. The Commission’s scores correlated well with the Parker numbers.
We also visted Stockmann, Sedmoi Kontinent, and Azbuka Vkusa. The Azbuka Vkusa visit provided one of those “Russian moments” that we expats love to share – as I was making notes about the wines in their cellar I was stopped by a security guard who informed me that it was “prohibited to write” in the store.
The Commission gathered at Restaurant Syr (Cheese) on the Garden Ring for the showdown. Executive Chef Mircko Zago provided a wonderful spread of (what else?) cheeses, including Sicily’s own Ragusano from Raguza province, his mother’s native area. We pared off slices from the large, boomerang shaped 15kg block of Ragusano; its intense, aromatic, and sharp taste had our panel returning for more throughout the wine tasting. While we waited for stragglers, we tried the Planeta La Segreta Red and White, both good values at a modest price of around 660 rubles ($23.20). Syr’s musicians brought the Commission to the table for its serious deliberations with the theme from the Godfather.
We quickly went through the whites, which were primarily Chardonnay or Chardonnay and Inzolio, an aromatic domestic variety. We topped these off with a Niebaum-Coppola Diamond Chardonnay. OK, this is a California wine; but I couldn’t resist including a Francis Ford Coppola production. The red wines were dominated by the grape Nero d’Avola, which is Sicily’s indigenous contribution to red wine culture. It produces a flavorful, deep red, smooth wine with good aging potential.
Oleg Myshkin and wife Galina
The red wines that were not pure Nero d’Avola were blends with Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, which also do well in the Sicily heat.
We capped the wine tasting with Chef Zago’s dinner selections and trips back to the wine table for seconds on the favorites and the Ragusano. The Commission retired for the evening, not only alive, but refreshed from our evening in Sicily.
Local Wines of The Month
Praskoveya Winery, Stavropol Region
Wines, brandies, calvados, and vodka at their own wine bar and shop in Moscow – Metro Barrikadnaya
Praskoveya Winery is located near Budyonnovsk in Stavropol region, a not particularly grape-friendly area due to hot, dry summers and cold winters. However, this is a traditional Cossack wine area, as chronicled by Leo Tolstoi in The Cossacks. The winery is one of the oldest in Russia, and has a collection of 100,000 bottles (mostly sweet) dating from 1945 (post Nazi-occupation). Praskoveya produces inexpensive, dry wines, but their forte is brandies – their winemaker Vladimir Kostin studied in France. Praskoveya has its own shop and wine bar on Malaya Gruzinskaya, called Stavropol Wine and Cognac, next to the Red Pumpkin organic food shop near Barrikadnaya metro station not far from the Moscow Zoo.
- John Ortega, Publisher, PASSPORT MAGAZINE
- Charles Borden, Director, Meridian Capital
- Eric Boone, Antal International
- Geoffrey Cox, Chairman, Astera, Chairman, Association of European Businesses
- Sammy Kotvani, Owner, Imperial Tailoring
- Jeff Combs, Director, NCI Telecommunications
- Kim Balaschak, Business Development Director, IMS-Group
- Elena Zaloznyn
- Julia Evdokimova, Arcum Wine Trading
- Oleg Myshkin, Director, Colliers International, and wife Galina
Ortega Easy Rating System
||I love this wine|
||I really like this wine|
||This wine is good|
||This wine is not that good|
||I don’t really care for this wine|
La Planeta Chardonnay 2003 1,770 $62.54 Kollektion Vino
Cusumano Jala 2003 929 $32.83 Elitny Vino
Niebaum-Coppola Diamond Chardonnay 2003 1,060 $37.46 Magnum
Tenuta Rapitala Chardonnay 1,110 $39.22 Kollektion Vino
Fattoria Azzolino Tranui 700 $24.73 Kollektion Vino
Santa Anastasia Bianco di Passomaggio 2003 810 $28.62 Magnum
DonnaFugata Mille E Una Notte 2001 (RP93) 3,040 $107.42 Kollektion Vino
Cusumano Noa 2004 1,300 $45.94 Magnum
Firriato Paceco Camelot 3,300 $116.61 Stockmann
La Planeta Santa Cecilia 2002 1,820 $64.31 Kollektion Vino
Santa Anastasia Passomaggio 2002 960 $33.92 Magnum
Tenuta Rapitala Nuhar 2003 830 $29.33 Kollektion Vino
Fatascia Almanera 2002 830 $29.33 Kollektion Vino
Fattoria Azzolino Nero d’Avola 2003 750 $26.50 Kollektion Vino
Key: Shown above are vintage year, rouble price, equivalent USD, location purchased and rating.