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Knights of the Vine RUSSIA


World Wines and New Friends
Charles W. Borden Photos by Alex Gorov

After a scouting mission/restaurant review with John Ortega, Knights of the Vine Russia settled on Cipollino for this month’s wine tasting. We would have a special guest, artist to Russia’s jet set, Nikas Safronov. Safronov’s art, surrealistic, mystic, drawing on themes of the old masters, has become famous for his River of Time series, portraits of famous people, from President Putin to Madonna, dressed in costumes from past centuries. He recasts the countries rich and powerful as nobility. Nikas gave John and I each a beautiful heavy book of his art titled Nikas Safronov Symbolism.

Together with the Cipollino sommelier and Executive Chef Adrian Quetglas, we decided to pair a fixed menu with a worldwide assortment of wines from the wine list, and a small supplement from John’s wine cellar. In all we had white wines from five countries and reds from seven. When our merry crew assembled, a printed menu from the Chef was at each place.

In addition to Nikas, we had many new guests for this wine tasting. Loon Lai Cheong, Counselor from the Embassy of Malaysia, gave me a few travel hints for a beach vacation in his country. Irina Nikishina, Deputy Editor of Vino Mania magazine, was one of our experts for the evening. Vino Mania is a leading Moscow wine glossy magazine. Alexander Kolomov, though labeled here for his elegant watch business, is really a global traveler with extensive business and political connections. It was Alexander who arranged for Nikas Safronov to join us. John had just signed a new lease for his International Apparel clothing business, so he invited his new landlord, Nikita Albertovich. Lilia Kazberouk, Attorney for Maersk, the shipping giant, had read about our wine tastings in Passport and emailed us about them. She thus earned herself a place at the table, and we very much enjoyed her company.

Wine Tasting and Dinner for Passport
Borsch 2007
Scallops with Green Asparagus, Beetroot Powder and Light Porcini Sauce
Black Cod with Carpaccio of Scallops, Venere Rice and Orange-Anise Oil
Braised Milk-Fed Veal Cheeks with Smoked Bacon-Thyme Parmentier and Fresh Parsley White Truffle Sauce
Pineapple Lasagna with Ginger, Coconut Sorbet and Pepper Toffee

David Wack, Partner at Squires and Sanders, a global law firm based in Ohio, joined us for the first time. David and his firm have an extensive M&A practice. They were involved in the sale of the ICN Pharmaceuticals business in Russia, the company that brought John Ortega to Moscow. David invited along Alexey Gurin, who only days earlier had been named CEO of CentreInvest Group, one of Russia’s leading securities and investment banking firms. Alexey had been a CEO and Chairman of the Executive Board of top Russian tire producer Amtel-Vredenstein, He led Amtel-Vredestein through several acquisitions – including the purchase of Dutch tire company Vredestein Banden and the Moscow Tire Plant – as well as the company’s listing on the London Stock Exchange.

Loon Lai Cheong

John Ortega, Alexander Kolomov and Nikas Safronov

For me, one particular highlight of the evening was to hear tales of the “early days” from 20-year Moscow veteran Peter Pettibone, who has advised a wide range of personalities during his Russia years that began in the final days of the Soviet Union.

I think it would be good to review our wine tasting system. We generally select wines that can be found in Moscow in shops or on restaurant wine lists because our main task is to evaluate wines our readers can obtain in the city. We usually have about 10 wine lovers at each tasting, and though we are amateurs, we feel the Passport rating gives a fair sample of the Moscow community and its wine tastes.

At each tasting, each of our tasting panel has a single, high quality wine glass. There is a pour bucket near each guest to discard excess wine (if necessary) and water to rinse the glass. The waitstaff pours each participant a small serving of the wine in the pre-determined order, starting with the whites, and generally light-bodied to heavy bodied. We try to work through the list quickly but practically never as fast as we would like. Guests have scoring sheets and written or verbal comments are encouraged. John and I usually have a “cheat-sheet” that contains our prior research on the wines, usually from the Wine Spectator and Parker websites, but also winery websites. We include some of the reviews of better wines in our wine articles. We finish the evening with dinner and have a chance to go back to try any of the wines from the evening.

This evening, as usual we took about an hour and a half to navigate through the evening wine selections. As it was during our restaurant review session, the service at Cipollino was excellent, lead by Oleg Dejhen, the restaurant’s sommelier.

Irina Nikishina

Alexey Gurin and David Wack

White Wines

Dombeya Sauvignon Blanc
South Africa

Preston Haskell’s South African wine venture, Haskell Vineyards, is in the process of re-branding. The Sauvignon Blanc grapes have been pulled up so this was one of the last chances for us to try this wine. We look forward to his new Dombeya Chardonnay and Dombeya Boulder Road Shiraz 2005. Preston is the Chairman of Colliers International in Moscow.

Clos Henri Sauvignon Blanc 2004 (WS 87)
New Zealand
New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc wines are personal favorites, but until two years ago it was impossible to find them in Moscow. The Kauffman shops now have an excellent selection and a few can be found in most supermarkets.

Batar Agricola Querciabella 1998
This was deservedly the top white, and top wine for the evening. This was a very expressive, full white, and one of my favorites this year. A Parker note is below:
“During a recent visit to the estate I had the opportunity to taste every Batar back to 1995 and there can be no question that in top vintages it is a wine that is capable of developing further complexity with age …
It is not to be missed. “ Source: Wine Advocate

Chassagne Montrachet Louis Latour 2002 (RP 87-88)

The wines of Montrachet were my first introduction to fine white wines, and I still have strong memories of the experience. This Montrachet was disappointing.

Joseph Phelps Ovation 2004 (WS 89, RP 90)
This is one of the top California white wines that is available in Moscow. Unfortunately, the last bottles of Ovation have now been produced. According to Oleg, the vineyards were water damaged in floods last year and had to be removed. This was our number 2 white for the evening.
“Smooth, rich and layered, with fig, melon and honeysuckle flavors that turn elegant and spicy, finishing with a dash of smoke and hazelnut. Drink now through 2009. 1,000 cases made.” – JL Source: Wine Spectator

Peter Pettibone and
Lilia Kazberouk

Charles Borden, George Voloshin,
Nikita Leitland, Nikas Safronov

Red Wines

Chateau La Fleur Gazin 2001 (RP 90)
France (Pomerol)
Oleg, our sommelier, complained about the order I set for the reds, starting with the top wines. I explained that many of us do not get to fully enjoy these expensive wines if they are at the bottom of the list, when our sensory apparatus is diminished. This red Bordeaux was a selection of the sommelier, and an excellent entry for France on our round-theworld trip.
“Refined and subtle, with focused berry, plum and lightly toasted oak character. Full-bodied, with fine tannins and a lovely long finish. Really pretty. Very nice for the vintage. Best after 2007. 3,330 cases made.” – JS Source: Wine Spectator

Faro Palari 2003
Italy (Sicily)

The was another selection from Oleg, a relatively unknown wine from the hills around Messina overlooking the strait that separates Sicily from the continent. Faro means lighthouse and is a small DOC with very tiny production. The area’s principal winemaker is Salvatore Geraci from Azienda Agricola Palari.

Clos Henri Pinot Noir 2005 (WS 91)
New Zealand

New Zealand has also built a reputation for Pinot Noir, and this, our top scoring red shows why.
“Fragrant and stylish, with a supple wave of cherry, raspberry, floral and Asian spice nuances. The flavors gain momentum, with nicely integrated oak and fine-grained tannins. Drink now through 2010. 2,300 cases made.” –DS Source: Wine Spectator

Millaman Zinfandel Riserva 2005

There are dozens if not hundreds of Chilean wines in Russia, and they are generally a good bet at the value wine category or 300+ rubles. Millaman alone has a dozen plus on Moscow shelves. Millaman means goldon condor – the birds are common at the winery’s estate in Curico Valley. This Zinfandel, an unusual variety in Chile, won “Best Other Red” at the 4th Annual Wines of Chile Awards. This is a very good, value choice when it can be found on a restaurant wine list – it is 1600 rubles at Cipollino.

Rupert & Rothschild Baron Edmond 2002 (2001, WS 89)
South Africa

Jeanneret Clare Valley Shiraz 1998

This wine came from John’s cellar. It is a small family, boutique winery with a loyal following in Australia.
“Our Shiraz is a soft and elegant medium to full-bodied wine showing rich berry fruit and smoky oak complexity. The must is fermented in small open fermenters and hand plunged and pumped over to extract color and flavor from the skins. Once pressed off skins the wine spends 16 to 18 months maturing in French and American oak before final blending and bottling.” Source: Jeanneret website (

Hermanos Sastre Pago de Santa Cruz 1999 (RP 89/92-94)

This wine also came from John’s cellar.
“The Pago de Santa Cruz is top-flight, but the price is severe. Revealing more depth as well as ripeness than the 1998, the 1999 Pago de Santa Cruz exhibits excellent purity and a chewy, complex, oak-imbued finish. It is bottled unfined and unfiltered. It will last 10-15 years.” Source: Wine Advocate Feb 2003 Rating 89

Ortega easy rating system

I love this wine! 5 pts.
I really like this wine! 4 pts.
This wine is good! 3 pts.
This wine is not that good! 2 pts.
I don’t really care for this wine! 1 pt.


John Ortega, Managing Director, International Apparel
Charles Borden, Director, Meridian Capital
George Voloshin, Managing Director, Passport Magazine
Nikas Safronov, Artist
Loon Lai Cheong, Embassy of Malaysia
Lilia Kazberouk, Attorney, Maersk
Peter Pettibone, Partner, Hogan & Hartson L.L.P.
Nikita Leitland, General Director, GS Park
Irina Nikishina, Deputy Editor, Vinomania Magazine
Alexander Kolomov, Chairman, Movement for Reconstruction of Russian Empire
Alexey Gurin, CEO, CentreInvest Securities
David Wack, Partner, Squires and Sanders

Wine List
Price (rubles)
Wine List
Price (USD)
1 Dombeya Sauvignon Blanc (South Africa) JO - 3.56
2 Clos Henri Sauvignon Blanc 2004 (New Zealand) 3500r $138 3.74
3 Batar Agricola Querciabella (Italy) 7300r $287 4.30
4 Chassagne Montrachet Louis Latour 2002 (France) 6400r $252 3.45
5 Joseph Phelps Ovation 2004 (California) 8000r $314 4.06
1 Chateau La Fleur Gazin 2001 (France) 6000r $236 3.83
2 Faro Palari 2003 (Sicily, Italy) 6000r $236 3.42
3 Clos Henri Pinot Noir 2005 (New Zealand) 4750r $187 4.14
4 Millaman Zinfandel 2005 (Chile) 1900r $75 3.36
5 Rupert & Rothschild Baron Edmond 2002 (South Africa)  5950r $234 3.47
6 Jeanneret Clare Valley Shiraz (Australia) JO  - 4.13
7 Hermanos Sastre Pago de Santa Cruz 1999 (Spain) JO  - 3.57

JO – John Ortega cellar

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