The 23th Exhibition of wines, alcoholic beverages and materials for viticulture
5 - 7 November 2020 • Russia, Krasnodar, Expograd Yug

Master of Wine John Salvi speaks about the Wine Tasting Competition "Southern Russia-2013"

Below is the full text of the article of the English Master of Wine John Salvi about his visit to Russia in April 2013:
I was invited, for the third time, to judge the International Wine Tasting Competition in Russia, in the Caucasus, in Krasnodar, which is the capital city of the largest wine producing region of Russia, close to, and in some cases on, the Black Sea.

One is always surprised, given that Russia is a vast country with every imaginable climate and soil, and the Russians are extremely fond of wine, that it does not produce much more wine and does not have many more vineyards than it actually has. When one is there and learns more the reason becomes perfectly clear. In 1985, Mikhail Gorbachev instigated a campaign to curb the rampant alcoholism and ordered the vineyards to be uprooted. To a large extent this was done. However, the idea that wine was in any way responsible for the alcoholism was a total fallacy. It was vodka, especially further north in the country and very much less in the wine producing regions. None the less the damage was done!

Today there is a quiet revolution underway in the planting of new vineyards and the making of fine wine. Quite recently a few extremely rich persons with a true passion for wine have been planting brand new vineyards, mainly but not exclusively with international grape varieties, building state of the art wineries and employing famous oenologists and wine-makers from Europe such as Patrick Léon, who used to be the winemaker at Mouton Rothschild and Alain Dugas of Château la Nerthe in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Following this, and even more recently, a number of smaller vineyards have been planted, by equally passionate people calling themselves “Garagistes” and seeking to make the finest wine possible. At the Vinorus Vinotech Exhibition (see below) we visited a stand where II of these “garagistes” had formed themselves into a group and showed us some very excellent wines.

To make fine wine in Russia today, it is essential to plant entirely new vineyards from scratch as the old ones, during the previous regime where only quantity and not quality was important, were asked to produce totally unreasonable quantities of grapes amounting to many kilos per vine and became totally exhausted. As we have just seen this is happily being done and world class wines are finally being produced.

This quiet revolution is also the main reason for both the “Southern Russia” Wine Competition and for the 3-day Vinorus Vinotech Exhibition, both in Krasnodar. Held in the Kuban EXPOCENTRE the Exhibition will host the “16th Specialised International Exhibition of Wine-growing and Wine-making, Beverages, Raw Materials, Oenological Equipment and Technology” with 156 companies from 13 countries. Both the wine producing region and the “Russian Union of Viticulturists and Winemakers” of which M. Leonid Popovich is the President, wish to show, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that genuine Russian wines today are of World Class quality.

I stress “genuine Russian wines” because vast quantities of the cheaper wines sold and drunk are produced from imported wines or grapes transformed in Russia, especially from the Latin American countries. Russians are very fond of Champagne (the name is not protected in Russia) and millions of bottles of “Shampanskoye” are made from wine imported in bulk and processed in Russia. During this trip we spent a magnificent day visiting the state-of-the-art winery and vineyards of Abrau-Durso where many of their 20-million bottles per year sales are produced from the local vineyards, either by the “Charmat” or the “Classique” method – GENUINE RUSSIAN. This winery, who gave us the most magnificent reception, is just one more of the many founded by the famous Prince Golitsin, friend of the Tsar, whose stupid descendants, living today in London, are making a futile attempt to claim back what they seem to think is their heritage! Abrau-Durso is a model winery and a prime example of what can be done to prove the quality of the local wines.

The “Southern Russia” International Tasting Competition, which is the prime core and the reason for this article, was superbly organised and run. We were a total of 14 judges, 4 of us international. There were 161 wines to taste. The tasting took place in the beautiful Galich Hall. We were each seated at separate tables with fine white tablecloths, napkins, spittoons, bread and biscuits, mineral water and fine glasses that were taken away and replaced after each wine. Lighting was luminous and excellent, the room was cool and airy and service was friendly, swift and efficient. I can find no criticism to make. We were divided into 2 juries of 7 each and therefore tasted approximately 80 wines per jury. The other 3 international judges were on the other jury, where they tasted red wines and Sparkling Wines. My jury tasted dry, medium and sweet white wines, fortified and special wines, liqueur wines and cognacs (again the name is not protected in Russia). As for autochthonous varieties I tasted Gravatoni, Sibirkoviy, Rkatsiteli (originally Georgian), Viorica and Velvet Muscat.

Russia is slowly introducing some rules and regulations governing production. There is no space to go into these in this article, but fortified wines produced with Russian grape spirit and those produced with non-grape spirit are now divided into separate categories. We tasted around half the wines in the morning, paused for a sociable lunch and completed the tasting in the afternoon. I would like to make one point about which I feel strongly. There are some truly wonderful fortified wines of the Madeira, Marsala, Malaga style made in various parts of the country. These age with grace and beauty for many years. They are rich, luscious and superb. I feel that they are grossly under-rated and unappreciated and a great deal more attention should be paid to them. Please continue to produce these, do not under-estimate them and let us see more of them in the competition please.

80 points were needed for a bronze medal, 83 for a silver, 86 for a gold and 92 for a Grand Prix. All our marks were totalled and divided by the number of persons on our jury. The OIV/UIO tasting sheet was used although the OIV were not in any way involved. The medal winners were announced at a splendiferous Gala Dinner back at the Galich Hall. 37 medals were awarded with 3 Grand Prix and 21 Gold. The Grands Prix medals went to Lefkadia Winery, Abrau-Durso and Millerovsky Vinzavod. The tables groaned with fine food, hospitality was generous in the extreme, wine flowed like water and after a staid and ritual start we ended up dancing like dervishes to the wildest of music. The floor show was a winner, particularly a group of contortionists who did things with their bodies that defied belief. They would make an absolute fortune on the International Stage.

The day after the tasting, and the day before the vineyard visit, there was a round table after a tour of the exhibition and a tasting of 10 international sparkling wines. Here we were asked to speak about the tasting of the day before and about indigenous and autochthonous grape varieties. The title was “Russian Wines made of Russian Autochthonous Grape Varieties”. We all, without exception, encouraged Russian producers to plant and develop autochthonous grape varieties as much as possible. I supported that and said that these varieties needed a lot of research to improve the rootstock and discover what soil they liked best. Also to determine the best way of pruning them and the ideal yield per vine (not too large) in order for them to produce the finest possible quality. Once this has been achieved they will have world-class wines that have no competition anywhere else in the world from other producing countries, unlike other multi-planted varieties such as Chardonnay and Cabernet-Sauvignon with which the global market is saturated. They may sell in lesser quantities but the world market is large enough to absorb all they can produce for many years to come.

The Vinorus Vinotech Exhibition, the Russian Union of Viticulturists and Winemakers under M Popovich’s Presidency, Krrasnodar Expo LLC and Abrau-Durso who entertained us so lavishly as well as everybody who looked after us are to be deeply thanked and greatly congratulated on their warm and generous hospitality, their excellent organisation and perhaps, most of all, for the way in which they cooperate and work together for the improvement in quality, furtherance of the quality image and efficient marketing of home-grown, home produced, 100% genuine Russian wines of world-class quality.