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-2012"

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Below is the full text of the article of the English Master of Wine John Salvi about his visit to Russia in April 2012:
There is a certain excitement about going to Russia at any time. What used to be forbidden territory is now a welcoming and fascinating destination. Although this was my 4th time in 2 years and I was getting used to it, it remained an adventure and an exhilarating one. It was a very long journey. From Bordeaux to Amsterdam to Moscow and on to Krasnodar in the Crimea with very long waits at each airport on the way. Fortunately the Russians kindly allowed me into the First Class Lounge in Moscow although I did not have a first class ticket! I arrived at my brand-new, modern, luxury hotel, Hotel Rimar, at 02.00AM having left Bordeaux at 04.00 the previous morning. I saw that my room was vast and perfectly appointed but all I did was to crawl into bed and close my eyes.

The following day was given over to visiting the wine growing area and its vineyards and cellars. The first one was still under construction – Villa Romanov. It will be perfectly enormous. An entire complex of reception rooms, restaurant, shop, conference hall and terrace in addition to immense fermentation facilities allied to bulk and bottle cellars and a future wine library. It is owned by André Romanov who made his fortune in the construction business. After a detailed tour of the construction site we lunched on the roof with magnificent views over the Azovskoe Sea and since the winery was not yet in production we drank wines from another of his ventures nearby. In the afternoon we drove to another winery at Krasnodarsky Kray, part of the Northern Caucasus, (or Severny Kavkaz), which was just as grand if not grander. A multi-million euro venture and this time in full production – Lefkadiya. The owner here is Mikhail Nokolayev, Moscow-based businessman. Nikolay Pinchuk, who is general manager, is also famous as a founder of Chateau Le Grand Vostock, the first new style wine producer in the region. Lekadiya has been producing for a few years and after a grand tour we were able to sample all the wines during a copious and delicious dinner at his separate reception facilities. My cup was full to overflowing and I was truly delighted when I discovered that a very old friend was the consultant winemaker. This was none other than Patrick Léon, former winemaker for Château Mouton Rothschild. Patrick Léon had serious cancer, but looked full of energy when I talked to him during the dinner. M. Roumier, another well-known French oenologist consults for the Spirits. The wines were truly fine and we drove back to the hotel very late but with the comforting knowledge that Russia today is making some truly fine wines. They are now reaching world class standards and the future is very bright indeed. We got back at 23.00 but when I discovered that the hotel restaurant closed at midnight I nipped upstairs for some red caviar before bed!

The following day was what we had come for – the Wine Tasting Competition, “South Russia”. This took place upstairs in the gargantuan Galich Hall. We were only 12 judges who, apart from the Russian specialists (viticultural engineers, wine media, oenologists, consultants, officers of specialised wine bodies and the Russian State Wine Institute), included myself, a fellow Master of Wine Nicholas Belfridge, an Australian and a Frenchman who consults locally and gave ridiculous marks.

Tasting conditions were excellent. We each sat at a separate table. Good lighting and fine white tablecloths with a vine-leaf motif. Bread, biscuits, mineral water, spittoons and excellent tasting glasses. Service was very swift, friendly and efficient and at my table not a single drop was spilled. 80 points were required for a bronze medal, 84 for silver and 88 for gold.

We had over 170 samples to taste from over 30 wineries and worked silently and rapidly. During the morning all 12 of us tasted the Red, White and Rosé wines, marked our OIV/UIO tasting sheets and gave in our scores. A pleasant and relaxed lunch was served downstairs at a long table and we then went upstairs again for the second session. Now we could choose whether we preferred to taste Sparking Wines and Brandy or Semi-Sweet, Sweet and Fortified wines. Six of us for each and I chose the latter. Russia makes wonderful fortified wines (Port, Sherry and Madeira style) and I love them.

The entire tasting ran smoothly and like clockwork. M. Popovich, President of the “Union of grape producers and wine makers of Russia”, presided and solved any problem with an amiable “No Problem!” One problem, certainly NOT the fault of the organisers, was the Frenchman who gave 100 points to a perfectly unexceptional Rosé. After due discussion his mark had to be discarded.

That evening, with the satisfied feeling of a job well done and 103 wines tasted personally, we dined at a restaurant where we were free to choose what we wished to eat. Nobody who knows me will be surprised to learn that I chose red caviar (salmon eggs) and huge grilled gambas. Before going any further it is important to state that this is a thoroughly professional tasting, useful, informative and valuable and an excellent barometer of the improvement taking place at a rapid pace in the Russian vineyards.

The next day was spent at the 15th Krasnodar International Specialised Exhibition “Vinorus Vinotech” visiting “Wines and Beverages 2012” at Krasnodar Exhibition Hall. This large and specialised show comprises winegrowing, winemaking, beverages, technologies, raw materials and oenological equipment. We tasted many wines. After a lunch at the exhibition in a private dining room we all assembled for a major conference on “Terroirs and Controlled Appellation System in Russia”. There were some excellent presentations, particularly that of Patrick Léon and Dr. Alexander Panasyuk (deputy director of the State Wine Institute), and I said that some rules and regulations were essential BUT not so many, so restrictive and so complex as to make them hard to apply, to regulate and to control, and certainly not as severe as in France, which would make it almost impossible to be competitive on the world market. This was a constructive round table but it will take a great deal of time and effort to put any viable control system in place and to have the necessary means and authority to make it function.

That evening, our last, was the Gala dinner back at the Galich Hall. A tremendous and colourful floor show of dancing and singing accompanied a lavish dinner of many courses. They persuaded me to dance on the stage and a great deal of celebratory drinking, toasting and embracing took place. I just got back to the hotel in time for some red caviar before the restaurant closed! During the celebrations the most important event of the day took place. This was the presentation of the medals and awards won by the various wines at yesterday’s tasting. It was carried out with great pomp and ceremony to martial music and was warmly and vociferously received by all those present. We, the judges, were presented with our diplomas.

We had to get up at 04.00 the next morning to catch an early plane to Moscow. Once there we ploughed into the middle of the city, the taxi taking almost 3 hours from the airport to the fine wine shop of Igor Serdyuk, “Vinoteka-ru”. Here the Australian judge and I gave a commented tasting of some of the award winning wines from the competition which we had brought with us.

This is not strictly part of the programme but is too good not to relate. Igor had arranged a private visit to the recently reopened Bolshoi after 6 years of stupendous refurbishment. We were taken into every nook and cranny, on and behind the stage and even into the President’s Box. This was sheer bliss. Not content with this Igor had obtained tickets to a classical concert. We took the famous METRO, ate red caviar at the concert hall café and enjoyed the music. The evening ended less joyously as the police had closed the centre of Moscow and there were no taxis. After over 2 hours a kind and helpful policeman commandeered the unwilling driver of a private car to take me back to my hotel. I left early next morning and the taxi took exactly 40 minutes.

This is wonderful competition and what is so exciting is to see the rapid improvement in the general standard of Russian wines. There are World Class wines being made and they are a pleasure to taste. Thank you to all the organisers, congratulations on a well-run competition and on generous and enjoyable hospitality and please invite me again next year if you can!