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The Wines of Crimea, Unraveling Their Secrets

Crimea is often mentioned in the news, but not for the right reasons. Because the Eastern European peninsula is surrounded by the Black Sea and has strategic and commercial significance, it is frequently a flashpoint for global conflict. Today, though, we’re talking about the wines of Crimea. The region might be at the heart of a political and military battle, but it has a rich vinous culture, so let’s focus on that.
We can’t blame you if you’ve never heard of Crimean wine since it’s rarely seen outside the country — all of it is consumed in the region or shipped to Russia. However, the region is among the oldest wine-producing areas in the world! Here’s what you need to know.

 

Crimea, A Quick Recap

1954, USSR Decree Transferring Crimea

The region was once an Ancient Greek colony, part of the Byzantine Empire, and briefly a Mongolian territory. Eventually, Crimea became part of the Russian Empire, which evolved into the Soviet Union after the country’s civil war of the early 20th century. In 1954, the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR led by Nikita Khrushchev transferred Crimea to the Ukrainian Socialist Sovietic Republic. After the fall of communist Russia, Crimea became its own country before becoming part of Ukraine with a special status for Sebastopol.

The region’s wine history is not nearly as complicated. Crimea is a stone’s throw away from wine’s ancestral home, the Caucasus, between Eastern Europe and Western Asia, so wine has been part of Crimea since the beginning of time.

The Grapes

Experts credit the Ancient Greeks for bringing most of the grapes found in Crimea today, including Limnio, Athiri, and Muscat. Grapes with immense prestige in the Caucasus feel right at home in Crimea as well, such as Saperavi and Rkatsiteli. Still, the country now has significant vineyards dedicated to international varietals, especially Cabernet Sauvignon.

1985, USSR Postage Stamp: “Sobriety is the norm of life”

Despite being a historical wine region, wine efforts in Crimea are relatively young. When the area was part of the Ottoman Empire, Muslim law prohibited the production of wine. The same thing happened with Mikhail Gorbachev’s 1985 Anti-Alcoholism Laws. The Russian annexation of the peninsula as well as the current so-called “military special operation’ have also made it difficult for Crimea’s wine industry to export. Is the wine any good?

Crimean Wine

“Crimean wineries make faux Madeira and Sherry, as well”

Crimean wine is the best of two worlds. Expect old-school sweet and semi-sweet wines made with Muscat, rustic reds made with Saperavi, and modern-cut oak-aged Cabernet, Merlot and Chardonnay.

Fortified wines, sometimes unlawfully labeled as Crimean Port, are relatively common, and the wines are reasonably pleasing. Crimean wineries make faux Madeira and Sherry, as well.

From afar, not everything in Crimea is as good as it seems. In terms of volume and quality, two of the most significant wine estates in the peninsula, Massandra and Novyi Svit, were both recently “nationalized” by Russia. According to an Interfax article: “After occupation of the peninsula by Russia, Massandra’s property was ‘nationalized’, actually expropriated, transferred to federal ownership – to the Presidential Administration of the Russian Federation, then returned to ‘the ownership of the Republic of Crimea’, respectively, there was no military need for such appropriation and transfer of property. The auction of Massandra’s assets and its purchase by a Russian company confirm the fact that the occupation administration, in addition to illegally taking possession of this property, also illegally disposes of it”. Massandra Winery alone was estimated to be worth well over 20 million euros in 2014, probably excluding its unique enoteca of one million bottles.

o The Massandra Collection

This enoteca is in fact the result of the Massandra Collection, a collection of incredible wines from around the world. It was started by the Prince Golitzin, the first winemaker who helped founding the winery in the late 19th century (he received the permission to engrave his coat of arms on Massandra’s wine bottles). Almost 10,000 bottles were added each from the start with bottles already decades old at that time. Just to give you an idea of the importance of that collection, the decision was made to evacuate it (mainly in Georgia) ahead of the German occupation during the second World War. Of course, everything was back on time for the Yalta conference, so that Roosevelt, Churchill and Staline were served with the best bottles from that collection.

Massandra Collection, Jerez de la Frontera 1775

Today, Massandra’s enoteca is still famous for some of the best and oldest wine bottles from around the world (like a 240-year-old Jerez, for instance). It is regarded by experts as a treasure of tremendous historical value that need to be kept intact.

o Massandra wines

Massandra Winery, Crimea

Located on the outskirts of Yalta, Massandra produces many sorts of wines. However, its two most famous types of wines are the Fortified wines and the Sweet Dessert Wines. These wines, especially the Sweet Dessert Wines, were highly regarded during the Soviet era and were served during diplomatic and important political meetings. Today, the Massandra winery oversees the production of many smaller satellite wineries. Its main building is mainly used for aging and bottling. The vineyards located on hills and mountains facing the Black Sea offer the best grapes to produce Sweet Dessert Wines (White Muscat of the Red Stone, Black Muscat Massandra, and White Muscat Lividia, just to name a few).

o Novyi Svet wines

Novyi Svit Winery, Crimea

The other very famous Crimean winery is Novyi Svet. Founded in 1878 by Prince Golitsyn, it produces a large variety of wines. However, it became rapidly famous for its sparkling wines. During the Russian empire, they quickly became “the” sought-after wines of the Russian aristocracy, to the point that they were served at the coronation of the last Tsar, Nicolas II, in 1896. Despite the Soviets’ efforts to eradicate all traces of Tsarist Russia, they were held in high regard by the Soviet intelligentsia. It probably saved them, but, unfortunately, made them inaccessible to many of the ‘regular’ citizens of the USSR. Facing the contradiction of communism, where the upper class had access to some luxury products while workers and peasants did not, Stalin asked Anton Frolov-Bagreev to create a process to make sparkling wines available to the masses. M. Frolov-Bagreev, a winemaker trained by Prince Lev Golitsyn, created a large-scale artificial sparkling wine through industrial use of large tanks, added coloring agents, and artificial flavors.

USSR Communication Campaign
to promote Soviet Shampanskoye

On July 2, 2021, Vladimir Putin amended the 345-FZ federal law, banning the use of the “Champagne” name on the label of sparkling wines made in the French region called: Champagne. Only Russian-produced wines can now be called Champagne (« shampanskoye »). Any bottle produced outside Russia (and Crimea) with a «shampanskoye» label will be considered a counterfeit product. As a result, you will probably find some Novyi Svet wines labeled as “Champagne”. Please note that Novyi Svet is now owned by Iouri Kovaltchouk, a powerful oligarch (sometimes nicknamed “Putin’s banker”) and close friend of Vladimir Putin.

The Bottom Line

Massandra and Novyi Svit now supply most of the wine consumed in Russia. Sadly, in history, no state-owned winery, from anywhere, has ever been recognized for its quality, which makes Crimean wine’s future uncertain.
Crimea has the ideal climate for growing premium wine grapes and the expertise to make world-class wine. What the winemakers in the area now need is good-old freedom to craft the wines they want to make with modern standards and quality-over-quantity practices. The world of wine is more competitive than ever, and Crimea can become a significant player in the future if only they could export their production worldwide. But the dust needs to settle first and the current situation has to stabilize.

 

Oray


Wine is a gourmet treasure, do not abuse alcohol!

None of this content has been sponsored

I did not receive any gifts or free samples that could be related to this article

Top-quality and outstanding boutique wines in Cyprus

Cyprus has a very ancient history concerning winemaking, as it started to produce the infamous Commandaria 5000 years ago. Apart from the fact that Commandaria is now a recognized Protected Denomination of Origin (P.D.O) in Europe, Cyprus is also famous in the wine world for having totally escaped the Phylloxera pandemic, resulting in very old and ungrafted vines throughout the island.

However, nowadays we still do not easily make the connection between Cyprus and the world of wine. Can we find quality and interesting wines from Cyprus? Which wine should we buy when visiting the island? Which wine should we bring back as a gift or souvenir from our trip there? Where to find the best wineries? Which grape varieties should we favor?

According to the wine laws in Cyprus, there are five main regions: Laona Akamas, Vouni Panayia Ampelitis, Krasohoria- Limassol, Pitsilia, and Commandaria. And seven wine routes where we can find all the precious wineries. These routes correspond to the five main regions, plus Diarizos Valley and Lefkosia (since 2014).

This article will dig into these five regions as it is easier to identify the best wineries within each and will try to provide more details about their respective quality wines, growing trends, and distinguished brands.

Laona- Akamas -West of Paphos

Cyprus map

The microclimate of the region is affected by the sea breeze and the neighbouring ‘Stavros tis Psokas’ forest, the ‘Everton dam’ (sometimes called Evertou) and the ‘Stavros tis Psokas’ River. The local climate shows mild winters and mild summers.

“the most popular winery among Cypriots”

The best winery is probably Vasilikon winery, as it is the most popular winery among Cypriots. Its most iconic wines are the premium dry red ‘Methy’ (made from the Cabernet Sauvignon grape and aged in French oak barrels) and the refreshing dry rosé ‘Einalia’ (made from the Syrah and Maratheftiko grapes) that show a vivid pomegranade colour and outstanding aromas of sweet cherries.

In this area we can also find some interesting wineries, such as the ‘Fikardos’ winery, with its rare indigenous grape varieties. I really advise you to try its wines made from either the Xinisteri white grape or the Spourtiko white grape.

“the two most widely planted grape varieties on the island: the Xinisteri (a white grape) and the Mavro (a red grape)”

The ‘Kamantarena Winery’ is one of Cyprus’s largest producers, producing over 3.000.000 bottles per year. Its traditional premium-aged spirit, ‘Zivania’ (also spelled ‘Zibania’), is worth a try. The ‘Zivania’ is a very popular spirit locally that is made from the two most widely planted grape varieties on the island: the Xinisteri (a white grape) and the Mavro (a red grape). This winery also produces a dry wine collection called ‘Project X’. Its red ‘Project X’ from the Maratheftiko grape shows some promises. Its white ‘Project X’ made from the Xinisteri is also interesting. The only slight problem is that you will only be able to find these ‘Project X’ dry wines directly at the winery.

 

Vouni Panayia- Ampelitis – Northeast of Paphos City

Depending on whether you are in the upper or lower part of the Vouni Panayia-Ampelitis region, this unique small area has two distinct microclimates. The upper region is high in altitude, with cold winters and mild summers. The lower part of the region is low to middle altitude (up to 500 meters) and has cool summer nights and mist in the early autumn. Throughout the region, you can find various soils which can give extraordinary minerality and a long aftertaste to some of the wines made.

The ’Vouni Panayia’ winery is located on the highest point of the region, with outstanding old vines of traditional grape varieties. I would really advise you to try its dry white called ‘Promara’ (made from the indigenous ‘Promara’ grape). It shows white lilac and white guava aromas together with a long aftertaste of lemon.

“the first organic winery in Cyprus”

The ’Tsangarides winery’ is the first organic winery in Cyprus and is locally renowned for its wines made from the white Xinisteri grape (Medium Dry or Dry) and its unique ‘Vasilissa’ (an autochthonous forgotten grape). The ‘Vasilissa’ is a balanced wine with an elegant medium body and jasmine/elderflower aromas and a long aftertaste of dragon fruit.

The ‘Makarounas boutique winery’ is a small hidden jewel that has been recently distinguished by several wine awards. Its best bottle is probably its dry red made from the ‘Spourtiko’ grape that has won the 2022 gold medal from the Decanter World Wine Awards with a score of 95. It is made of 100% Spourtiko. It comes from a single vineyard and ungrafted vines.

 

Krasohoria Limassol- South slopes of Troodos Mountain

The local climate is quite continental with cold winters, while in summer, mean temperatures reach are around 25°C. If you are not a fan of new and innovative types of wine, this region is for you with its traditional full-bodied red wines and balanced white wines.

The ‘Zambartas wineries’ is a family-owned winery that produces great dry reds that are among my favourites. I really recommend you try its ‘Zambartas Shiraz -Lefkada’. It is a porwerful and full-bodied (dry) red wine made of 65% Syrah grape (called Shiraz as one member of the Zambartas family has studied wine in Adelaïde – Australia) and 35% Lefkada (a red grape potentially originating from Central Greece and widely grown on the eponymous Ionian island ; it is sometimes called Verzami in Cyprus). This wine has been aged for 12 months in French and American oak. The Shiraz contributes to the spicy and peperry aromas while the Lefkada contributes to the structure of the wine and gives it some intense mulberry fruit notes.

The ‘Vlassides winery’ is a new generation winery with its own outstanding red blends and a silky/creamy Sauvignon Blanc with aromas of passion fruit.

Ayia
Mavri
Mosxatos

The ‘Ayia Mavri Winery’ is well known locally for its sweet wines that almost always come with the perfect acidity level. That is the reason why they are often paired with dessert by Cypriots. You can try its bottle called ‘Medium White’ made from the Xinisteri local white grape together with the Muscat grape. My favourite is probably its ‘MOSXATOS’ bottle, a sweet white wine made from the Muscat of Alexandria grape that exhibits tropical fruit aromas.

 

Pitsilia region -Easter slop of Troodos Mountain

The climate here is made up of cold, frosty winters (the lowest temperatures in all Cyprus), snow from December to February and cool summers.

Kyperounda Petritis

My first choice in this area would be the ‘Kyperounda winery’ with its traditional and aged wines. For me, there are two wines that stand out. First, the ‘Petritis’, a dry white wine made from the Xinisteri (sometimes written Xynisteri). This wine is a combination of the local Xinisteri grape and the mountainous aspects of the vineyards that allow the grape to keep a good level of acidity and freshness despite maturing in oak barrels. Second, its dry red wine called ‘Psila Klimata’ made from Cabernet Sauvignon grapes that have matured for 12 months under French oak. It is a full-bodied and tannic wine that should probably be aged a little before drinking but has good potential for aging. These two wines are easily found in supermarkets locally and are among the most awarded wines of the island.

The ’Tsiakkas winery’ is a boutique winery with an outstanding terroir made of terraced steep mountain slopes (up to 1500 meters high) where ungrafted (phylloxera-free) vines flourish and give top quality organically grown grapes. Its Sauvignon Blanc wines are great. If by any chance you have the opportunity to buy or taste a vintage around 2014, it would be a top choice to be consumed in 2022 (8 years old).

 

Commandaria region – the historic growing area

It is located on the south-eastern slope of Troodos Mountain. The climate here is temperate, with cold and frosty winters that contrast with dry and warm summers.

“It can only be made with a combination of the Xinisteri (a white grape) and the Mavro (a red grape)”

Commandaria is the most famous sweet red wine in Cyprus. It can be fortified or unfortified. It can only be made with a combination of the Xinisteri (a white grape) and the Mavro (a red grape). Both grapes are indigenous to Cyprus and widely planted on the island. Only 14 villages can produce Commandaria.

Kyperounda Unfortified Commandaria

I highly recommend you try the ‘Kyperounda winery’ unfortified Commandaria with its elegant, sweet cherries, blueberries, blackberries and vanilla aromas. This type of unfortified Commandaria sweet wines naturally finishes their fermentation at 13%- 14% alc. vol. while fortified Commandaria wines fermentation is stopped by adding alcohol at an earlier stage, resulting in less complex aromas.

Halloumi Cheese

The best winery for fortified Commandaria is probably the ‘St John of Keo winery’ recognized locally for its unique quality. Locals really like to pair it with Halloumi (the most famous local cheese) and fig jams produced in the surrounding areas.

 

Oray Wine


Wine is a gourmet treasure, do not abuse alcohol!

None of this content has been sponsored

I did not receive any gifts or free samples that could be related to this article

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