The idea of drinking Russian wine would repulse most people who pay more than £4 for a bottle. Now that Berry Bros. & Rudd stock Chinese wine though, it is worth taking a look at other less fashionable regions.
Believe it or not, Russia actually has a long history of wine-making, between the Black Sea coast and the caucuses lies rich farmland that has been producing wine since ancient times. This area was a popular trade destination of the wine loving Greeks, if they enjoyed it, then it had to be good stuff.
While production was relatively small scale, quality was still high, a model which was still going strong when the days of imperial Russia arrived. In the 18th century, Russia was still essentially medieval and Tsars such as Peter The Great sought to update by emulating the modern, neoclassical France.
The Black Sea became Russia’s Bordeaux, and the small output was ample enough to cater for Russia’s aristocracy. This all changed with the arrival of communism in the 19th century though. Wine was a symbol of the aristocracy, but rather than smear it, Stalin, who himself grew up by the black sea, wanted it to be available to every citizen.
To allow for this, production had to multiply. Development of the vines helped to increase yield and, following the growth of a frost resistant grape, vineyards emerged all over the Soviet Union. This new breed of grapes, however, were highly acidic and had little taste. To produce a wine that was even the slightest bit palatable, additives such as sugar, ethanol and artificial flavourings were needed.
Wine made in this way was poor quality, and a lot sweeter than what we are used to. The majority of Russian wine on the market today is still like this, still popular among the Russian public who have been acclimatised to it, developing a dislike for dry wines.
Despite this, a new emphasis has been placed on quality. Higher end producers such as Chateau le Grand Vostok are using modern methods, looking to produce wine that can compete with its western neighbours.
This is not as ludicrous as it sounds, in the 1960s Californian wine was notorious for being overly sweet and poor quality. With a bit of investment however, the region was soon producing quality wine, and within one generation, they found themselves sat at the same table as the old world giants.
Times are changing, the people who grew up behind the iron curtain drinking glorified grog with a strong sense of working class pride are moving on, to be replaced by a youth who demand quality. A modern attitude towards wine-making, combined with open mindedness on our part, will soon see a Russian bottle sat on our table.
*Joe is a blogger who writes about food and drink for Juicy Grape Wines.