October Wine & Food Diary
Wine and Food Diary of Giles MacDonogh on Connoisseur Magazine
In October the calendar filled up again. It was hard to resist the call to attend a tasting of Ukrainian wines. The London trade was generous, the venue came free and everybody helped as much as possible. Wines were shown from all over Ukraine, although the famous sparkling wine of Bakhmut was not represented. I can’t think there is much left of the vineyards or their famously deep cellars now. Let us hope they might one day be reborn.
Ukrainian wine is rather new to me. The country has a continental climate and the southern half experiences similar temperatures to Burgundy. Naturally it is warmer in the south near Odessa and the Crimea. There were no wines shown from the latter either for obvious reasons.
The grapes grown were Neuburger, Muscat-Ottonel, members of the wide-ranging Feteasca family, Irsai Oliver (another Muscat) and Aligoté. Those planted in the west of the country were reminiscent of many of those traditionally planted in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, there is obviously a reason for this: until 1917, the eastern half of the Ukraine was indeed ruled from Vienna. More recently these cultivars have been joined by what the Germans called the ‘Burgunders’: Pinots Noir, Blanc, Gris and Chardonnay. Rkatsitelli comes from Georgia. There are also interesting Ukrainian indigenous grapes such as Sukholimanskiy, Telti Kurum, Citronniy Magaracha and the promising Odessa Black. Inevitably, there are the ‘Mac varieties’ too, as a Hungarian I met once called them: Cabernet, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot.
Sparkling wines are clearly a sine qua non for Ukrainians. They were actually some of the best things in the tasting, but they often retained a ‘goût russe’ with levels of residual sugar of ten grams and much more. The majority of the wines in the tasting came from Odessa and Bessarabia, which I presume to be the sunniest regions, and some of the furthest away from the front.
Decent things from Odesa Prestige were among the better wines as well as a range of sparklers from Eduard Gorodetsky at the Tiras Winery also in the Odessa region. One of the estates I liked most was Vynkhol Oksamytne/Villa Tinta in Bessarabia: a nutty Irsai Oliver, a good Sukholimanskiy and a big strapping fruit bomb made from Odessa Black.
Shabo in Odessa is a big player with 1,200 hectares of vines. It makes a lot of brandy as well as wine (you get the impression that – like Georgia – real men spurn wine for brandy or gorilka – the local vodka). There is Grande Reserve, a good 100% Chardonnay Sparkler, and an appley still white made from pure Telti Kurum; also, an excellent, rich Rkatsitelli aged for two-and-a-half months in amphoras and a good Chardonnay ‘grande reserve’. The reds were less exciting, but I liked the Cabernet Sauvignon Grande Reserve and a delicious Muscat-Ottonel sweet wine.
Kolonist is also based in Odessa and has a very good Bordeaux-style wine called ‘Haut de Gamme’. Frumishka-Nova made a lovely, lemony (what’s in a name?) Citronniy Magaracha and an unfiltered Sukholmanske (sic) tasting of pears and pepper. Bolgrad in Bessarabia is another giant vineyard (1,500 hectares). Their best wines were Chardonnays.
Also good was Beykush from Mykolaiv: a pleasant Pinot Gris rosé, a Riesling made in an amphora with some typicity and a Rkatsitelli which had been subjected to the same treatment. Yafe Hanar was an impressive 50-50 Chardonnay/Riesling blend and there was a chunky Loca Deserta with no fewer than six black cultivars led by Merlot.
Biologist Craft Winery is a small business in Kiev. The best was a pure Sukholminskiy tasting of apricots and a huge Odessa Black: red fruits, bruising tannins and impressive length.
Château Chizay is in Zakarpattya in the far west. They have a nice sparkling wine labelled ‘Carpathian Sekt’ made from a Hungarian sounding Cserszegi Fuszeres and smelling of vanilla and lemon puffs. The same cultivar makes a good still wine called Chersegi. There was a pretty Gewurztraminer and a sweet Traminer that reminded me of coffee and hazelnuts. The best of the sweeties was a Late Harvest Furmint with a muscatel character which was simply delicious.
Before I left, I knocked back a heroic shot of Dima’s Vodka. I gather it sells well in the clubs now that Russian vodka is officially ostracised here.
Those Hungarian names at Château Chizay are a reminder of the Western Ukraine’s Austro-Hungarian heritage. The Neusiedler Lake (Neusiedlersee) was actually ruled from Budapest before 1921 when its largely German-speaking population voted to become Austrians. The Neusiedlersee DAC is on much the same latitude as Ukraine, and its wines get properly ripe in the hot Pannonian climate that blows in from the Puszta. Perhaps for that reason, it is not the place to grow Grüner Veltliner, although I liked the one from Allacher even if I preferred the Sauvignon Blanc and simple Zweigelt.
Artisan Wines had a nice 2019 St Laurent from the Ried Kaiserberg, but their most impressive wine was a Welschriesling Beerenauslese: pepper, apples, pears and a lemon curd finish. Podersdorf has at least two Lentsch wineries. Zur Dankbarkeit is the most famous inn in the area and also makes wine, the other one of note is the Seegut Lentsch, the producer of excellent Grauburgunder, Zweigelt, St Laurent and Blaufränkisch. Georg Preisinger in Gols makes an unusual nutty Muskateller called ‘Tapa’.
There is also more than one Nittnaus in Gols. The Gebrüder Nittnaus lead on their reds. Recommended are the Pinot Noir, the Zweigelt Ried Luckenwald and a wonderful Scheurebe Beerenauslese with that gorgeous grapefruit taste; also in Gols is Moser Weine. The Moser wine that appealed most was the 2020 Grande Reserve Terra made from Zweigelt with Blaufränkisch and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Forget the Iliad, Nestor is not an ancient warrior king from Pylos, but a wine brand based in Halbturn. Their cheval de guerre is an attractive Reserve Zweigelt but there is a good blend too (‘Nestor’ – who else?) made from Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Syrah.
From Apetlon on the Hungarian Border it was a surprise to see Münzenrieder represented by the son, Johannes, rather than the father Johann whose chiefly sweet wines I have been drinking for decades. At the tasting the accent was on dry wines, the best of which was the 2021 Burgenland Reserve from Ried Römerstein, a Pinot Noir. Again, in Apetlon is Preiner who makes good Zweigelt and an excellent reserve Cuvée Heideboden, a blend of Zweigelt, Merlot, Blaufränkisch and Cabernet Sauvignon. Salzl is not far away in Illmitz, a village chiefly famous for sweet wines and dentists’ surgeries; but Salzl was showing dry wines including fine Zweigelt and Cabernet Franc.
Finally, it was a great joy to see René Pöckl from Mönchhof again. He took over the estate when his father died, painfully young in 2001. René has maintained the quality of Josef’s wines and more so. There is a very good Zweigelt but the speciality here is really red blends, from Solo Rosso (Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Blaufränkisch) to Admiral (Zweigelt, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon) and Mystique (ingredients obviously unspecified). For me the greatest of these is the Admiral. Long may he sail!
There was a showing of Languedoc wines, mostly reds using some permutation of the modern classic Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre (or maybe Cinsault or Carignan, the latter works only if the vines are old), but there are good whites too, often made on a foundation of Grenache Blanc. La Grange Tradition Pabiro was actually made from Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, but it was nicely zesty. The success story of the region in whites is Picpoul de Pinet which is now on almost every restaurant list in London. Made from the eponymous grape variety down by the Thau saltwater lake famed for its oysters, it often smells of orange juice and is reasonably light in alcohol making it a good choice with fish or shellfish. Font Mars or Château Petiti Roubié are cases in point. Villemarin from Advini is actually more flinty than orangey.
Among the reds, the better wines were Sandokhan from Les Bugadelles (Syrah, Grenache), a slightly cheesy La Jasse (Syrah, Grenache, Cinsault) from La Jasse Castel, Château l’Hospitalet Grand Vin Rouge (GSM) from Gérard Bertrand, Les Magnarelles from the Domaine les Caizergues (Mourvèdre, Grenache, Cinsault, Syrah), a catty Marie Antoinette (Syrah, Grenache) from Aubert et Mathieu, game and violets figured large in Lux de Luc Rouge from Famille Fabre (Carignan, Mourvèdre) and green pepper in Malepère (using the Mac varieties to good effect: Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec) from Domaine Rose et Paul.