The vast majority of the gigantic land mass of Russia is unsuitable for viticulture, with its two key regions located in the far south of the country: Dagestan, which borders Georgia, Azerbaijan and the Caspian Sea, and Krasnodar, situated further west alongside the Black Sea, and where vines have been growing for more than 1,500 years.
Before the break-up of the Soviet Union, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine all contributed to make Russia the fourth-largest wine producer in the world during the mid-late 20th century, but winemaking declined sharply in the 1980s. This was in part thanks to President Gorbachev’s drastic policies to cut alcoholism, which saw the destruction of prized vineyards and winery equipment.
However, the past 20 years has seen an increase in vineyard area, and an eager domestic market keen to see what the new-look Russia has to offer. Some Soviet-era wineries are still in production, joined by a handful of forward-thinking modern estates growing international varieties as well as indigenous grapes such as Saperavi, Rkatsiteli and Krasnostop.
A good example of the former is Abrau-Durso, founded 150 years ago and Russia’s leading sparkling wine producer. The winery bagged two Silver Medals in this year’s IWSC, including one for its Imperial Brut 2016, a 50/50 blend of Chardonnay and Riesling that wowed judges with its intensity of flavour and vibrant palate.
Russia’s red wines performed admirably, too, with a brace of Cabernet Sauvignons winning Silvers, as well as two made from local varieties, the rich and spicy Saperavi and mineral-led Tsimlyansky Cherny.
You’ll find great fortified wines in Russia, too, including the IWSC Gold winner Château Tamagne Collection Madeira de Kuban Reserve 1991, made with 100% Rkatsiteli, which scored 95/100pts and impressed with its aromas of walnut and orange marmalade and a hint of balsamic vinegar.
The Russian wines entered into this year’s IWSC were all split up according to type and colour, and were also judged blind by an expert panel of judges. In charge was Sarah Abbott MW, ably assisted by fellow Master of Wine Simon Field, Master Sommelier Isa Bal, Wine Society buyer Freddy Bulmer and sommelier Igor Sotric.
Russian wineries have been through more than their fair share of upheaval over the past few decades – very little of their own making, too – so now is the perfect time to see the quality on offer. We’re proud to present the top Russian wines to try.
Eight top Russian wines from the IWSC 2021
- Kuban-Vino, Château Tamagne Collection Madeira de Kuban Reserve 1991. Tamanian; 95/100
- Divnomore, Cabernet Sauvignon 2017. Glenedshik; 92/100
- Russian Wine House Abrau-Durso, Imperial Brut 2016. Krasnodar; 91/100
- Kuban-Vino, Aristov Cuvée Alexander Blanc de Blanc Extra Brut 2019. Tamanian; 90/100
- Kuban-Vino, Château Tamagne Saperavi Reserve 2017. Tamanian; 90/100
- Sauk-Dere, Magnatum Rosé Extra Brut 2018. Krasnodar; 90/100
- Vedernikov Winery, Tsimlyansky Black Brut 2017. Vedernikov; 90/100
How do we judge these wines?
We run a tightly structured, rigorous wine tasting process. That means that each wine sample is pre-poured into numbered glasses and assessed blindly by the judges. Most importantly, our IWSC wine judges are experts in their field, who work across all sectors of the wine industry. For evidence, see our full list of judges.
How do we score these wines?
Only the best wines sampled receive a Gold or Silver award. For example, to win Gold, wines have to score between 95 and 100 points. Meanwhile, Silver wines range from 90 to 94 points. Click here to read more on our scoring system.
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