Ukrainian Wine

Friday, May 27, 2022

Like most people before the illegal and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine by Putin on February 24 this year, I knew that Ukraine made wine, especially in the Crimean Peninsula that Russia annexed back in 2014 – but that is all.

Well, since then I have learned that Ukraine is the second largest country in Europe, is/was one of the world’s top exporters of wheat and barley and has around 40,000 hectares of vines, plus there is another 30,000 in annexed Crimea. Not new to making wine, there have been wine presses dating back to around 400 BC found in Crimea. For most of history, Ukrainian wine making like that of Georgia was mainly for personal consumption rather than on a commercial scale. The wines were well regarded up until the 20th Century.

However, with the advent of the Soviet Union early in the 20th Century, winemaking escalated to industrial proportions. Over this dark period vineyards grew to approximately 250,000 hectares (Australia had 146,000 hectares in 2020-2021) producing the “industrial” wine for which the USSR became known – cheap and barely drinkable. The vast majority of these industrial vineyards were grubbed out after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Since then and especially since the turn of this century the Ukrainian wine industry has begun growing again, not only in overall size but more importantly in wine quality, with a significant rise in boutique wineries which are resurrecting Eastern European varieties as well as producing quality wines from the mainstream varieties. The main European varieties grown are Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Albariño and Pinot Noir while the more “native” (Eastern European) varieties include the reds, Fetească Neagră, Saperavi and Plavac Mali and in the whites the tongue twisting, Cserszegi Fűszeres and Telti-Kuruk (Ukrainian native) – try saying any of those other than Saperavi quickly three times!!

Until 2014 Ukraine had only four major winegrowing regions, Bessarabia (bordering Moldova and the Black Sea), the Black Sea region, Transcarpathia (which borders Romania and Hungary) and the now Russian annexed, Crimean Peninsula.

Until fairly recent times the only “local” wines that Ukrainians trusted were those from the better known, internationally trading wineries in Crimea, so they mainly drank imported commercial wines. However, in the 21st Century, wine drinking has been growing quite considerably especially the wines of new local boutique wineries, as well as premium imported wines. In 2006, the first wine bar was opened in Kyiv and they have been spread across much of the country as wine drinking has once again become a part of the Ukrainian lifestyle.

Although I have not had the opportunity to try any Ukrainian wines thus far, from their comparisons to Georgian wines that I have seen in the European press, I would love to see some enterprising soul importing Ukrainian wine into Australia – that is, once David (Ukraine) has beaten Goliath (Russia). I will line up and pay to taste their wines.

In the meantime, there are plenty of calls across Europe for the wine trade there to support them as they struggle with rockets landing in their vineyards, warehouses being blown up and workers killed by the Russian war criminals. GO UKRAINE!!!

PS: I have just heard that the Ukrainian’s have cyber hacked the Russian Unified State Automated Alcohol Accounting Information System (EGAIS) through which all Russian alcohol shipments must be registered by law. As a result, all documents uploaded to the site by the Russian liquor trade on May 4 disappeared. He, he, he!!

Well that’s it for another week! Have a good one and please stay safe. Cheers, Dan T.

This Week's Wine Review:

This week I am talking about the new ST HUGO DR3 releases of the 2018 ST HUGO COONAWARRA CABERNET SAUVIGNON and the 2020 ST HUGO SOUTH AUSTRALIA SHIRAZ.

I must confess that I have always been a big fan of the St Hugo Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon, ever since I tasted the very first vintage, either 1982 or 1983. With the exception of a couple of the cold/wet years (1987 & 1989 from memory) I have loved every single vintage that I have tasted.

I was therefore chuffed when I received samples of the current Daniel Ricciardo, who created/inspired the second release of the DR3 blends.

Initially, I was sceptical that it was just another celebrity stunt, like so many before it, e.g. Greg Norman, AC/DC, etc. However, upon reading all the marketing blurb it became evident that Formula One driver, Daniel Ricciardo, had had input into the composition of the final wines. To quote him: “This second release has more of a personal touch as I've continued to learn more about wine and become more conscious of what I like. I love full flavour that feels like a mouth explosion, but I also didn’t want anything too sharp or intense and the resulting wines have just the right impact of how I want people to experience them.”

2018 DR3 ST HUGO COONAWARRA CABERNET SAUVIGNON (cork closure):  The Coonawarra vines sit astride the famous Terra Rosa soil giving the grapes greater depth and concentration than those grown elsewhere. This wine still has vibrant purple hues in the bright red colour. It has a rich, attractive bouquet of red berries, spices, dried herbs and a hint of vanillin oak. The silky palate has lashings of tasty red fruit flavours with fine grain tannins on the tight, lingering finish.

The wine is so smooth that it is raring to go now, but yet has the fruit depth and structure to make it a long-term cellaring proposition. A Classic St Hugo Cab!

2020 DR3 ST HUGO SOUTH AUSTRALIA SHIRAZ (cork closure):  Deep brick red in colour, with purple hues, fresh bouquet of brambly red fruit, florals, raspberries and a hint of forest floor characters. The palate has lashings of blackberries, raspberries and a splash of plums leading to a tight, ever so slightly acidic lingering finish that leaves the palate asking for more. A cracking rich food wine now, which will evolve over time to become a stunning, standalone wine, if you have the patience.

While both of these wines have the structure, power and capacity to be cellared for at least a decade, they have been “fine-tuned” so that they are eminently approachable right now – which is ideal for the “drink now” world we live in.

A couple of ubber classy wines from the clever collaboration between Formula One’s Daniel Ricciardo and this consistently excellent brand.

Winery website:  www.sthugo.com