^ Qvevris outside a monastery in Kakheti, Georgia
More and more red wine drinkers on a quest to discover new grapes and flavours are looking to Central and Eastern Europe as these wine-producing regions offer native grape varieties and ancient production techniques.
Both Armenia and Georgia boast a long winemaking heritage. A winery in the Areni-1 cave complex was discovered by archaeologists in 2007 in the Vayots Dzor region of Armenia and goes back some 6,000 years. Georgians are immensely proud of their country’s winemaking legacy – their forefathers were cultivating and fermenting grapes in 6000 BC - and wine forms a huge part of the national identity.
As with Romania, the Communist era directly impacted wine production in Armenia and Georgia. Having to create industrial amounts of brandy using non-native grape varieties for the USSR almost crippled the Armenian wine industry for good. If it wasn’t for families in remote regions making under-the-radar wines using native grapes such as Areni and Karmrahyut during that time, Armenia’s current industry simply wouldn’t exist. IWSC judges loved these two grapes in Armenia Wine Factory’s Yerevan Red Dry 2019, providing ‘juicy red fruits on the palate’.
In Georgia, qvevri – the ancient clay fermentation jars added to the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists in 2013 – were replaced with Soviet steel tanks to ensure maximum and consistent output. Thankfully, Georgia’s winemakers are continuing to ferment and age wine underground in qveris today. For those wanting to try something new, why not opt for JSC Telavi Wine Cellar’s Satrapezo Saperavi 2017, made in a qvevri from the Saperavi grape. IWSC judges were wowed by its aromas of ‘juicy black fruit and elegant smokiness’.
With an incredibly long winemaking heritage, native grapes and ancient production methods, wines made in Eastern and Central Europe are going back to basics to produce stunning wines. Here are 15 top wines from the IWSC’s recent tasting.
Mozaic Saperavi 2018
Vinaria Din Vale
Complex nose of dark fruit and savoury character, including tobacco and green pepper. Soft fruit on the palate developing to blackcurrant crumble and dark cocoa. 14% ABV n/a in UK
Single Vineyard Hedgehog Xinomavro 2017
Distinctive nose of quince, red berries and dried leaves. Lifted acidity with notes of stewed rhubarb and liquorice on the palate. Well integrated tannins with a developing finish. 13.5% ABV RRP £17 from Maltby & Greek
Aurore Rara Neagra 2017
Red fruit and pepper on the nose, with a hint of oak. The palate offers a lot - the oak is present but well-managed and allows the red fruit to shine through. Some sweet spice on the finish, which is firm and structured but generous too. 13% ABV enquire at Fautor
Rich, dark fruits on the nose, with subtle spice on the palate. Acidity is balanced to add freshness. The finish has real charm and lovely, simple drinkability. Makes you want a second sip. 14% ABV n/a in UK
Grand Cuvée 2015
Lush liquorice and blackcurrant nose widens into cleanly-defined palate of luscious dark fruit and spice. Strong, jovial well-structured wine with fine grain tannins. 15% ABV from vino.sg
Rara Neagra-Saperavi 2017
Soft stone fruit on the nose, with a vegetal undertone creating complexity. Acidity and tannin balanced well, with an excellent finish. Very well made. 13.5% ABV RRP £6.50 from Beicevrei
Editie Special Feteasca Neagra 2017
A restrained nose of red fruits and rose petals. Deep, jammy, black cherry qualities are lifted by cinnamon spice. Full bodied and satisfying, with chunky tannic weight. 14% ABV RRP £5 from Rafinat
Satrapezo Saperavi 2017
JSC Telavi Wine Cellar
Juicy, bursting with ripe black fruit and underlined by elegant smokiness. Vibrant palate with a black fruit profile supported by bright acidity and structured tannins. Complex finish of blue fruits and mineral. 14% ABV RRP £28.50 from delivery-wine.co.uk
Emphasis Agiorgitiko 2016
Fresh, fleshy fruit on the nose, notes of blackcurrant skin and dark cherry. Charmingly juicy with aromatic complexity & flavours of clove spice. Well-rounded with fine grained tannins. 14.7% ABV enquire at ilovegreekwine.com
Znmp Cabernet Sauvignon 2018
Russian Wine House Abrau-Durso
Good typicity and varied notes of fruit, cassis and bay leaf. Palate displays black fruit with dusty tannins. Overall, it is a well-structured and interesting example of a Russian cabernet. 12.3% ABV n/a in UK
La Crama Cabernet Sauvignon 2018
The Iconic Estate
A fully defined nose of blackcurrant with red fruits, leafy notes and evolving, spicy cinnamon. Rounded and balanced with firm grippy tannins and a dry finish. 13.5% ABV RRP £4.50 from belvini.de
Waitrose & Partners Blueprint Pinot Noir 2019
The Iconic Estate
Attractively light nose displaying cherry and cranberry aromatic freshness with matured plums, sweet spice and hints of bell pepper. Weighty and textured with supple tannins and a slightly dry finish. 13.5% ABV RRP £5.99 from Waitrose & Partners
More Central & Eastern European recommendations: