Visiting Russia's Vineyards on the Black Sea Coast
Fanagoria is a large winery based in Sennoi, in Krasnodar Krai's Temryuk district. The name comes from the ancient Greek settlement of Phanagoria, founded here on the Black Sea coast in 542 BC.
Until around 200 BC, Phanagoria was a major trade centre, and there is ample archaeological evidence of winemaking occurring during this time. Much later, there was a revival of winemaking in this region during the 19th century, and by the beginning of the 20th Century, Kuban (the old name for the Krasnodar region) was one of the key Russian winegrowing areas.
Consultant winemaker John Worontschak in the vineyard
Fanagoria, named after Phanagoria, is now Russia’s largest wine producer, and makes a wide range of wines, sparkling wines and brandies. They produce 25 million bottles of wine a year, as well as tetrapak and bag-in-box product, and are the biggest producer of bottled wine in Russia. This year they also launched their own cooperage.
‘Big wineries are supposed not to make good wine ,’ says marketing director Vladimyr Pukish, ‘but we do our utmost to prove that this is wrong. But it is much more difficult to make a good wine in a big winery.’ Fanagoria are currently aiming to improve the quality of their wines by expanding their vineyard holdings. Six years ago they had 900 hectares of vineyard, but now this has risen to 2500 hectares. They still make some low-end wines that are not made exclusively from Russian grapes, but are moving away from this practice. [The wines I tasted here were all from Russian grapes.]
Fanagoria’s history is quite interesting. It was founded in 1957 for grape juice production. The natural grape juice was chilled, pasteurized and bottled here. Their natural grape juices featured heavily in the 1980 Olympics, held in Russia.
In 1990 things all changed. The facility decided to stop making juice and start making wine and a bit of vodka. Then they began making Cognac too. They got the licence to sell Cognac in 2006, and are currently the third largest Cognac producer in Russia.
Modern presses in the winery
Old fashioned iron tanks are still used, although these are being replaced by stainless steel
The latitude here is 45 North, and it’s quite risky for wine production because of the winters. Once every 3-7 years temperatures will drop to -30 °C, and not every year is guaranteed to give a good crop.
Grape juice of the sort that Fanagoria used to produce
John Worontschak is working here as consultant winemaker. I visited the vineyards and cooperage with the Fanagoria team and John, and then toured the extensive winery, followed by a tasting. This tasting here was restricted to the two higher-level labels, NR and Cru Lermont.
Aligote: a grape that does really well here
Older vineyards with wide row spacing
Fanagoria NR Aligote 2010
Aligote does well in this region. Half of this wine is fermented on Chardonnay lees to add body. Rounded, very fruity with nice texture and fresh citrus notes. Some melon fruit, too. Lively and full, this is an attractive wine with nice texture and a hint of creaminess. 88/100
Fanagoria NR Chardonnay 2010
Rounded, fruity and appealing with just a hint of nuttiness. Fresh and a bit nutty with nice fruit. 84/100
Fanagoria Cru Lermont Chardonnay 2010 (cask sample)
Fine, fruity and expressive with nice rounded character. Subtle citrus fruit, a bit of grapefruit freshnes and some mineral hints. Impressive. 88-90/100
Fanagoria NR Cabernet Sauvignon Rose
Fresh and fruity with nice acidity and sweet cherry fruit. Attractive stuff. 82/100
Fanagoria NR Merlot 2010
Fruity, in a lighter style. Berryish with sweet cherry fruit and some green herby notes. Nice sweet rounded fruit. Highly drinkable. 84/100
Fanagoria NR Cabernet Sauvignon 2010
Slightly minty hint to the nose which shows berryish fruit and subtle green herbal notes. Savoury twist to the berry fruits here. 83/100
Fanagoria NR Pinot Noir 2009
Nice berry and cherry fruit here: quite fresh with some herbal notes too. There’s a green herby edge to the attractive fruit. 84/100
Fanagoria NR Tzimylanskiy Cherniy 2009
Berryish and fresh yet also showing some evolution. Ripe, sweet, satisfying but a little herbal. 83/100
Fanagoria NR Tzimylanskiy Cherniy 2010
Bright berry fruits here with some nice grippy structure as well as green herbal notes. Drying finish. 83/100
Fanagoria NR Saperavi 2010
Nice bright berry fruits with a touch of herbiness. Quite delicious with lovely fruit and good tannic structure. 88/100
Fanagoria NR Clairet (Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon)
Sweet, open, attractive red berry fruits to the fore. Rounded and appealing with some structure. 84/100
Fanagoria Cru Lermont Merlot 2008
Sweet, berryish and quite mellow with rounded, sweet berry fruits and some grippy tannins on the finish. 83/100
Fanagoria Cru Lermont Cabernet Sauvignon 2008
Warm, spicy and berryish with an almost Italian quality to it. Sweet with some savoury, earthy notes. Rich and berryish with good structure. Some oak influence here. 85/100
Fanagoria Cru Lermont Pinot Noir 2008
Green herbal edge to the nose is quite pronounced. Nice berry fruits with some sweet cherry fruit on the palate but the herbal/green character is quite strong. The wine would be much better without this excessively green streak. 82/100
Fanagoria Cru Lermont Clairet 2009
Sweet and ripe with nice concentration. Quite lush with subtle herbal notes. A rich, ripe style showing some evolution. 84/100
Fanagoria Cru Lermont Saperavi 2010
Powerful, vivid and intense with taut blackberry and blackcurrant fruit. Stuctured, with a bit of new oak showing. Nice density and presence here, with rich black fruits. 91/100
Fanagoria Riesling Ice Wine 2010
Sweet, rounded and a bit appley with some grapey notes. Not completely pure flavours, though. 81/100
Fanagoria Saperavi Ice Wine 2010
Cherryish, sweet and rounded with some luscious fruit and jelly characters. Nicely made. 83/100
Fanagoria NR Champagne Blanc de Noirs NV
Lovely fruity presence here. Quite lively with a bit of grip. Nice fruitiness. 86/100