Moscow Wine Buyers’ Guide
Text Charles W. Borden
Preparing for the New Year celebrations, wine sales peak in Russia, and sparkling wines are the biggest sellers. Gift wines and wines for corporate New Year parties generate the largest sales. Unfortunately, the choice of wines in wine shops and on restaurant wine lists is still between overpriced and very, very overpriced.
As a good example, I recently had a chance to compare the price of the French Billecart-Salmon Brut Rose Champagne that we sampled at our November wine tasting. This wine retails in Moscow at about $267, which would mean a wine list price of at least $600 if not $800. On our French wine trip with John Ortega, I saw it on the wine list at Paul Bocuse in Lyon, a three-star Michelin restaurant, one of the world’s best restaurants, at 125 (about $180). Last week I saw it in a Kyoto wine shop at ¥12,000 (about $109). Though one might argue it ought to be less in France, even at Bocuse, Japan is not exactly nearby or a cheap market. The US retail price is about $75 and in the UK it is £40 ($82). And the UK is one of the most expensive wine countries in Europe.
Each month, the Moscow Knights of the Vine, through Passport’s pages, provide readers with information about the wines that are available in Moscow. In this issue we will let our readers in on some of the secrets of wine buying in Moscow.
First Rule: Importers Rule
Wine importers control the selection of wines on Moscow shelves – they make arrangements with various wine producers to import wines. These days they have a huge selection of relatively inexpensive, reasonable quality wines due to the world-wide wine glut, which, for example, has led Australian wine-makers to leave grapes on the vine and French growers to turn grapes into bio-fuel. So even though Russia’s importers vie to tie up the very top and well-known labels demanded by wealthy clients, they have a very broad choice among the next and lower tier wines. To me it appears that only a very few importers make buying decisions based upon quality; for many it appears price and buying terms drive the selection process.
For years, when I have bought a wine in Moscow, I have always checked the name and address of the importer, which is on the back label of every bottle of wine, although sometimes a magnifying glass is needed. I rank the following as companies of high quality and who import wines of reliably high standards: DP Trade, Svarog, Simple Wines, and MBG. Other good importers include Vagr Vina Vita, Fort b, ViniFrance and VX Import (Whitehall).
The high prices of Moscow wines are due to high markups along the entire distribution chain, from importer to retailer or to restaurant. They don’t come from high customs or shipping costs, since these are no higher than in many other European countries and the Russian VAT is less than many. Besides a hefty importer mark-up, supermarkets add 25% or more and it is standard for restaurants to triple the wholesale price.
The Wine Boutiques
Moscow has numerous wine boutiques that cater to the wealthy, and some of Moscow’s best importers have their own boutiques. DP Trade has its Magnum, Decanter and Vinum shops; Simple Wines has Grand Cru; and VX Import has the Kauffman shops. The grocer Azbuka Vkus and its partners also import, and participate in the seven Kollektsiya Vin wine boutiques. Unfortunately, most boutiques carry top and pricy wines, and have few wines priced less than 600 rubles ($24).
For the Passport wine tastings, we often shop along Kutuzovsky Prospekt. It’s a quick run starting at Novinsky Passage on the Ring Road for a stop at Grand Cru, then across the bridge onto Kutuzovsky, where, on the right side, just after passing an Azbuka Vkusa supermarket, and across from the Dorogomilovskoi Square, there are, in quick order, Kollektsiya Vin, Kauffman, and Magnum wine boutiques in buildings 18, 22 and 30 respectively. The easiest to find is the Magnum shop with its large corkscrew on the corner of the building.
Magnum is a boutique of importer DP Trade, owned by Dmitry Pinsky, a frequent participant in and contributor to the Passport wine tastings. He is also the importer for the great Australian wines brought to Russia by Grant Dodd, and the subject of our November wine tasting. These wines have consistent, very high Parker scores. DP also imports some great Super Tuscan wines from Ca’Marcanda, a Gaja winery and California wines from Beringer. In the value range, our pick from DP would be the Alamos wines from Argentina, with Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay at 550 rubles ($22). DP is also the exclusive importer for Riedel glasses – a great New Year’s gift.
Kauffman (named after Marcus Kauffman, owner of the VX Import wine importer) has several shops, which mostly carry wines imported by his company. Kauffman has a very good selection of New Zealand wines and is by far the best of the boutiques for its selection of wines in the 300 to 600 ruble range. VX is the importer for the entire range of wines from Cote du Rhone-grower, E. Guigal, one of the top names in that region. Kauffman also carries California’s Robert Mondavi wines, and Chilean Chateau Los Boldos.
Kollektsiya Vin has seven shops in Moscow. The location on Kutuzovsky has recently been remodeled and it is by far the largest of the boutiques, with a nice cellar for more expensive wines. Most of its wines are from other importers, but it does have a growing import business under the name KonceptTrade.
The Grand Cru boutiques are owned by Simple Wines, a reliable importer. Grand Cru has a generally good selection of Italian and French wines, but is short on New World wines. Simple is the exclusive importer of Spiegelau wine glasses.
Without a doubt, the Azbuka Vkusa supermarket chain has the best selection of wines among supermarkets in Moscow. They cover a full range from high-end to value wines, and have a good selection of wines from Australia, South Africa, Argentina and Chile. This is the best place to find wines in the 300 to 600 ruble price range. The Azbuka Vkusa near my office has a full wine cellar, which rivals the boutiques with its selection.
Sedmoi Kontinent also has a large, but undistinguished selection of wines in the value and low price range. It has a good range of New World wines. Prices at Sedmoi Kontinent, as in other supermarkets are up to 25% higher than the same wines in the importer- owned boutiques.
The AM stores were Moscows first alcohol supermarkets, owned by importer Aromatny Mir. AM has numerous locations around the city marked with a huge AM sign. The wine selection is somewhat limited, but it occasionally has some good finds.
The wine selection at Auchan is thin, catering to the low price market. Auchan does carry some Russian Chateau Le Grand Vostock wines, at least the lowest priced Terres du Sud red and white at 159 rubles. Otherwise, the best I could find was the Chilean Chateau Los Boldos Merlot 2005 at 250 rubles, a price considerably lower than other markets. Auchan had some California Franzia Chillable Red 5-liter bag-in-box at 509 rubles for those looking for a good price/volume ratio. I found another interesting Russian wine; Fanagoria Chorny Leker (Black Healer), a sweet wine produced on the Taman peninsula from local grapes and herbs – a good gift for your Russian friends or a party curiosity, at just 78 rubles.
Specialty Retailers and Internet
Hediard is a beautiful French fine foods boutique along the Garden Ring between Mayakovskaya and Barrikadnaya. Hediard has a small wine section that carries its own private-labeled French wines and some from other importers. It has a decent selection of French and Italian wines, though a very limited New World range. Since Hediard buys from importers such as DP, its prices are higher than the importer shops by up to 20%.
Massandra is the name of the great, old and grand prerevolutionary winery on the Crimean peninsula. This shop is owned by Legenda Krima, the importer of wines from many Crimean and Ukrainian wineries such as Inkerman, Abrau Durso and Novy Svet. Massandra also has a small selection of Romanian wines, and wines of other New World producers. This is the place to get the sparkling wines that were in Passport’s October tasting, including the Novy Svet Pinot Noir Brut 2002 (550 rubles) that bested five top French Champagnes in a completely blind tasting.
Chateau Le Grand Vostock is a new winery that was constructed in southern Russia near the Black Sea in 2003, with French technology and equipment, and a resident French winemaker. It is the only winery in Russia, and among very few in the former Soviet Union, that produces internationalclass wines. Its wines are all blends, with a red and a white in five price levels from about 175 rubles to 750 rubles. Wine can be ordered from their Moscow office on the English language website. They deliver case orders. Ask for a 10% Passport discount.
Praskoveya is a small shop just off Krasnopresnya Prospekt that formerly was owned by Praskoveya Winery of Stavropol region. The shop still carries the Praskoveya wines and brandies and a selection of other wines and alcohols. Praskoveya Winery is in a tough area for wine production, hot and dry in the summer and cold in the winter. Their forte is their brandies, produced under a French trained winemaker. Praskoveya also has a large collection of wine dating back to 1945. Some of these collector item wines are sold at this shop, such as a 1992 Ulybka (Smile – a sweet Muscat wine) at 1,460 rubles or a 1955 Buket Prikumya at 17,660 rubles. These are the real thing, as I can attest, having been in their cellar many times. The shop also carries Praskoveya’s retrolabelled Samogon No.5. Samogan is the name for Russian moonshine – this one is 45%, and grape-based.
Palais Royal arranges for the import of very high-end wines for wine cellar clients. Palais Royal also imports the Stellenbosch, South Africa, wines of Moscow businessman Preston Haskell, from Haskell Vineyards. Wine can be purchased direct from the Palais Royal list.
DP Trade Shops
Decanter, Bol. Polyanka 30, Tel: 238-3808
Magnum, Kutuzovsky Prospekt 24, Tel: 937-6515
Magnum, Ul. Plyuschkina 20, Tel: 775 0674 Vinum, Prechistenka 40/2, Tel: 775-2305
Kutuzovsky Prospekt 22, Tel: 243-2238
Ul. Kuznetsky Most 3, Tel: 624-0464
Ul. Ostojhenka 27, Tel: 291-3671
Kutuzovsky Prospekt 18
Novinsky Bulvar 12
Ulitsa Tverskaya 20
Leninsky Prospekt 16
Grand Cru Shops –
several in Moscow including:
Novinsky Passage, Novinsky Bulvar 31. Tel: 775-5553
Chateau le Grand Vostock
Gogolevsky Bulvar, 10
Massandra (Kriymskikh Vin)
Komsomolsky Prospekt 15
Tel: 247 0096
Ulitsa Malaya Gruzinskaya 12
Tel: 252 1408
2nd Horoshovsky 7A
AM (Aromatny Mir) –
Too numerous to list – look for the big AM sign.