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Knights of the Vine RUSSIA


California Gold
By Charles Borden

This month, Passports expat panel was sent to dig through the Moscow wine market for some glitter among the meager California claims. We continued our quest to prove that there really is some gold in those halls, though the extraction price would prove sky high.

A group of Californians, under the name California Gold, brought the first of the states premium wines to Russia in the mid­90s, including those Wente Brothers and Mondavi. Eventually, these pioneers were discouraged, but the brands can still be found. Lately, a few more US wineries have been welcomed to Moscow; most recently, the wines of Francis Ford Coppola (Niebaum-Coppola Winery, Napa Valley), suitably overpriced.

Just forty years ago there was no real premium wine industry in California, and most wines were not any better than the cheap Soviet label wines that have dominated Russia in the post Cold War years. In 1995, I escorted a group of Russian winemakers to the secretive Gallo headquarters in Modesto. There we saw a display of Gallos early wines, including sweet, strong Maderas and Ports everyone felt right at home. Today, Gallo produces some real, prize-winning super-premiums.

One debt of the California industry is owed to a Russian, considered to be one of Californias greatest winemakers. Russian emigre, Andre Tchelistcheff, grew up on a large Moscow estate, which was burned by the Reds. After emigrating to Paris, he studied enology and then took his first job at Beaulieu Vineyards in Napa. San Francisco Chronicle writer Sam Whiting wrote of him when he died in 1990, His palate was so refined he could tell whether a wine came from Rutherford dust, Oakville dirt, or of a furrow in between.

Without question, there are absolutely beautiful wines made in the United States, most notably in California and Oregon; but they have become expensive. Unfortunately, the selection in Moscow is very thin and even more wildly priced. This month, our panel returned to Chardonnays and Cabernets, Californias standard bearers. Out of fairness, we even included two Frenchmen on the panel. Our Moscow old-timers panned through a selection of 6 Cabs and 6 Chards that were priced well above the value range of last months Chilean wines. We should have been happy most of us remember when the only California wines in Russia were the Paul Masson carafes.

Our publisher John Ortega and I took a tour of about eight wine boutiques and supermarkets, where he bought practically every Cabernet and Chardonnay we could find under 4,000 rubles, and even a couple over. Unhappily, John even bought a broken bottle of Robert Mondavi Cabernet (at a breathtaking 8,500 roubles) after it rolled off the shelf near his feet at the new Pro Vino boutique. The manager seemed to think it was Johns fault.

From a selection of 25 bottles we paired the selection down to this months 12 wines. At the prices California wines command in Russia, they shouldnt disappoint, and they did not. The campsite was Goodmans Steak House in Novinsky mall. Almost all of the wines scored relatively well, and it turned into a refreshing opportunity to tell stories over a good steak grilled over the Goodmans campfire, until the small hours.

Charles Borden
Henri Guyard
Philippe Der Megreditchian
Paul OBrien
John Ortega
Jerry Ruditser
Tony Wong
Director, Meridian Capital
President, Serge Pastry and Bakery
Partner, Baring Vostok Capital Partners
Owner, Starlite Diners, Uley and Guilly restaurants
Publisher, Passport Magazine
Owner, Coffee Bean and Simple Pleasures restaurants
Director, Shering Plough Russia

Tasting Notes: Cabernet Sauvignon

Kendell Jackson Cabernet Sauvignon 2001 830 $29.14 CW
Coppola Claret 1,280 $44.94 CW
Joseph Phelps Cabernet Sauvignon 2001 1,998 $70.15 EV
Kendell Jackson Grand Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon
1998 1,969.$69.14 Kaufman
St. Francis Cabernet Reserve 1997 1,996 $70.08 Elite Vino
Stonestreet Cabernet Sauvignon 1997 1,969 $69.14 Kaufman

Tasting Notes: Chardonnay

Joseph Phelps Ovation Chardonnay 2002 2,590 $90.94 PV
Kendell Jackson Grand Reserve Chardonnay 2002 1,384 $48.60 AV
St. Francis Chardonnay 2002 608 $21.35 EV
Beringer Founders Estate Chardonnay 1999 760 $26.69 Magnum
Mondavi Woodbridge Chardonnay 2002 617 $21.66 AV
Sequoia Grove Chardonnay 2002 932 $32.72 EV

Key: Shown above are year, rouble price, equivalent USD, location purchased, and rating.
EV = Elitnoe Vino, WC = Wine Collection, AV = Azbuka Vkusa, AM = Aromatny Mir, PV = Pro Vino

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