Well, this was a pleasant surprise to kick off a wine feast last night, a sparkler from Russia’s most fabled sparking wine producer, Abrau-Durso, whose wines have entertained Russian nobility and the country’s political ruling class for nearly 150 years.
The Abrau-Durso house takes its name from Lake Abrau, on whose shores the winery sits, located about 20 kilometers west of the Black Sea coast city of Novorossiysk in southern Russia’s Krasnodar region. It was founded in 1870 by a royal decree issued by Emperor Alexander II, who assigned it a mission to produce wine for the royal court. At first a still wine producer, Prince Lev Golitsyn, a pioneer in Crimea’s wine industry, expanded the focus to include sparkling wines when he brought in a team of French winemakers in 1896. A year later, freshly-excavated subterranean tunnels contained nearly 15,000 bottles of Russian “Champagne”. During the Soviet years, storage would be increased to a capacity of 10 million.
The line is named after Victor Dravigny, the French winemaker who was appointed chief “champagne-ist” as the winery, and the driver behind the house’s move towards quality. It was under his guidance that the winery became the supplier for the imperial court of Czar Nicholas II. The Russian revolution in 1917 slowed production, but only temporarily. The French fled but left well-trained local teams who ensured the wine’s quality.
Each wine in this line –Abrau Durso bottlings also include a Brut D’or, Extra Brut, Rose Brut, Semi-Dry, Demi-Doux, and Red Semi-Sweet– is aged three years prior to release.
The Victor Dravigny line is produced via a Méthode Traditionnelle (Méthode Champenoise, Méthode classique), whereby the wine’s entire transformation from still to sparking happens inside the bottle.
The Brut is the line’s classic brut, composed of 60% Chardonnay, 20% Pinot Blanc and 20% Pinot Noir, weighing in at 12.5% alcohol. The aromas are subtle but appealing: spring mountain flower blossoms, peaches and apricots. It was buttery, too, and mostly fruity on the palate but with a distinct mineral, earthy bitterness on the finish that caught me by surprise. Some salmon roe tempered that well. Overall, a pleasant journey.
€12-16 on Wine-searcher in European locations, a fair price for the quality.