Kazakhstani Saperavi (and Pinot Noir!) – Arba Assa Valley
Whenever visiting a region in the name of wine, I always try to push the public transportation option so as to reduce car congestion on country roads (ahem, Napa) and of course not worry about drunk driving. In Priorat & Montsant, this isn’t easy as the bus system is pretty limited and pretty much all of us who live here have cars. With a tiny handful of exceptions, visiting without your own wheels seemed a non-starter in general.
As it turns out, I was wrong. One day I was contacted by Artem Lebedev, a Russian sommelier and wine lover. He happened to be staying with his wife in Catalunya while she was studying an enotourism degree in Tarragona. Making good use of his time, he had been visiting cellars in the region and one day was passing through Porrera and wanted to meet. I was of the opinion that he’d driving there and so it was strange that he was more loose about his time of arrival than is normally typical in Spain. It turns out it wasn’t strange as he did what I didn’t think possible in that he was hitchhiking Priorat!
Artem said that while he sometimes had to wait a bit here and there (thus the loose time estimate), people were generally very easygoing about giving him a lift. I have to assume it’s because if you live here, you know it’s going to take forever to walk between the villages and you have a bit of sympathy.
Anyways, his thumb and adventurous spirit brought him to share a bottle of wine with me. At first I thought it’d be a Russian wine but in fact it turned out to be a Kazakhstani wine from Arba. “Fantastic!”, I said as in my mind I was of the opinion I’d never tasted a Kazakhstani wine before. Reviewing my notes from the last Decanter judging however showed me that much like thinking you couldn’t get around by hitchhiking in Priorat, I was again wrong and in fact I’d tasted two Kazakhstani wines that were both Pinot Noir.
Arba – Pinot Noir 2014
Quite pronounced barrel notes as well as dark fruit and general cedar notes. Juicy and extracted in the body, quite beefed up with full tannins and a curious variety profile albeit with a flat finish.
* 100% Pinot Noir 13% 86
Arba – Reserve Pinot Noir 2014
Lighter red fruit with a good wealth of barrel notes to it and vanilla creaminess. Full frontal attack in the palate with a wealth of tannins, medium acidity and a decent amount of length to it, but still very barrel dominated.
* 100% Pinot Noir 13% 89
This wasn’t as much of a let down as I thought it could be given that I’d not tasted their Saperavi. It also gave me the chance to read up a bit more on the winery’s project.
They’re based a bit east of the capital, Almaty. Where they’ve planted their vines is a region they claim to have been an ancient winemaking area and in a small barrow (a hill formed usually for burial purposes) they seem to have discovered an ancient amphora so that’s pretty cool.
I’ve no idea as to how this plays out in the modern concept given that ancient climates were a great deal different than our current (and currently changing) ones. Overall, it’s plain to see that in the three wines I’ve tasted there are clear stylistic consistencies. One is that they’re ably made which I state with utmost importance. Whomever is in charge of their winemaking knows what to do and not to do and is dealing with the unique climate in this part of Kazakhstan well.
The other item that seems readily apparent is that they’re doing a great deal of barrel work in the cellar. On the one hand I feel this is being done to boost rather young vines–nothing unusual there. On the other and definitely seen with this Saperavi, it seems that it’s something of a taste preference as I don’t taste Saperavi as much with this wine as I do a regional-style Bordeaux. If this is the case, then it’s nothing out the ordinary as a lot of people with the resources to start up a winery where none existed before often like Bordeaux and in the initial years of their existence, they wines often replicate this style.
I know a lot of people would complain about this and admittedly it’s not something I prefer but at the same time, when working in vacuum, you have to pick a starting point and why not a classic region? The very important aspect is to learn from this and evolve the wines and I hope that we’ll see this in the future with Arba.
Arba – Saperavi 2013
Lighter red fruit with a good wealth of barrel notes to it and vanilla creaminess. Full frontal attack in the palate with a wealth of tannins, medium acidity and a decent amount of length to it, but still very barrel dominated. Will definitely evolve a bit more in the bottle.
*+ 100% Saperavi 14% 89+