Ukraine: A wine odyssey


Harvest in the Bolgrad Winery vineyards in Bessarabia, Odesa
Harvest in the Bolgrad Winery vineyards in Bessarabia, Odesa

February 2024 marks the second anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. And though media attention has shifted largely to the Middle East in recent months, the fighting continues, with a colossal impact on the country and its inhabitants.

Amid these geopolitical challenges, Ukrainian winemakers – internationally led by Svitlana Tsybak, CEO of Beykush Winery – are showing resilience and innovation, despite the area planted to vineyards falling from 41,800ha in 2022 to 36,600ha today (source: OIV; Wines of Ukraine).

Scroll down to see O’Connor’s selection of wines from the Black Sea Region

The country’s leading producers remain undeterred, and even in the throes of war have been travelling abroad to show their wines to an international audience – one that is overwhelmingly keen to show its support, and at the same time to discover a new and intriguing wine region. In October last year, a group of 11 producers came together to present the first UK trade tasting of Ukrainian wines, held at private members’ club 67 Pall Mall in London, where about 60 wines of varying styles were shown.

The history

When we say ‘new’, of course, we mean new to the wine lover – not in terms of the nation’s heritage. Ukraine’s winemaking roots go all the way back to the 4th century BC and beyond, originating in Crimea. However, it was in the 11th century that wine cultivation kicked off in the northern regions around Kyiv and Chernihiv.

Fast-forward to the 18th and 19th centuries, and wine production soared under the control of Austria-Hungary, Russia and Poland. The modernisation of techniques and the introduction of new grape varieties marked this era.

In recent times, Ukraine, with 2,500km² of vineyards, was a major supplier of wine to the USSR, especially of Sovetskoye Shampanskoye (Soviet Sparkling Wine). The 1985-1988 anti-alcohol campaign instigated by then Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev led to the destruction of a significant number of vineyards. However, since 2000, Ukrainian winemakers have rebounded, reaching a deeper understanding of how best to adapt vine-growing to the terroir and climate.

Shabo Wine Culture Center, Odesa

Shabo Wine Culture Center, Odesa

Ukrainian grape varieties you’ve probably never heard of

In Ukraine, the focus is primarily on international grape varieties, such as Aligote?, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Riesling and Traminer for whites; and Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Saperavi for reds. Some wineries are experimenting with varieties such as Albarin?o, Blaufra?nkisch, Pinotage, Tempranillo, Timorasso and Zweigelt.

As winemaking expands to northern and central-western regions, frost- or fungus-resistant varieties such as Johanniter, Solaris and Jupiter are on the rise, while notable examples of local varieties also gaining traction are…

Citron Magarach A white grape variety from Yalta’s Magarach research institute, producing wines with a light straw to amber colour, pronounced citrus tones, and a full, round palate with low acidity. Its frost resistance makes it popular in northern Ukraine.

Sukholymanske White Created in the second half of the 20th century, this white grape variety yields wines with a light golden colour, fruity aromas of pear and white flowers, and a harmonious taste with notes of melon and white plum, accompanied by a pleasant sourness in the aftertaste.

Telti-Kuruk An indigenous white grape exclusive to Ukraine, having survived the phylloxera epidemic. Known as ‘fox tail’, thanks to the shape of its bunches, it offers fresh, mineral wines with floral and fruity notes of white acacia and quince. It has similarities to the Hungarian variety Juhfark (‘sheep’s tail’), and it is said Telti-Kuruk was planted back in the 16th century, when the territory belonged to the Turks.

Odesa Black (Alibernet) This is a challenging but rewarding red grape first created in 1948, a crossing between Alicante…

Source : https://www.decanter.com/wine/ukraine-a-wine-odyssey-521339/