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Wine in Ukraine: A hidden gem affected by politics

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The whole world is focused on Ukraine. It might seem trivial to look at the country through a less-urgent lens at this time, but since wine is part of their culture and that's also at risk, let's learn a little bit more about that.

Tough times for Ukrainians includes the wine industry, which already suffered a loss after Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, the formerly autonomous state within Ukraine and its historic center of production. According to the Wines of Ukraine website, the 2014 invasion “has been a heavy blow to the industry” with more than half its production—mostly semi-sweet and dessert wines—lost. In that annexation, 61,780 acres of vineyards seized, including the historic Massandra winery.

Now, the entire country, and obviously its wine industry, is at risk. Let's learn a little about this Ukrainian industry, which is not world famous but it is millenary.

The millenary Crimean wine

Ukraine is not one of those countries which immediately springs to mind when you think about wine production. Instead, is regarded as one of those wine countries which should be thought of as a ‘hidden gem’.

The wine industry of Ukraine is well-established with long traditions. Several brands of wine from Ukraine are exported to bordering countries and North America.

The regions of wine industry in Ukraine corresponds to its viticulture regions situated predominantly in close vicinity to Black Sea coast in Southern Ukraine as well as around Tisza valley of Zakarpattia Oblast.

In this region, winemaking is older than Jesus. A wine culture existed in today's Ukraine already in the 4th century BC at the south coast of Crimea, now under Russian control. Wine cultivation in the northern part of the country (around the capital Kyiv and Chernihiv) however "only" started in the 11th century by monks.

Crimea has always been a point of conflict between Russia and Ukraine, a territory in constant reclamation. Under Empress Catherine the Great (1729–1796) in 1783 Crimea became a part of the Russian Empire. Count Mikhail Vorontsov planted the first wine gardens in 1820 and established a large winery near Yalta, where, on February 1945, Stalin, Churchill, and Roosevelt met after the surrender of Germany at World War II to determine the postwar borders in Europe.

The continental climate is characterized by hot summers and severe winters. In 2019, 133.4 million liters of wine were produced from 41,500 hectares of vineyards. Almost 180 grape varieties are cultivated, including the majority of indigenous or varieties grown here.
Telti Kuyruk and other autochtonous grapes

The varietal diversity of grapes in Ukraine is represented by the internationally selected and also several autochthonous varieties. The most renowned autochthonous variety is Telti Kuyruk. The most widely planted selected variety is Odesa Black, Sukholimansky and Sukhyi Liman White, while Saperavi, Aligoté, Rkatsiteli, Cabernet-Sauvignon, Chardonnay, and Riesling are the most popular international varieties.  

Telti Kuruk is a white grape variety that results in extremely potent wines with the aroma of white flowers and refreshing acidity. 

Odesa Black (a.k.a. Aliberne) is also called ‘mustang’ among red varieties. Owing to its rich color and riot of spices, wines from this variety have been repeatedly named ‘the future identity of Ukraine”. 

Sukholimansky is a white grape variety that results in refined aromatic wines, perfect for everyday drinking. 

Historic styles along the Crimean coast include sweet wines, and when first introduced, were called Port, Madeira, Sherry and Tokay. Kagor, a sweet red dessert wine, was named after France’s Cahors region. Muscats—perhaps the most famous of all—were white, pink and black.

Sparkling or “shampanskoye,” was introduced by Paris-educated Prince Leo Golitsyn, one of Ukraine’s fathers of wine, after the 19th-century Crimean War. Produced primarily around the Odessa region, sparkling wine remains popular today, comprising almost one-third of Ukraine’s production. Based on Pinot Blanc, Aligoté, Riesling, Chardonnay. 

Ukrainian wines in the world

Although the share of wine exports from Ukraine is not yet very large, you can find Ukrainian wines all over the world.

For example, Cabernet Grand Reserve from the Shabo winery worthily represents Ukraine in the legendary museum in Bordeaux La Cité du Vin, and in the Michelin-starred restaurant Hide in London where you can complement your fine dining experience with Kara Kermen wine from the Beykush winery.

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