Massandra is a classical wine producer on the south coast of Crimea, close to Jalta, and was the subject of an interesting wine club tasting in January. Massandra made themselves a name already in the days of the czars, and operations continued in the Soviet era. Much of their production of 13 million bottles annually, from 2 000 hectares of vineyards, consist of sweet wines, both fortified and non-fortified, that partially have been produced in a style similar to foreign types of wine such as Port and Sherry. Different versions of Muscat wines is also something of a speciality. Characteristic for Massandra is also that they are in possession of a very large collection of older vintages, the “Massandra Collection”, where also some very old wines from other origins had been cellared. Efter the liberation of eastern Europe from communism, some of these wines found their way to the auction market in the west, and in particular the UK. Some of the wines were specially labelled by at least Sotheby’s for auction sales. Some of these bottles can also be purchased from rare wine dealers, at rather hefty proces. I’m not as sure that they’ve been very successful in exporting young vintages to the west, because I’ve no recollection that I’ve actually come across such wines before this tasting, although I’ve often seen the older wines listed in auction catalogues. Possibly, the use of designations such as Port, Sherry and so on cause problems in some markets, including the entire EU, but their many Muscat wines should meet no such problems under their original labelling.
The tasting in the wine tasting club AuZone, by courtesy of O.W., featured a mixture of older and younger Massandra, primarily purchased on location or in Belarus. Two of the bottles were specific Belarussian bottlings. From this, I learned that in Russian, Massandra is written Массандра, with two “c”s, while in Ukrainian it is written Масандра, with one “c”. Bottle sold in and older era carried Russian-language labels, but nowadays they use Ukrainian-language labels, also when selling older vintages.
As usual, the wines were served blind.
Xeres (Sherry) 1983
Grape varieties: Sercial, Verdelho, Albillo. Minimum four years in barrel, 19,5% alcohol, residual sugar claimed to be 2,5 g/l (but I believe it’s sweeter than that).
Amber colour. Nose with flor aromas (the yeasty aroma of fino Sherry), walnuts, dried yellow fruit, some yellow apples, spices, maple syrup and white Glühwein. The palate is off-dry, rather fiery with alcohol, noticeably spicy, and with yellow fruit. The aftertaste is very fiery and spicy. Slight overalcoholic palate with thin fruit, but improved somewhat in the glass. The nose was better than the palate. 83 p.
The nose reminded me of a mature vin jaune, since it combined the fino notes with a considerable amounts of oxidation notes. Other voices mentioned amontillado.
Portvejn Krasnij Krimskij (Red Port wine from Crimea) 2003
Grape varieties: Morastel, Saperavi, Bastardo Magarachskij. Three years in barrel, 17,5% alcohol, residual sugar 100 g/l. Belarussian bottling.
Light to medium red with tawny note and brick-coloured edge. Nose of rather dark berries, dried red berries, liquorice, some raisins and prunes. Semi-sweet, red berries, decent acidity, some liquorice, a hint of alcoholic fire, some tannin. The aftertaste shows discrete fire, sweetness and fruit. Port-like, but with less dark fruit notes and slightly less concentration. 86 p.
This seemed to me like a style of port somewhere between LBV/vintage and Tawny. Other tasters found aromas such as milk chocoloate, charcuteries and smoke.
Muscat Bieli Krasnava Kamja (White Muscat from the red stone) 1998
Grape varieties: Muscat Blanc. Two years in barrel, 13% alcohol, residual sugar 230 g/l.
Dark amber colour with orange hints. Nose with oranges, flowers, perfume, noticeable spice, white raisins and other dried fruits, oxidation notes. Quite sweet taste, palate with red berries, dried fruit, oranges, good concentration of fruit, noticeably spicy, slightly fiery but with well embedded alcohol. Sweet and spicy aftertaste. 88 p.
Very similar to oxidatively aged Muscat, such as Muscat de Setubal, but sweeter than most. My favourite of the flight.
Grape varieties: Pinot Gris. Two years in barrel, 16% alcohol, residual sugar 160 g/l.
Dark amber colour. Nose with red berries, spice, blood oranges, dried red berries, some flower and perfume notes, some walnuts. More muted aromas than the previous wine. Quite sweet palate, red berries, some yellow fruit, dried berries, quite some spice, hints of tannin. Sweet and spicy aftertaste. 87 p.
This wine was rather similar to the previous one, although the nose was a little less loud, and it showed some red wine hints in its aromas. I therefore believed that it was an oxidatively aged Muscat, but perhaps a Muscat Rose or Muscat Rouge, similar to rosé versions of Moscatel de Setubal. For a Pinot Gris I found it unusually aromatic.
Portvejn Livadia (Portvin från Livadia) 1985
Grape varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon. Three years in barrel, 18,5% alcohol, residual sugar 85 g/l.
Medium red colour with mahogany tinge and faded brick edge. Nose with red berries, cocoa powder, winter apples and apple core, spice, and some nuts. Noticeable oxidation, but more of the “old unfortified wine” type. Sweet on the palate, red berries, spice – including cinnamon?, a bit of alcoholic fire, some tannin, some bitterness. Discrete aftertaste with some alcoholic bite. The palate is better than the nose, but lost rather than gained with time in the glass. 81 p.
Portvejn Bieli (White Port wine) 1947
Grape varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon(!). 17,5% alcohol, residual sugar 95 g/l.
Light amber colour with a golden tinge. The nose is clearly perfumed, honey, yellow fruit, some marzipan, some spice, mineral, menthol. Aromatic but with developed notes. Palate with honey, yellow fruit, oranges, some dried berries, spice, decent acidity, very light bitterness. Aftertaste with spice and a hint of alcohol. 87 p.
This wine was only produced until 1951. A sweet white fortified wine from Cabernet grape, that must qualify as one of the oddest wines of the year, and I don’t feel that I need to wait for the tastings of the coming months of 2013 to make that claim!
Muskatel Chernij (Black Muscatel) NV, bottled 2011
Grape varieties: Muscat “and other European varieties”. Not aged in oak, 16% alcohol, residual sugar 150 g/l. Belarussian bottling.
Medium to dark red with pale red edge. Nose with ripe red berries, dried red berries, some liquorice, spice, rather obvious flowery notes. More dried notes than Port, and with some Muscat character. Very sweet on the palate, red and dark berries, some dried berries, spice, not really any tannins. Sweet and spicy aftertaste. 88 p.
Rather typical “Black Muscat” character.
This was my first encounter with Massandra wines, and it was a very interesting and informative tasting. The wines were quite OK, and exceeded the expectations of many of those in the tasting, although I wouldn’t really say that any of them were truly great. It was rather easy to identify those that were supposed to imitate other existing wine styles. A common character of all of the wines was that the acidity wasn’t too high. I also noted that we overestimated the age of several of the wines when we tried them blind, which is a bit unusual for fortified wines, but perhaps not unexpected if the acidity is lower than in e.g. Madeira or Vintage Port. This makes me question, perhaps somewhat paradoxically, if the Massandra wines really are suitable for very extended cellaring. (The rather short corks they use doesn’t improve matters.) Based on this small sample, I’d say that the reputation of old Massandra wines is related to their very existence and that they have been channeled successfully into the auction market. Perhaps the surrounding story going back to the era of the Russian empire, and then involving Lenin, has added to the mystique. But i’s not necessary a reflection of any exceptional suitability of these wines for several decades of cellaring.
Against this background, I can’t avoid commenting the prices of wines available in the West. There is a British website selling both younger and older Massandra wines. The younger wines cost £ 12 to £ 15, which I find a very reasonable price level. The only Massandra Collection with a visible price for visitors is the 1991 White Muscat of the Red Stone at a hefty £ 157,50, to be compared to £ 14,92 for the lateast vintage (where it is not specified which vintage it is). Charging eleven times as much for a probably 18-19 years older wine strikes me as somewhat outrageous. Twice as much had been reasonably, but eleven times – no *** way! This price will buy an approximately 60 year old Madeira, or a mature and drinkable Vintage Port from a top port producer in a top vintage, such as 1970. To me, there is no doubt that the Madeira or the Vintage Port would be the better buy. But again, many of the younger Massandra wines come across as a good value when they can be found, in particular for those who enjoy fortified Muscat, where I thought that they showed their best strength.
Swedish version of the post here.