Taste testing Odessa Black: Ukraine’s hybrid grape varietal
Tonight I’m enjoying a unique wine from Ukraine. That’s right, Ukraine. This is the first wine I’ve ever tried from this country, which has a pretty tiny wine industry. The winery, Kolonist, is new to the Alberta market.
I had been tipped off about these wines by Margaux Burgess, proprietor of Lingua Vina, when I interviewed her a few weeks ago for an upcoming story on Georgian wine for Edify. (I’ll put up a post when the story is out.) We were chatting about wines from Georgia and the other areas around the Black Sea, and she mentioned these Ukrainian wines which are imported by Carl Steinke of Old Country Wines.
Ukraine’s winemaking industry is considerably more modern than Georgia’s ancient, 8000+ years of wine history, but it has still made wine for several hundred years. Monks started making wine in Ukraine in the 11th and 12th centuries, but numerous periods of war in this area knocked back Ukraine’s efforts at viticulture several times. Most recently, the First and Second World Wars had a devastating impact on Ukraine’s winemaking industry. The Soviet era spawned some increases in Ukraine’s wine production, but that was drastically reduced in the 1980s thanks to Gorbachev’s anti-alcohol policies. Ukraine’s winemaking industry has been in a steady state of decline for the past several decades.
Kolonist Winery is owned an operated by Ivan and Svitlana Plachkov, descendants of Bulgarian colonists that preserved the winemaking heritage of their Thracian ancestors. There’s a cute video on Old Country Wines’ website here, showing a brief overview of Kolonist. It’s quite inspiring to hear their story and to see the dedication and ambition that they have for winemaking – it will take leaders like them to spur a larger revival of Ukraine’s winemaking industry as a whole.
Ukraine mostly grows Vinifera varieties, along with some other ancient varieties from this area (like Rkatsiteli and Saperavi), as well as a few uniquely Ukrainian hybrid varieties. The Odessa Black (Odeskyi Chornyi) is one of these hybrids, developed at the Tairov Institute for Viticulture and Oenology in Odessa.
“Black” is certainly an apt name for the wine, as this is an inky dark red-purple wine. The aromas are similarly purple-black fruits like mulberry, blueberry and blackberry, along with a wallop of fresh tobacco leaf – it’s like taking a big whiff of a fresh cigar. The palate is light but juicy, with zippy high acidity and some bitter tannins on the finish, a lot of acrid tobacco smoke flavours and fresh cherry juice.
Once it has been open for a while, the tobacco and smoke overtones fade a little bit, but are still quite pronounced. If you’re a fan of port, particularly LBVs, you will probably like this wine. It’s quite unique and I can honestly say I haven’t had anything quite like it – which is exactly what I was hoping for, given that this is my first time tasting both a Ukrainian wine and a Ukrainian varietal.
Overall I was pleasantly surprised. It’s quite quaffable! I just wish I had paired it with some char-grilled red meat, because this would do very well paired with something cooked over an open flame. I was also happy that it’s not at all sweet, like a lot of the reds from this area – like Moldova and Georgia – tend to be. Some people really like sweet reds but they just aren’t for me.
Name: Kolonist Odessa Black
Grape: 100% Odeskyi Chornyi (Odessa Black)
Taste: blueberry, mulberry and a wallop of fresh tobacco leaf
Texture: plummy fruit with a zingy core of acidity surrounded by an acrid tannic overcoat