The wines of Abrau Durso
Part 6, Visiting Russia's Vineyards on the Black Sea Coast


The last visit on my Black Sea Coast itinerary was something a little bit different. Abrau-Durso is Russia’s most famous sparkling wine producer, and this recently expanded winery looks like a grand Champagne house transplanted to Russia. I visited on a bright September morning with deputy director Andrey Koboyan and one of the winemaking team, Armen Danielyan. 

Andrey Koboyan

Armen Danielyan

The winery is located on the shores of lake Abrau, a short distance west of Novorossiysk on Russia’s black sea coast, in the Krasnodar Krai region. It dates back to 1870 when it was founded with a view to providing wine for the Tsar. In 1896, Prince Lev Golitsyn—an important figure in Russian wine—brought in a team of French specialists to help make sparkling wine, and by the turn of the 20th century the newly dug underground tunnels were full of the Russian version of Champagne. The French assistance continued until the revolution in 1917, but the Russians they had trained carried on making sparkling wine, which until very recently was known as Sovetskoye Shampanskoye. 

Now the winery is organized as the State Unitary Enterprise Abrau Durso, with shares held jointly by the government and a group of companies headed by successful businessman Boris Titov (since 2006, with a 58% share). 

Recently Titov has been looking to expand by raising capital to increase production (the company floated on the stock exchange in April 2012), and also to develop a luxury hotel/spa facility on the site. Currently there is a very attractive 40 room luxury hotel near the winery, but this is not considered big enough. 

Dug into the hills behind the winery are some 5.5 km of tunnels, with the potential for storing 10 million bottles. There’s an interesting mechanical system running through the tunnels for transporting bottles in metal cradles. This dates back to the 1950s. 

This is quite a tourist draw: 150 000 visitors come here annually. The entry fee is 500 Roubles, which works out at about 12 Euros. Production currently stands at 18 million bottles, with about 15% being made by the traditional method, the remainder by transfer (Charmat). The company owns 560 hectares of vineyards. Only a few years ago production was less than half this level: this is a project that has grown fast. The goal is to reach 30 million bottles. 

The product range consists of a number of tiers. The cheapest wines have a 16 day short second fermentation in pressure tanks. The next tier, what was until recently called Sovetskoye Shampanskoye, spends at least 26 days in the pressure tanks. For these two tiers, a fifth to a third is Russian wine and the balance is imported wine from South Africa, Spain, Croatia or Italy.

The rest of the range is traditional method Champagne-like wine. Some imported wine is still used, but higher up in the range it is all Russian. The top of the tree is the Imperial group of three wines, which is where Herve Jestin helps as a consultant.


Note that when a vintage is indicated on the bottle, this is the date of tirage, not the date of harvest. I’ve tried to make this clear in my notes.

Abrau Durso Brut NV
Made by Charmat method, and has some South African Colombard in it. Crisp, fruity and lively. Nice bright, round fruit here. Clean and pure. 85/100

Abrau Durso Gold Label Premium Brut 2005 (labelled 2006, which is the tirage)
Some sweet oxidative notes on the nose. A bit toasty. Tight, crisp and herby on the palate with some toasty notes. A crisp style with nice rich flavours. 86/100

Abrau Durso Premium Rosé  2008 (tirage date, not vintage)
Salmon pink colour. Very attractive and nicely toasty with crisp herbal notes and a hint of cherry fruit. 85/100

Abrau Durso Imperial Collection Cuvée L’Art Nouveau Brut 2008 (2009 tirage)
Taut and quite herby with a green streak to the fresh citrus fruit. Fresh and quite persistent. 82/100

Abrau Durso Imperial Collection Vintage 2007 (2008 tirage)
Tight and fresh with nice fruit and lively citrus notes. Notes of apple and pear, showing good freshness. 87/100

Abrau Durso Imperial Collection Cuvée Rosé 2008 (2009 tirage)
Appley and oxidative. Nice acidity but there’s too much oxidative character here.

Abrau Durso Premium Rouge 2008 (tirage date)
Cabernet Sauvignon. Very attractive. Sweet, berryish with some grip. Lovely red berry and blackberry jam character. Stylish. 88/100

 See a short film of the visit:

Part 1, introduction
Part 2, Château le Grand Vostock
Part 3, Fanagoria
Part 4, Villa Victoria
Part 5, Myskhako
Part 6, Abrau Durso
Part 7, other wines tasted 

Wines tasted 09/11
Published 10/11  

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