Quietly poking into the US market, like an accidental cellphone call, is the sparkler from Sevastopol Winery. It comes from Crimea: today a sub-republic of Ukraine.
This peninsula, provides a funny hat for the Black Sea. If the name Crimea doesn’t ring a bell, the first modern war (arguably) with rail, telegraph, photography, trench warfare, conical bullets etc. destroyed the place in the 1850s. It has been occupied (for at least a century each) by Cimmerians, Scythians, Greeks, Romans, Goths, Huns, Bulgars, Khazars, Kiev Russians, Byzantines, Kipchaks, Turks, Mongols, Genoans, Venitians, Tartars, Ottomans, Russians (again), Nazis (briefly) Communist Russians (again), and now Crimeans…sort of.
Confused like Crimea’s past is this sparkler’s label. Behold its brilliance…
First, the anchor logo with bubbles in its top repeats twice on the label, the cork and foil (that’s six times for you maths majors). O.K. Sevastopol is a port. We get it. Blurred award medallions flank what I thought was this wine’s name, “Krimskoye”: but that just means Crimean. They memorialize winning the Paris Grand Prix of 1900 (or 1990). Next is the claim “SEMI-SWEET”, which labels many of Sevastopol’ wines even the hyper-sweet Muscat. The white banner, “PREMIUM CRIMEAN WHITE CHAMPAGNE” would anger and bewilder the French. First, “Champagne” is a region not a style (say sparkling). I have no idea what “premium” means (aside from affectation), especially on a $10 bubbly. “Crimean” just re-translates Krimskoye for us (but now you know). “White”, upon further research, refers to the fact this is chardonnay. Great!
The net (mostly Ukrainian tour guides) reveals that this wine’s chardonnay comes from Crimea’s “golden” valleys: Alma, Bhelbek and Bulghanak. Wherever those are. Somewhere on latitude with Southern France. Wines like this age in cask “butts” for two to three years in old quarries in Inkerman. They are bottle fermented and riddled akin to Champagne. I think.
But you should just ignore my struggling ignorance and just pop the thing.
In glass you’ll find an odd wine, nearly as confused as Crimea’s past. The bubbles meander. The nose reeks of confected icing, musk, licorice, even plastic. Yet on the palate it works. Sweetness and acidity fix each other from overbearing your senses. White pear and golden delicious apple dominate, with musk, nut and honey-like petrol carving niches for themselves. These flavors hang around for quite a while.
With enough exposure, I learned to appreciate this bubbly. Its differences make it worth the $10 risk. Just don’t expect Champagne or anything reminiscent of other sparkling chardonnay. Whether it’s the soil, climate, yeasts, equipment, bacteria or methods, Sevastopol has made something very interesting, neither lovable nor bad. Once dinner’s dishes are done, let this wine take your evening to the edges of the Black Sea.