Wednesday, March 25, 2015

A Tasting of Wines from Yarimada Winery in Azerbaijan

Wine Tasting at Art Garden Restaurant
January 2015 - Several days after arriving in Baku, I received an email invitation from Ibrahim Abdulrahimov, the Commercial Director of Yarimada Winery. He invited me to a private wine tasting and lunch at the Art Garden Restaurant in the Old City of Baku.

Ibrahim was kind enough to pick me up from my hotel, and as we drove to the restaurant, he explained more about the winery. The name, “Yarimada” means “peninsula” in Azerbaijani. The winery is named this because it is located 40 minutes from Baku on the Absheron peninsula in the village of Nardaran, where summer houses and beaches that attract many tourists can be found. The peninsula is also known for its migratory birds, and they are using the symbol of the Hoopoe bird on their labels. They have plans to open a tasting room there because it a great tourist location, but still close to the city.

Drawing of Hoopoe Bird on Label
The company was recently started in 2012 and is part of a holding company with many other products, including construction, juice, and water manufacturing. They own and operate 500 hectares of vineyards and buy grapes from another 500 hectares across the country. Though they have a small demonstration vineyard at the winery, they primarily source from Gabala, which they report the best grapes come from.  Their winemaker is David Maisuradze, who is quite famous in Georgia. He is a consulting winemaker for Yarimada.

They currently produce around 60,000 bottles per year, with plans to expand. With a luxury focus, the sales strategy is to place the wine in high-end restaurants and fine wine shops in Baku, and then slowly expand across Europe. They don’t want to be seen in grocery stores, and their price points range from $30 to $50 manats (1 manat = $1.26 US dollar), which is quite high for wine in Azerbaijan (in fact the highest prices I saw).

Currently they produce 6 wines, and I was able to taste them all, along with a delicious meal of Azerbaijani grilled lamb, fresh vegetables, and local cheese and breads. A truly delightful tasting, which showed off the wines to great advantage.

2012 Yarimada Matrasa – A dry red wine with a dark ruby color. Nose of subdued cassis, black plum, and earth. Complex notes of minerality and metal on palate with softy bushy tannins. Slightly reminiscent of Chinon or Bourgueil cab franc. Intriguing, fared better with food. Made from a 1934 Matrasa vineyard -one of the few remaining old vineyard that were not torn out by the Soviets.  Aged 9 months on French oak.  Medium to long finish.  Matrasa is considered to be one of the signature red grapes of Azerbaijan, and is also spelled as Madrasa. 89 points

2012 Yarimada Cabernet Sauvignon – A dry red wine with fresh ripe fruit, made in a modern style. Nose of dark berry with faint mineral note. Very approachable with soft well integrated tannins with 9 months in new French oak.  Moderate acid. Thinner body, and medium to long finish.  Simple and enjoyable, but lacks complexity and ability to age well.  Drink and enjoy sooner.  88 points

2012 Yarimada Saperavi – this wine was my favorite of the tasting with a dark opaque black/purple color and a big velvety mixed berry nose with soft spice. Made from the Saperavi red grape, which is claimed as the signature grape of Georgia, it still performs very well in Azerbaijan. Made in a full-bodied, heavier style, the wine flows across the palate with big velvety tannins and concentrated spiced berry fruit with a touch of minerality and some warm milk chocolate on the finish. Very fulfilling, and reminiscent of a well-made Argentinian Malbec. Aged 16 months in French oak, this wine is not shy and also supports a 14.5% alcohol, though the bottle reads 12%.  92 points

2012 Yarimada Shiraz –a dry dark red wine with a hint of tar, spice, and mixed black berry on the nose.  Larger firm tannins, moderate oak aging, and more of an old world style with some savory meaty notes and the distinctive touch of metal minerality I found in almost every Azerbaijan wine I tasted.  Is it in the soil, the water?  The wine is a little high in alcohol and finishes a bit thin.  87 points.

Fortress Walls of Old City of Baku, Azerbaijan
2012 Yarimida Rkatsiteli – a dry white wine with floral and lemon nose. On the palate, medium-bodied with pear and crisp acidity. Textured with mineral notes and a bit of a hot finish. Unique, complex, and invites you to taste it again to pick up new nuances.  91 points; drink within next year


2014 Yarimida Rkatsiteli  - a much more vibrant nose on this younger wine, with fresh perfumed flowers and ripe citrus. Heavier texture on palate with some subdued pear and minerality, though acid not as high as the 2012 version, so less refreshing finish. Not released yet. 90 points; drink in 1 to 3 years

No comments: