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Putin's wines

Putin's wines

ANDREW J. LINN

Friday, 27 January 2023, 11:09

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For someone who is reputed to be an abstainer, Vladimir Putin has been taking an unusual interest in wine lately. Last year champagne imports were banned unless referred to as 'sparkling wine', while Russian sparkling wine could be referred to as 'champagne'. Wine imports are practically stagnant and have been replaced by Crimean and Krasnodarian varieties. Yuri Kovalchuk, one of Putin's closest friends and associates, controls most of the business. His Rossiya Bank recently received $60 billion worth of assets to prop up its state-run TV channels, so he keeps nationalism uppermost in his strategy. Only growers planting original Russian vines receive official subsidies. But it is the billionaire's two Crimea wineries that have attracted attention. The largest, Massandra, was founded with the support of the Russian imperial family in 1894 and has a cellar of a million bottles, many pre-1917 revolution.

During Emmanuel Macron's visit to Moscow, the official banquet menu was shrimp and potato salad, spinach ravioli, soup of five different fish species, and sturgeon steak, reindeer and dessert. The wines were Russian: a 2015 Chardonnay and Rebo red, made by Ricardo Cotarella, an Italian enologist who jokes that his Russian winery makes the most Italian Russian wine there is. A return of Crimea to Ukraine at the end of the current hostilities, as Volodymyr Zelenskyy is demanding, would, of course, be rather less welcome. But if that were the outcome, and taking into account his lack of enthusiasm for wine, the loss of his crony's wine interests would probably not be Putin's greatest concern.

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