June 4, 2023

Flowering steppes, salty lakes, pastures of wild horses, filled with the aroma of the midday sun and bitter herbs. And yet – one of the northernmost wine regions in the world, which because of its authentic features is called the Russian Loire Valley. A wide strip of land stretching from the Tsimlyansk reservoir to Azov itself is traditionally called the Don Valley, a zone of autochthons – wines from native grape varieties. The project “Traveling with the Russian Geographical Society” invites you to go on an enogastronomic tour of the Russian south.

Enogastronomy is the art of pairing wine and food. The thinner the dish, the more refined the wine, and vice versa – the richer the taste, the more full-bodied wine you can choose for a meal. Of course, there are ideal unions of drinks and snacks, but the harmony of an ideal couple can only be created with practice. For this, we go to the lower reaches of the Don, where a special culture of wine consumption was born – with a Cossack flavor.

ancient heritage

The traditions of winemaking at the mouth of the Don go back to the Greek colonies of the Bosporus kingdom, part of whose territory was located on the northeastern coast of the Sea of ​​Azov. Even at the turn of the eras, ancient winegrowers used the technology of burying vines for the winter: grapes are removed from supporting structures – trellises – and sprinkled with earth.

Although the Don Valley is located at the latitude of Champagne, the region is considered one of the most severe climatic conditions in Europe. Winter frosts down to -30 °C kill part of the vineyards, and every year they have to be replaced. But it is this fact that gives the Don terroirs a special flavor: the wine here is always from a young vine. In addition, the steep banks are rich in mineral springs, which in the heat evenly nourish the plantings and give the wine an exquisite salty tint. Perhaps that is why for several centuries now the grape rows have been creating a recognizable image of the Don landscape.

Due to the unique features of the soil, the influence of a full-flowing river and the proximity of the sea, the Don Valley is strong for its autochthonous varieties, which are grown only in this region. The Siberian variety is used to make white wines with a delicate mineral aftertaste, Tsimlyansky black and Krasnostop Zolotovsky – the basis for a tart red with notes of fruit, cream and smoke.

In local wineries, the centuries-old history is not just being revived, it literally coexists with ancient monuments. At the mouth of the Don is the ancient Greek city of Tanais, III century BC. e. – one of the most important trading centers of the Bosporan kingdom. Project “Traveling with the Russian Geographical Society” jointly with tour operator “Riviera” called to go to enogastronomic adventure on the Don land. The selection contains five wineries of the region, from which it is worth starting your acquaintance with the culture of wine drinking on the Don.

“Cantina”: from the time of Peter the Great

Where: Azov
What to see: 17th century vineyards and archaeological sites of Meotida

The winery “Cantina” is a true enogastronomic center of the region, attractive for rural and family tourism. This is an example of the so-called micro-winemaking: small planting areas allow you to manually pick and sort grapes, each barrel has an individual approach. The history of the establishment of the enterprise goes back to the times of Peter I, by whose decree the first vineyard was planted on these lands, which has survived to this day. Gourmet Cabernets and Rieslings ripen here, and local winemakers are proud of their still red and rosé wines. Surrounded by vineyards, there is a cozy campsite with a swimming pool and a sandy beach, where open-air movie nights are sometimes held.

It is worth going here not only for the sake of farm products, but also for immersion in the historical context. Literally a couple of kilometers away is the famous Azov fortress, and on the other side of the Don overflows is the Tanais archaeological museum-reserve. The quarters of the ancient policy of the Bosporus kingdom, the northernmost outpost of the ancient Greek civilization, have been preserved here. Scientists and archaeologists still find relics of Hellenic winemakers at the gates of Meotida (as the Greeks called the Sea of ​​Azov).

Tanais, a city at the mouth of the Don, laid the foundation for the economic life of the region and became a link with the policies of the Northern Black Sea region: ancient geographers and historians drew the border between Europe and Asia from Tanais. Today you can walk along the old streets, look at historical costumes, a collection of amphoras, and even take part in master classes in ancient crafts and rituals.

“Wines of Arpachin”: Cossack winemaking

Where: stanitsa Manychskaya
What to see: Military Cossack Cathedral and the Museum of the History of Don Winemaking

On the left bank of the Don, not far from the village of Manychskaya, there are 30 hectares of vineyards from classic varieties for these lands, the selection of which was started by Peter I, and continued by the Cossacks. The “youngest” of them appeared here more than 100 years ago. The wine from here is famous for its unique aromatics: the use of the latest equipment and technologies allows you to convey it in full. In a separate laboratory, a team of winemakers is experimenting with new varieties and aging. A tour of the winery, built in the spirit of industrial estates of the XIX century, can be combined with a tasting of farm products from local fields.

On the other side of the river, in Novocherkassk, there is another location that tells about the culture of the Don wine. The Museum of the History of Don Winemaking was founded in 1936 on the basis of a scientific laboratory. Today, they are breeding hybrid frost-resistant varieties suitable for the local temperature extremes. On the basis of the institute, varieties popular in the region (steppe, Platovsky, flower, northern saperavi) were bred, which are distinguished by good frost tolerance. In separate rooms, antique exhibits are presented – witnesses of the flourishing winemaking of the times of the Bosporan kingdom.

“Vedernikov”: wine with a Russian soul

Where: Konstantinovsk
What to see: Scythian burial mounds and the Quiet Don Museum

Khutor Vedernikov is one of the oldest points on the wine map of the Russian world, the cradle of Cossack winemaking with a tradition of 300 years. The vineyards are located on the high right bank of the Don, which for a long time served as the border between Russian and Ottoman lands. In the steppe, Scythian burial mounds are found every now and then, in which archaeologists find amphoras and various utensils for drinking wine. Today “Vedernikov” is a point of attraction for connoisseurs of agricultural tourism in the Russian south. A farmhouse in the style of a classic Cossack farm, where you can relax with the whole family and take a walk with a tour of the surroundings, and then go for a tasting of premium still wines from recognizable bottles painted in Khokhloma.

In the neighboring village on the same right bank, there is another iconic attraction that will help complement the historical context of the region – an open-air ethnographic museum dedicated to Mikhail Sholokhov’s novel “Quiet Flows the Don”. Not even a museum – a whole Cossack farm of the beginning of the 20th century, which, as if by magic, grew up among the steppe, lavender fields and the hot southern sun. Along the road behind the wicker hedges there are cozy huts and huts covered with reeds, brought here from the filming of one of the latest adaptations of The Quiet Flows the Don directed by Sergei Ursulyak. Inside the buildings there is a recreated life of the Cossacks, where you can stop for the night if you wish, as well as order several gastronomic master classes and learn how to cook crayfish according to old Don recipes, cook sbiten and bake camp porridge in a Russian oven. By the way, the Sholokhov farm Starozolotovsky is included in the list of the most beautiful villages in Russia.

“Tsimlyansk wines”: an ode to the high society reception

Where: Tsimlyansk
What to see: Cossack wine and the Don bowl

The history of one of the oldest wineries in the Russian south goes back to the Khazar nomads: their Sarkel fortress was located not far from modern Tsimlyansk. The culture of vine cultivation flourished here until Prince Svyatoslav defeated the Khazars in the 10th century.

The abandoned Tsimlyansk vineyards were revived by the Cossacks, having mastered the production of sparkling wines using their own technology, obtained empirically. Cossack sparkling – red, aged and sweet. The berries of native varieties of Tsimlyansky black and pleurisy after harvesting were dried on reed mats so that the grapes slightly raisined, and then poured into vats and left to ferment until spring. With the advent of heat, drinks were bottled, the neck was tied with twine and poured with sealing wax. It was possible to open sparkling wine with the onset of summer – it was then that the wine was considered ready.

Here you can take a tour of the vineyards, see the so-called Don bowl – a specific formation of a grape bush, and also get to the shore of the sunken “Cossack Atlantis” – the village of Tsimlyanskaya, which went under water after the flood of the hydroelectric power station.

Sarkel Manor: cheese and wine

Where: Tsimlyansky district
What to see: festival “Tsimlyansk Vine”

Next to the “Tsimlyansky wines” on the banks of the reservoir there is another young winery, stylized as a Tuscan farm. In addition to red sweet wine, cheeses are produced here according to their own recipe from Don milk. On the territory there is a guest house in the spirit of a Cossack hut with a snow-white beach of the Tsimlyansk Sea, as well as shady apple and pear orchards.

At the end of May, the traditional wine festival “Tsimlyanskaya Vine” is held here, where winemakers from all over the valley present their assemblages – original compositions from different grape varieties. And the craft fair and dishes of the Don cuisine, surrounded by Cossack songs and dances, turn the event into a real enchanting holiday with a broad Russian soul – to match the Don wine, which Pushkin in his lyrics called seething sparkling juice.

Traveling with the Russian Geographical Society“is a collection of fascinating author’s tours in Russia from Russian tour operators that have passed the voluntary certification system – an expert assessment by the Society’s specialists – and received the distinctive quality mark “Recommended by the Russian Geographical Society”.

The system of voluntary certification of tours means that the route meets all the requirements for quality and safety, and is also an authentic, unique and educational product.

Julia Gopius

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