Thursday, September 1, 2011

Good Luck, President Medvedev!

Finally President Medvedev said it. Wait is over. No more 2d term for him. No more questions - skip election press conference, relax, do crazy things, vacation all you want, rename Red Army to White, move permanently to Sochi or Miami. Nothing can hurt you anymore because president of Russia never says something like vodka is evil and wine is as good as water or juice.

There are way too many problems with this.

Firstly, beer is the main fighter of vodka in Russia. Never mind beer became an appetizer to a lot of vodka drinkers: it will be a hard sell for wine to overtake beer.

Secondly, dry wine demands some sophistication from its consumers because wine is a foodie drink. Anywhere you go wine goes side by side with local type of food: Chèvre and Sancerre or Schnitzel with sauerkraut and German Riesling or BBQ and Zinfandel. Pairing typical Russian food is a challenge (if you have a good idea for pelmeni with sour cream please let me know).

Next goes simple price/reward ratio: choosing between wine with 11-14% alcohol level and vodka with 40% alcohol level for half or less the price. It’s no brainer.

But don’t stop there. How about selection: there are literally 100s types of different wines – not even brands – which leaves uneducated consumer daunted and lost. On top of that two decent, affordable and well known sources of wine for Russian consumer are Moldova and Georgia – both are banned for import for pure political reasons.

With all these problems I wish President Medvedev good luck. Because some day wine might turn out to be a cure for vodka-loving Russia. But I don’t see just 2 things today: how Medvedev can be a president after this and how Putin can jump on a wine loving band-wagon when he becomes president again. Because even fantastically overinflated credit Putin has won’t be enough to fight vodka in Russia. But maybe, just maybe, it is the one idea that can turn a lot of things around in this country…


  1. Pelmeni with sour cream I've not had, but from the recipe would it not work with the right Gewurztraminer?

  2. Without sour cream Russian pelmeni are served with vinegar. Then, yes, Gewurztraminer or other Alsatian wine should do. French Chablis should be another good choice. With sour cream I am not sure - I am leaning toward some kind of Chardonnay here (maybe Chablis again) or Chainti...

  3. There are several other points. First of all Moldova has been "unbanned" for at least 2 years. But its place has been taken first by Bulgaria and then by local bottlers of foreign bulk which is of much higher quality than the 95% of the Moldavian plonk. Georgia accounted for less than 10% market share before 2006, these were mostly overpriced wines bought like presents "for the dear boss" (but not in Moscow & St. Pete) that were handled down afterwards to their drivers. And at least half of the Georgian wine was counterfeited both in Georgia and Russia. Few want it back, but the main obstacle is the new state licensing & certification system - the even fewer importers left are not running head over heals to spend thousands of euros to certify the new Georgian wines - it's not commercially interesting for them.

    Second of all, Mr. President-to-be is said to be (unofficially) a large vineyard owner in Krasnodar region. And in Russia what is the president's hobby becomes nation's hobby as well (remember Yeltsin and tennis, Putin and ski etc.) I assume it's a smart move to lay the burden of announcing that on Medvedev and have him then off the scene. It's a long term game, we'll still see other issues, I guess.

    Third, pelmeni, apart form being made of pale and loose dough not out of the type of wheat the Italians use but of a much worse one, contain minced fat meat, onions and spices inside and are boiled in salty water. Add to this the sour cream and you come to ... vodka as the best match. Or Lambrusco which has the tannins to fight the salt, acidity to cope with the fat and sweetness that cover the spices and the sour cream. And some CO2 to reinforce the flavours. Besides it fits perfectly the Russian "sweet tooth" and the general type of wine consumed in the country (2/3 of the consumption is red semidry or semisweet wine).