Wine for the Upper Crust

PHOTO by Dmitry Astakhov / TASS
Even the rich and powerful enjoy eating and drinking, just like everybody else

MOSLENTA is continuing to study the history of the Kremlin kitchen and this time is focussing on wine.

No Special Order Required

In the days of the Soviet Union, the range of alcohol at Kremlin banquets was fixed. More than 80 percent of it was vodka and cognac (from Armenia, Georgia and Dagestan). There were fewer wines, so just small batches from Purcari (Moldova), Kakheti (Georgia), Crimea and Krasnodar Kray were supplied to the Kremlin. It was very rare to see products made especially for the Kremlin.

For example, the Kremlin's sparkling wines used to have an ordinary "Soviet champagne" label, but they were "Abrau-Durso" wines, one of three Soviet wineries, where traditional champagne-making techniques was used. There wasn't a special "Kremlin" line made there, because it wasn't necessary.

Soviet "Abrau-Durso" from the 1970s and 1980s is still perfect today. However, there are very few bottles left, so it's no longer served at grand Kremlin banquets. These days, only recently produced wine is served, from the second half of the 2000s.

Changing of the Guard

This model continued until the mid-2010s. The situation began to change dramatically in 2008, when Dmitry Medvedev assumed the presidency and Igor Bukharov, the famous Moscow restaurateur, became the head of Kremlevsky Catering Centre.

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Anastas Mikoyan and Nikita Khrushchev (left to right in the front row) at a reception in the Kremlin to fete the return to the Earth of Cosmonaut Gherman Titov (center) on Aug. 9, 1961.

According to a MOSLENTA source from his inner circle, Dmitry Medvedev is a real foodie, well versed both in food and wines. Therefore, it was his initiative to change the Soviet tradition of huge reception tables to proper table service and portions, etc.

"Dmitry Medvedev loves wine and is a true connoisseur. He has a very good collection in his own cellar, but it has nothing to do with either the Kremlin or the White House. He pays for every bottle himself," said the source. "Recently, Vladimir Putin also installed his own personal cellar," they added.

Rules of the Game

According to Bukharov, there is a tiered system of reception coordination at the Kremlin. Direct instructions are taken from the President's Protocol service and their implementation is down to the Property Administration. In the second half of the 2000s, major catering companies belonging to the likes of Arkady Novikov, Andrei Dellos, Evgeny Prigozhin were involved with this as well.

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Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, right, reviews production of sparkling wines at Abrau-Dyurso in the village of Abrau-Dyurso in Novorossiisk.

At the time, there was no full-time sommelier at the Kremlin. No one even thought to make wine pairings, because most people would just drink spirits. There is still no such position today, but for a different reason. "For three years we regularly organised professional wine tastings for the Protocol staff. Now these people are very well versed in wine," says Bukharov.

According to him, since 2008, preliminary approval of menus for Kremlin receptions has become a routine procedure. The Kremlevsky Catering Centre put forward their ideas to the Protocol Service. If the plans are confirmed, then they set to work implementing them. A few days before the official event a preview table is laid out in a special room for reviewing.

Our Own Wine

At first, only imported wines from countries across Europe and the New World were served at official Kremlin events. Tthe organisers always try to find out the foreign guests' preferences and to order everything in advance.

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A MOSLENTA source from Dmitry Medvedev's inner circle said that during his official visit to our country, Silvio Berlusconi was treated to wines from the famous Tuscan winery Biondi Santi. After the event, Berlusconi admitted that the Moscow dinner was better than the Washington one, and also added that he couldn't afford to drink this wine every day. Today, a lot of foreign wines are purchased for the Kremlin's needs.

Gradually, Russian wines began appearing on the table as well. According to Bukharov, this was a personal achievement of Medvedev, as he initiated the process using his position as President.

In 2011, Dmitry Medvedev gave an order to have one bottle of Russian wine for every foreign one at all Kremlin receptions - and that's without counting domestic sparkling wine as aperitif. Foreign wines were completely abandoned at the official events in 2012 and the practice has continued until today.

It's difficult to overestimate the importance of such a decision. It can be regarded as a concession for Russian wine-makers by the country's leadership. Making it onto the list of suppliers to the Kremlin has always been considered a great honour. This motivates Russian wineries to develop and to constantly improve the quality of their products.

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Italian former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and President Vladimir Putin visited the main basement of the Massandra Association with the richest wine library in the world.

Apart from wines of Abrau-Durso, which is an official Kremlin supplier, wines from Usadba Divnomorskoe, Vinodelnya Vedernikov, Lefkadia, Sutera, Alma Valley, Chateau le Grand Vostok, Massandra and other high-end manufacturers from the Krasnodar region and the Crimea are also regularly served at the Kremlin.