Savalan – Wines from Azerbaijan.
As we are all used to wines from western Europe it is important to note that there is great wine history in the Eastern European region, continuing as far as Russia and large parts of the former Russian Soviet Union.
A while ago we got the opportunity to review a number of wines produced by one of the biggest wineries of the country: Aspi. Under the name Savalan they produce a wide range of wines and are moving their attention to Western Europe, being represented by Elegance Wine House as their official European distributor, ran by Victoria Mamedova.
Wines of Azerbaijan
One of the countries that can count on a longstanding tradition (dating back to the second millennium before Christ) is Azerbaijan. Wines are being produced in several regions in this country. Since the fall of communism, a lot of winegrowers have been working on the revival and modernization of the Azerbaijan wine industry.
Today’s vineyards are mostly found in the foothills of the Caucasus Mountains and near the Kura River. A lot of local varieties are used but you will also find some more commonly used grapes such as Pinot Noir, Aligote, Pinot Blanc and Viognier for example.
In terms of terroir, Azerbaijan’s Savalan Valley is almost identical to southern Italy’s wine-growing regions. At an altitude of around 400m above sea level, the Savalan vineyards occupy a kind of peninsula, surrounded on both sides by mountain rivers and protected from dry winds by the Caucasus Mountains.
About the Winery
Savalan is a village and municipality in the Qabala district in the North of Azerbaijan. In 2007 a big new “wine processing plant” was opened in the region, with its main goal to restore the former glory of the Azerbaijan wines. Large vineyards were set up in the Qabala district under close contact of leading seedlings companies from Italy and France. With these partners Savalan had access to both knowledge and material from these two wine countries.
Savalan’s vineyards are located on the slopes of the Greater Caucasus ridge, that features unique climatic conditions in the Savalan valley. Most vineyards are 400 meters above sea level, have a perfect year-round temperature and some different soil samples revealed the possibility of growing unique and high-quality grape varieties here.
It was soon noted that “Savalan” wines are made so popular above all by the ideal geographical and climatic conditions in which the grapes grow. Grown in these conditions, grapes make authentic wines with distinctive features. They represent a combination of centuries-old tradition and modern trends in winemaking. In the meanwhile, they produce 23 different wines, including a lot of single variety wines that are well-known on the international stage.
Grapes are harvested by hand and processed into wine at a winery built nearby and fitted with modern equipment and the latest mechanized technology. In addition, the wines are produced under the guidance of highly qualified Italian technologist Daniel Andera. The comprehensive examination of the wine is conducted by European wine expert Ermanno Murari. Most of the wines are stored in oak barrels in a cellar in compliance with all the established standards, which aids to their development of course.
About the Wines
We tasted 5 wines for this review, below the scores followed by a short review per wine.
- Savalan Verdejo 2019 | 81/100 DWA score
- Savalan Viognier 2019 | 85/100 DWA score
- Savalan Traminer 2018 | 86/100 DWA score
- Savalan Nobel Exclusive 2016 | 80/100 DWA score
- Savalan “Special Edition” Reserve 2012 | 81/100 DWA score
Savalan Verdejo 2019 | 81/100 DWA score
A 2019 verdejo with 12,5% alcohol. Fermented without skins on stainless steel for 10-12 days. A nice and rich Verdejo with nice fruity flavors such as peach, apricot and a lot of citrus. Still quite fresh and crisp for its age and packed with fruitiness, with a smooth and elegant aftertaste. Bit short but still okay given the age of the wine. Slightly mineral aftertaste but most of all a fresh and clean Verdejo. We would recommend drinking the wine this year young, as with most Verdejo wines, which will give you most vibrancy.
Savalan Viognier 2019 | 85/100 DWA score
A 2019 Viognier with 12,5% alcohol. The wine is fermented for 10-12 days in stainless steel without the skins. The Viognier jumps out of your glass, with scents of white flowers and pear. As well as some Mango and Papaya. Quite a lot of body in the wine, combined with a small peppery finish. Aftertaste is medium to long, and we can taste a little zest of orange in the aftertaste next to some limestone tones. Well balanced wine, which combines fruitiness with some power and body in the aftertaste without becoming too rich or heavy in the end.
Savalan Traminer 2018 | 86/100 DWA score
Same way of fermenting for 10-12 days but with a bit less alcohol, only 11,5%. When poured the Traminer seemed a bit boring, but after having it in the glass for about 10 minutes the wine really opens up and gives away its beautiful flowery nose. A semi dry wine when tasted, bit drier than expected by the smell. Some honey and roasted nuts in the nose as well as tropical fruit such as pineapple, mango and lychee. We love the slight sweet aftertaste of the wine and deep flowery honey tones in the nose. A well balanced Traminer with the potential to age even a few years more.
Savalan Nobel Exclusive 2016 | 80/100 DWA score
A blend of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Alicante Bouschet with 14% of alcohol. Natural fermentation in Ganimed tanks, and matured for over a year in Italian barrels. A ripe and heavy red wine with lots of black fruit such as blackberry and figs, a bit of cherry and some toast as well. Some scents of vanilla from the barrels are still in it and the tannins are a bit raw. Quite long aftertaste with a small dash of sweetness in it.
Savalan “Special Edition” Reserve 2012 | 81/100 DWA score
Made of 100% Syrah with a high alcohol level of 16,5%. Matured for over a year in Italian barrels as well and fermented on the skins for 7 days. A powerful red wine with heavy fruity tones as cherry, plums, figs, bit of pepper and some liquorice tones. A strong and long aftertaste but the high alcohol volume seems to be balanced well with the fruitiness in the wine. Tannins are definitely there but blended in quite subtle. Will need some decanting.
Overall the Savalan wines are surprisingly exciting and different. Some examples of grape varieties which are made perfectly balanced with the high standard of Aspi in mind. Just looking at the effort, care and expertise Aspi brought into this project we see a bright future ahead for them, and their wines. If combined with the great growing conditions in this Azerbaijan region there is reason to be even more optimistic. Azerbaijan, definitely worth trying!
Thanks Elegance Wine House for providing us these wines. This article was written by Martijn Coenen for Dutch Wine Apprentice.