One of Azerbaijan’s foremost new-breed wineries
From the north shore of the Absheron peninsular to the Russian border at the Samur River lies a narrow strip of coastal plain from which rises the ‘nose’ of the Greater Caucasus mountains. Historically the route of traders and invaders, these lands were guarded by three fortified pinch-points with fortresses whose ruins still create impressive scenes for travellers. As a wine terroir, the land is a curiosity, with a rich minerality, swirling khazri sea breezes and concentrated sunshine producing wines that can be explosively fiery and highly original.
A short drive from Baku, Marandi wine company (Fireland vineyards), is one of Azerbaijan’s foremost new-breed wineries, welcoming to visitors and producing a growing range of well-balanced wines, many grown in Fireland vineyards that lie on the Absheron Peninsula between two salt lakes, close to some intriguing mud volcanoes. As the winery has expanded, it has also sought to include a portfolio of cool-air grapes for which it has additional vineyards in the Caucasian foothill regions of Oguz and Sheki. In all, some 15 grape varieties are now cultivated on 160 hectares of land producing several wine ranges: refined Yalli, premium Terra Caspea and Terra Caucasea plus the softer, easy-drinking Ilkin table wines.
Terra Caspea Vermentino – The Italian grape Vermentino can produce dry whites with a light, fresh yet subtly complex flavour. Unless you’re familiar with Sardinian wines (or Ligurian Pigato), the easiest comparison is with a Sauvignon Blanc albeit with quince-like fruit notes and a potentially buttery texture. Caspea Vermentino is matured for 14 months, partially (30%) in oak.
Yalli Red – Aiming to compete with a sophisticated Bordeaux, the dry red Yalli is an assemblage of pre-oaked individual cépages Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot plus local Madrasa. Once combined the wine receives another 12 months in barrels to create a balanced tannic red that will mature further in the bottle. The name Yalli refers to a traditional shuffling ring- of line-dance. Certain ancient petroglyphs found at Gobustan south appear to show just such a dance and it is these Neolithic style artworks that adorn the wine labels.
Marandi wine company (Fireland vineyards), as the closest winery to Baku, a day-trip excursion is easy to organize and the popular beaches of Novkhani are nearby. Or you could work a winery tour into a more extensive exploration of the peninsula whose numerous attractions include photogenic several fortress towers and a series of off-beat cultural curiosities. Neither Caspian Coast nor Merit Brand r offer tours or tastings at present but this might change in coming years. If so, consider combining visits with the climbing of Beshbarmag – that’s a very photogenic rocky outcrop with mystical cultural significance that rises abruptly beside the Baku-Siyazan highway. Or perhaps go kitesurfing at the Shuraabad lagoon… but preferably before the wine tastings.