Amidst the downtown, with an always snowy side alley entrance, one can find the door to Arba Wine’s tasting room. Coming in from the cold, I am immediately greeted by warmth and a pleasant calm. Several couches and tables fill the main room. The brick-lined walls and rustic wine counter offer a sense of being outside, which is only enhanced by the large photos of the Arba vineyard located near Almaty in southern Kazakhstan. Several wines and vintages are available by the glass or bottle. Most are too drinkable. I don’t think of delicious wine when I think of Kazakhstan; I think that’s what makes Arba Wine so special.
Members of our friend group frequent Arba, it seems, at least once a week. Thursday night I benefitted from these strong ties between my friends and the tasting room management. We were invited to a party to celebrate the opening of the 2014 vintages. A group of no more than 50 people, the event felt very exclusive. Upon entering, we were greeted with a glass of the most delicious and refreshing rose—a perfect blend of crispness and flavor—as well as a table of beautifully plated hors d’oeuvres.
A young hostess guided us through the evening and gave us cards for rating the new wines. Using a scale from one to ten, we were to rate color, aroma, acidity, aftertaste, and our general opinion. We began with whites. First up was a Gewürztraminer, a white traditionally from Germany, and perhaps was my least favorite of all the wines. Next was a Riesling whose young vines were imported from the Alsace region of France to Almaty four years ago. This was light and slightly fruity—not bad for a white wine. My favorite of the whites was a Riesling made from vines growing in Kazakhstan for over forty years. This was very, very good. Crisp, somewhat sweet, and rich in flavor. I’m not sure if I’ve ever bought a bottle of white wine for myself, but I definitely bought this one at the end of the night.
Switching out our glasses, we moved into tasting the reds. We started with their Kyzyl Bastau, a blend of mostly Pinot Noir and Saperavi, with some Malbek, Cabernet Franc, and, for the 2014 blend, the new addition of Merlot. This is the bottle(s) we always get when visiting Arba for a drink, but it is usually the 2012 or 2013 blends. The addition of Merlot was noticeable. The wine had a denser body, less crisp than the early vintages, but still somewhat sweet. Overall, I gave it a 9 and will definitely be ordering this in the future. Our final glass was an exclusive Pinot Noir which apparently caused a stir amongst the professional sommeliers during their tasting the day before; one said it was an incredible Pinot Noir, another said it was mediocre. I won’t begin to pretend I know the difference between a good Pinot and a bad, let alone a Pinot versus another red. I’ll just say that I enjoyed it, though I still preferred the Kyzyl Bastau.
It is hard to leave Arba empty handed when one can get a good bottle of wine for less than $9. And since the wonderful evening was free, we just had to get a few bottles to restock our “cellar.” So do I like Arba Wine? Yes, very much so. Anyone who comes to visit us in Astana should know in advance that this is one of the places I’ll be taking you.
*If you venture onto their website, you will see their awesome logo. This image appears to be inspired by something perhaps from the Bronze or Iron Age in Kazakhstan. I will be investigating this further and will provide an update when I know more.*