Kiev for wine lovers

Blue wine in Kiev, Ukraine

Yulja Kryvoshei makes it sound as though Ukraine's capital has some seriously inventive ways of introducing the locals to wine. See this guide to all the entries in our travel writing competition that have been published so far.

Ukraine is just taking baby steps towards regaining its place on Europe’s wine map, and I am completely aware that if anyone has Kyiv (Kiev) on top of their list of vacation destinations, it is not for a wine tour, but likely because HBO have done a good job increasing interest in Chernobyl.

But whatever the reason you might be visiting Kyiv, if you happen to be a keen wine lover, your vinous experience won’t necessarily be dull, at least not for a few days and if you’d care to follow this guide.

Any wine-minded traveller is eager to try something local, something they never tasted before which, for most people, pretty much covers all Ukrainian wine. Even though Eastern Europe has recently been drawing more of wine world’s attention, in most cases it is limited to Croatia, Slovenia, Romania and Moldova, even though Ukrainian winemaking is by no means devoid of the originality and diversity that ‘New Europe’ is commonly appreciated for. Yet, as they say, the proof of wine is in the drinking. So if you are ready to taste for yourself, there is an excellent place.

Like a Local's wine bar opened in Kyiv in 2016 and was the first to start pouring Ukrainian wines only. At the time, the idea seemed foolish – even among natives, domestic wine production had a reputation of nasty plonk best suited to the bottom shelf, not the wine list. The owners, however, have been championing local wine festivals for seven years already, and saw the gradually-improving quality as well as the new, ambitious garagiste winemakers emerging throughout the country. They decided to prove that drinking local could be delicious and Ukrainian wines are able to beat EU-produced equivalents with the same price tag.

Today, Kyiv boasts no fewer than three Like a Local’s wine bars: two snug ones inserted in semi-basements with scarcely a free spot in the evenings and a recently opened, three-storey bar ideally placed in the heart of the beautiful historic district of Podil (‘the lower city’). As it happens, this is just across the street from the National Chernobyl Museum. All three wine bars are simple in design, with an easy-going atmosphere and a friendly crowd. But the bottom line is that the wines here are being vigilantly checked all the time.

This is of paramount importance due to the long-standing instability of both big-volume and garage wine producers. One cuvée’s quality may sometimes vary drastically: one month it becomes your favourite in a wine challenge; the next you buy it from a supermarket and it does not taste the same (and I am not talking bottle-variation-different, more like chalk-and-cheese different). Nonetheless, you will not get anything substandard at Like a Local’s, to be sure.

The wine list features 55 bottles from 13 wineries, with the by-the-glass offer being renewed weekly. A definite must-try is Ukraine’s very own indigenous variety, Telti Kuruk from sandy soils of Shabo in the Odessa region (by the way, #NotInWineGrapes). Odessky Cherny (Alicante Henri Bouschet × Cabernet Sauvignon), producing powerful reds, is also considered to be a local specialty. Unconventional blends are well made by Beykush winery that prides itself on making it to Hedonism wine store in London. The very glorious blesseth 2014 Kara Kermen (dried-grape Saperavi and Tempranillo) seems easier to get in London than Kiev, but the even more unconventional blend of Kefessiya, Saperavi, Tempranillo and Cabernet Sauvignon is still on the Like a Local’s list.

A short menu of appetisers is offered and, in tune with the bar’s concept, everything on it – from snails to cheeses – is local.

A number of other wine places should suffice for a brief visit to Kyiv.

Win Bar is also situated on Podil in an early 19th century building that accommodated an apothecary’s family lodgings with a shop. Now, as the bar owners put it, it provides a place for a rather less orthodox medical practice – oenotherapy. Although the wine list here is hardly the size of Martindale: The Complete Drug Reference and is a little bit less organised, there are 400 items, predominantly available by the glass, which is still huge by Kyiv standards. Win Bar is also noteworthy for its precise and artful interior, restored with due regard for 200-year-old brick that outlived the tsars. In the evenings, the place is buzzing and said to be witnessing a record number of sabrage attempts per night. 

Oysters Cava Bars are set in shopping malls around Kyiv such as TSUM on Khreshchatyk (the main street). The name is quite self-explanatory – it is the place to be for Spanish bubbly aficionados and dedicated oyster slurpers. Having said that, it is not very explicit in the Ukrainian language because ‘cava’ means ‘coffee’ of all things, but not that it has been causing any confusion amongst consumers, in case you wonder. Two beverages seem to coexist peacefully, with no harm done by coffee to the prestige of DO Cava.

Wine Not is the closest wine spot to Kyiv’s main sports arena, Olimpiyskiy Stadium. Introducing the concept of a wine games bar, Wine Not suggests learning about wine by playing. Guests may pick card or board games for blind tasting or choose to try their luck at a wine roulette table that has a customised layout for betting on grape variety, country of origin, alcohol content, etc. A run-of-the-mill wine list provides a big enough playing field for the learner and the bar’s collection of vinyl brings good cheer to the game.            

GoodWine This is a food and wine store with an impressive (again, by Kyiv standards) array of direct imports. Lucky restaurant located within the store has a delicious and well-executed menu and may serve you any of the nearly 4,000 bottles GoodWine has in stock, charging only a retail price.

Le Silpo is a centrally located deli-market offering a decent choice of directly imported wines, often with the accent on natural. Any purchased bottle may be enjoyed right there in the market’s cafe zone, with no corkage fee.