Monday, August 13, 2012


Just a brief blog; this time from California!  

Sandra moved from Marriott to Isker this weekend so I thought I would report.  A typical Atyrau move....trips to colleagues to borrow suit cases, boxes, towels and other essential wrapping materials that are not provided and not easily available.  She packed and the moving men (I use the term guardedly!) took everything to the new apartment.
ISKER blocks around the courtyard
As I have said before, I really blog for friends and family, but know that there are quite a lot of people reading this who are thinking or planning to move out to Kazakhstan, and are doing their research.  I love to hear from those people, and sometimes even meet them.

But here is the thing, one of the hardest decisions and most important none-work decision is deciding where to live.  At the moment the selection of available housing is rumored to be under review, so what is currently offered may suddenly change, and it is all rather uncertain and frustrating.  

Sandra decided to bite the bullet and move to Isker.  We prefer the Marriott for the location, the views and the relative efficiency of the staff and reasonable quality furniture and equipment.  But it may not be available for ever and it is too small to really entertain she moved to shiny new Isker, with a big pool, well fitted restaurant and larger apartments located on the edge of town, near to nowhere with views of nothing. 
Location, location, location........
It was 44C this weekend so a mite hot.  The air conditioning didn't work and the engineers that were "on there way" didn't show up till Monday, when they fixed it.  Sandra was a little frazzled after having to unpack in the heat.  She couldn't do her washing as the machine didn't work and nether did the oven, but that was not needed.  The cable TV does not have much English on it, or so she says, but there may be sport and she isn't looking for that!

But here is what has really got my goat...the internet bandwidth is too narrow to support VOIP.  Like many people that are apart we spent a lot of time on Skype and Facetime.  Not any more! Not even with voice going out to a landline.  We are stuck with SMS.  

The management said that the internet meets the specification, so is not scrambling to fix it. 

So my message is, if you are thinking of moving to Isker, keep in mind that you wont be streaming videos or using VOIP to keep in touch.  Take lots of reading material and carrier pigeons.  If they fix the internet, you can eat the pigeons!

I will provide more details in a later blog when I am back in Atyrau.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012


So maybe the title is a little bit grand!  If you are an oenophile hoping to discover the inside story of Kazakh wines, stop reading now!  

My friend Mr A (I will protect his identity in order to maintain his social credibility) and I decided that the majority of expats were buying the same group of wines at the same shop (I could stretch it to shops) without ever really doing any proper evaluation of the relative quality and quantity.  What was desperately needed was a blind tasting by some of the best palates in Atyrau, and full disclosure of the results.

Well, that was a good idea but really challenged our resources, so we got a few friends together after work on Friday, for a blind tasting, and are broadcasting the results to the world in this blog.  (It may get 20 readers, if we ask the participants to read it too!)

But if you are reading be prepared for an insightful expose of a select group of wines in Kazakhstan.

So Mr A and I met in the wine section of Ram Store.  We want about ten bottles in the KZT2,000 ($13) bracket of cabernet or cabernet blends, since most people drink reds, and this is the most common imported grape variety.  

The blind tasting would be on Friday evening after work.  There would be a number of very hungry hard working tasters, so I thought that a few palate cleansing wafers, or a couple of crusts of bread would be appropriate but highly unpopular.  Instead some blue cheese and celery, mini quiches and other mild palate cleansers were offered.

Now here is one of those interesting Atyrau facts....there appear to be no brown paper bags in the city.  There is no reason why a city needs paper bags, and in fact it is probably better without them if plastic isn't used instead, but they do not exist in Atyrau.  So the wines were wrapped in red silvery present wrapping paper to give them their appropriate anonymity.

People arrived, tired and hungry.  But Mr A and I were hard task masters, no food or drink except water until business was taken care of.  Our rather cramped dining room was made less cramped by a couple of no-shows who un-arrived without explanation or apology.  But it meant we had sufficient chairs.

There was no tasting order, people started where they wanted.  This was necessary because not even I knew which wine was in which wrapper.

As people helped themselves to samples, the room was filled with the sound of slurping and groaning.  "Wine Appreciation" was not a term that sprung to mind.  Scoring was to be from 1 (bad) to 10 (great).  Mr A had produced a good score sheet, which I sabotaged by introducing an extra wine at the last minute, but it worked.  

One taster commented that after tasting the first couple of wines she would have to raise their scores because the third was too bad to fit on the scale....and I am afraid that that was the sentiment of much of the tasting.

We did sneak in a couple of local wines.  Unfortunately we couldn't read the labels so were not sure what we were getting and not unsurprisingly ended up with sweet wines. 

So this was the line-up with the prices we paid.

B&G MEDOC KPACHOE                                                  KZT 3,250.00    $21.65
TRIVENTO MIXTUS  CABERNET MERLOT Argentina  KZT 1,300.00    $8.66
TALL HORSE CABERNET  South Africa                         KZT 1,589.00    $10.58
SUNRISE CABERNET  Chile                                             KZT 1,589.00   $10.58
FRONTERA CABERNET  Chile                                         KZT 1,105.00   $7.36
АЛАЗАНИ СТОЛ.КР  Kazakhstan                                     KZT 975.00      $6.49
B&G V.P.D’OC CABERNET  France                                 KZT 2,315.00   $15.42
RESERVE CABERNET MOLDOVA  Moldova                 KZT 750.00      $5.00
CASILLERO DEL DIABLO CABERNET   Chile               KZT 2,000.00   $13.32

A now to the distiguished tasters...

And as to the result.  The line up goes from left to right.
The table below shows the individual scores and the calculations.  

The conclusion:  Well I think you will have to form your own, but I will go for the Frontera again and avoid the Moldovan Cab!