Thursday, 22 October 2015

The Older 'New World' - Wines of Bulgaria

(courtesy of Pixabay)

In my line of work, I've been extremely lucky to sip a fair few vinous products in some wonderful places in the world. I've chugged on Champagne in Epernay, had a tipple in Tuscany, had a bowlful of red in Beaujolais and marveled at Malbec in Mendoza. However, there is one area of the wine-producing globe that has so far eluded me and I have added it to the bucket list of places to visit, squeezed in between a weekend at EuroDisney (I gotta hear a French-speaking Mickey Mouse before I die) & Space (I'm just 6 sweet lottery numbers away, Mr Branson...).

Bulgaria first grabbed my attention when the 'Hairy Messi' of Eastern European football Hristo Stoichkov smashed a goal past the Germans at the World Cup in 1994. Quite literally, the entirety of that summer was spent trying to emulate that in various parks around Birmingham, with absolutely no success. It seemed that at the time when the man from Plovdiv was smashing in the goals at the World Cup, the Bulgarian wine industry was at an all time high. In 1994, Bulgarian exports to the UK alone were 4.5 million cases, with much of it its famed Cabernet Sauvignon. Fast forward 10 years to when I first entered the heaven of the wine industry in 2004, many a person would tell me "Ooooh, I remember the good old days when that red wine from over in that Bulgarian place was right lovely and only cost me a couple of quid". So, I remember distinctly scanning supermarket shelves and trying to find this elusive liquid, but having absolutely no luck at all. 

By the early 2000's and beyond, things had gone a bit awry. After the fall of Communism, land was given back to its original owners, who either a) had no interest in growing vines, so left the land to become overgrown or b) grew completely unsuitable varieties, which made pretty shocking wines. Those owners who did take a bit of time to pick and choose the right varieties, were constantly worried about their crop being stolen or the unpredictable weather ruining it, that they picked the grapes far too early, leading to tart, unripe and underdeveloped fruit. Wineries who bought the grapes hadn't got the investment needed to make quality wines, so average and down right awful fare was produced.

With this in mind, I was intrigued to see if the once market leading producing Soviet Bloc country had risen from the ashes of mediocrity and could regain past glories. The main problem was how I was going to get my hands on anything remotely passable as wine. As luck would have it (and definitely not engineered or piggy-backed on in any way), a work colleague of mine, Bulgarian born Dayana, was heading back to her home city of Sofia for a visit, so I asked to her to get 3 bottles of wine for me that demonstrated the new 'New World' of Bulgarian wine making and here is what she brought me:

Maryan 'Sense of Tears' Single Vineyard Dimyat 2014

Dimiat is one of the most grown white grape varieties in Bulgaria, mainly being grown in the central areas of Bulgaria. This one comes from an area called Veliko Tarnovo from the Maryan Winery. Used as a source of refreshment for farm workers, its meant to be extremely well chilled and consumed young with no need for ageing.
As I poured it, the fragrance from the glass was phenomenal. Peaches, soft apples and a green vegetal smell followed a slight smoky note made me think this was going to be something that could possibly blow my alcohol soaked mind. Unfortunately, I felt a little let down. Slightly drier than I had read it should be, it tasted very austere and was very light in terms of the fruit character. Pine resin and slightly metallic, I can see why some people could drink a pint of it to cool yourself down after a hard days work in the fields, but its very specific taste means its not for everyone.

Logodaj, 'Nobile' Rubin 2012

Rubin is the result of cross pollination of the more well known grape varieties Nebbiolo of Italy and Syrah of France. Mainly planted in the southern and eastern areas of Bulgaria, due to the warm climate that the grape needs to ripen. The Logodaj winery is based in the Struma Valley, which runs from the west of the country to the south. In the glass, it displays a beautiful violet and red colour and the smell shows that it is heavily based on the Nebbiolo characteristics. Herby, floral and slight spice, it gives signals that its a pretty complex wine. Tasting it doesn't disappoint. Meaty and fruit-driven at the same time, a touch of oakiness gives the wine some good structure to cope with any meat you could slap on a plate in front of it. Red fruits and sweet spice mingle with a subtle smoky nature. A grape worth keeping a cheeky eye out for.

Vinozavod, Mavrud Premium Reserva 2012,

As you can see from the label, this took a whole lot more than Google translate to work out this one! Mavrud is a thick skinned red grape variety, which ripens very late, giving it ample time to create some seriously tasty flavours. Thanks to Dayana's gratis translating skills, she tells me that its from an area called Trakiiska Nizina within the Thrace region in Central Bulgaria (where most of the best Mavrud seems to come from). From the colour in the glass and scent of the wine, it screams of something reminiscent of a New World Cabernet Sauvignon. Chunky, sweet black fruit, with a hint of dark chocolate and roasted nuts, it is a massive blast to the nostrils. In the mouth, it has a real voluptuous feel, with a really rich taste. Big damson and fruits of the forest, the chocolatey nature of it really comes through. Match it with some game or goulash and you have a fantastic treat of a wine.

If you fancy trying some of these unusual varieties, they are hard to come by in your normal day to day shopping, but visit and peruse their wares for something that may catch your eye.

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