The Wines of Bulgaria, Romania and Moldova’, by Master of Wine, Caroline Gilby


No, not that star – these stars (plural) are the wine making countries of Eastern Europe: Bulgaria, Romania and Moldova.


I’m disappointed to have had to turn down my invitation to judge once again at the International Wine Competition Bucharest, Romania, next month, because of a clash in my diary. When there last year we worked hard judging in the morning, but the afternoons and evenings were taken up by tasting Eastern European wines and touring Romanian wineries.


For me it was the first time I had tasted Eastern European wines, apart from some rather dubious efforts in the 70s at the newly opened wine bar in Chester! Tasting such an array of wines, talking to their makers and to aficionados was the seed from which grew my great interest in wines from the East, which in fact have an ancient history, but only started recovering from the collective farming constrictions of the Communist era during the last 25 years or so.


I was delighted therefore to receive recently, a new book, ‘The Wines of Bulgaria, Romania and Moldova’, by Master of Wine, Caroline Gilby!


To say that this exceedingly well researched book is comprehensive, the definitive book on wines from these countries, doesn’t actually do it justice! It’s also a jolly good read! The photos are beautiful, inspiring the reader to visit; the facts are detailed, though presented in a very reader friendly manner; the history related is compelling (so much more so than History lessons, when I were a lad!); and, perhaps above all, it’s the human element that certainly captivated this reader!


One can almost feel the pain of the families whose lands are simply taken away from them as Communism cast a shadow over these countries, their fear and sense of hopelessness at losing the estates that had been in the families for generations. Their sense of desperation as they are forced to flee the country of their birth and then, years later when it was safe to return their feelings of ambivalence – elation at going home, but despondency when they see the neglected vineyards and encounter the bureaucracy in the way of their buying their land back!


Two World Wars had devastating affects, of course – millions died and countries were left in ruins. Thoughts of making fine wine couldn’t have been further from the minds of survivors, intent more on continuing to survive. But as one Moldovan gentleman, now producing wines, related there were worse times to come. Stalin had a policy of sending any land owners to Siberia – where many families simply died out! His grandfather was neglected when the rest were herded out of their homes, because he was in the vineyard at the time – most of his family never returned.


As a wine man, I was sad to read about how the dual mantras of mechanisation and mass production under the Communist regimes saw an increase in the volume of wine, but a dramatic decrease in quality. Corruption was rife and in order to survive one had to toe the communist line.


We read about how Russia banned the purchase of Moldovan wines, traditionally their largest and best market. This in far more modern times, 2006 to be precise, and for such spurious a reason as to cite danger from the pesticides used, when in fact, as the author points out, most growers were too poor to buy chemicals! It’s believed it was political, related to Moldovias ties with Ukraine!


Nevertheless, this is a very positive book. In each of the three countries, visionaries, often young winemakers, are intent on bringing back the fine wine traditions of the past, and improving them further. Investment from within as well as that from outside these countries has been bringing about a major sea change (Black Sea?) in the industry. A political will is also helping – though red tape still abounds!


Caroline Gilby MW has been visiting Bulgaria, Romania and Moldova for almost thirty years now, and has, as she states, been privileged to have been there when the quality wine making resurgence was just starting. She honestly says that there were times when she tasted dreadful wines in the early days, but hardly at all now, and also amazing wines which continue to please.


This is an inspirational book, dealing with all aspects of wine-making in these three countries and inciting us all to try the wines and visit the countries! In fact, I’m off to Romania later this month – to do just that!


The Wines of Bulgaria, Romania and Moldova by Caroline Gilby MW is available from  – Christmas Present anyone?!


Talks a good game?

Colin Harkness – you write as you speak, with enthusiasm as well as (dare I say it?) well rooted knowledge. This signature attribute of engaging dialogue is one of the many things that continues to draw us in to the nucleus of your inner wine guru, which you manage to channel so effortlessly. That, and your willingness keep the glass full!

Carol Corke

Spanish Wine’s Men of the Year 2015

. . . . it’s my intention here to honour those who have made, and are making, a significant, beneficial impact on the world of Spanish wine




In another new, annual article (last week’s Review of the Cork Talk Wine Events of the Year was the first) it’s my intention here to honour those who have made, and are making, a significant, beneficial impact on the world of Spanish wine.


And, once again, I’m setting myself a difficult task. The Spanish Wine World is just about as dynamic as can be, therefore there are many prime movers to consider, in terms of individuals and institutions, and in terms of now, and in the future. This year I’m keeping it to just three, though this is mostly because of space restrictions – there should be more people/institutions honoured!


I’m not a great fan of statistics. Like beauty, they are really in the eye of the beholder. So I can’t quote how many bottles of Cava have been sold over the Christmas celebratory period. I know, though, that it will be in the millions! And it’s Cava that is the raison d’etre of one of my ‘Wine People of the Year 2015’ – Señor Pere Bonet, President of the Consejo Regulador DO Cava.

DO CAVA SEPT 2014 067

Readers may remember when I interviewed Señor Bonet for Cork Talk in 2014. I’d been invited to visit one of the leading Cava producers, Segura Viudas, whose baronial walls date back to the 11th Century, but where cava making is 21st Century cutting edge. The invitation was one of the first moves in a practical and PR riposte to adverse criticism that DO Cava was being subjected to at the time –  Like Star Wars, the Empire was striking back! And the force was certainly with my host.


This year, 2015, there has been no slacking. DO Cava, with Señor Bonet at the helm continues to battle stormy seas, but because of his stewardship, the waters are calming. Although there has yet been no Governmental confirmation of the keenly sought new designation (a breaking wine news scoop discussed in this column in 2015, which would enable some cava producers to apply for the epithet Cava de Paraje Calificado) there have nevertheless been further moves, overseen by our Wine Man of the Year 2015.


I consider myself very fortunate to have been able to assist, albeit in a small way – this year I was asked once again to present the Cava Dinner on the Costa Blanca, where my remit was to help Señor Bonet introduce or reintroduce consumers to, what is now being called, Premium Cavas. Essentially those cavas which are classed as Reserva or Gran Reserva are now being referred to by this phrase. They are not the bargain basement supermarket cavas, which are about as representative of cava as the red stuff in supermarket plastic bottles are of Spanish wine!


Señor Bonet continues to be unflinching in his determination to place cava, once again in the same bracket as the other great sparkling wines of the world. Thus, he deserves the title above!


My next award is bestowed upon another grandee of the Spanish wine business, an individual who opened up a hornets nest in the middle of Spain’s most famous wine producing area, DOCa Rioja! Juan Carlos López de Lacalle of Bodegas Artadi, whose Viña el Pisón, at about £400, has the distinction of being one of Spain’s most expensive wines, is another of my ‘Wine People of the Year 2015’.

ARTADI el-pison

Over the 19+ years I’ve been writing Cork Talk I’ve not always been full of praise for Rioja wines. Whilst there are producers of wonderful Rioja (I give you my recent article on Bodedgas Marqués de Murrieta, for example, plus another soon on Bodegas Muga) there is also a lot of dross that really does not deserve to be called Rioja.


Winemakers within Rioja who have been striving against being automatically linked to the huge ‘brand’ producers, and therefore having their quality questioned, have finally convinced the Consejo Regulador to act. One man bit the bullet. Early in 2015, the Rioja press was aghast when Señor López de Lacalle announced he would be leaving the DOCa! From the 2014 vintage all Artadi wines will be labelled as Vino de Mesa, and will not carry the Rioja name or official back label stamp.


‘We need different tools to express the thousands of different styles of Rioja,’ De Lacalle said.*


La Rioja is made up of three different zones: Rioja Alavesa; Alta; and Baja. If we consider just one of those zones, it can quickly be seen that there are huge differences within the demarcated area in terms of micro-climate, altitude, soils and so on. Then multiply that by three and it’s so obvious that simply having ‘Rioja’ on the label gives practically no clue as to the nature of the wine within the bottle.


Add to this the fact that Rioja wine can be made from grapes sourced from any, and indeed all three of these sub-zones, and it’s glaringly clear that Rioja wine can suffer something of an identity crisis, where it’s the blender who becomes more important than the vineyard.


The owner of the aforementioned Bodegas Marqués de Murrieta, Vicente Cebrián emphasises the point, ‘The system implies that everything starts when the wine is in barrel or bottle. There’s no emphasis on the vineyard.’


Alvaro Palacios, arguably Spain’s leading winemaker, has added his support to Señor Lopez de Lacalle’s call for change in La Rioja. Palacios succeeded in changing the system in Priorat (where he makes Spain’s equal-most expensive wine, L’Ermita) to accept the different village designations and he’d like the same in DOCa Rioja.


‘We need a pyramid of quality, with country wine at the bottom, then regional, then the villages, then specific plots within the villages.’


I’m told that, soon, in the new year, the Consejo Regulador DOCa Rioja will come up with a plan to keep everyone happy, including, hopefully, we consumers. So, my praise to Señor López de Lacalle, for starting the barrel rolling.


Finally on my list of three ‘Wine People of the Year 2015’ comes Señor Andres Proensa, who is from my own world of the media (more exciting news on this soon?!). Passionate, committed and driven are all words that correctly describe Señor Proensa, though perhaps the most telling would be ‘impartial’.


A Spanish Wine expert and journalist, Señor Proensa is responsible for what are, for me, the best Spanish Wine Guide and the best Spanish Wine Magazine – respectively the Guía Proensa and PlanetAVino. And it’s in both of these publications that the word ‘impartial’ becomes key. I believe Señor Proensa tells it like it is, objectively, with no hidden agenda.


When describing and marking wines he neither talks them up or down, he’s entirely on the level! Plus, in his editorials it can easily be seen that he inhabits the area around the coalface with sharp cutting edge and well informed investigative journalism. Not much gets past Señor Proensa and his team, and he’s not at all afraid to court criticism and blow the whistle (I’m going for the world record in metaphor use here!).


So, here you have it, three of the movers and shakers in the Spanish wine world – my three ‘Wine People of the Year 2015’.


* My thanks to Adam Lechmere of Decanter Magazine for some of the above information.


Contact Colin: Twitter @colinonwine  Facebook  Colin Harkness