STARS RISING IN THE EAST!
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 www.infideas.com/books/wines-bulgaria-romania-moldova – Christmas Present anyone?!
DO ALICANTE PUNCHING ABOVE ITS WEIGHT?
Well, these days, no, not at all! In this once unfashionable area of production it’s the perceived ‘weight’ that’s changed. Alicante is making wines of high quality, wines that can happily rub shoulders with those from the more famous and, still, more fashionable areas. However, this latter part is also changing – DO Alicante wines are being sought after nowadays, and rightly so!
One of the reasons for this upsurge in interest is the wine portfolio of Bodegas Vins del Comtat, out of the mountainous area surrounding Concentaina. I have tasted wines with owner and winemaker, David, a number of times over the years and have always been impressed – and after our recent joint presentation I can see (and taste, of course) that the winemaking is still well and truly on track. (http://www.vinsdelcomtat.com/en/)
The venue was La Parrila del Celler in Jabea Pueblo, founded and run, for 22 years now, by Jose Belles Monferrer, the amiable chef/patron known affectionately as Pepe. We get together occasionally to present a wine tasting lunch – five wines matched with five courses. They are lots of fun and usually fully subscribed – so David was delighted to see a full house recently, and to hear the very positive comments of the assembled tasters.
We started with Vins del Comtat Viognier. In 2006 David planted a number of experimental varieties – the one that adapted best to the conditions (extreme daytime growing season temperatures, cooling nights at 600-700 metres above sea level, Mediterranean sea breezes, and so on) was the Rhône Valley’s Viognier.
Responsible for some exquisite white wines in France it also has a fine, though shorter pedigree in Australia and I believe California – probably other areas too. Classic tasting notes nearly always refer to its marked apricot nose and flavour – it really is quite remarkable, dry as you like, but so fragrant!
Well, David’s version is more white nectarines and yellow peaches, with some mountain heather notes too. Really lovely dry white wine.
Our next wine was also Viognier, monovarietal, but this time fermented in lightly toasted oak and aged in barrel for just two months. Whilst the fruit element above is still there, it has changed dramatically, with some vanilla and a brief whiff of coconut too. Again, super wine – and what a start!
Vins del Comtat make a number of red wines – El Salze is not only a single estate vineyard, all its grapes come from a single parcela, within that estate. These are old vines producing fruit rich red wine from the Monastrell variety, with an individual personality. You’ll see the word ‘paraje’ on the label – regular readers will have seen this word before, related in Cork Talk to the new top level of Cava. It means the above, re the individual part of a single estate, and of course any association with such high end Cava can’t be a bad thing!
Plums on the nose and palate, dark colour and some mountain herbs – bay leaf and thyme, with a little dry undergrowth as well.
We were also fortunate to be able to taste the bodega’s flagship wine, MOntcabrer, 2015. Made with Cabernet Sauvignon this wine is very dark as it swirls around the glass from pouring. There is an immediate aroma of blackberry and blackcurrant again with the bodega’s signature earthiness.
There’s also some tar on the nose along with graphite notes and wood shavings from its 14 months in American and French oak. It’s big in the mouth and has a long and graceful finish. Christmas Lunch/Dinner wine – definitely a contender!
Finally a dessert wine – another white wine too, which is an indication of how good Spanish whites are these days; a tasting of five Spanish wines, three of them white!
A lovely wine, perhaps made even lovelier by the fact that the grapes are harvested from plots of land, not in Concentaina, but a matter of but a few kilometres from Javea! Moscatel, of course is the variety, and I really enjoyed it. Yes, there are typical Moscatel aromas of raisons and grapes, but these are overtaken, certainly on first whiff, by pink grapefruit notes, with some orange peel as well! Dessert wine, with refreshing acidity.
PS at the time of writing I have some places left for the ‘Wine By The Glass’ Concept Tasting with tapas at Flavors, near the Correos of Javea Old Town – Five International wines and 5€ to be used to try any other wine of your choice – all for just 20€! Please contact me to reserve.
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*Advance Warning – Date to be confirmed, likely to be Tuesday 20th November or Wednesday 21st November*
Another of our super Lunches with Wine Tasting @ La Parrilla del Celler, in Javea Pueblo (Javea Old Town) – with the inimitable Chef-Patron Pepe, cooking us up a super lunch, which will be paired with fine wines – including different styles of Sherry!
Think Sherry is outdated, something to suffer at Aunt Maude’s Christmas gathering?
There’s such a variety of styles, pairing perfectly with different foods – once tasted, you’ll be a fan, for sure!
Wines also – and great fun!
Watch this space for more details!