The New Bulgarian Wine Tasting
A Trade tasting of wines from Bulgaria was held in London last week and I attended looking for some “new kids on the block” and some updates on producers already known to us for the next edition of Wine behind the label.
I took the opportunity to taste the new orange wine from Villa Melnik. Made from 100% Sauvignon Blanc. Fermented on the skins for 2 weeks and then resting on its lees for another 4 weeks to give it it’s slightly orange colour, it has an intense funky taste with tropical fruit overtones and a vibrant finish. Best to drink young. ★★✩ price band C
But there were other, new producers (for us, anyway) who impressed me.
Firstly, I tasted a whole series of wines from Chateau Burgozone in the most northerly part of Bulgaria, on the banks of the Danube, which is the border between Bulgaria and Romania. Because of the influence of the river and the long autumn and cool nights, it is conducive to producing quality dry whites and elegant reds as opposed to wines from the Thracian Valley in the south, where more sturdy reds are mainly produced.
The estate produces three levels of quality brands – Entry level Côte de Danube, Premium selection Chateau Burgozone and top cuvée Iris produced from selected plots at very low yields.
In the Côte de Danube range I tasted their Viognier and Chardonnay 2015. Both light, both unoaked, and eminently quaffable. ★✩A for the Viognier and ★★A for the Chardonnay. The same varietals in the Chateau Burgozone range (also sold under the Villa Istrum Cellar Selection range) were a definite step up with much greater complexity and finesse. ★★✩B for the Viognier and ★★★B for the marginally oaked Chardonnay. Excellent value, particularly for the Chardonnay, although the wines are not yet available in the UK, price bands are calculated on an average between Germany, Belgium and the USA. The top cuvée white, was perhaps a little disappointing, the Iris Creation White (80% Chardonnay and the balance in Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier) seemed to lack a bit of concentration and generosity of fruit, although it was a perfectly drinkable bevvy. ★★✩C.
Although the main efforts seem to be on the whites here I was equally, if not more, impressed with the reds all of which I tasted displayed finesse and elegance. Entry level Côte de Danube Pinot Noir 2014 was smooth and elegant ★★A whilst the barrique aged Chateau Burgozone Pinot Noir 2014 was showing more complexity. ★★✩B. An unoaked Cabernet Sauvignon ★✩A and a more complex Cabernet Franc ★★✩B completed the lower ranges of the wines I tasted, But it was the premium reds for this estate which were the stars. Cuvée Philippe 2012, a Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah blend was deep and unctuous, with the Syrah just making its presence felt in the blend and scoring ★★★✩C, but my top red was the Iris Creation Red 2012, 100% Syrah, with true varietal flavours, elegance and complexity. ★★★★C.
Another interesting producer with a much smaller range and perhaps with much greater ambition is the Ross-Idi winery in the Thracian lowlands of Bulgaria. Producing wines only from their own vineyards, they make 13 different wines from the five varietals that they grow. Five wines from three varietals were on display and here are the ratings. Gewürztraminer 2015 had good varietal flavours and some intensity if not a great deal of weight. ★★✩B. The Gewürztraminer Orange wine 2016, a sample as not yet in bottle, showed remarkable intensity. A natural wine made with no cultured yeasts, no temperature control, no stabilising and no filtering with one month of skin contact and will be spending up to 6 months on its lees is gong to show its pedigree without doubt. ★★★✩C. A Pinot Noir Rosé 2016 was zingy, fresh and with plenty of zip, ★★✩B and the Pinot Noir 2013, matured in old oak, was smooth and elegant. ★★★C. Finally a wine from a local grape, Rubin 2014 (created by a cross of Nebbiolo and Syrah), made from 35 year old vines, and matured in old oak, showed all the depth one would expect from the parent varietals with great potential to age. ★★★✩D. Again, these wines are not available in the UK yet and prices are based on Belgium and USA pricing.
Finally two organic wines from Orbelus. A Melnik 2013 (another local grape varietal) blended with 15% Grenache Noir – intense and complex with deep black fruit flavours ★★★C and the Getika 2012, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Melnik, Syrah and Merlot, just a little less intense but nevertheless with some complexity on the finish. ★★★C
All in all, it is apparent that Bulgarian wines have come a long way since the early days of the post communist regime and it is apparent that there has been a real drive for quality, aided and abetted by serious consultants from more established wine growing countries. There are not many of these rate-worthy wines in the UK yet and there should be more. Hopefully, there were enough serious importers at the tasting to implement that.