A Bulgarian website, Divino striving to become the leading factor in setting all wine trends in Bulgaria has published its Top 20 list for 2014. A bit confusing whether it is Top 50 or Top 20 but this is not what we are to focus on. There is nothing wrong to try and motivate the wine producers to achieve their maximum potential. Or to try and guide the budding wine connoisseurs in one of the wine cradles of the world-Bulgaria. What bothers me is that their scores seem rather superficial. I, as a wine merchant rarely am moved by scores, whether given by wine gurus like Robert Parker, Jancis Robinson or in this occasion Divino Tasting Panel. For me what matters most is the customer. He is the King Wine Guru setting the wine trends with his wallet. I guess Divino are trying to do just that, brainwash the Bulgarian wine consumers to blindly follow their recommendations and vote with their wallets.
Nothing wrong with that too, Decanter is the same in many respects and I suspect Divino is modeled on it. What is very worrying is that there is no balancing wine force, another Bulgarian wine critic or wine magazine that can bring plurality of opinion and provide safe harbor for all those who might not fully agree with Divino.
Bulgaria used to have Bakhus in the past, a supplement to one of the most influential Financial Newspapers, Capital, again mimicking Financial Times. However Bakhus lost its crown a few years ago and failed to regain the momentum. But what had happened, why? Did they loose their integrity, did the people stopped believing them? No!
A few years back its chief wine editors and journalists left and set up Divino. And since then they have been trying to eliminate all opposition and cut down all opposing forces or even different opinion on all vinous matters in Bulgaria. Divino knows best! Or does it really? And now we come to the core of the matter. Only one of the wines I export to the most developed and sophisticated wine market in the world, UK, is included in the Top 20 list. My wineries and their wines simply do not cut the mustard!
I guess this is because these wines are simply mediocre compared to the cream of the crop in those lists. Tastes differ, you would say. What Bulgaria likes is not necessarily identical with what the UK might appreciate. Really? And where else the members of the Superior Divino Tasting Panel are acquiring their expertise if not sharpening their teeth on world renowned classic wines?
I think I will stop here before I receive another merciless attack on my wine knowledge and integrity. To quote an executive officer from a Bulgarian Government run wine industry organization ‘’Who do you think that you are to promote Bulgarian wine and support it with your own funds? You are exceeding your rights! Stop now! ‘’ I won’t be very surprised if I receive the same message now.
But before I leave you to make your own minds who this Top50/20 list serves I will remain true to my commercial background. My wines will continue to be judged first and foremost by my customers in the UK among whom I can proudly add for the first time ever in the turbulent Bulgarian wine history merchants like BerryBros. & Rudd and The Wine Society. The latter is the largest wine cooperative set up in 1874 that has a mere 150,000 active members, while the first is the oldest family run wine merchant in the world set up in 1696. They are proud to stock Bulgarian wines that are driven by quality and character rather than scores! Many of the wines of those privileged wineries are to be found on our website as well! Feel free to browse!
It is strange that Bulgaria as one of the cradles of wine-making and viticulture does not have more indigenous grape varieties. Apart from the ubiquitous Melnik and Mavrud the latter of which the Greeks have claimed to be theirs, only a few others come to mind. Compared to the land of vines Enotria aka Italy, Bulgaria has no legs to stand on. Perhaps to compensate that new grape varieties continue to be selected and created in Bulgaria as we speak. The Institute of Viticulture and Enology (Wine-making) is to propose two new wine grape varieties in 2014 to the Executive Agency for Seed Control. In the last two decades the Institute has proposed 21 new wine grape varieties and established itself as the leader in providing viticulture solutions in Bulgaria. Set up in 1902 in the town of Pleven as a State Controlled Station for Viticulture and Enology to help with the devastation of phyloxera, it was the fourth scientific research institution in viticulture in the world. One of these new grape varieties to enter is Bouquet, registered in 1951. A cross between the Beauty (Pinot Noir) and the Beast (the indigenous Mavrud) it did not boldly appear on international stage up until recently. Borovitza Winery has bravely embraced it in its Terroir series and we have shipped a few to satisfy our curiosity! After rigorous tasting with and without food we can confirm that Borovitza Bouquet has carried the elegance and crispness of the Pinot Noir while retaining some of the ''butch'' spiciness and fuller body of the Mavrud. We have matched it to pork chops with lentils and chips. No doubt it will be also excellent with tomato based sauces, so consider Spaghetti Bolognese.
Now that the ''crazy festive times'' are over I look at the stack of bottles we have gone through(imagine the pile of food-we are dubbed '' The Eaters''by my little daughter quite simply because we eat a lot) and want to share those new Wine&Food partnerships that we managed to find after this drink eat marathon. The idea is to let you know what worked and what didn't because some foods are tougher to match to wine than others. Consider eggs, a vicious killer to most wines or pickled cabbage so loved by the ''Sour Crouts'' and yet so difficult to pair. Well this Xmas brought the answer to the latter. The Broad Leaved Melnik Vine from Logodaj, an old favourite of mine, worked perfectly with pickled cabbage, Bulgarian style. This cabbage is different to the German or Polish cabbage in the extent that it is a product to which only salt has been added and then left to ferment naturally. The wine worked a dream both with the stuffed cabbage leaves and with the baked beans and pickled cabbage soup. The fairly high acidity of the Broad Leaved Melnik which usually explodes in the mouth worked perfect with the salty, sour taste of the cabbage. Acidity mutually neutralized left the wild cherries, cranberries and raspberries dusted with thyme and mountain herbs to rule the palate and bring total pleasure. Heavenly made Perfect match. Both the food and the wine gained a lot while we enjoyed them to the full. Do try it for yourself and let me know. For those of you in the UK, pickled cabbage can be found in the Russian-Lithuanian shops. Cheers!
Xmas is upon us despite many still ignoring the fact that in a week will start the biggest frenzy of all and 7 million turkeys will loose their lives to keep us all stuffed and happy.
How many bottles of wine we will drink is also a whopping number, because lets face it. This island is a washed with wine! Not all of it is high quality fine and rare wine, far from it. Most of it is bootlegged plonk or industrially produced wine like liquid brought in a 300 tonnes container and bottled here with various labels. But it is presented as wine and the shelves are cracking under its weight. More than 70% of all wine now is sold by the Supermarkets with the big four(Sainsbury, Tesco, Asda and Morrisons) claiming a whopping 50% of it.The quality there is universally mediocre. No matter what it says on the label (finest or taste the difference, or Radkliff etc.) the wine has a diluted varietal character and a vague aroma. A wine made to order that has a particular tinge of red/yellow color, sugar and alcohol content and is not capable to offend anyone. These wines have no soul and no place of origin, despite of the catchy name and the artistically accepted label or the intriguing story on the back label. A friend recently offered me a glass from his supermarket plonk and I was amazed to find out that it did not taste of anything in particular, it was red and mediocre, a wine you will definitely forget next morning but you might remember the label. Because the label is catchy..
This is what makes the market these days- the label. Wine has long become a FMCG product in the Supermarkets and they are tired and mostly scared to play the game of quality. That is why they play the game of labels and of offers.
The sad fact is that I now notice that some Bulgarian Importers claiming to be the finest wines from Bulgaria are also jumping on this band wagon, offering ridiculous offers like Buy 2 Get One Free, or Buy One get the second one Half Price. Uh?
Lets get this straight! What message might I get when I see an advert like that? They have produced more than they can sell? Or wine is so bad that no one buys it! Or it is so delicious that once bought you will be hooked to it for ever. Just like Drugs! Well, I happen to know that Bulgarian wines are good! They have character and personality, they may offend but they also inspire.
May be we have to work hard on our marketing skills because with offers like that '' Buy1 Get 3 Free, or any other BOGOF offers we are sending the wrong message. Bulgaria does not produce enough to play this game! It honestly makes wines that will make you sing or cry, wines that you will remember more than just a day! Wines that are connected to a place - not to an enormous tanker docked somewhere. Wines that deserve to be sipped slowly while you ponder life! Bulgarian wines are about to take their place among ''the best wines available to humanity'' and do not need BOGOF offers to be shifted. Or we run again the risk of remaining in the eighties of the last century when Bulgaria shifted 1 million cases and the only time someone took a Bulgarian wine to dinner was when he was a student, i.e. penniless. Perhaps there is still too much nostalgia left in the Bulgarian Wine Industry to be able to recognize its own quality and value and move forward making fine and rare wines for the few rather than tonnes of plonk for the many!
To all of you who have worked hard to put it all together and in the first place Tania Koicheva, Commercial and Economic Counsellor in the Embassy of Bulgaria, who showed us all what it is to unreservedly give everything for Bulgaria I would like to say a big Thank You!
I would like also to mention a few others without whom this would have been very difficult. From the staff a big Thank You to Maria Peeva, Hristina Tomova and Elka Rachkova without whom the smooth operation of the whole tasting would have been impossible.And they did it for Bulgarian wine for free! A special Thank You to Martin Thorpe, an ex ''odbinite'' and a friend who gracefully accepted to be the English Face of the tasting and worked hard both on stage and behind the curtains to make it all happen. A big Thank You to our biggest sponsor Raytcho Raykov from http://www.stringraycafe.co.uk/ for his decade long support for Bulgarian wine. A big Thank You to Caroline Gilby MW the one Master of Wine, who have not stopped believing in Bulgarian wine and have supported us in all our vinous endeavors. I would like also to Thank all the wineries and their staff who took part in this tasting and especially Logodaj Winery, Yamantievs Winery, Todoroff Wine Cellar and Borovitza Wine Cellar who have put in their unreserved trust and helped us all the way.
When there is a Will there is a Way!
On the 28th November 2013 the UK wine trade awoke to find that Bulgaria has come back with a vengeance, and, for good! Largely supported and sponsored by us and our partners Zelas
more than 250 wines were poured at the Annual Bulgarian Wine Tasting that took place in the Bulgarian Embassy in London on 27th November. Following a much smaller one from the previous year, the event attracted the top 25 top wineries of Bulgaria and welcomed more than 200 trade and press visitors.
Caroline Gilby MW delivered a masterclass initially designed to cover indigenous grape varieties but overwhelmed by genuine interest presented an overall review of Bulgarian wine.
Behind the ingenious marketing campaign and design stood our long standing partner Zelas
, while we at Vaskovino provided full support including logistics from Bulgaria executed to perfection by Dispoint
, Warehousing and Customs Services kindly provided by London City Bond
and wine ware supplied by Winesorted
. All that was left for us was to stitch it all together and provide a knowledgeable and passionate staff to assist and support the exhibitors at the event. We were behind the tasting in Vinopolis in 2006 and 2007 dubbed by Jancis Robinson ''the biggest Bulgarian Wine Fair for the decade'' and can honestly boast that this was bigger, much bigger! First of all, the wines were simply great, they have made a huge leap in quality and yet again offered great value for money while superbly packaged. Bulgaria finally has answered the call from the last few remaining Bulgarian Wine Specialist Importers in the UK and postponed its many engagements with third countries like Japan, USA, and China to come to London and show what it has and always will do-Great Wines at Great Prices!
It can truly represent the best that the Old World can offer. After all it is one of the cradles of wine making together with Armenia and Georgia.
Domaine Peshtera which received 3 Golden Rhytons ,the most prestigious awards for high quality wine in Bulgaria, has joined the exhibitors at the Bulgarian Embassy on the 27th November. It will showcase wines from its award winning series Verano Azur, Domaine Peshtera and Villa Yambol.
Vinprom Ruse and Chateau Burgozone have joined the ranks of the exhibitors willing to show the UK wine trade what Bulgaria can do when employing new technology, establishing new vineyards and most of all love and passion for truly great wines. A masterclass comparing international to indigenous grape varieties and their wines is also in the pipeline.
Making wine is a fickle business. It is so vulnerable to the elements that it should not really be considered a business. To an extent the vine-grower is left to the mercy of the weather and the winemaker has to wait a whole year before amending a mistake made in the winery. And with the Global Warming and its devastating effects on the climate, vine-growing and wine-making should really be left to witches and wizards. One year could be great for red grapes and not so good for whites. Another autumn can bring rain at harvest and ruin the crop altogether. In Bordeaux it has been calculated that a really good vintage comes every 3-4 years, if we only knew which!
This uncertainty brings a dose of mystery and excitement to many wine connoisseurs but fills the hearts of the humble winemakers with dread.
In Bulgaria this year the vintage started a bit early as a result of the drought conditions in August. September saw some rain in the first ten days but as a whole it was also dry. As a result the grapes ripened really fast reaching 21-23 sugar levels really quick but containing far less juice. According to Violeta Dimitrova,director of the Institute of Viticulturte and Enology (IVE) in Pleven, whose cellars date back to 1892, the cold winter and the August drought will reduce the size of the harvest.
A month later one of the biggest wineries Vinprom (aka winery) Peshtera reported harvests of up to 10 tonnes/ha from its 2000 ha of vineyards situated in the heart of the Thracian Lowlands going east towards the towns of Yambol and the port of Burgas .
At the beginning of October the CEO of the National Vine and Wine Chamber, Krasimir Koev, expected that the bumper harvest will produce up to 200 million liters of wine in 2013 compared to 127 million liters in 2012. He was confident that the wine will be sold successfully with half of it destined for the home market. This year is going to see the wineries in Bulgaria increase by another 12 and reach the whopping number of 246 producing in total 200 million litres of wine with most of it split between the home market, Poland and Russia. The UK has long seized to be a coveted destination and only 6.2% of the production finds its way here. Bulgarian wine has made its entry in China, Japan and from this year Vietnam and its future looks bright.