Monday, March 4, 2024

Thracian Lowlands, Bulgaria, presented by Ray O'Connor MW

With Ray O'Connor
Unusual opportunity offered to us today by Westbury Communication in London: Bulgarian wines from the lowlands of Thracia. Excellent introduction by Ray O'Connor, MW. Here are the main takeaways.

The Greeks cultivated vines first in this region, but it was the Romans, as so often everywhere in Europe, that brought a systematic organization of wine production, with rules and laws about what to grow, how and how much.

The subsequent Ottoman rule all but quashed the wine industry and it was only in the 1870s, the Russia liberated Bulgaria from the Turks that wine production picked up once more. During the communist times, from 1945 to 1989, Bulgarian wine thrived because in the socialist planning the country was designated as a wine producing region. It was supposed to bottle wine for other countries of the socialist bloc that did not have the same comparative advantage in terms of climate and tradition. Because of the lack of a market economy wine was sometimes bartered instead of sold, even with western companies like Pepsi Cola, which unlike Coca Cola always had a good business relationship with the Soviet Union and its satellite countries: socialist wine for capitalist Pepsi!

With the return to market economy in the 1990s there was a huge task to be completed before production could restart on a new basis: return to the legitimate owners the land that had been expropriated by the Communist Party. Thereafter, the new/old owners started to stress quality over quantity, reduced bulk wine production and began to address the demand of the rising middle class, as well as of the export market.

Uniquely in Europe, and contrary to the old traditions that dated back to the Romans, Bulgaria decided to establish very loose rules for its denominations, and instead let the producers use their imagination to make pretty much whatever wine they wanted.

Here are my tasting notes:

Burgozone Via Istrum Tamyanka 2022, Danubian plain
tamyanka 100%
Intense,  aromatic, fresh with a citrus peel finish.
RRP £ 18. Score 86

Bononia Estate Vrachanski Misket 2022
Vrachanski misket 100%
Marked texture, fresh, citrus, sapid end
RRP 16. Score 86

Chateau Copsa Cuvée blanc 2022
50% chardonnay, 40% misket, 10% sauvignon
Intense and complex, fresh, floral.
RRP 16. Score 88

Vinex Slaviantsi reseerve Chardonnay 2021
Chardonnay 100%
Intense, complex, balanced and long.
RRP 12. Score 90

Aya Estate melnik 2021
Broadleaved melnik (Ranna Melnishka Loza) 100%
Spices, herbal, dry, a bit astringent. Might benefit from more time in the bottle.
RRP £20. Score 85

Rupel Gramatik Rubin Barrique 2020 from Struma valley
Rubin 100%
A structured wine, tobacco, herbal, definitely needs more time in the bottle to round corners.
RRP 20. Score 87

Domaine Boyar Korten Natura Mavrud & Rubin 2021
mavrud 68% and rubin 32% French oak barrels
Good structure yet lots of fruit, ready now with some potential for evolution.
RRP £ 10.50 Score 87

Katarzyna Estate Seven Grapes 2021
Cab sauvignon, merlot, syrah, malbec, tempranillo, cab franc, mavrud
Fresh, coffee, spices, structure, good length.
RRP £13.50. Score 89

Minkov Brothers Oak Tree 2016, Thracian Lowlands
cabernet sauvignon, cab franc, merlot
Complex, balanced and long.
RRP 29. Score 92

Slaten Rozhen Sycagy 2017, Struma valley
Syrah 33%, cab franc 33% and sangiovese 33%
Amazingly fruity and flowery, spices, tannins need some rounding.
RRP 30. Score 88

Bulgarian wines overview. Courtesy of Ray O'Connor

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