+359 88 637 6704 info@sofiawinewalk.com
Does our mood influence our choice of wine?

Does our mood influence our choice of wine?

Wine is a magical liquid, evoking many feelings and emotions, awakening old memories and opening doors to new worlds. Many people would ask me: “What is your favourite wine? Which is your favourite grape variety? “I personally always say that I do not have one and I make my choice depending on my mood right before I buy or open any wine bottle. And I really follow my feelings, my intuition when I make that decision.

Seasonality and time outdoors at this point are essential factors for the overall mood. If it is sunny, green, summer or springtime, everything whispers in your ear – white wine, fresh, fruity, elegant, aromatic, mineral, floral. Your mind subconsciously records the pictures of green fields with soft flowers, the smell of spring and wants to keep them there safe for long. A sun that scents the waters of a mountain stream and leaves a feeling of radiant heat and lightly penetrates every drop. Or this playful, sparkling wine that gives us a sense of ease – the ease with which we do everything during the warm seasons.

Winter, cold, chilly days, darkness. That creates a sense of lack of warmth, a desire to snuggle by the fireplace, and taste a robust, luscious, rich in flavors, concentrated red wine that will shelter and warm your soul as the fire and leave inside your intense love, burning and reminiscent of this experience. And what is the common between Japanese tea ceremonies and the drinking of red wine? Following the concept of seasonality, according to the Japanese tradition, the most suitable time for a tea ceremony is winter, when it is cold, dark, freezing winds blow outside, and inside the home there is an atmosphere of warmth, light, tranquility, silence, connection with the divine or real Zen for the soul. A glass of red wine can bring into being the same experience – elevation, mystery, mysticism, contemplations.

Wine as a memory of a pleasant moment of life. Beautiful memories leave pleasant feelings in the heart, and often this happens accidentally or not, in the company of the magic drink. Years later we sit in the restaurant and on the wine list we would meet the same old acquaintance with whom we shared dinner with our beloved person, a family holiday or that fabulous summer vacation. It could look at us from the store shelf and ask us to turn it back to a part of the moment. One of the secrets why many people go back to the same wines – to get back to their favourite part of themselves, which they may forget in their hectic daily lives.

Wine is also a symbol of exploring the unknown, adventure, a new beginning, a gateway to a new world. We all have had that thrill in ourselves, the desire to try something new and unrevealed, to experiment, to experience an unknown feeling. And then we tend to open that bottle of orange wine, try the region we did not even remember the name of. And that grape variety – the one almost extinct, the last plant of it, rescued and grown at home. And here wine is a journey – a journey that teleports you to the winemaker’s passion, love, and tireless work. The same one who does believe that his desire to make wine that expresses the sense of his terroir and the attachment to his land, will connect him with the one who would appreciate and understand it. In this sense, wine is a search for perfection, which makes us rediscover an unfamiliar part of ourselves. And the more we try, the more we find.

Should we listen to our mood and feelings before choosing the next bottle of wine? In my opinion – let’s stop, take a deep breath, close our eyes and listen to the voice of our hearts. This voice that leads us to the truth – to make choices that bring us true happiness.

Sandanski Misket – the white flower of Melnik region

Sandanski Misket – the white flower of Melnik region

There are many opinions on the question of which white varieties are signature for Bulgaria as a wine producing country. The endless controversies are caused by the divergence between the quality of internationally produced varieties of wines and the uniqueness of purely Bulgarian varieties.
For me, Sandanski Misket is a symbol of an exceptional character, diplomacy, but also an aspiration. Perseverance in expressing various terroir, finesse, sophistication, but even militancy. Its militancy stands out in the strong concentration of fruit, intense aromas, and infinite freshness.
It seems like a constant battle with the relentless heat of the Melnik region to send its message to the world: “No, I will not surrender; I will give my best.”
That is the story of two of its producers – Via Verde and Villa Melnik. I had the opportunity to taste Sandanski Misket harvest 2018 from these two wineries.
For Via Verde, Sandanski Misket is an old pal, and this is their second vintage after 2016, which was a manifestation of elegance, a profound expression of terroir and richness of several types of fruit – citrus, stone fruit and tropical.
That is why I was extremely curious and excited when I headed to their stand at the Fair of Independent Winegrowers in London with the idea of trying out my first wine of the day.
I knew that this would be the new vintage of Expressions Sandanski Misket 2018. It was entirely accidental that I would have the opportunity to taste it along with the newly bottled for the first year Aplauz Villa Melnik Sandanski Misket 2018.
Both wines are made from grapes grown in vineyards with a different terroir. Sandanski Misket of Villa Melnik comes from their vineyards next to the village of Harsovo, at 250-300 m above sea level, from a mixture of sandy and clay soils. That of Via Verde comes from the village of Ilindentsi, 580 m above sea level and limestone, carbonate soils. The relatively high altitude of both wine plantings plays its role for the preserved high acidity of the two wines – a synonym of freshness, which to a certain extent also derives from the nature of the grape variety itself. Different soils play their part, and Via Verde‘s Sandanski Misket has much more pronounced minerality that cannot be missed on both the nose and the palate. In Sandanski Misket of Villa Melnik, it is not missing, but it is very delicate and gives the impression of how a mountain stream touches a stony riverbed. Or a sense of elegance on the nose and the palate.
The grape harvest dates of the two growers also differ, as well as the number of bottles produced by them. Villa Melnik, due to the lower location of its vineyards and a slightly warmer climate, harvested the grapes for vintage 2018 in late August, and their colleagues from Via Verde in the first few days of September. Via Verde chose Sandanski Misket for their flagship white variety so far, and they have made about 4,000 bottles. Villa Melnik also vinifies other white varieties, and that’s why from 2018 Sandanski Misket has produced about 2000 bottles.

Bottle of Expressions Sandanski Misket 2018 in Veronika Vassileva’s hands, part of Via Verde‘s team.

And so Expressions Sandanski Misket 2018 – it shows an incredibly intense and complex nose with aromas of tropical fruit – mango, ripe peach, ripe red apple, lychee. The same flavors come up on the palate, supported by a full, well-expressed body, juiciness of the fruit, but also a freshness, which prevents the wine from tasting too heavy, but somewhat exceptionally well balanced. For high quality, adds the long aftertaste that remains on the palate minutes after the first sip. Expressions Sandanski Misket 2018 is a wine that I would recommend for long and sunny summer days but also to pair with many different food options at the dining table- fresh salads, grilled chicken, roasted vegetables, dishes based on tropical fruit sauces, seafood, young and not too strong cheeses like goat’s, and why not with pasta dishes in creamy sauces.

Bottle of Aplauz Sandanski Misket 2018 in Militza Zikatanova’s hands, part of Villa Melnik‘s team

Aplauz 2018 Sandanski Melnik Villa Melnik – a symbol of the femininity and delicacy of this variety, in contrast to the abundance presented above by Via Verde. Or a reminder of the variety’s diplomacy – a lift coming from a specific perfume or its aromatic, Muscat character, a variety of citrus fruits – grapefruit, ripe lemon, and last but not least a hint of honey that cannot be found in the wine of their neighbors. Sweetness for the soul I find in a dry wine with a complexity of aromas, a medium body, exceptional elegance, and a long finish. Food recommendations are the same here as I only would exclude dishes based on tropical fruit sauces, and I would replace them with the one flavored with citrus fruit. I would also prefer Aplauz for an aperitif glass before lunch or dinner. Both wines attract and tempt me with their different style, naturalness, an infinite layers of flavors and the worlds where they bring me to when I taste them. Sandanski Misket is one of my favorite grape varietals, and these two wines are some of the preferred ones made of it

With striking curiosity, I will expect the next vintages, as well as to try the same wines in a few months, to check out their development in the bottle. The beginning is undoubtedly promising both for the wines themselves and for the Sandanski Misket grape variety. Because of the mini skull plantings of it, can be acknowledged as an experimental and boutique at the same time, with the potential to rank among the leading Bulgarian white grapes.

 
Bulgarian white grape varieties – in search of an identity.

Bulgarian white grape varieties – in search of an identity.

Bulgaria has traditionally been a producer and consumer of red wines, but in recent times world wine trends have contributed to broader penetration of white wines in the Bulgarian households and their more frequent consumption. If the Bulgarian ladies have been admirers of other types of alcohol in the past, more and more of them are turning to the magic of wine, more precisely whites, which appeal to them with freshness, lightness, receptivity. Thus, they become a significant factor in popularizing the golden liquid. Here I have to mention a healthy diet, including salads, white meat, fish that successfully combine with a glass of white wine and make it a more and more common choice for a drink. Last but not least, there is an increased demand from the young generation (18-25 years), for which white wine falls into the category of a “party drink,” slowly displacing the beer from there. These cases are only a piece of the puzzle, and it would be wrong to consider the Bulgarian market as the only consumer of Bulgarian white wines. Bulgaria exports a large part of its wine production and the rediscovery of white wines is a phenomenon happening globally.

In this regard, relevant and often asked by the Bulgarian wine industry is the question: “What white varieties can be used for wine production in Bulgaria?”. And for us the wine lovers, too. If we have to call ourselves wine lovers, we are undoubtedly tired of endless bottles labeled Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, and we are looking for something unusual, different and distinctive. Bulgaria, by origin country of the Old Wine World, but by the trends, today exciting and bold New World experimenter offers many alternatives to the usual suspected white varieties. The key to the mystery is local old Bulgarian grapes and their revival, not without the adventurous new Bulgarian winemakers. Their attempts to re-place Bulgaria on the world wine map are associated with 100% local white varieties, but also blending the same with international ones. An opportunity to evaluate the results was this year’s edition of Divino – the biggest festival of Bulgarian wines. Divino 2018 presented many series made entirely of white indigenous Bulgarian grapes. I had the opportunity to attend the masterclass “Traditional White Bulgarian Varieties – Present and Future,” led by Niki Krastev, winemaker of Tsarev Brod winery.

What was I impressed with? The progress in quality of the wines selected for the masterclass, the freshness, and elegance of almost all of them, but mostly with the incredible stories of the winemakers and the sommeliers who presented them.I start my story with two wines from Dimyat – “Sense of Tears” 2017 from Maryan winery and “Wine Bridges” 2017 by Ekaterina Gargova.  Dimyat is an old Bulgarian indigenous grape variety, which occupies 29134 decares of vineyards, or 38% of all white Bulgarian indigenous varieties, 9.5% of all white varieties in Bulgaria and 4.8% of all vineyards in Bulgaria. The fruit is distinguished by thin skin and typical accompanying aroma of vanilla, so intense that is difficult to miss it. “Sense of Tears” Dimyat 2017 is full-bodied wine, with aromas of ripe citrus fruit, peach, quince, honey, spices, notes of minerality, but with balancing acidity, elegance on the palate and a long finish.The technology of production includes interesting and innovative decisions such as fermentation of half the wine in inox vessels and another half in Bulgarian oak barrels. Then aging for six months in the same Bulgarian oak — an excellent wine that can be tasted both on its own and in the company of salads, white meats, fish, and why not spicier food such as sushi and Thai and Japanese cuisine dishes.

Before describing “Wine Bridges” Dimyat 2017, I cannot miss the fascinating story behind the name of this wine project, revealed by the winemaker Ekaterina Gargova. She has a lot of international experience, but a crucial moment for her was a wine forum she attended several years ago as a winemaker of a Macedonian winery. At the event was mentioned that the wines made of red variety Vranets would become an identity for the Macedonian wine industry and Ekaterina asked herself the question: “Which varieties will be the identity of Bulgaria?”That’s what motivated her to start the Wine Bridges project as wine builds bridges and connects people, countries, meets concepts.

And so “Sense of Tears” Dimyat represents the terroir of Southern Bulgaria, or more precisely, the village of Asenovets, Nova Zagora. “Wine Brides” Dimyat is an expression of the terroir of Northern Bulgaria, Tutrakan, according to Ekaterina’s words – “the northernmost vineyard of the Danube.” The difference in both styles is essential as well as in their technology of production. In the case of Ekaterina Gargova’s wine, we have a 24-hour maceration with grape skins, five months of maturation, wherein 30% of the wine naturally occurs malolactic fermentation, and the same percentage is aged afterward in old oak barrels, and the remaining 70% in stainless steel vessels. The result is lower alcohol content of 11.5% compared with 13% in the first, delicacy, medium body, completely different type of flavors on the nose and palate – not so intense, fine fruit of apple and lemon, toast, smokiness. Relatively high acidity and long aftertaste suggest this wine could be an excellent start of a hot summer day, but also preferred match for light appetizers, salads, seafood.

After the adventure with these two wines, I am convinced that Dimiat is my favorite grape variety, but I’m damn curious what new surprises will bring several years of aging for which this grape has potential. Gergana 2016 and 2017 from Tzarev Brod winery was the next tasted couple at the masterclass. Gergana is Bulgarian white variety, created in 1956 by the crossing of Dimyat and French Muscat Ottonel, typical for the region of Alsace, France, but also grown in other parts of Europe, including Hungary, Austria, Slovenia, Bulgaria. In both wines, the grape shows typical robust and distinctive aroma of musk and perfume derived from Muscat Ottonel, freshness, elegance, and succulence of the fruit on the palate. Vintage 2016 of the wine is not as intense as 2017, which shows more perfume, sweetness, maturity, fuller body. Vintage 2016 is characterized by aromas of ripe peach and apricot — two well-made wines, suitable to combine with a variety of dishes and to invigorate the palate.

Vrachanski Misket is an exciting cross between two varieties: Coarna Alba of Moldavian origin and Muscat a Petit Grains, part of the noble grape family of Alsace, France. The wine of Salla Estate, a winery from Varna, Black Sea region, vintage 2017 made of Vrachanski Misket, combines both flavors and aromas of green spices and vegetables, as well as specific perfume, flowers, citrus and white fruit, minerality. Extremely complex wine with almost the same subtle natural spritz, reminiscent of white wines from Vinho Verde, Portugal. Sandanski Misket is a new-emerging Bulgarian variety, the result of a crossing between Melnik’s indigenous Broad-Leaf Melnik vine variety with pollen from Tamianka and Cabernet Sauvignon. It is grown only in the valley of Struma River. Orbelia Winery, located near Petrich, presents its 2018 harvest, which, although not fully ready, shows delicate perfume, juicy fruit, minerality, grace. Sandanski Misket is yet to prove its real character and reveal its potential, but indeed the first results are promising.

The introduction of indigenous varieties is not a new phenomenon in world winemaking, and some of the first examples for that in Europe are Greece and Portugal, which can serve as valuable lessons for Bulgaria in this direction. The uniqueness of aromas and flavors of individual grapes, their minuscule production, which relates the wines made of them in the boutique and rare categories, and offering of an alternative for the best-selling international wines, is indeed a good start. Barriers to the popularity of these wines may be their names, quite often difficult to pronounce and read by Western World that would stop consumers of ordering. High production costs due to small batches often contribute to a way too expensive product, and along with the lack of consistent quality, both lead to final wines that are too adventurous, unknown, and misunderstood by the general public. That is why they have the highest sales on the local market and have difficulty breaking through new international ones. The Bulgarian wine scene is regrettably too tight and does not offer particularly great opportunities for expansion and increased production scale, which reflects on the economic survival of micro-wineries.

Consequently, they register their highest rate of sales on the local market rather than entering new international ones. Bulgarian wine scene is too tight unfortunately and does not offer particularly great opportunities for expansion and increase of scale of production, which reflects on the economic survival of micro-wineries. Therefore, only the aggressive marketing politics, the attraction of the Sommelier community in the mission of popularizing these rare products are vital to breaking through the trends and presenting the new face of the Bulgarian wine industry to the world.

Surely Bulgaria will meet the challenges that Greece and Portugal have already encountered and still face today. And whether will succeed dealing with them depends only on the dedication to work, the love and passion of the new generation of Bulgarian winemakers and wine ambassadors, the unwillingness to give up in front of the difficulties, but to continue walking the path of tradition and innovation. 

Meeting with the young Bulgarian winemakers

Meeting with the young Bulgarian winemakers

One of the exciting masterclasses of Divino this year was the meeting with the young Bulgarian winemakers. Many stories have been told about how these people, who have committed themselves to one of the world’s oldest professions, face the reality of the Bulgarian wine industry and how they adapt and study, travel and follow world trends.

The masterclass was led by Georgi and Vladi Vankov, that are behind the project “All for the wine” – a wine shop in Varna. The main topic for discussion was the attitude towards the young wineries for traveling to other winemaking countries and specializations in international wineries. The work of a season contract in Bulgaria and the difference in seasons in different hemispheres in continents such as Australia and South America in practice allow two wine campaigns to be completed within one year, and according to the leading class for the more motivated and up to 3-4 even. Moreover, if the first thought of man is about the financial part of these expeditions or how well these people will be paid for their tireless work, according to the stories in the hall, the most valuable gift for the adventurers remains the traveling experience. Also the meeting with new cultures, the adoption of new winemaking technologies, exploration of remote wine regions and their climatic features.

According to Georgi and Vladi, staying in Australia and New Zealand is most profitable, because, with the money saved from the season spent there, young enthusiasts can then travel to Chile and Argentina where, in their words, the situation at the state level is not very much different from the one in Bulgaria. Alternatively, in other words: lower pay, unclear legal frameworks or completely missing ones, and if this may sound unattractive, then it is an excellent opportunity for easier entry into the country and adaptation to local culture. The most improbable are the results of these practices. According to the storytellers, if a night-shift night shift technologist is caught sleeping during the Australian and New Zealand work, he will inevitably be fired the next day. At the same time, a few hours’ sleep during the night shift in Chile and Argentina is in most cases quite reasonable, but despite the quality of the wines produced, it is quite high.

Here comes the question of where does Bulgaria stand in this puzzle? The answer: somewhere in the middle. The work of the young Bulgarian wineries is highly appreciated not only because of the long 15-hour shifts they are forced to give when grapes are taken in the winery but also because of their motivation for good results, strictness and excellent organization of the activity.

However, on their soil here in Bulgaria, they are forced to struggle sometimes with the opinion of wine owners for an earlier than the actual date for grape harvest in the name of preventing theft of fruit on the vineyards. A traditional problem is also the quantity/quality ratio. If winemakers are looking for a higher amount for a higher profit margin, young winemakers are looking for lower yields and grape selections in the name of producing smaller quantities but better quality wines. Still, the young Bulgarian hopes recognize that the model of boutique wineries producing a limited range of wines from 2000-5000 bottles is a huge challenge when it comes to exports due to the demanded minimum volumes of importers of 20,000+ bottles. Then what are the prospects for the Bulgarian boutique wine – breakthrough of limited series of high-end wines in high-class restaurants that do not need high volumes? That is already happening in Michelin restaurants in England, Belgium, Hong Kong, the United States.

The meeting with the young wine-makers was attended mainly by technologists or students that will be future technologists, but other people could be noticed. At the very end of the session, that question was asked: “After so much time spent in wineries abroad and endless opportunities to stay and work there at more favorable personal conditions, what is the return of the young wineries back to Bulgaria? “The answer was that the reasons are many an individual. Some of the technologists are part of families that have small wineries and come back with experience and vision to flow into the family business. Others do not like living in other countries and follow the popular English thought: “From the east to the west, home is the best.” However, in general, what brings back the young winemakers to Bulgaria is that they are keen to help the Bulgarian wine to return to the international stage, taking into account the vast potential and opportunities that will reveal to our country in the coming years. In the hands of these brave and irreconcilable people, the Bulgarian wine industry is in safe hands. These young hopes are the factor that will tilt the scales towards the production of quality and exciting wines that will present Bulgaria’s new face to the world.

 

Author Pavlin Ivanov

Villa Melnik – under the sandy hill …

Villa Melnik – under the sandy hill …

Villa Melnik – under the sandy hill …

A sandy hill, tunnels beneath it, historical monuments, sunny hills planted with vineyards, incredible scenery are just some of the things we imagine when we start talking about Villa Melnik Winery. And we have not yet reached the magic of the wines they produce. Villa Melnik is not a non-accidental meeting of traditionalism with modernism and innovation in Bulgarian winemaking. Villa Melnik has opened in the spring of 2013 in the village of Harsovo, near the smallest town in Bulgaria – Melnik. The winery team calls their wines brave and combines local traditional varieties of grapes with international, mainly French. The warm Mediterranean climate in companion with an altitude of about 300 m, the long and dry autumns of the region, are the reasons for the even ripening of the grapes and the variety in the wine palette. The numerous varieties of wine, skillfully interwoven in blends by Villa Melnik, do not let the wine lover stop with only one or two wines but tempt him to taste more and more.

I wish to begin my short story with Villa Melnik‘s orange wine, that is from vintage 2017 and is one of the first reasons to name the team innovators and modernists. The famous Sauvignon Blanc provides a real fiesta for the nose and the palate – sweet perfume, intense quince flavor, orange peel marmalade aromas, a sinful nuance of Turkish delight, mysterious sweet spices. This rich and appealing dessert described above does not impose and does not leave weight behind itself because of its combination of elegant acidity, that balances the overall delight and refreshes the palate. This orange wine would be suitable both for a hot summer day, when could be sipped well-chilled and without food, as well as in the company of charcuterie, strong cheeses, juicy, grilled autumn vegetables, traditional pumpkin dishes, and why not with foie gras and light desserts. The romanticism of this orange wine lies in the secret that continuously improves its taste, develops, and brings new elements into the mosaic of flavors.

After the orange adventure, it’s time to mention Bergule – the blend of Broad- leaf Melnik with Pinot Noir. Let’s start from here that the mission of creating high – quality wine from Pinot Noir very often turns out to be impossible for the winemaker and carries many difficulties. Especially in Bulgaria, a land of heavy red wine varieties, where production of quality wine is just starting. Pinot Noir here often feels in shaky hands, where could be made up to high alcohol levels, with low acidity and jammy fruit. All this takes away its inherent elegance, grace, and sophistication of which it is famous in France, and in particularly in Burgundy, its real home. But this is not the case with Bergule wine. The decision of the winery to make a blend with Broad-leaf Melnik can undoubtedly be called bold and reinforces the central Villa Melnik concept of promoting courage in meetings between local and international varieties. Although the wine has 14% alcohol content and dense body, it streams natural elegance, fruit balance and aromas, soft, palatable tannin, and refreshing acidity. The twelve months spent in French and Bulgarian oak barrels not only have not destroyed the abundant red fruit, cherry typical for Pinot Noir but also compliments with integrated notes of vanilla and sweet spices. This red-colored feast for the palate and the nose could be tasted by itself, after a hard day at work or on a day off, but also successfully combined with red meats such as beef, duck, pork, game, and redfish such as salmon and trout. And not surprisingly left for a few more years aging in a bottle, the feast will continue with flavors of leather, tobacco, smoked meat. Broad-leaf Melnik will reveal other parts of its character.

The surprise list does not allow me to miss the Aplauz Early Melnik(or also called Melnik 55), Reserve from vintage 2016. The name of the series Aplauz comes from the English word ‘’applause’’. In this regard, Applauz Melnik 55 Reserve is the wine I can applaud to. Few people have yet heard the term “Bulgarian oak barrels.” The phenomenon ‘’maturing in Bulgarian oak’’ was successfully introduced in Villa Melnik. In this case, the period of aging in Bulgarian oak barrels is 15 months.

What is the role of the barrel here? It softens the wine, balances it, without overloading it with extra heavy aromas and without overpowering the fresh, ripe fruit: the result – a successful combination of dark fruit – blackberries, blueberry, cherry, with notes of milk chocolate, elegance, lightness, completeness, density, pronounced soft ripe tannin, an invitation for more and more. It is no coincidence that the predecessor of Aplauz Melnik 55 won a silver medal at the Vinaria 2015 international competition in Plovdiv, a silver medal at Vinobalkanika 2015 in Veliko Tarnovo and a silver medal from the Decanter World Wine Awards.

There comes a time to mention that Villa Melnik is a family winery, uniting two generations – both parents Nicola and Lyubka Zikatanovi and daughter Militza Zikatanova. Again here is the motive for the traditions, the founder of which is the parents. The father is a native of the neighboring village of Hursovo Kapatovo and has spent many years in the family vineyards before the current project begins. The innovator and inheritor Militza has worked for several years at global spirits giant Diageo. She can often be seen at the stands of Bulgarian and international wine fairs. We can always recognize her by the smile on her face and the inexhaustible energy to reveal the secrets of the wines from the Melnik region. Villa Melnik sets up a level of quality in the Bulgarian wine world. Class, lined with strong family traditions, with a sense of eternity.

Author

Pavlin Ivanov