I hope you didn’t miss it, but if you did I am sorry… On November 17th – 18th, DiVino, Bulgaria’s premier wine magazine hosted the second annual tasting forum for Bulgarian wines…. TASTE 2012. This was an opportunity for wine enthusiasts from all levels: novice – master, to gather under one roof, and in this case the Military Club in Sofia, to experience, explore and indulge in all aspects of Bulgarian wine.
The two day (20lv, or 12lv one day) program offered non-stop possibilities. In the Concert Hall was a tasting exhibition where almost forty different wineries presented their top 7 wines, which you were encouraged to sample at will. Everyone that entered the hall got a small spiral bound notebook with the details of the event, but there was also a page for each of the wineries and a listing of all the wines that they were presenting with ample room for your notes… I found this incredibly convenient and made great use of it that is until the end of the day, when I went from tasting for knowledge to drinking for fun!
When you got needed a break of tasting, there were free lectures going on throughout the day. For those non-Bulgarian, the entire event offered free translations. All you needed to do was pick up a head set at the door and you could be part of the discourse. While, I can get a good gist of what was being said, having everything translated made it infinitely more enjoyable. On the first day there was a presentation of a new group called WiFo; it was all about how to combine wine and food, but it also went a bit further to delve into the effects this WiFo combination has on the mind, body and spirit. I unfortunately didn’t get to listen to any of the WiFo lectures because I was taking Master Classes!
Another fantastic possibility, although there was an additional cost, but well worth it were the Master Classes, (also available in English). These classes covered a specific topic, which included tasting of all the wines discussed from 7 – 10 different one. I was fortunate enough to be able to take three of these classes and at the end of each one I really felt that I was walking away with new insight.
The first class that I took was Unique Local Varieties taught by Yana Petkova, a lecture and one of the co-founders of the Bulgarian Wine Academy (BWA). Some of the varieties included Verdicchio, Alabriño, Grüner Veltliner, Narince, Assyrtiko, Tempranillo and of course the Bulgarian Mavrud, plus others. I was overwhelmed, just when I feel I reach a new plane on wine, I look a bit further to see blip on the horizon of just how much further there is to go… is there even an end in the pursuit of knowledge?
My second course was one that came highly recommended by some of the event’s organizers, was the DiVino Retrospective of Bulgaria 2006, which is considered to be the best vintage of the decade. The lecturer, Yassen Zahariev went over a variety of elements that contributed to the success of the vintage across Bulgaria, obviously weather conditions play a huge roll and during this particular year, the end of the summer brought torrential rain showers, which normally would have been devastating, if it has been followed by cold autumnal temperature, but after the rains it continued to be a warm summer and fall, which had a dramatic effect on the grapes. Yet, it was not the weather alone that made 2006 great, many economic forces helped to revitalize the Bulgarian wine industry, such as the EU ascension, foreign investment, consolidation of vineyards and other subsidies which, all created ripe conditions for winemaking. While I am no expert there were some phenomenal wines and I was luck to have tasted them.
There was a particular course which I was eager to take but because it was the first class at 10:00 am, I couldn’t make it at that time. This particular course was taught by Vili Galabova, another one of the founders of the (BWA), and it covered Local Bulgarian Varieties… Next year!
The second day of the TASTE brought new lectures and new Master Classes. What was quite unique about Sunday’s lectures is that I would be one of the people speaking. Ivo Varbanov, one of the founders of the Bulgarian Association of Independent Winegrowers (BAIW), after meeting at Slow Food Terra Madre in Italy, he invited me to speak with BAIW about Slow Wine. I didn’t realize that the concept of Slow Wine would be difficult to grasp, because in my head it makes perfect sense. Right before the lecture, I met a winemaker (small world right?) while I was at the tasting exhibition and we started discussing Slow Wine. He was quite heated about the topic. Slow Wine, in his opinion was all about the process of wine making and grape growing or terroir. He started saying that Bulgaria doesn’t need Slow Wine, it already does this and that it was all about organic agricultural practices or making wine with out any chemical intervention. This was the perfect opportunity to really solidify what I was going to say, so briefly this is what Slow Wine is in my opinion.
The concept of Slow Wine, is not a specific way that the grapes are raised or the method that that grapes are picked, crushed and fermented. There is no label to put on your bottle that will make it Slow Wine because you don’t make Slow Wine… it is not like Sloe Gin… Slow Wine is more of a concept, an understanding of the liquid that you consume. People drink wine for a variety of reasons, but the people that truly enjoy and appreciate wine, and not just expensive wine (Slow Wine is not specific to a certain socio-economic bracket, but the people that understand the sensory reaction that comes from drinking wine. The nose of the wine is ever changing with each swirl from the first sniff to the last, the mouth feel, lingering sensation after the wine has caressed your tongue… all these elements are inciting to a wine enthusiast or even a budding novice, but these ideas could go further. Stop, pause and think about why… Why did someone make this wine and why did they make it how they did? What was their inspiration as a winemaker? What were they hoping to achieve? Did they achieve it? Who was responsible for growing these grapes? Did they plant them themselves, did they inherit the vineyard? There are innumerable questions that could be asked, but just like the idea of “Know Thy Farmer”… a Slow Wine idea would be “Know Thy Vinter”. The ideas don’t need to be technical or scientifically, but finding out the story behind the winery, behind, the bottle, behind the glass and look deeper into each sip. My friend Ross Cobb is a winemaker in California, his winery is Cobb Wines and they offer a wine called The Coastland Vineyards: Diane Cobb – Pinot Noir. Ross’s mother Diane planted 20 unknown varieties of Pinot Noir and selected one vine that was exceptional and planted another crop of this particular variety. The size of the plot is 1.5 acres (.6 ha) and she tended to these grape by hand until her death in 2006. Every year they produce this specific wine from her grapes in commemoration of her and her passion of wine. While this information doesn’t tell me if the wine is good or bad, but it is actually outstanding, it does give me a deeper connection with the wine. I am more introspective about tasting this wine not only trying to find the terroir, but the sense of Diane. For me this is what Slow Wine is about finding a deeper connection to the wine, the winery, the vineyard and all of the people that contribute to what you have in your glass. This sort of information should be sought out for the pleasure of expanding your own experience, not to be a snob about it. Once, I finished my explanation the winemaker I was speaking with agreed that Slow Wine is a good thing.
Another winemakers that I had the pleasure to chat with was Edward Kourian from Rossini Winery, also a member of the BAIW. We had met last year in Sofia at the St. Patrick’s Day Charity Ball; we were sitting at the same table. During dinner, he was telling my and my friend about his wine making process and that they use a cement egg to ferment their Chardonnay… which I thought this was quite interesting, but it seemed odd to me.
The wine had this “minerally” character, which was unique in the wine, especially for a Chardonnay; it was quite nice and I enjoyed it. I had spent a bit of time at the Rossidi table chatting wine with Edward, but getting to hear him speak about his wines made my wine experience at his table all the more enjoyable because I had a face and a story to put behind the bottle, which goes back to the concept of Slow Wine.
The last event of TASTE was the big reveal of DiVino’s Top 10 wines for 2012. This was another one of the Master Class offerings and there wasn’t an empty seat in the house! The names of the wines were kept a secret and one by one were unveiled… The number one wine of 2012 was Midalidare Estates Malbec 2012. They are the only vineyard producing the Argentinean Malbec in Bulgaria.
The highlight of the weekend was that Maya and I spent all day Sunday together, and surprisingly enough she wasn’t the only child present. She asked me to come to TASTE because she wanted to see me speak. I didn’t want to let her down by saying now, but I worried that after an hour or so she would be bored and spend the rest of the day whining… but she was really engaged in the day’s festivities and I think it helped that I gave her a special job. She was in charge of the map and tasting notebook. She lead me around to the different tables and crossed off where we had been, what wines I tried (she only smelled them) and whether I liked them or not. She got really involved in the wines, well, as much as a 9 year old could. She took her time and practiced her swirl, inhaling deeply and putting real thought into it responses. I was quite proud, but more than that I was amazing to be able to share the day with my daughter and really bond, not just about wine but about what was going on with her life, school, friends. Truly the icing on the cake.
Eating, Gardening & Living in Bulgaria was an official media partner of Taste 2012, but what I wrote and my description of the event was in no way swayed by my participation. For those of you that have been following my website know that I speak quite freely. I have no complaints about any aspect of the event, except for the fact that it is only once a year! Till 2013!!!