A few weeks ago I had the pleasure to tour Bulgaria (including the capital of Sofia) and Istanbul, Turkey, the former as the guest of the Bulgarian Wine Council (www.bulgarianwines.com) and Economotechniki (www.economotechniki.gr), a public relations company based in Greece. I’ve chosen to catalog my trip as a travel itinerary and whenever a specific wine or winery is mentioned this means that I had an individual sit-down meeting with the principals of that business. This is Part One and details the first four days of my visit. Part Two will relate my last few days in Bulgaria and some special time in nearby Istanbul.
If you want to follow along with or comment on my experiences I suggest using Twitter (@WineOnTheRoad #BulgarianWines #Turkey #Istanbul), and I also include my tasting notes at the end of the column in shorthand that goes like this: appearance (if relevant), then aroma/taste/acidity & finish. If I can find a domestic retail price then I list it (if there is more than one I err on the higher side), with “N/A” meaning that the wine is not yet generally available in the U.S. (my notes are also available on Twitter @wineontheroad).
BEN WILL BE IN ITALY, INCLUDING EMILIA-ROMAGNA AND PUGLIA, OCTOBER 14 – 24
Ben has been invited to tour the food and wine of Italy, including attending the GOOD! 2015 tourism meetings in Emilia-Romagna, in mid-October, and the Buy Puglia 2015 tourism meetings in Bari, Puglia. Follow along with him on Twitter (@WineOnTheRoad), Facebook (Wine On The Road), LinkedIn (Benjamin Weinberg) and Foursquare (Ben Weinberg).
AND NOW A BIT ABOUT BULGARIA
Bulgaria is a Balkan nation with diverse terrain encompassing Black Sea coastline, rivers (including the Danube, which runs along the border with neighboring Romania) and a mountainous interior. A cultural melting pot with Greek, Slavic, Ottoman and Persian influences, it has a rich heritage of traditional dance, music, costumes and crafts, with its ladies renowned for their beauty. While Bulgaria is also the number one producer of rose oil in the world, in terms of grapes there are four main agricultural regions including 54 microclimate areas.
My first guide in Sofia told me that “God made Bulgaria from the pieces left over after he made the rest of the world.” Climate, geography, etc., all include a little bit of everything. On the shortest route between Asia and Central Europe, Sofia sits at the foot of Vitosha Mountain, with continuous settlement dating to the 5th century B.C.E. In fact, it is impossible to dig anywhere in Sofia without finding lots of ancient ruins from multiple civilizations, a fact that makes it very difficult to modernize this cosmopolitan, fun city.
AS FOR THE TOUR . . .
08 August – arrival at Sofia airport.
Accommodation at hotel Les Fleurs in the town of Sofia http://www.lesfleurshotel.com/.
“The Liberation” = late 19th century from Turkey.
“The Changes” = 1989-90 involving separation from the U.S.S.R.
“The Crisis” = 2008-09 of a financial nature.
Sofia – local mountain/state park (Vitusha Mountain). Mineral springs in town center. Alexander Nevsky Church of the Patriarch is covered with seven kilos of gold!
Dinner – local pizza place very late.
8.30 – Departure from Sofia for the village of Karabunar, 90 km east of Sofia and 300 km west of the Black Sea, through the Thracian Valley which is bordered by the Balkan Mountains on the north and the Rodopi and Rilla Mountains on the south. Karabunar is famous for dairy products including cheese.
9.30 – 11.30 – Tour around the Karabunar winery and wine tasting http://bulgarian-heritage.com/en. Co-owner Ladi and winemaker Nadia. Initial focus on white wine grapes now moving to red. Oldest vineyards planted 2004, winery sold 2009. Originally a distillery now working on optimizing it for grapes. 100k bottles of wine and 15k of spirits per year but in the process of expanding.
11.30 – Departure for the town of Saedinenie.
12.30 – 13.30 – Tour around the winery in Saedinenie and wine tasting. Winery has the same name as the town but there is a holding company for the two brands (Vinprom Peshtera SA). Domaine Peshtera and Villa Yambol. Nikolai is one of the main oenologists. Sell 45% of all wine and spirits in Bulgaria and so exports are the focus going forward (wine exports now account for less than 3% of total turnover, spirit exports 27%). Also the leading buyer (from more than 200 cooperatives) of wine grapes in the country as well as the leading vinegar producer.
13.30 – Departure from the town of Saedinenie for the town of Plovdiv, the second largest city in Bulgaria and a European capital of culture for 2019.
14.00 – Lunch at a local place specialized in roasted meats.
15.00 – Accommodation at Park Hotel Sankt Petersburg http://www.sphotel.net/en/.
17.00 – Tour around Plovdiv and the Old Town.
20.00 – Dinner at Hebros Restaurant.
8.30 – Departure for the town of Assenovgrad.
9.00 – 11.00 – Arrival at Vinzavod SA, visit the oldest and the biggest oenoteque in Bulgaria, a Museum of History, and Bachkovo Monastery, whose winemaking facility is one of the oldest and largest in Bulgaria. Region is the original home of the Mavrud grape, which is very suitable to aging. Founded 1948 as a private business, socialized by government, private again 1999. 10% white, 90% red. Processes 10-12M tons of grapes each year, with 20,000 of the best vintage bottles in the library. Monastery itself was the initial place of regional wine production, but it was shut down by the Turks during the occupation.
11.00 – Departure for Chateau Assena – http://www.asena.bg/.
11.30 – 12.00 – Arrival at Chateau Assena and tour around the winery. Winery makes 200k bottles/year from Bordeaux varieties, a cross between Syrah and Nebbiolo, and Mavrud. Assenovgrad Version Mavrud 2013 is the benchmark for the variety in all of Bulgaria.
12.00 – 13.00 – Lunch at Chateau Assena. Winery poured older versions with the meal. A smoked Bulgarian whiskey was wild and definitely has potential in the U.S.
14.00 – 16.00 – Wine tasting. Tasting was done prior to lunch.
16.00 – Departure for Plovdiv.
16.30 – 20.00 – Free time.
20.00 – Dinner.
9.00 – Departure from Plovdiv for the town of Svilengrad.
11.00 – 13.00 – Tour around Svilengrad, Mezek and other historical places http://vbox7.com/play:m4d270f6cb. Saw a Thracian tomb dating from the fourth century B.C. and a fortress dating from Middle Ages that guarded against the Ottomans. Mezek = border village.
13.00 – 14.00 – Tour around Katarzhyna Estate http://www.katarzyna.bg/?lang=1. Winery owned by Polish man (Belvedere Vodka), named after deceased daughter. 2.2M kg capacity, +3M kg at new winery being built. Manual harvest, one day in cooling room, then crush and vinify.
14.00 – 16.00 – Lunch at Katarzhyna estate with a higher-end wine tasting. Rolland had previously consulted here which does show in the wines, especially with Merlot. Syrahs were great.
17.00 – 19.00 – Departure for the town of Sliven.
19.00 – Accommodation at Hotel Park Central in Sliven http://hotel-park-central.bg/en/index.html.
20.00 – Dinner.
Organized tours such as this one allow me the opportunity to learn more about wine and food and to transmit that knowledge to you, so stay tuned for Part II! Thanks to my hosts for this particular trip, and to my traveling companion David Furer of Unfiltered Unfined (of which I am also a co-founder). I can’t wait until we travel together again.
BEN’S ARTICLE ON THE RUTHERFORD DUST SOCIETY IN EDIBLE MARIN AND WINE COUNTRY MAGAZINE’S SUMMER EDITION
Ben has an article about the Rutherford Dust Society in the Napa Valley (as well as a sidebar on legendary grape grower Andy Beckstoffer’s contribution to Rutherford’s wine scene) in the summer edition of Edible Marin and Wine Country Magazine (www.ediblemarinandwinecountry.com). The summer edition will include stories on the recent Napa earthquake and also the Rutherford Dust Society. Check it out!
BEN’S WINE COUNTRY PICTURES ARE FOR SALE
Have you ever read one of Ben’s columns and wondered how it would look to have one of his incredibly vivid, high resolution pictures of wine country framed on your wall? We’re now offering various size prints of his quirky photography at Pixels.com, where you can also add his images to smartphone cases, greeting cards, and many other items. Pictures can be ordered loose or matted and framed in various sizes. Click Here http://pixels.com/art/all/benjamin+weinberg/all to take a peek.
WINE ON THE ROAD’S LUXURIOUS, BEHIND-THE-SCENES WINE TOURS
With Wine On The Road (www.wineontheroad.com), my wine-focused touring company, you can enjoy the ultimate wine country excursion with special access to top winemakers and their incomparable wines. Wine On The Road offers intimate wine country tours that combine award-winning wines and exquisite dining and lodging with uniquely local flair and flavor. We lodge at excellent and luxurious wine country estates (in the past we’ve occupied ancient yet completely restored castles as well as five-star resorts, all with modern amenities). We eat at amazing local restaurants and visit wineries that embody the best, most authentic expressions of local wine grapes.
You can learn more about these trips, book private groups in wine country world-wide and request more information on any of these extraordinary travel experiences by visiting www.wineontheroad.com, emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or calling me at 303-522-6738.
Karabunar Contour Pinot Grigio 2014 (Bulgaria, EU) $N/A
Pale/lemon pith, pine/starfruit, lime, nectarine/himod
Karabunar Bulgarian Heritage Misket 2014 (Bulgaria, EU) $N/A
Pale/tangerine, ash/yellow pear, starfruit/hilong
Pixels Sauvignon Blanc 2014 (Bulgaria, EU) $14
Gold/pine, apple /pear, tangerine/himod
Assenovgrad Winery Sauvignon Blanc 2013 (Bulgaria, EU) $ N/A
Pale/lemon, apricot/yellow pear, peach/medmod
Katarzyna Estate Sauvignon Blanc Le Voyage 2014 (Bulgaria, EU) $N/A
Gold/lanolin, grapefruit/starfruit, ash/himod
Verano Azur Rosé 2014 (Bulgaria, EU) $N/A
Electric pink/white flower, pink grapefruit/nectarine, honey/medlong
Assenovgrad Winery Rosé of Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 (Bulgaria, EU) $N/A
Salmon/honey, peach/red flower, squash/medmod
Katarzyna Estate La Vie En Rosé 2014 (Bulgaria, EU) $N/A
Pale salmon/cranberry, rose/pink grapefruit, pomegranate/himod
Karabunar Contour Special Selection Cuvée 2011 (Bulgaria, EU) $N/A
Bright red/dark plum, cola/medmod
Verano Azur Surah-Marselan 2013 (Bulgaria, EU) $N/A
Red-black/licorice, red plum/blueberry/medmod
Assenovgrad Winery Cabernet Franc 2013 (Bulgaria, EU) $N/A
Purple-red/dried herbs, cranberry/blackberry, milk chocolate/hilong
Assenovgrad Winery Mavrud Special Reserve 2012 (Bulgaria, EU) $N/A
Black-red/blackberry white pepper/pomegranate, cola/hilong
Assenovgrad Winery Mavrud Reserve 2011 (Bulgaria, EU) $N/A
Dark red/graphite, black cherry/dark plum, dark chocolate/medmod
Katarzyna Estate Syrah Encore 2012 (Bulgaria, EU) $15
Dark red/bacon, pomegranate/blackberry, blueberry/hilong
Karabunar Rakia Luta Karabunarska 2007 (Bulgaria, EU) $N/A
Light gold/honey, sunflower/hot pepper, anise/hilong