Monday, 9 September 2013


I'm too young to remember the recent heyday of Bulgarian wines, Australia had already stolen their place in the UK market by the time I started drinking; however I'm assured by many a set text that they were once a force. Bulgarian Merlots and Cabernets offering soft, fruity, easy drinking liquid for the masses were once a common sight on UK shelves. My opinions of Bulgaria however, had been mostly formed by folk I'd worked with an friends. Suffice to say, I didn't have any context with which to place Bulgarian wines, well, apart from a sneaking suspicion that it might be akin to the revelation that getting to know Hungarian wine had been.

So I was more than a little excited when Daniel from Theatre of Wines started talking about the interesting Bulgarian wines that they'd started importing..

Zagreus is a winery in the Thracian plains.

Now if you're lucky enough, you'll find yourself in a taxi with an overly loquacious Romanian taxi driver, who'll explain to you that the countries of Thracia are merely political constructs dividing the original people of Europe, those who created the earliest kingdoms, and those who are still the same people, untouched by the waves of Asian migrations that created the Magyars and blessed of a more contiguous history than the fragmented Italians (yes, you'll probably detect a certain far right sentiment to their spiel, but we'll pass over that), the Thracians who formed the core of Alexander's army, the self same people who fought their way across continents in the name of nothing more than a disregard of death (well that's how my taxi driver put it).

Ancient Trace, from Albania to the borders of Turkey, conveniently pretty much the geographical scope of Peckham Bazaar's cooking, but I digress. I'm pretty certain that coincidence is merely that, but sometimes there are coincidences that trouble even my, most rational of minds.

Bulgaria's wine regions are pretty much divided into the Danubian planes and the Tracian lowlands; this I feel is core territory for PBaz (Peckham Bazaar) wines, the Thracian planes, blessed with deep iron rich soil, the kind that when I first saw it in Istria brought on a deep emotional understanding of quite how covetous it must have been to people who needed fertile earth for their livelihood. This was earth that seemed pregnant with potential for growth; the bounteous fields abutting the ploughed areas speaking epic tales of ripe crops and weighty vines. Indeed Zagreus is the Bulgarian name for Dionysus, he of the Bacchae and the far more interesting orgiastic celebrations that were usurped by our own Christian St Valentine's day.

But, back to the point; Mavrud, described by our own modern day Saint of the vine Jancis Robinson (though credit being due also to Julia Harding and José Vouillamoz) as being an "Indigenous Bulgarian variety producing sturdy reds that can improve with age.", a description sure to induce apathy, and one that I'm certain could do with a little poetry to enliven, something I'll endeavour to provide.

In it's basic incarnation, steel tanks separating the fermenting must from the oxidative ravages of wood's airy embrace and keeping it's youthful face clear of sun worn blemish, the Zagreus estates basic Mavrud offers a nose of plentiful fruit, fair jovial in it's congenialness, bright and fresh, yet with an underlay of herbal bitterness. A lean vegetal core that seems to speak of profligate herbs and sour spicing, just lying in wait, though still at present sub

sumed by the the cheery enthusiasm of youth. It's elder brother the Vinica 2010, an Amarone style take on the grape, pushes the boundaies yet further still. Fresh peas and summer vegetables, a touch of tarragon, all those herbs and spices that retain a touch of the animal about them. Peppermint and maybe eucalypt (I'm certain there's a herb I don't yet know that fits the aromatic profile better and more understandably), though not in an Antipodean way, grippy sweet tannins, though with minimal residual sugar. A puckering character to the wine that seems to invoke conflict; with what ought one drink this wine? Because this is self evidently a wine with which things out to be eaten. It's a wine that makes me think of rabbit stew, of all spice berries, bay leaves and thyme. One to accompany the stew pot to the table, and to be there to help those who struggle with rabbit hind quarters and the like. Bold and proud of its own place in the world.

Suffice to say I bought a case for the restaurant :)

Sunday, 8 September 2013


Apologies for what has been, even by my standards, an extended absence. I accidentally opened a restaurant. Yes, I was drunk when I said I was going to get involved. Yes, I did swear I'd never work in restaurants again. And yes, I'm loving it.
So, Peckham Bazaar, my new venture, is built around the cooking of my friend and now business partner John Gionleka; Albanian by birth and possessed of a deep love and affinity for all things Balkan and near Eastern. This has influenced the cooking in a profound way, so we're now serving a weekly changing menu of Balkan and near Eastern accented dishes cooked mostly on an open charcoal grill. So now we get to wine. Obviously, as it's a place I'm running, I get to decide what wines we're going to be serving, and with this in mind I decided to match John's influences and focus (read restrict) my wines on the Eastern Mediterranean (with occasional forays inland). So, this has meant that I'm now in the process of trying to learn as much as possible in as short a time as possible about Greece, Croatia, Slovenia, Albania, Turkey, Israel, Bulgaria and the Lebanon. I'll be honest, it's fucking brilliant. It reminds me of starting out with wine, poring over maps of France and Spain, trying to mentally place regions and tastes within a somewhat empty conceptual map of the territory. So, yes, I'm back at that again, scouring maps (printed off from Jancis, obvs.) of Greece looking for Drama, Pangeon (surely Pangeon is like VDT and applicable everywhere?) and all the other previously overlooked regions.
Any way I digress. I was going to write about the best word in the English language. Sample. Obviously, if you're an haematologist, or work in genitourinary medicine you may have different views regarding samples, but I fucking love them. They make their way home with me, clinking in my bag like musical triangles of joy, each one possessed of the potential to wow, each one something I've almost certainly not tasted before, and, each one carrying with them a faint glow of left over hope from the merchant for whom they're really vinous lures, each one a different line with which to tempt me, the fish (I like to think I'm a noble brown trout), to bite.

To whit; I'm back tasting things properly again, I'm writing notes, I'm reading books, I'm sticking maps on my wall (actually a cast iron guarantee that I'll never actually look at said map again) and generally throwing myself wholeheartedly at the task of putting together the most awesome Eastern Mediterranean wine list in Peckham.

p.s. I intend to follow this with pieces on producers, their wines and other more prosaic issues.
p.p.s I may also rant about people with children not spending anywhere near enough money in my restaurant whilst torturing my hangover strained mental capacities.