Friday, 21 November 2014


The taxi was taking me and the (then) kittens back from the vets while my charmingly (if a trifle unnervingly) loquacious driver was explaining to me the intrinsic fighting qualities of the Thracians. By his reckoning, the Thracians (a sort of pan-Balkan ancient ethnicity) were the greatest and hardest fighters, it was their genetic grit that took Alexander to the edges of the known world, and were it not for their failure to appreciate their obvious fraternity they'd have ruled Europe for millenia to come.
Now, for obvious reasons, I don't take taxi driver's wisdom as writ, but it did get me to thinking about how I draw arbitrary lines on maps when it comes to thinking about wines and where they come from. In modern times ancient Thracia is split between Greece, Bulgaria and Western (European) Turkey, which puts it firmly in my sights as a wine producing area.
The Greek part of Thrace is known as Drama, and without wanting to be overly dismissive is characterised by far too many people planting international varieties and making dull as dishwater wines for a supposed international market. Something I've precious little interest in. The Western Turkish parts seem to have some interesting things bubbling under, however the few tasting notes I written have been lost in the morass of my terrible hand writing and drunken organisation. So it's left to the Bulgarian representatives to fly the flag for interest, indigenous varieties and all round good drinking.
For some time now my house red has been a Mavrud made my the Zagreus winery (St. Dimitar), it's gloriously drinkable, all red fruits, friendly acidity and a little hint of something herbal to tease the palate into thinking another large glug is the most advisable course of action. The rest of the Zagreus family bears consideration as well; their Reserve Mavrud, while possibly possessing just enough new oak to be on friendly terms with deceitful flattery, is none the less a pretty decent wine. While the Amarone style Vinica Mavrud seems entirely content in its capacity to blow most other wines out of whatever water is being paddled in. However I'm going to overlook my tried and tested favourites (I'll elaborate more on them at a later date, probably after I get to learn a bit more about them from their winemaker) in favour of a terribly unprofessional whizz through a selection of sample bottles from Southern Bulgaria (one has to learn somehow).
Villa Yustina, Monogram (Mavrud, Rubin) 2010. A grower, initially I rather dismissed this as being all ripe fruit and cheap painter/decorator new oak, but returning to it made me think I'd been needlessly harsh in my initial criticism. While there is obviously some very modern winemaking afoot betwixt cork and bottle, there is none the less some pretty decent wine here. Darkish berried fruit (still obviously oak ameliorated) a touch of spice and some nicely balanced oak and grape tannins. My initial concerns that there was a spot of brett appear to have receded leaving me with a pretty sext, albeit mannered, dark cherry and black fruit scented red. It's a bit on the hot side, which stops the palate a bit early, but does have a decent lingering finish.
Orbelus, Melnik 2011. Also from the Southern Thrace valley this is early Melnik, which is also known as either Melnik 82 or 55 and is not as implied on the back label the same variety that was supposed brought to the region in 200BC by Thracians returning from the middle East, but is in fact a crossing of Shirok Melnishka with pollen from Durif, Jurancon Noir and ValdiguiƩ, much less romantic I think you'll agree. However, ampelographical origins not withstanding this is a pretty decent wine. Slightly tarry with notes reminiscent of broken twigs, there is still a decent amount of dark cherry like fruit, mid weight with some slightly pedestrian tannins.
Aplauz, Melnik 55, 2011. Also from near the village of Melnik (where the crossings were made) which is in the hotter southern part of the country.
Dark, slightly earthy fruit nose, quite international in style. On the palette this is fuller bodied with some quite chewy if rough tannins. There's some big liquorice infused fruit characters and a slight anise like finish.
Villa Melnik, Bergule, Ruen 2011. Quite apart from very obvious puns about any visit to the winery surely being a road to Ruen, this was an odd one. Ruen is a cross between Sirovska Melnishka and Cabernet Sauvignon, and as with all these wines it's the first time I've come across it. Dark in colour with a nose that initially gave me some Beaujolais like impressions, before opening up to show some quite lovely strawberry characters. My one slight gripe was a very slight metallic note on the palette which made me wonder whether there was a bit of brett obscuring the fruit.

So Southern Bulgaria. So many crosses of Sirovska Melnishka. I'll be honest and say that I still don't really know what to make of the grape and its progeny. I can't work out whether I've actually tried any of the old original Melnishka (possibly called broad leafed Melnik as well). It seems to work reasonably well with oak (as does Mavrud), and I've certainly enjoyed my little exploration (though I reckon a visit to Thrace is going to be necessary to get properly under then skin of the region and its grapes).

Wines from Theatre of wine and Pacta Connect.