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International jury evaluates Bulgaria's Top 10 wines for 2008

Date: 01.11.2008

The top 20 Bulgarian wines of 2008 have already been classed, but we will have have to wait until November 21 to find out which one will receive the title of Bacchus' Bulgarian Wine of the Year 2008. On October 31 2008, before the afternoon's final round of tastings, Bacchus, the Bulgarian wine and gourmet culture magazine and initiator of the contest, held a news conference at Vintage Club in Sofia at which the the first-annual competition was explained, and at which the international jury shared its opinions on the country's wines.

Emil Koralov, Bacchus special projects director and one of the originators of the competition, said that the magazine has always strived to promote quality Bulgarian wine – not necessarily wine in general. The contest, thus, served to further this goal by giving winemakers a standard to attain and a source of acclaim. The idea for such was originally conceived for the year 2006, but that circumstances favoured its launch for 2008, he said.

Of the more than 250 Bulgarian wines rated by Bacchus over the course of a year (October 15 2007 to October 15 2008), some 70 to 80 received ratings of 85 points or more on a 100-point scale. Of those, the best 50 were then evaluated by the competition tasting panels, with the 20 top going on to the final round, held on October 30 and 31.

Present for the last step were international experts in the wine field: the British wine guru Steven Spurrier of the magazine Decanter, he who was responsible for organising what has become known as the Paris Wine Tasting of 1976, in which a blind tasting preferred California wines to French; Greek oenologist Maria Xanthopoulou; Portuguese wine critic Rui Falcão, part of the team of the magazine Blue Wine and a member of Fédération Internationale des Journalistes et Ecrivains des Vins et Spiritueux (FIJEV); and Italian oenologist Arrigo Depaoli, president of the tasting commission of the Pisa region chamber of commerce. From the Bulgarian side, jury members were wine consultant and founder of vinoto.com Yana Petkova; Lyubomir Stoyanov, maître d'hôtel of Grand Hotel Musala Palace and holder of the title Best Bulgarian Sommelier 2007; Bacchus wine editor Julia Kostadinova, and Koralov.

“These top 10 wines, as rated yesterday,” Koralov said, “are the best, according to us, at the moment. Ultimately, dégustation is a subjective process.”

Of the three white wines and one dessert wine that made it into the top 20, none figured in the top 10. “Bulgaria is still a red wine country,” Kostadinova said. “We hope that that will change for next year.”

At the official ceremony to be held on November 21, in addition to naming the Wine of the Year, awards will be given to the top white, rosé and dessert wines.

For most of the international members of the jury, the October 30 evaluations were their first time experiencing Bulgarian wine. Their general persuasion, however, was that Bulgaria would do well to emphasise its native grape varieties, like Melnik, mavrud and rubin (these being reds) or dimyat and misket (whites).

Spurrier said: “It is interesting to taste wines from an emerging country. Under the communist period, you had many hectares of vines, but quality was not very good. And there was no encouragement to improve. Now, Bulgaria has reversed that. It is important that winemakers create as sense of 'Bulgarianness' in their wines.” He compared the process to that of Greece, which went from a mass exporter of retsina to “one of the most complex wine producing countries in Europe” that has learnt to refine and appreciate the qualities of its native grape sorts, thus creating a sense of “Greekness”.

“Bulgaria has the opportunity to be a totally modern wine producing country, while taking advantage of the European heritage that it has. I'm excited to see Bulgaria change and improve in the future,” Spurrier said.

As to the reds, Falcão said that “there were a few very good examples of wines that were well made”, he being particularly – pleasantly – “surprised” by the Logodaj rubin.

“I think that apart from international grapes like cabernet sauvignon, syrah and merlot, it would be good to show Bulgarian [grapes], perhaps in a mixing of Bulgarian and international varieties, so that global consumers can chose a Bulgarian wine over a world that is becoming increasingly globalised,” Falcão said. “Every country needs to have its own style of wine.”

Depaoli seconded the opinion, saying that “Bulgarian winemakers have to find more [local] character and terroir in their wines”, with the increasingly seen “international style” becoming a “problem if we look in the future”.

Whites could be improved by working on their freshness, structure and fruitiness, Petkova and Xanthopoulou said. Xanthopoulou said that some of the reds could benefit from increased freshness, as well.

The wines that made it into the top 10 are (in alphabetical order):

Enira Reserva 2006 (Bessa Valley)
Maxxima Private Reserva 2003 (Maxxima Cellars)
Nobile Rubin 2006 (Logodaj)
Question Mark 2007 (Katarzyna Estate)
Roto 2006 (Terra Tangra)
Santa Sarah Privat 2006 (Santa Sarah)
Solitaire Elenovo merlot 2006 (Domaine Boyar)
Terra Tangra Cuvee 2006 (Terra Tangra)
Terra Tangra Grand Reserva 2006 (Terra Tangra)
Vinissimo American Barrel 2006 (Rachev & Son).

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