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In the search of the Bulgarian Wine Identity

This is the post excerpt.

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In the search of the Bulgarian Wine Identity

Part 1

Do you ever get the feeling you have an idea on the tip of your tongue, but you can’t quite find the words to express it? Maybe your expectations are too high, and you are in fact trying to describe the indescribable!

This is how I feel when my international friends ask me: What is typical for Bulgarian wine? I know Bulgarian wine, I know the grapes, the producers, and the regions, but in that moment I fail to synthesize all that information and come up with those one or two sentences that will perfectly answer their question. However, one thing I’m sure in the moment – we deserve more than being seen as inconsequential behind the renowned wine producing countries.

It is when I feel like I am unable to express myself in the moment, that I feel that writing it down may help.

Bulgarian wine it is not as one generic whole, it has distinct regions. It deserves to be understood not simply by its country of origin. In the following, please don’t expect statistical research on soil analysis, grape genetics, horizontal or vertical tastings, rather I want to write about my experiences of what Bulgarian wine is, and can be.

In the wine business, countries that are at the forefront are those that show something to the world, both in story, and in flavor. Customers can be certain of a product, and also, for those who are more curious they can explore the market more deeply. A classic example of this is New Zealand, and Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. Contrary to a specialist in 1976 deeming the region unsuitable for serious grape growing, it has served as a pioneer for the New Zealand wine industry, putting it on the map, and generating continuous interest in wines from the region, and the country as a whole. This takes me back a couple years when I was living in Berlin.

Master Sommelier Hendrik Toma once told me: Marin, as sommeliers, we are story tellers and I see that in you. Tell your stories well.

So here it goes, I’m going to tell you my version of the story that brought me to the state of mind, allowing me to see more clear what Bulgarian wine can be …

Berlin, circa 2013-4, it played, and still plays a big part in my story and the experiences that I had there taught me about myself, and wine, more than any other place till now.

I was sitting at a table and in front of me was a Master of Wine, Alastair Maling, wine maker at Villa Maria at that time. This made me a little uneasy. I knew in my head that the Southern Hemisphere was moving beyond the zingy Sauvignon Blanc when choosing wine.

Like any other product Sauvignon Blanc wines have their ups and downs, and after taking the world like a storm, it seemed the time was arriving where consumer palettes were a bit over the citrusy grassy stuff, and perhaps looking for something else.  I did not share these thoughts with Alistair, out of respect to his title, work, and personality. There were other people on the table, and in the world of wine, misunderstanding, or difference in opinion can easily lead to offence.

Alistair jumped into the role of a wine merchant, he explained about the wine regions of New Zealand, and regional differences in the grapes that are used, and what the blending of grapes from different regions adds to the final product. I found it interesting and yet somehow confronting to see a Master of Wine also working as a wine rep/salesman.

When the opportunity arose, I told him how much his work, and the story of Sauvignon Blanc in the global market had influenced both the marketing, but also wine making methods in my home country of Bulgaria. In the first years of the twenty-first century things were not looking good for Bulgaria. Wine lists were not exciting, with wines listed on the back of the restaurants’ food menu together with local distillate Rakia. Wines were produced by few big groups and any chance of finding a unique wine from a micro winery was impossible. White wines were flat with muted acidity, regardless of where the grapes had been grown, leaving an unpleasant feeling with or without food. Then Villa Maria showed a style of wine that was totally on the other side, a wine that was fresh and crispy with lively aromas and inviting taste. Even though the product was twice as expensive as the local whites, people loved it and Villa Maria is still in the hearts of many Bulgarians.

 

Alistair started listened to my thoughts interestedly, saying that the information would be very useful, as he would be travelling to Bulgaria after Germany.

That encouraged me to share a little bit more of my thoughts. Alistair and I spoke about the market bouncing back and fourth and the ABC effect. I tasted some very interesting Sauvignon Blancs that had spent more time on the lees. These wines impressed me with their layers, showing different character after every minute spent in glass.

We spent a little more time chatting about the Berlin market and how difficult it was. In Berlin you can sell anything just by having the right approach, personality, and style. Being different works there.

On the table that day was Willemijn de Kleijn – ambassador for Europe for Villa Maria. I met her again last year in Bulgaria.

She came on the eleventh of May visiting me in The Sea Terrace – the restaurant where I work. We did a tasting together, presenting the products of Villa Maria combined with a tasting menu. Something like this would have been impossible, even in my wildest dreams, 10 years ago when I was working just 200 meters away in another restaurant trying to explain to people that Traminer is not a native Bulgarian grape and acidity is not a bad thing. My experiences and interactions with Villa Maria ensure that it will always have a place in my heart, and on my wine list.

Maybe in the search for the Bulgarian wine Identity, the way to find a place in people’s hearts, and lists, as villa Maria has in mine, our goal to work towards in the future should be to embrace our geographic origins, whilst adopting innovative, and bold approaches and maintaining an emphasis on self-improvement whilst growing our knowledge.

(Georgi Vankov spend three months this year in NZ doing campaign with Villa Maria. He claim the Pirin mountain in Bulgaria wearing the Villa Maria t-shirt.)

The people that stand out, not only in the present, but in our hearts and memories are those with character, personality, and goals.

People and wine are not so different.

In To be continued … soon.

Like it, leave it, or grow to like it, this is just My Wine of View.

Cheers

Marin

“IT IS THE PERSONALITY AND THE POSITIVE ATTITUDE THAT MATTERS IN OUR INDUSTRY, NOT THE IMMACULATE SERVICE FROM THE LEFT OR RIGHT SIDE” Interview with Lyubomir Stoyanov by Dilyan Kolev (15 min read)

Bulgarians in hospitality

I had the pleasure to meet Lyubomir about 8-9 years ago. I remember we had lunch with a friend of mine at the restaurant that Lyubo was managing at that time – Acant Rouge in Varna, Bulgaria.

We haven’t met in person since but kept in touch over the years through the social media. Over that time I got to hear a lot about Lyubo by a few fellow industry professionals that worked with him – about his distinctive management style and leadership qualities, his immaculate eye for details, his professionalism, his love for the hospitality industry and the world of wine. I read various publications in the press and on the internet about him winning many awards in restaurant management and wine.

As one of the best-known faces of front of the house in Bulgaria over the past two decades, I had the pleasure to ask Lyubo a few…

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In the search of the Bulgarian wine identity Part II

It is not enough for wine to have a passport; it need birth certificate as well.– Thery Tiese

The wine is inherently connected with the region that is coming from, just as we are connected to our families, our roots. This comparability between wine and people is not unknown, but exploring it helps us to understand the value of both.

The simple definition of family is : social unit of two or more persons related by blood, marriage, or adoption and having a shared commitment to the mutual relationship. But there is much more than that.

The simple definition of wine is: fermented freshly squeezed juice of the vitis vinifera grapes. But again, there is so much more to it than that.

 Family is indeed a rich concept, built around a shared history, both geographically and existentially. Our shared habits, interests, and experiences create bonds that constitute the notion of family to me. Family is the group of people and shared experiences that will always be there for you, no matter what. Without this environment you are tree with no roots, easily influenced by even cursory surrounds, free, but without the means to understand or be understood.

Beyond that, family is memories. For me, the time I was sitting there under that pergola eating the food from my grandfather’s garden, cooked by my grandmother. That little kid with big eyes looking at everything new not even realizing that that moment cannot be returned to, or at least not from the same viewpoint.

Family is also the group of people that makes you feeling safe. You are your genetic self, but at the same time clear reflection of those around you. Their advice becomes clear when as you grow up their mantras and suggestions are subconsciously reenacted and consciously reenacted or rejected. When I think of my own parents, and their personalities and experiences I like to think I can people can understand me more when they meet them. I have always respected my mothers genuineness and kindness, and likewise the old school professionalism of my father, a hospitality professional who studied under the last butler of King Boris III. These are traits that as an adult I, to this day, I inherently value.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Xztg4zZqCo

(Bulgaria Guines World Record in Varna, for longest DNA chain)

As with family, wine too has its roots in its history. The first thing you learn about wine is that the balance is most important. The balance between the terroir, the grapes specifics, and human intervention. You can make full circle into the wine knowledge so you can come to same conclusion. There is nothing as simultaneously simple and complicated as wine (or often family;)!

Wine come from grapes and they have genes as well! The father and the mother of Sauvignon blanc are the Chenin blanc and Traminer. Sauvignon blanc and Cabernet franc gave birth to the Cabernet sauvignon, and they are just couple of examples of a thing that you experience in a glass of wine, and you are asking yourself how that cassis get in this wine? Why this wine is so fresh and others are so juicy and mouth feeling.  This is because wine, like people, comes from a family, a family that helps shape it. Like, it or not.

Now for the Bulgarian part of this family history. To that little country on the cross road between three continents, which has weathered the storm of mankinds greed, but is still standing there on the Balkans, staying strong, Bulgaria. It is the retention of our name, our language, and our religion that has maintained that connection, has made us who we are as a country. And then there is our wine…

If we build a bridge between the wine and the history of the country of origin, then we ought be optimistic about Bulgarian wine. If we manage to survive everything that life has been throwing at us, then our wine will do the same and find its path to the place not just in Bulgaria, but in the international market too. It is not only my hope, but my expectation to one day hear sommeliers say:

“This test like wine from the Balkans, Bulgaria indigos grape varietal, wall extract. So my conclusion is: SML (Brought Melnik leaf vine). I can test the dirt of the Balkans in this wine and that makes is different than anything else.”

(SML is abbreviator of Shiroka melnishka Loza or Brought Melnik leaf vine. It is low extract wine like Pinot noir and can be served even with salmon with cream cheese)

Anything can taste like something else, and very often does. We need to celebrate the authenticity of Bulgarian wine, wine that tastes like its origins, its history, and its family. Proudly written on the label ” Wine of Bulgaria”.

When we think again of the connections between family and wine, we can imagine how they are similar. Bulgarian wine ought to be proud to taste like it was made in Bulgaria, from the vines to the glass, absorbing  the mantras and suggestions of previous generations, and from current winemakers. Likewise, the fabric of family forms of us the truest expressions of ourselves, of which we should not shy away from. We should not be governed from above, just as wine tastes and values should not be dictated by the preferences of elite traditionalists.

Great wine comes from vines that have faced adversity, that needed to dig deep into the soil to find water and safety. Bulgaria and Bulgarian wine can not only understand this criteria, but have also lived it. It’s time to show what we and our wine are made from, to express themselves fully and proudly.

When people lose themselves it often helps to come back to their families and home, so they can remember who they are. Sometimes wine suffers this same fate, of trying to be something else, when really, at its most authentic, it is itself.

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For people, and wine, the key is in the roots.

Take it, leave it, or grow to like it! Its just my wine of view.

(thanks a million to Juanita Hard for editing)

 

 

 

“WE, ALL CHEFS, HAVE TO BE EXTREMELY PROUD & HAPPY THAT WE CHOSE THE BEST PROFESSION IN THE WORLD!” Interview with Chef Simeon Petkov by Dilyan Kolev

Bulgarians in hospitality

I had the pleasure to first meet Simeon less than a year ago on a fellow Bulgarian hospitality industry professionals’ dinner that we organized. On the night there were a few new faces & we had fun meeting up, enjoying a great interactive dinner concept & sharing a few bottles of wine. Being the main organizer & host I made sure I spoke to everybody & at one point I remember I sat next to Simeon & we started chatting. I asked him where he worked, how long & so on & I was very impressed that he was a Chef de Partie at The Greenhouse restaurant (2 Michelin stars, 4 AA rosettes). I was further impressed when he told me he is only 23 years old & has been cooking professionally at that level already almost 4 years.  And then he stopped me in my tracks saying “I knew…

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Silence over noise / part 2

…..continued !

Questions.

Can the wines that are noisy for me make other people test the silence?

Do the noisy wines become different when they grow up or they just lose themselves?

Why did that wine made me test the silence? Is that authenticity?

I try to build the bridge between all this and something I think I know: myself. In traveling so much have I lost the connection with the place where I was born? Automatically in my mind starts playing the Morcheeba song “Gained the world”: I’ve gained the world and lost my soul.

Is this making me noisy wine? I think I get the answer yesterday when I watch the most expensive production ever made in Friedrichstadt-Palast the Vegas stile of show “Show me”.

It was flashy, full of effects, noisy, scary, glamour’s, sad, artistic, creative, balanced, dynamic and beautiful in the same time. It made me scream, laugh, seat in silence, clap, almost dance all together. As amazing as this show was somehow it did not fit in my imagination of Berlin, for me the most non commercial big city in Europe. I really enjoy the symmetry in this show because thanks to a friend we got central seats with a great over view of the stage. The attention to detail in this show was so precise that I started to think what kind of wine I can serve to the creator of this show. It has to be something as perfect as his work.

After that show my friends where like “It was great but I don’t know if I would see it again”.

For me, I would see it again, just because now I know what to look for and maybe I will get different experience out of it… But would I see it third time? I would if I’m trying to impress a girl and take her there and see what she thinks…

Deep inside I knew this Show did not make me test the silence. As amazing it is, it is not the same amazing as when I watched that blind girl singing karaoke in Mauer park, making the crowd stay and sing with her in spite of the rain. She made me test the silence.
I went back home and try to learn more about this show, the cast, and the people who made it. I was pleasantly surprise that the director of the ballet of Friedrichstadt-Palast is Alexandra Georgieva from Plovdiv Bulgaria. She has lived in Berlin long time but she is still Bulgarian and that made me really proud. I have not lost the connection with place where I come from; at least I had the answer for that question.

What about the rest?

The show left me with mix feelings but no answers.

One of my friends (master sommelier to be) hosted a tasting in his apartment couple of weeks ago. We had the chance to test some amazing Californian wines:

  • La Jota Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2009
  • Lokoya, ‘Howell Mountain’, Cabernet Sauvignon 2006
  • Freemark Abbey Cabernet Sauvignon Bosché Vineyard 1993

All outstanding wines, but my first choice went for the full bodied and mouth feeling La Jota.

I had some nostalgic attachment to this big Californian Cabernet and that is why first I went for this wine. It is the same price range like Caymus retailing at around fifty euros. It made much more sense to me then Caymus, it was more elegant with cassis and blue berry, chocolate young and vibrant. Very seductive Cab.

Lokoya is one of the top Californian Cabernets, like Insignia, but more old school. It was not spicy or peppery, the alcohol was so well integrated. The wine was closed and did not reveal much to me. It had amazing inky-purple color and I remember graphite in the nose. The wine told me “I come from the mountains” and then left. I did not had chance to try second glass because I had arrived, late around 10 pm, to an evening that had started at 7 pm. I was lucky enough that they had saved some for me. I hope I will have the chance to taste it again but I suspect that is unlikely any time soon at 250 euros a bottle, if you are even lucky to find it.

The Freemark Abe 1993 Cabernet was so alive for the age the fruit was still fresh the color clean and bright no brown on the age. Automatically my mind went couple of years back in time when a guest asked me to taste for them the 93 and 94 vintage of Opus One. I remember the wines were almost over the hill that time, the alcohol was burning and had browned with age, they where still powerful but more because of the alcohol not alive acidity. I remember 94. I was a kid in middle school watching the Football Word Cup in USA. Bulgaria was gaining some respect defeating Germany on the quarter final and going on to the semi. It was so hot that year in USA, during the Bulgaria vs Germany match the temperature hit 44 degrees C. Good and very ripe year for North Coast, but something was missing in that Opus.

I told to the guest:
“Drink or sell, but you can ask for second opinion”

This Cabernet from Freemark was behaving much better than the Opus of same vintage did couple of years ago. Really good old school Cabernet from Napa.

My mind was telling me that this wine is the cherry on top of the cake but my pallet was asking me for more of the big, mouth feeling La Jota. I was not happy about it but that was the reality. Another sommelier from Berlin liked the best one Chardonnay from Napa that we tasted before the Cabs.

I realize there is time and place for everything and my time to really appreciate some big wines is still to come. I’m sure the last wine made my friend test the silence but not me or at least not as much as for him. I chose the noisy wine because that Cabernet reminded me of the time I spend on the cruise ship in USA, drinking wine with my friends on the crew only area at the front of the ship, waiting sunrise to come, knowing that we started to work in few hours. This wine connected me to time and place that my silence wine for the night.

You may think that I’m writing this while drinking bottle of Bordeaux, but no, I’m actually drinking Yellow Tail Cabernet Sauvignon, a wine that needs no introduction, for all the wrong reasons. Why I’m having it you would ask?

My neighbour managed to lock herself out of her apartment early this evening, when I started with this text. I heard noise in the corridor so I went to check and I saw her trying to open the door but the lock did not work. She had to call locksmith but he would come in 40 minutes so I invited her over and offer her glass of wine but the Yellow Tail, a leftover from the flats previous inhabitant, and alas, all I had in the moment because I’m a sommelier in Berlin, and payday is not till next week. Heaven forbid, we enjoyed it. The wine was there, right time and place.

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(This is what I found last morning when I come back from work. The card says “Thanks so much for the wine & great hospitality! Definitely a Berlin moment! Cheers Charlotte” #loveberlin )

Why am I’m still drinking it, even though the locksmith has long since let my neighbour back in to her place? No, it’s not good wine, it gets naked in the glass very fast leaving some very unpleasant burn caramel notes, but it is three in the morning and at this time is not the hour of judgment, but it is the hour of wine. It was the paradox I enjoyed, not the wine. Terry Theise say’s something about how easy it is to speak about thinks you like but in order to realize that you have to taste the wines you don’t like. I get one for the team right now big guy. I have been avoiding wines like this one for long time, now at least I know why.

Do never judge to fast wine or people, acknowledge there is time, place, and reason for everything. Objectivity is subjective don’t dismiss something just because you don’t understand it. If you still have not met that ”Shy Girl” it is not because she is not there, it’s because you are not ready for her. She is there sitting in the park reading book, she is just passing next to you on her bike, she is in the subway when you go to work in the morning or maybe she is just moving in the empty apartment in your building.

Yes wine evolves and changes, but not us much as we do, and to understand wine you first must consider understanding yourself.

Like it, leave it, or grow to like it, this is just My Wine of View.

Cheers

Marin
(thanks a million to Juanita Hard for editing)

Silence over noise

This is about wine, not only, but kind of. Many of us wonder why it is that wine manages to play such big role in our lives, and there seems there are as many answers as there are people asking this question. I catch myself on occasion saying, “once you know wine you know people”. Automatically afterwards I replay it in my mind and realize how overly profound it sounds… Luckily enough I say this normally in morning’s early hours when the tasting of wine has been replaced by the art of excess, from wine, to more wine, to the bottom shelf, to the kitchen cupboard of Marsala. People are not so judgmental by that time, both of what you say, and what they drink… Time and place, every drink has a home. A friend of mine has an interesting idea for rating the wines, in accordance with the context where they would be most appropriately consumed…  I’ll leave this subject for her.

 However, in spite of the over the top nature of the above statement, the idea of comparing the world of wines with that of people may not be so unjustified. They say a person is like fine wine, gets better with age. God I hope that is true because I’m not getting younger. Although, neither are you… Beyond these parallels, superficial or otherwise, the purpose is to acknowledge that wine too has [warning – cliché alert] personality, and I would even go so far as to say, a soul. Is this why we are so willing to invite it to our table, to take a part in our lives?

 I was going through Terrie Tease “Reading between the wine” book for second time. I find it a surprisingly hard read, not because I don’t like it, but because I like it too much. Each and every page has same enchantment, exploring true paths that you already have been on or are about to take. It’s as if each and every sentence triggers a whole new universe of self directed questions about everything, and wine. Hours spent staring as a point with empty eyes still trying to pinpoint the questions, returning to reading in the vain hope of concrete answers. So it goes. The best and the worst of these digressions was when he divided wines onto two groups; “noisy wines” and “wines that make you test the silence”. My mind was left to wonder for hours after reading this page.

  “Noisy wines” are the one we all like. They demand your attention, willing to give you everything for it. Chocolate, coffee, blueberries, strawberries, jam, flowers, they will be full of mouth feel, and delicious, you will be so happy that you find them. But soon you will realize that they don’t do this just with you, but with everyone. This is their game and they play it well, very well. After such a realization the magic is gone, still good, still delicious even, but the tasty treat of a noisy wine is not your chocolate, it’s just chocolate.

  The “wines that make you test the silence” are like a shy suitor, they don’t reveal themselves at first blush. They are reserved, in the beginning you have to let them breathe your air for while, to be in your presence before they start speaking to you. They will not tell you much, they will speak about the place they come from, because that is everything they know. Contained in these wines is minerallity so specific to a certain place and soils that after a time you will seek to place the region. They will give you more and more every time you place your nose over the glass it maybe not jam and berry but more of senses that will connect you to places and memories from your childhood: playing next to the river in hot summer day, smell of forest floor in the autumn, the smell of the gasoline when you and your friend stole his grandfathers motorbike and took it for a ride in the night…

You are enchanted, whilst all your friends are all ten minutes ahead, on to the next, you remain under the spell, testing the silence of this wine you just met, but are not yet ready to cast aside.

 Reluctantly, you leave the glass on the side and try to get back in the table topic. But something draws you back to that “shy girl” and interest in the surrounding conversation is lost. You glance at her hoping that she will reveal more, but she is not that easy. In the end you return to that glass, seated comfortably back on your chair finally able to dedicate all your senses to that wine. You don’t care any more what people around you are talking about, more interested in what she has to say. She will tell you all about her parents, the way they raised her, where she is going and how fast she will get there. You will understand how authentic she, is how different from everyone you know. You wouldn’t even care to ask your friends if they like this wine, its good enough that you love it. You will keep seating on you chair enjoying the peace and silence, as if you share a secret.

That may not be exactly the way Terry Theise explained it, but this is how I understood it. And it will be so much easy if I just leave it there, but of course I did not.

 I started to think…

To be continued …..