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6th June 2014

A Kick in the Balkans

Hello from Sofia in Bulgaria, where I am helping judge the Balkans International Wine Competition.

I arrived on Wednesday lunchtime and had the afternoon to walk around a city I've never visited. The centre seems to have survived years of communism very well with lots of the older buildings still around, and obviously restored. There isn't much truly old however (one 11th Century Church) and I was mildly disappointed to discover that the enormous cathedral, with its gilded domes, was actually built in the early 20the century. Nevertheless it certainly gave good icon.

After an excellent opening dinner at a restaurant called Before 10, which normally moves itself entirely to the coast from June onwards for the summer season, but stayed in the capital for a few days longer this year especially for us judges, and the winemakers from four top estates. It was a fantastic meal, and great to catch up with my fellow judges, old friends and hopefully new.

Yesterday was a whole day of judging and the standard was very high. We managed to award four Gold medals - quite an achievement. And it makes me realise that it has been far too long since I tasted the wines from Bulgaria, Macedonia, Croatia, Serbia and Greece. These are certainly not mere novelty wines, but serious strides toward world-class winemaking have been made successfully.

Unfortunately we don't find out what the wines are exactly until after all the results have been calculated, but I have kept a copy of my notes, and there are certainly several wines I shall search out, including a couple of Assyrtikos, a Malbec, a Cabernet Franc and several indigenous varieties - Vranac especially.

Bulgarians are very friendly and polite people, everything is remarkably good value (the price of food, beer and taxis would almost be enough to encourage migration from the loopily expensive South of France). Although I'm not sure I could get on with the language. I always make an attempt to learn at least the local words for please and thank you, but mercifully (literally), the Bulgarians have pinched the word for the latter from French, merci.

This morning to be greeted with a tasting of 14 Bulgarian Rosés was less of a challenge than it sounded, and unusually for these things, all my fellow tasters in my group were in agreement on nearly all of the wines.

Na zdrave!


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