Wine Tastings & Tours

For a tutored wine tasting or an expert guided tour of a wine region contact me via my Facebook page

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Black Sea Gold - Varna Winery

In September the Wine Anarchist and his wife and trusty beagle visited some friends near the Black Sea Coast of Bulgaria and he took the opportunity to visit the Varna Winery, which is located some 8km east of the city of Varna in spitting distance of the sea.  He is now a little confused as the official website of the winery appears to have been taken over by some Japanese blog.  Also some internet sources talk of a hotel and tourist complex attached to the winery, which the Wine Anarchist saw no sign of.  However the winery does exist and produces wine as the WA can testify himself.  Maybe one of his Bulgarian friends can explain the mystery of the disappeared website and tourist complex.

Anyway, a friend of Tisho, who in turn is a friend of the Wine Anarchist, arranged for a guided tour as he works as a general runaround for the winery.  On the day of his visit the first Traminer grapes were being processed, so the winery manager had just limited time for a tour of the premises and a tasting of some of the highlights.

To give a background, Varna Winery was established in 2008 in what is known as the 'bread basket' of Bulgaria due to its rich soils producing much of the countries grains and sunflower seeds.  For wine the region is mostly known for its white wines, the influence of the Black Sea having a moderating influence on the climate, which is hot and dry during the summer, but gets very cold in the winter.  This is on the northern part of the Black Sea coast with no major mountains protecting the area from the plains of Siberia.

The winery owns some 55ha of white grapes in the area, planted with Chardonnay,  Misket Varnenski, the local clone of the native Bulgarian Misket, Rhine Riesling and even small quantities of Gruner Veltliner of Austrian fame.  Red grapes are bought in from contract growers in the Thracian Valley.  Varieties here include Syrah, Sangiovese, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.  The soils of the region have a high mineral content, some closer to the sea are somewhat sandy, whilst a bit further inland they are the rich black soils typical for the area.  They are some of the most fertile soils in the country.

The winery uses gravity for the transfer of any must, which is gentle on the delicate aromatic qualities of the whites in particular.  Production at this stage is around 120,000 litres per annum, so this is a relatively small output.  The wine making facilities are modern and up to date, except for this barrel, which may just be a bit leaky...

There is quite a large range of wine styles produced, however, due to the small volume of some of them, many were already sold out.  The most intriguing to the WA, the Gruner Veltliner, is apparently down to 4 bottles, which are firmly locked away by the owner...  This is what the WA and friends got to taste though on the day:

  • Chardonnay 2012 Barrel Fermented:  This elegant offering was only fermented not aged in oak and it was 4th passage French barrique, so the oak influence was not too overpowering.  In appearance it displayed a pale straw colour; the nose revealed delicate apricot fruit, followed on the palate by a soft, silky texture and well balanced fruit and acidity, finishing long with just a hint of oak.  Very nice and indeed.
  • Riesling Varnenski Misket 2012: Very pale in colour, the nose was met by exuberant floral aromas, including rose petals; the palate showed more of the same floral notes, some delicate green apple fruit and some juicy acidity, with a decent slightly tart finish.  Really pleasant wine and an interesting blend.
  • Rosé 2012: This is made mainly from Sangiovese plus 15% of Cabernet Franc.  The colour is a delicate salmon; the nose displayed some delicate fruit aromas such as raspberries and cream; the palate was dry and pleasant, but perhaps a bit one-dimensional.  Would still make a nice summer time drink
  • SMS 2012: SMS refers to the grape varieties used in more or less equal quantity: Syrah, Merlot, Sangiovese, matured in barrel for 6 months.  The colour was medium ruby with a purple fringe; The nose revealed nice fresh fruit aromas, blackberries and fruit of the forest; the palate had some nice Sangiovese tartness with hints of cold tea, which was balanced by some lively berry fruit and a touch of chocolate on a long finish
  • Sublima Red 2011: Made from 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot and 15% Cabernet Franc matured in barrel for a year.  Deep ruby in colour with a purple edge, the nose showed some intense herby notes of eucalyptus and rosemary, complimented by complex notes of coffee and elderberry.  It was medium bodied, with a firm tannic structure,still young with more coffee notes and rich underlying fruit and a long complex finish.  One to watch for the future.
  • Sublima Dessert 2008:  As a final bonus the Wine Anarchist was treated to this little gem.  Only 600 bottles were produced as an experiment during the first year of the winery's existence.  It is made from the same grapes as the Varnenski Misket / Riesling, but fermentation was stopped through the addition of grape spirit to retain 120g per litre residual sugar, bringing it up to 16% AbV.  The wine underwent 5 years of barrel ageing, where it took on an oxidative quality reminiscent of sherry.  This resulted in a wine of medium golden colour, a rich nose of walnuts, figs and honey, with more of the same following through on the palate, balanced by some great acidity and a never-ending finish.  This would stand up even to some Christmas pudding, with which the Wine Anarchist will try and pair his treasured bottle he took away from the place.
All in all a very nice visit and some promising wines coming from yet another young winery.  If only the mystery of the apparent disappearance of the net presence was explained...  Anyone can shed any light on this?

Friday, 4 October 2013

Appeal for Support for a Young Brewer

There isn't enough good beer in this world, so the Wine Anarchist is always happy to support new, young and enthusiastic people to join the trade to make REAL beer.  This post is just a small appeal to help a young chap achieve just that.  The Wine Anarchist hasn't actually physically met Dan Frye, but has been in virtual contact with him and his wife Brianna for some time.  Both are very much into organic and biodynamic farming practices and Dan does not only ferment the barley, but anything from kimchi and Sauerkraut to wines from wild ingredients.  He recently completed an apprenticeship at a brewery in France and is now looking to study to become a brewmaster in Berlin.  This costs money though, so the Wine Anarchist agreed to make a bit of publicity for him in order to help him achieve his goal.  the world of beer will the richer for it.  He does promise various perks for any donators, such as courses on home brewing (personally the Wine Anarchist would like a life-time supply of hand-crafted organic beer...).  Have a look at his website and watch the video below.  Oh, and if you would like to know a little more about Dan and his wife and get some recipes on, for example how to make kimchi, check out Brianna's blog.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Girl Power - Claudia Papayanni

Ok, she's not exactly a girl, but a fully grown lady, and a very elegant and attractive one at that, but as Claudia Papayanni frequently refers to herself as the little girl Claudia in a Greek wine scene dominated by men, she'll forgive the Wine Anarchist for talking about 'Girl Power'. 

In early August the WA was on a brief sojourn to Greece visiting a friend in the Chalkidiki region of north-eastern Greece.  The region is mostly known for the beaches of the 3 finger-like peninsulas and the reclusive monks of Mount Athos.  The Wine Anarchist asked his friend and Master of Wine, Konstantinos Lazarakis MW, if he knew of any wineries worth visiting whilst in the area, which how the WA came to arrange a visit to this very new winery, Domaine Claudia Papayanni, situated in the town of Arnea on the inland part of the Chalkidiki region, away from the beaches and up in the hills.

Claudia is proud of the fact that she is the only self-made female wine producer in Greece, having started up the vineyards and winery from scratch without the direct help of her family, not coming from a wine-making family.  The few other women in Greece in charge of wineries either inherited their places from a father or got involved through a husband.  Claudia on the other hand was bored with life in the hotel business, her husband being an ambassador, she clearly didn't have to work at all and instead could have concentrated on a cosy domestic life with her 2 young children.  But instead she decided to return back to what she calls her roots, the land around Arnea, where her father had hailed from.

In 2003 she set out with an ambitious project, to plant 20 hectares of vines on what was previously agricultural land planted with grains such as wheat and corn and build a 3,300 m2 high tech winery.  "So you mean, there weren't any vineyards at all before you started?  What on earth possessed you to start such a risky business on untried territory?" the Wine Anarchist asked incredulously.  "Well," she answered, "there has been historical evidence of wine produced in the village before and we had the soil tested extensively to make sure it was suitable for growing quality grapes.  Also," she added: "I had a vision and bags of enthusiasm!"  Well, who can argue with that?

Not knowing anything about making wine, she surrounded herself by people who did and asked advice left right and centre.  What followed was years of literally blood, sweat and especially tears.  But her vision and her... you could probably call it stubbornness carried her through.  Her vision was to make the best possible wine from the territory available, make it organically and present it to the world, so that people actually want to buy it.  And the last point is her particular strong side, from presenting herself to the public to opening the winery to the public and making it an attractive place to visit and the modern and sleek labeling of the wines themselves.

The cellars for example are made to look like an old cave, but bear in mind this place is only 10 years old!  So what looks like an old mould covered wall on arched pillows, is actually concrete with spray over foam.  Claudia is frank about it, "it's only for show", but it does give the place a certain ambience.

Currently there are some 110 barriques, 80% of them French from 10 different coopers, to test which brings the best results, and 20% American oak of a medium toast.

But it's not all just on the surface.  Her attention to detail shows throughout, from the state of the art bottling line to fermentation vessels specially designed to ferment the indigenous Greek grape variety of Xinomavro.  The conic shape of this tank allows for the separation of the grape pips from the rest of the mash to avoid green tannins to taint the finished wine.

Currently 130,000 bottles per year are produced, but the winery has a capacity for up to 1 million bottles a year.  The actual first vintage was in 2007.

The vineyards are on 2 different plots: one just outside the winery in Arnea at an altitude of 650m asl and one at a lower altitude (250m asl) in Malthousa.  The soils are rich and contain a fair portion of clay.  Below are the vineyards in Arnea:

Finally it was time to taste some wines.  There are 10 different labels produced, 4 white, 4 red and 2 rosé in 4 different ranges.  There is the entry level 'Ex-Arnon' range, the 'CP' range, 2 wines named after her children Alexandra and Nikolas and at the top the 'Domaine' range. 

Here are the Wine Anarchists notes:

Ex-Arnon White 2012:  Made from Assyrtiko and Sauvignon Blanc (80/20), this is a fresh, lively and aromatic offering with aromas of fresh hay and some delicate yellow fruit; the palate is nicely balanced with well integrated acidity and nice fruit.  This would do nicely on a hot summer's afternoon on it's own or with some shellfish.

CP Viognier Assyrtiko 2012: The nose on this classy wine was distinctly minerally interlaced with some delicate peach fruit; on the palate a racy acidity was in evidence as well as a big mouth-feel.  The intense minerality was carrying through to a long finish.  Great wine!

Alexandra Malagousia 2012: The Malagousia grape variety was on the brink of extinction before Domaine Carras revived it.  Now Claudia Papayanni has taken up the banner and is producing something rather special with it.  On the nose there are some delicate apricot and mango notes; the palate is quite full with good balancing acidity and a juicy long finish with some slightly spicy notes.  It would have been a great loss to the world had this variety not been revived and it will be a source of great pride for young Alexandra to have this wine named after her.  The Wine Anarchist is seeing a classic being born here.

Domaine White 2011: 50% Chardonnay, 25% Assyrtiko, 25% Malagousia, the Chardonnay part being fermented and aged for 4 months in barrique.  This was possibly the WA's least favourite wine with the Chardonnay and soft, creamy and butterscotch characters from the oak dominating both nose and palate, however it managed to retain a certain elegance and finished long.

Domaine Rosé 2011: A blend of Grenache and Syrah (80/20), this wine displayed a medium salmon colour and some signs of CO2 and a nose of creamy wild strawberries; on the palate a medium body was supported by oodles of fresh fruit and a lively acidity.  The finish was long, dry and warm with hints of rose petals. 

Ex-Arnon Rosé 2012: A blend of Xinomavro and Grenache (80/20), this made in a medium dry style.  The colour is a glorious rose-petal pink; the nose displays strawberry and cherry fruit; on the palate the slight sweetness is perfectly balanced by some refined acidity.  The WA was pleasantly surprised as he at first declined to taste a sweet rosé.  Another great summer wine for on the terrace with a bowl of summer fruit.

Ex-Arnon Red 2009: A blend of Xinomavro and Syrah (80/20), this is quite a light and easy-drinking red with pleasant redcurrant and raspberry fruit.  Not hugely complex, but very pleasant indeed.

CP Red 2008: A blend of Xinomavro, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah (50/30/20), this is quite a full-bodied wine with aromas of blackberries, water paint and chocolate; the palate had a good structure and backbone with juicy herbal notes and some blackcurrant fruit.  It may just start to dry out a little and should probably be drunk fairly soon, but still a good wine

Nikolas Merlot 2009: This wine has matured 8 months in barrique.  The nose was rich with lots of fresh plum fruit; whilst the palate is soft and rounded with a touch of spice and plenty of easy fruit, finishing long.  Very pleasant indeed.

Domaine Red 2008: A blend of Syrah, Merlot and Xinomavro (40/40/20), this is a serious red.  The nose displays a complex balsamic bouquet of eucalyptus, black pepper, redcurrants and blackberries; the palate is backed by a tight tannic structure balanced by rich and full spicy fruit flavours, finishing long with some more herbal notes.  This wine still has some future development ahead.

So in conclusion, the Wine Anarchist was very impressed by the quality of the wines from so young a winery and as the vines get older, future offerings should get even better.  So thank you Claudia for taking us on a tour and all the tears and struggles were well worth it.