It is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, so you would be expecting this place to attract a large, numbers of tourists, yet although it was a main holiday time for Bulgarians with May Day,Orthdox Easter and the National Holiday all falling in the same week, it was remarkably quiet. Yes of course we weren'y alone, but this area is ranks as the poorest region within the European Union, despite al the tourist poential, not to mention... potential to make world class wines! And that's of course what we are here to talk about!
The Wine Anarchist had previously visited this winery back in November 2012, but the weather was grey and foggy and he didn't get to see anything of the rocks or the vineyards and also he was suffering from a stinking cold at the time, so missed out tasting some of the gems on offer. On this occasion he got to see one of the outlying vineyards in the village of Gradetz, some 50km north of the winery, near the Danube river on the border to Romania and Serbia.
This partcular plot is planted mosty with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay as well as a little Sauvignon Gris, a rare varient of Sauvignon Blanc which has a pink-hued skin and is even more aromatic than its white cousin.
Now at this point it might be a good time explain some of Ogi Tzetanov'sapproach to wine making. During the Communist era, Ogi worked as a microbiologist at the National Research Institute in Sofia, so he knows a thing or two about the chemistry of it all. He has also spent some time in California, where he widened his experience and world view. It shows his ... how shall we put it ... excentric, quirky, plain odd? ... nature that he chose to buy a run-down winery in the poorest part of Europe back in 2004 to try and make boutique wines here. And there is no other way of describing his wines. He makes dozens of small to tiny parcels of wine, each different and individual. Some parcels are as small as a dozen... 20 bottles, if, as he puts it, the wine deserves its individual expression and attention.
Now back to the Gradetz vineyard, much of it got killed off during the catastrophic frosts of 2010/11, and is only slowly recovering. It is gently south sloping (so away from the river Danube which lies to the north) and pure limestone subsoils, similar, in fact almost identical , to those of the Champagne region in France. Here is a nice profile picture of the soil at Ch. de Val, which right next door to Ogi's vineyard.
One of the wines made at this site is the excellent Cuvée Cadeau Pinot Noir. The WA didn't get around to making any tasting notes this time, but he liked the firm structure of this wine with well integrated Pinot fruit. He did get to taste a barrel sample of the 2010 Chardonnay from this vineyard too though, which despite 2 1/2 years in barrel still displayed remarkably fresh pineapple fruit together with some herby nettle notes. The texture was soft, creamy and rich with a long spicy finish.
Yes and talking of barrel samples, the WA and his companions Vasko from BuyVinaR, his wife and his dog, were treated to a sampling of quite a few things directly from the barrels as Ogi went around with his 'thief' to delight his guests.
As the WA and Vasko almost always differ when it comes to tasting notes, heated discussion soon ensued about which was the better Chardonnay or Pinot Noir, each competitively blending their respective favourites to come up with better results, suggesting to turn this one to a sparkling wine, blended with a bit of that one, until he was completely confused as to what he actually had in his various glasses that accumulated in front of him.
Anyway to give you some idea, here are at least some of the notes he took before confusion started to reign:
- Marsanne/Roussanne/Viognier 2012: Aromatic and fresh yellow fruit, touch of spice, warm and full; lovely fruit with apricot stones and a slight almondy finish. Very nice indeed.
- Incidentally he took a bottle of the 2011 of the same wine with him to taste and these are his impressions on tasting this wine at a later date: Medium straw colour; some aromatic peaches coming through, hints of banana skin, but more of the almond notes on this one as well as some mineral quality and less fresh as the 2012; full-bodied, with more of the peach fruit coming through and a long spicy finish.
- Cuvée Borovitza Chardonnay/Sauvignon Blanc: Yeasty, bready nose; soft, a bit tart on the finish, but kind of lacking fruit
- Pinot Noir Chardonnay (base wine for sparkling wine): Plenty of Pinot fruit, high acidity, long and elegant. It shold turn out to be in the Louis Roederer style, which is very much to the Wine Anarchists liking.
- Pinot Noir Rosé: Pale pink; a nose of raspberries and water paints; intense sweet strawberry fruit on the palate with a crea, mouth-waterring texture with a long finish. Very nice indeed.
- Borovitza White Cuvée 2010: Medium straw colour; a slightly mature stalky nose of damp hay and nutmeg; the palate is soft, smooth with some baked apple notes and some more of that nutmeg-like spice and even a touch of anise. Pleasant enough, but previously the WA had tasted the fresher 2012 which was much fresher and more aromatic, showing plenty of Muscat fruit. The wine is a blend of Chardonnay and Muskat.
- Borovitza Gamza 2010, Great Terroir Range: Gamza is one of Bulgaria's indigenous grape varieties and is widely considered their answer to the Gamay of Beaujolais, i.e. good for making light, easy drinking reds. This example comes from a vineyard with sandy clay soils planted with 39 year old vines, the wine was then aged for 2 years in oak. The result is a wine with a light ruby colour; a bouquet of blackberries and forest floor / damp leaves. The palate light and soft with hints of spice and some gorgeous mouthwatering fruit reminiscent of blackberries and sweet plums, finishing long. Pleasant easy drinking, but enough character to keep up the interest.
- Borovitza Bouquet 2011, Great Terroir Range: Bouquet is a grape variety bred in Bulgaria as a cross of the indigenous Mavrud and Pinot Noir, kind of Bulgaria's answer to Pinotage. This particular example has been matured in oak for 16 months. The cross seems to have inherited more from it's Mavrud parentage with a deep purple colour; a rich and fruity nose of blackberries and blackcurrants; The palate displays a lively acidity and slightly tart ripe berry fruit flavours, particularly fruit of the forest and ribena-like blackcurrants. It is a lovely easy drinking wine with a long and pleasant finish.
- Sensum 2008: An appropriately named Cabernet/Merlot blend (75/25), this wine still has a vibrant deep purple colour and an intense nose of blackcurrants and lead-pencil sharpening, not unlike a good Margaux in a ripe vintage. There also hints of sweet violets detectable. The palate brings out intense spicy, ripe and appealing fruit flavours, which is drinking really nicely at this stage, finishing long on hints of liquorice. An absolute stunner this one!
- Borovitza Merlot Pepper Garden 2009. This wine is made from very old vines (55 years old) grown on clay gravel soils and matured for 3 years in Bulgarian and American barrique. The colour is deep ruby, but showing signs of maturity towards the rim; the nose displays intense blackberry and plum fruit with distinct black pepper and vanilla notes; the palate brings out some warm herbal and spicy notes of thyme and black pepper and the lovely warm fruit is well balanced by a firm structure; he finish is long with hints of liquorice and plenty of spice. A wine of great intensity and complexity.