Stars ris­ing in the east!

Costa Levante News - - WINE AND DINE -

No, not that star – these stars (plu­ral) are the wine mak­ing coun­tries of East­ern Europe: Bul­garia, Ro­ma­nia and Moldova.

I’m dis­ap­pointed to have had to turn down my in­vi­ta­tion to judge once again at the In­ter­na­tional Wine Com­pe­ti­tion Bucharest, Ro­ma­nia, next month, be­cause of a clash in my di­ary. When we were there last year we worked hard judg­ing in the morn­ing, but the af­ter­noons and evenings were taken up by tast­ing East­ern Euro­pean wines and tour­ing Ro­ma­nian winer­ies.

For me it was the first time I had tasted East­ern Euro­pean wines, apart from some rather du­bi­ous ef­forts in the 70s at the newly opened wine bar in Ch­ester! Tast­ing such an ar­ray of wines, talk­ing to their mak­ers and to afi­ciona­dos was the seed from which grew my great in­ter­est in wines from the East, which in fact have an an­cient his­tory, but only started re­cov­er­ing from the col­lec­tive farm­ing con­stric­tions of the Com­mu­nist era dur­ing the last 25 years or so.

I was de­lighted there­fore to re­ceive re­cently, a new book, ‘The Wines of Bul­garia, Ro- ma­nia and Moldova’, by Mas­ter of Wine, Caro­line Gilby!

To say that this ex­ceed­ingly well re­searched book is com­pre­hen­sive, the de­fin­i­tive book on wines from these coun­tries, doesn’t ac­tu­ally do it jus­tice! It’s also a jolly good read! The pho­tos are beau­ti­ful, in­spir­ing the reader to visit; the facts are de­tailed, though pre­sented in a very reader friendly man­ner; the his­tory re­lated is com­pelling (so much more so than His­tory lessons, when I were a lad!); and, per­haps above all, it’s the hu­man el­e­ment that cer­tainly cap­ti­vated this reader!

One can al­most feel the pain of the fam­i­lies whose lands are sim­ply taken away from them as Com­mu­nism cast a shadow over these coun­tries, their fear and sense of hope­less­ness at los­ing the es­tates that had been in the fam­i­lies for gen­er­a­tions. Their sense of des­per­a­tion as they are forced to flee the coun­try of their birth and then, years later when it was safe to re­turn their feel­ings of am­biva­lence – ela­tion at go­ing home, but de­spon­dency when they see the ne­glected vine­yards and en­counter the bu­reau­cracy in the way of their buy­ing their land back!

Two World Wars had devas- tat­ing af­fects, of course – mil­lions died and coun­tries were left in ru­ins. Thoughts of mak­ing fine wine couldn’t have been fur­ther from the minds of sur­vivors, in­tent more on con­tin­u­ing to sur­vive. But as one Moldovan gen­tle­man, now pro­duc­ing wines, re­lated there were worse times to come. Stalin had a pol­icy of send­ing any land own­ers to Siberia – where many fam­i­lies sim­ply died out! His grand­fa­ther was ne­glected when the rest were herded out of their homes, be­cause he was in the vine­yard at the time – most of his fam­ily never re­turned.

As a wine man, I was sad to read about how the dual mantras of mech­a­ni­sa­tion and mass pro­duc­tion un­der the Com­mu­nist regimes saw an in­crease in the vol­ume of wine, but a dra­matic de­crease in qual­ity. Cor­rup­tion was rife and in or­der to sur­vive one had to toe the com­mu­nist line.

We read about how Rus­sia banned the pur­chase of Moldovan wines, tra­di­tion­ally their largest and best mar­ket. This in far more mod­ern times, 2006 to be pre­cise, and for such spu­ri­ous a rea­son as to cite dan­ger from the pes­ti­cides used, when in fact, as the au­thor points out, most grow­ers were too poor to buy chem­i­cals! It’s be­lieved it was po­lit­i­cal, re­lated to Moldovia’s ties with Ukraine! Nev­er­the­less, this is a very pos­i­tive book. In each of the three coun­tries, vi­sion­ar­ies, of­ten young wine­mak­ers, are in­tent on bring­ing back the fine wine tra­di­tions of the past, and im­prov­ing them fur­ther. In­vest­ment from within as well as that from out­side these coun­tries has been bring­ing about a ma­jor sea change (Black Sea?) in the in­dus­try. A po­lit­i­cal will is also help­ing – though red tape still abounds!

Caro­line Gilby MW has been vis­it­ing Bul­garia, Ro­ma­nia and Moldova for al­most thirty years now, and has, as she states, been priv­i­leged to have been there when the qual­ity wine mak­ing resur­gence was just start­ing. She hon­estly says that there were times when she tasted dread­ful wines in the early days, but hardly at all now, and also amaz­ing wines which con­tinue to please.

This is an in­spi­ra­tional book, deal­ing with all as­pects of wine-mak­ing in these three coun­tries and in­cit­ing us all to try the wines and visit the coun­tries! In fact, I’m off to Ro­ma­nia later this month – to do just that!

The Wines of Bul­garia, Ro­ma­nia and Moldova by Caro­line Gilby MW is avail­able from­ wines-bul­garia-ro­ma­nia-moldova - Christ­mas Present any­one?!

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