Bulgaria – a paradise for wine lovers

September 19, 2014

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Vineyards in Trier

For someone like me, a native of Trier or Augusta Treverorum, as the city was called in Roman times, the move to another ancient Roman city, in this case Sofia, Bulgaria is not a big thing. Sofia was called Serdica (or Sardica) then, possibly named after the Celtic tribe Serdi.

Constantin the Great is supposed to have said “Serdica is my Rome”. And here we have the third city in which I lived and which belonged to the Roman empire. But he did not make Serdica the seat of his government. For this he choose Byzantium, later renamed Constantinople. By the way I lived in another Roman city: that was Vicus Bonnensis or Castra Bonnensis, the present day Bonn, my alma mater where I studied agriculture.

If I had lived two thousand years ago, a move from Trier to Sofia would have been a move from one province of a wast empire to another. Latin would have been the lingua franca. I would have had access to all the Roman infrastructure common in those days: a bath house, a circus, an amphitheater and so on.

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Constantine Basilica in Trier

Both my native Augusta Treverorum (the city of Augustus in the land of the Treverer) and my current home Sofia got their name from the native Celtic populations (the Treverer in my case). Both were major cities of the Roman Empire. Trier was located in the Roman province of Belgica, Sofia in the province of Thrace. Both places history is tied to the Roman emperor Constantin the Great.

There are also differences. Augusta Treverorum is famous for its wine cellars and its wine production, vineyards reaching deep into the city. Sofia does not have vineyards in its vicinity. However, the old province of Thrace was famous for its wines, and so is present day Bulgaria.

I admit that there is still a lot of room to improve its produces’ fame but more and more Bulgarian wines are available in wine shops in other parts of Europe, especially Germany and England.
Needless to say I use my spare time here in Sofia to explore the many wines of Bulgaria. My welcome present by my colleagues consisted of a wine guide, Di Vino 2014.

I would like to invite you to come along on this journey and explore the richness of the ancient land of Thrace, and it’s contemporary wines.

Le Voyage

Le Voyage by Katarzyna Estate


1982 Riesling from the Saar river

June 30, 2014

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One of the most memorable wine experiences in the last few weeks was when I opened and tasted the above bottle.


Good bye Thailand – land of new latitude wines

May 30, 2014

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Thailand

My time in Thailand is coming to an end. After almost six years in Krungthep, the city of angels, we will move back to Europe.

Well, “back” is maybe the wrong word. The last 24 years I have spend in various Asian countries working for the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom supporting our partners in their quest for liberty, property and prosperity.

Before coming to Thailand we lived in Jakarta, Indonesia for about 10 years, and it was in Indonesia that I came into contact with the first wine grown in the tropics. It was Hatten wines produced on Bali island. These wines are also known as “new latitude wines” but I learned this much later.

To my great surprise (and because of my general ignorance) I was in the position to discover the secrets of tropical wines in Thailand.

I do not remember when exactly I tasted my first glass of wine grown and produced in Thailand, but I had the great fortune to meet some of the key drivers of the Thai wine industry over the last six years.

In these years I learned to appreciate Thai wines. I also learned about some of the challenges in growing wine grapes and making wine under tropical conditions.

The Thai wine industry is small but its proponents are determined to produce excellence and they are passionate about their wines. And rightly so. Thai wines have shined in international wine tastings and competitions and earned almost every possible award.

I have written about my experiences with Thai wines, wineries, and the people who make them. I will not hide that I have favourites.

My favourite family winery is Gran Monte Family Estate, the only true owner-operator family enterprise (about 17 ha under vines). The founder, Visooth Lohitnavy, his wife Sakuna and their daugther Nikki are all involved in the family business.

Over the years the wines produced by Nikki Lohitnavy have become better and better. It is hard to say what my favourites are, all are good, actually very good. Since 2008 Nikki has won with her wines more than 100 medals and international wine awards, an amazing performance.

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Gran Monte vineyard in Khao Yai

I love the Viognier but also the two Chenin Blanc wines. One of my favourites is the new Verdelho which is coming into the market soon. Also a sprakling wine is produced.

All the reds are exquisite. I like the Syrahs and the Cabernet Syrah blends. Of the two rose wines I prefer the dryer version made from Grenache.

If you should come to Thailand a visit of Gran Monte vineyard in Khao Yai region is a must. Gran Monte has also a very comfortable guesthouse (try the traditional Thai breakfast) and an excellent restaurant called “Vincotto”.

My favourite corporate wine producer is PB Valley Wines, also located in the Khao Yai region. The 80 ha vineyard is owned by the Bhirombhakdi family (owners of the Singha brewery). The chief wine-maker is Prayut Piangbunta.

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Wine presentation at the Great Hornbill bistro, Bangkok

The Great Hornbill Bistro in Bangkok serves as a cellar door. I have tasted their new vintage recently and can tell you that the new wines are very promising. Also at PB Valley, the wines are getting better and better.

Try the Pirom Reserve series of their Chenin Blanc and Shiraz wines. PB Valley also produces a Tempranillo, the 2010 vintage of which won a silver medal from the AWC in Vienna. I also like their Lychee schnaps, very fruity and worth the high price.

At an international wine symposium in Chaing Mai, I had the chance to meet the above vintners and wine-makers, amd some more of the about handful producers active in Thailand.

I will miss Thai wines. And I am glad to have had the chance to learn so much about the wine industry in Thailand. The generosity of the Thai wine people knows no bounds.

Thank you Khun Vissoth, Sakuna and Nikki but also Khun Prayut and Khun Heribert for your outstanding hospitality and generosity. I wish you all possible success in your quest for excellence. The Thai wine industry is on the world wine map. I am convinced that you will grow further also as a role model for producers in neighbouring countries.

Cheers


Mandala Winery, Yarra Valley, Victoria

April 30, 2014

Through a beautiful bartering arrangement I came into the possession of a bottle of ‘2010 Mandala Prophet’, a single vineyard Pinot Noir by the Mandala Winery from the Yarra Valley.

Mandala has two vineyards, one in Dixon’s Creek where the seat of the winery is located, the other in Yarra Junction, a vineyard at higher elevation where on 10 acres a Burgundy clone of the variety is grown.

Mandala Prophet

2010 Mandala Prophet Pinot Noir

Years ago I have visited the winery and eaten in the estate’s restaurant but have not visited recently. Mandala is owned by the Mulder family. The wine-maker is Charles Smedley; the viticulturist is Julian Parrott.

When I was given the bottle and red the name on the label, I was intrigued. Calling a Pinot Noir wine, “the prophet”, is quite something. Having lived in Indonesia for 10 years I have other associations when I hear the word ‘prophet’ than a grape wine.

We enjoyed this wine the very same day the bottle was given to me. A dinner with beautiful red meat was the right occasion to open a Pinot Noir. The wine did not disappoint.

In fact it turned out to be one of the most delicious Pinot Noir wines I drank during my three week on the farm in Glenburn.

The Prophet is not made every year; only in exceptional years is this single site wine produced (so far 2006, 2008, 2010). James Halliday, the Australian wine authority awarded it 94 Parker Points. I loved the plum and raspberry aromas of this well balanced and complex wine.

When you buy this wine here in Bangkok, you will have to pay about 1,500 Bath per bottle. You should try it; it is definitely worth that money.


Restaurant review: Starfish in Beijing, China

March 28, 2014

A restaurant I like to patronize in Beijing is Starfish, just across the street from the Australian and Canadian embassies.

A few weeks back, on a beautiful Sunday morning, I had lunch there again, a lunch which did not disappoint me.

Starfish

Starfish menu and Coriole info

I was quite surprised to find an add on my table ecouraging the diner to order a wine from Australia. In this case it was from Coriole, a winey in South Australia which I had visited some years ago. I love Coriole wines. The place belomgs to the “must see” category if you travel in this part of Australia. However, the price was a bit on the high side (more than 300 Yuan RMB).

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My fish dish

I ordered a white fish dish. The portion looked small, but was perfectly able to fill my stomach, and satify my taste buds.

I ordered a bottle of the house wine, a wine from Chile. Because of a free trade agreement between China and Chile, the bottle costs about half what the Coriole wine was priced.

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Long Country, Sauvignon Blanc from Chile

The Sauvignon Blanc from Santa Carolina, one of the largest wine producers in Chile, is of course an “industrial wine”.

Nonetheless, it shows an aromatic nose with hints of lemon and tangerine. On the palate, there’s the characteristic grass hints and some citrus. It’s dry and light and matched my choice of a fish dish perfectly.

The restaurant was rather empty at themtime of the day I visited. As always the service was very attentive and professional. At Starfish you get quality for your money.

Check it our yourself when in Beijing.


Gran Monte harvest festival 2014 – Khao Yai, Thailand

February 28, 2014

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Traditional folk dances to welcome the guests

The Gran Monte Harvest Festival was the highlight of the year for me here in Thailand. For the third time in a row I had the opportunity to participate in this wonderful event at the Gran Monte Family Winery in the Khao Yai region, about 2 1/2 hours northeast of Bangkok. And it is not getting boring, just the opposite. Each year Khun Visooth and his team surprise their guests with new highlights.

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Khun Visooth overseeing the competition

On the wine front of course everybody is eager to taste the new vintage. This year we were, among others, looking forward to the second vintage of the Viognier. Nikki Lohitnavy, the wine-maker, is doing a great job. I just love her hand grafted wines. And every year it seems they are getting better and better.

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Margit with Sole, the Chenin Blanc

For tasting notes, please visit the wine blog of my friend Oliver, the Winegetter. I cannot do tasting notes like him; just reading Oliver’s descriptions is mouth watering.

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Ripening grapes

Another novelty this year was that the evening program of the event was held in new building for the VinCotto Restaurant. After the addition of the tower, a wine cellar and a much enlarged main hall, the new VinCotto restaurant has the flair of a traditional country inn. I particularly liked the various bits of veranda which reminded me of an Australian porch.

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Together with my wife Margit, I threw myself into the festivities. Since we stayed overnight in the cottage at the estate, we did not have to worry about anything. Many musicians joined us in the evening and entertained the crowd with the good old songs from the last century: rock and roll.

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Since we are leaving Thailand for Europe in June, it felt a bit like a farewell. But the good thing is that to travel back home to Australia we have to come via Thailand. Therefore, there is hope that this was not our last harvest festival. We will come again.

Cheers

GM HF6


2013 in review

February 5, 2014

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 39,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 14 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.


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