2014 in review

December 30, 2014

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 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 30,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 11 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.


White wine from Bulgaria

November 30, 2014

Rumor has it that Bulgaria’s red wines are much better than it’s whites. That might be true. However, this does not mean that Bulgaria does not produce good white wines.

In my search for excellence, I have come across a number of very good white wines, three of which I will present to you today.

The first wine is a 2013 Sauvignon Blanc & Semillon by Terra Tangra. The wine is under a glass enclosure which signals to me: this wine was worth to be enclosed by the most expensive stopper.

Terra Tangra is located in the South Sakar mountains, a hot region. According to the DiVino Guide from 2014, the estate has about 400 ha under vines.

If the grapes for this blend come indeed from a rather warm wine region, the more I am amazed by this wine.

It has all the quality traits inherent in such a blend. The acidity of the Sauvignon Blanc is mitigated by the Semillon. It reminds me of similar blends from the Hunter Valley in New South Wales, Australia.

This is one of my favourite wines, very good with seafood but also just on its own, a great wine.

Terra Tangra

2013 Sauvignon Blanc & Semillon by Terra Tangra

The second wine I want to present to you is another Sauvignon Blanc & Semillon blend, this time by Midalidare Estate located in Eastern Thrace, another wine region famous for its red wines.

The region has very fertile soils, and is famous for its orchards and vegetable production. Eastern Thrace has a long history of wine making.

In recent years also the white wines from the region have improved in quality. Midalidare Estate has about 160 ha under vines.

I don’t know what to make of the “single vineyard” (Mogilovo vineyard) indication on the bottle. However, I like the zesty taste and the exuberance of the wine.

Midalidare

Sauvignon Blanc & Semillon, Mogilovo Single Vineyard by Midalidare

The third wine is something quite different. I would not have thought that I find a wine made from Traminer grapes so appealing.

This one is the big exception. The DiVino wine guide awards him 88 Parker points! It is clean and crisp, a wonderful sensation on the palate.

The top of the Traminer bottle is covered in “white wax”, again a sign for me that the producer thought the wine good enough for an expensive enclosure.

Angelus Estate is also located in Eastern Thrace. Their first vintage was in 2009. The flagship wine is a 92 point red, called “Stallion”.

Alexander Kanev, the wine maker impressed the wine fraternity with the outstanding quality of his wines. Also this winery is not small by German standards. It has about 110 ha under vines.

Traminer

Traminer by Angelus Estate

Stay tuned to more news from Bulagaria. I hope to visit some of the wineries (maybe in spring) and show you photos of their environment and the vineyards.


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


Germany – wine heaven

August 31, 2014

After about two months in Germany, we move on to our new posting in Sofia, Bulgaria. It has been an exciting time. We enjoyed the climate, the greenness, the clean air and foremost: wonderful wines.

Coming from Bangkok, one is used to a 400% luxury tax on wine, which makes the heavenly drop very, very expensive. I used to say: a 5€ bottle of German Riesling wine, a solid but basic version of it, goes for 25-30 € equivalent in Thailand.

This has a devastating effect on my finances if not carefully targeted. Well, you might argue, there is wine produced by Thai vintners in Thailand itself. Are these wines not cheaper? The answer is “no”, because domestically produced wines are also subject to the luxury tax in the kingdom.

Germany, in comparison, is wine heaven. One can consume a wine from one of the primary producers for a pittance. Say 12 – 16 € for a Riesling from one of the top producers from Mosel, Saar, Pfalz and Rheingau.

It was no surprise that I dived into it, like a fish. I tried many different wines, from Germany and many European countries. I found out that there is lots of good quality wine in the market. But, apart from the famous VPD wineries, it is hard to find the really good stuff to drink, meaning a lot of tasting is required.

Concluding I might say that the two months in Germany was not sufficient time to find my favourite “every day wines”. I console myself with the fact that in my next destination, Bulgaria, there are many excellent wines to discover. Bulgaria is a wine region I know almost nothing about, which is a good start.

Stay tuned to my next entry.


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


All good things must come to an end

January 28, 2014

THV family

Margit, Helen, Michael, Lucy and Charlotte

After six weeks on the farm the time has come to go back to Bangkok. All good things (bad ones too) must come to an end, and the last days on the farm are always the most difficult ones. The brain tends to wonder off and indulges in the planning of activities which need to be done after the return to the job. At the same time last minutes projects await to be completed on the farm and in the vineyard. It is always the same anxiety which descends on the unprepared but well informed holiday maker.

As always it is very educative to spend such a long and uninterrupted time in Glenburn. The learning is amazing, and this on many different levels. Time and place attain a different meaning, and the observation of nature enriches the mind. The nights at the vineyard are dark when there is no moon, The milkyway looks stunning and the quiet is amazing. No street noise, nothing, things we are used from our life ini Bangkok where the city never sleeps.

While I was reading a historic account of the Crimean war from 1853-56, written by Orlando Figes, I was also browsing through a book about the history of Yea (by Harvey Blanks), the charming country town just 35 km north of Glenburn, which I have in our bookshelf. I found out that Yea, formerly known as Muddy Creek, was named after Colonel Lacy Walter Gilew Yea, an English officer who took part in the battles of Alama and Inkerman, and who lost his life during the siege of Sebastopol on June 18, 1855. After that, Melbourne street names such as Alama, Inkerman and Balaklava gained a new meaning. Who would have thought that innocuous things such as the name of a country town in central Victoria and a war fought more than 150 years ago in a very different part of the world could be connected?

Living on the farm right in the middle of an ancient Australian landscape also connects you to arts. In this case the Australian pastoral landscape paintingS. We visited the TarraWarra Estate to see the current art exhibition and have a bite at the restaurant of the TarraWarra Winery. Surprise surprise, a show by Russell Drysdale was on display, whose modernists pastoral landscapes connects the interracial histories of Australia.

The highlight on the culinary front were certainly the meal we had at the TerraWarra restaurant. I also liked the Viognier-Marsanne-Rousanne blend, an excellent white for hot summers days. Moreover, a visit to Rocky Passes Estate which is located between Seymour and Yea, gave us the opportunity to reconnect with Candy and Vitto, the charming owners. Candy prepared delicious tapas for us, and the award winning 2010 Rocky Passes Shiraz is just a ripper of a wine. Vitto does not only make delicious wines (with 90 plus Parker points) but also exquisite furniture. A visit is highly recommended.

I also discovered the Fratelli wines who make a very nice Riesling from grapes grown in the Upper Goulburn region of Central Victoria. Timo Mayer has a new Pinot Noir made from grapes grown in the Yarra Valley on granite soil. The current release is the first vintage and promises to become another star at the “Pinot Noir heaven”, if you know what I mean.

A week of sweltering heat above 40 Celsius taught us the importance of a fire plan (which we did not have but have now) and the positive effect our 12 mega liter irrigation dam can have for suffering humans. Every two hours we jumped in to cool down during those hot days. We survived a second heat wave with temperatures in the high 30ies. The hot weeks were interrupted by very cool days with even cooler nights. That might be one of the reasons why our own wines last so long. The fine and firm acids of our grapes allow for the Merlot wines to age so well. We tasted the 2004, 2006 and 2008 vintages and found that the 2004 Two Hills Merlot did still hold its freshness. Also the fruit (red cherries mainly) was still vivid. The younger vintages were less elegant and showed rather “umpf wine” characteristics.

THV Merlot 2004

2004 Two Hills Merlot

Our vineyard is still in a “mothball state”, meaning we are keeping the vines alive but do not produce fruit. Nonetheless, together with my twin daughters, I attacked the blackberries whose roots we tried to dig out. We did the Chardonnay and the Pinot Noir blocks, and left the other two (Merlot and SB) for my next visit. Various repairs of the cottage and the shed were completed. We also cleared fallen branches and other wood from the paddocks. All in all, the property looks very nice and well kept. I can leave it behind with a laughing eye, as we say in German. The other one will, as always when leaving Two Hills, filled with tears. Cheers


New frontier for new latitude wines: Cambodia

November 29, 2013

When I opened the Bangkok Post last weekend, I could not believe my eyes. The headline red “Going wild for Cambodian wine”. Well, I thought why not Cambodia. After Indonesia (on Bali island), Thailand, Vietnam and Myanmar, another Southeast Asian country has joined the club of vine cultivators and wine makers.

The grapes for the wine-making are collected from wild forest grapes, the article says. There are photos available also on the internet but they are not so clear as regards the kind of vinus vinifera (if it is vinifera).

Cambodian wine

Bennett Murray and his piece in the Bangkok Post

The wine-making process described in the Bangkok Post article reads as follows:

“The manufacturing process is much the same as for wine everywhere. The juice is extracted from the grapes, and then palm sugar and yeast added”.

Palm sugar, I thought, that’s not just the usual additive to grape wine as far as I know. The article mentioned the problems with the grape quality. Since it is collected and not estate grown-fruit, I can imagine the magnitude of the issue. However, I am still interested to get a closer look at this product.

But there is also a real winery in Cambodia. Located in Battambang province, Leng Chan Thol and her husband Chan Thay Chhoueng, have planted a vineyard. They grow on a 3 ha plot of land mainly Shiraz, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes.

I would love to try some of their wines.
My next trip to Cambodia should provide an opportunity for just that.

Address
Chan Thay Chhoueng plantation is located at
#72, Bot Sala Village, Banon District, 16 kilometres south of Battambang City.
For more information call tel.: 012 665 238.