Saturday, May 16, 2015

A Bulgarian "Amarone"

Next stop on this Wild & Wacky Wine Week: Eastern Europe and an indigenous grape being vinified in not-so-local way.

1916.  2011 Zagreus - Vinica (Bulgaria)

There definitely isn't much in the way of Bulgarian wine in the Vancouver market. So, this was a very intriguing find when I ran across Vinica at one of the local, government wineshops. Just the premise of this wine was enough to get me to throw down some cash. I did, however, have to hit the net to find out anything about the wine than the fact that the back label states that the wine is made from semi-dried grapes.

Although wine has been made in the region since Thracian times, the Zagreus winery only made its appearance on the scene recently. It's first sales were only date from 2007 but the winery is setting up its corporate structure so that it can try to expand the national wine scene on an international scale. A trade article I ran across reports that Zagreus has already ventured into foreign markets such as Germany, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Slovakia, Japan, the UK, China and Canada and that it has committed to a "persistent exploration of the traditional Bulgarian Mavrud variety and its possibilities."

I didn't come across a whole lot of writing about the Mavrud grape - even the entry in Jancis Robinson (et al)'s Wine Grapes was rather limited. It is the oldest indigenous variety of grape found in Bulgaria but it doesn't appear that the grape is grown anywhere except in Bulgaria and, even at that, it is now largely blended with more international grapes like Cab Sauv or Merlot. Part of that limited production is likely related to the fact that Mavrud can be a difficult grape to work with as it is late to ripen and the vines can suffer from cold winters.

The winery, however, has introduced six varietal wines all made from the red Mavrud grape: a white wine, a rosé, three 100% varietal wines made in different ways and the wine I ran into. Vinica is also made from 100% Mavrud.  I find that interesting on its own - especially since I get to add #188 to my Wine Century Club tally - but, on top of that, the wine is made in an Amarone style and I do love my Amarone.

In the Amarone tradition, the grapes are dried outdoors for two to three months on racks before fermentation in order to allow about a third of the the grape's weight to evaporate, thereby concentrating the flavours and softening the sugars. The wine is then aged in new Bulgarian oak.

Boo and I rather enjoyed it. I found it to be more substantial than a Ripasso-styled wine but the $25 price tag was certainly more in line with a Ripasso than with its big brother Amarone.

It was also surprising to me that finding information on the winery - while not extensive - was relatively easy. Indeed, an article by none other than Jancis Robinson was a great little introduction to Zagreus in itself.

One of the interesting tidbits I read stated that the name comes from Greek mythology and the fact that Zagreus was identified with Dionysus or Bacchus, the god of wine. Apparently, there is a cave, found near to the winery, that was dedicated to the wine god. The naming of the winery was a tip of the hat to that part of winemaking history in the region.

I figure any connection to Dionysus or Bacchus is a gimme if you're talking "wild & wacky wine" as well. It doesn't get much wilder or wackier than a full out Bacchanal (not that I'd know from direct experience).

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