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Dan's Blog

Eastern Europe News Snippets

Friday, May 24, 2019

This week a few snippets of wine news from the Eastern end of Europe.

MOLDOVA:  There is one airport in the world that is named after wine. Can you guess where it is? In 2017 the main airport in the capital, Chisinau Moldova, was re-named, “Wine of Moldova Airport”, in order to promote wine tourism.


Moldova is the small landlocked country sandwiched between Romania and the Ukraine. They have been struggling to sell their wines since they were banned from Russia – their main market a few years ago. The wine region of Codru is known for having some of the world’s largest underground cellars. Most of their red wines come from the region of Nistreana.

BULGARIA:  Bulgaria whose capital is Sofia and is wedged between Turkey, Greece, Romania and Serbia, has seen an increase in wine sales for the last seven years in a row. Currently their sales are divided into 65% domestic and 35% export. They are actively seeking to expand their exports to Western Europe and other countries.

The country’s Vine & Wine Agency (VWA) reported production of 153,000 tonnes of grapes in 2018. This is roughly about the same amount of grapes that Casella and Australian Vintage combined, crush.

While the country is divided into five viticultural regions, their better vineyards are centred round the city of Plodiv, in the south of the country. According VWA there are 226 registered wineries in the country, of which 72 are foreign owned. As a result of the Soviet era, most vineyards are planted to the “mainstream” European varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay. During that era Bulgaria was the fourth largest wine exporting country selling more wine overseas that what Australia did. However, it was all cheap wine both in terms of price and quality. The industry has shrunk by more than 50% since the end of Russian (Communist) rule.

They have a few native grape varieties, the only one of which that is known abroad is the red variety, Mavrud – again due to “cheap & cheerful” wines during the Soviet era.

CZECH REPUBLIC:  The Czech Republic has been making wine since the 13th Century yet it is only known for its beers. After surviving the Soviet era of mass producing industrial quality wines and its split with Slovakia, it lacks a “signature” variety like every successful wine country has, such as: Australia’s Shiraz, Germany’s Riesling or Austria’s Grüner Veltliner. During the Soviet era most of the old and ancient vineyards were ripped out and the land was used to grow wheat and corn, leaving them with a shambolic, infantile wine industry in the post-Soviet era.

What makes their position even more challenging is that they are surrounded by successful wine producing countries.

They currently have around 1,200 commercial wineries (many of their citizens, like in Georgia, grow grapes and make their own wine) producing about 225 million litres of wine. Imports of higher quality wines have risen by 25% in the last five years as the economy slowly improves.

The country is divided into two wine growing regions: Bohemia, close to the capital Prague and Moravia in the south, where over 80% of the wines are produced. Being coolish in climate they focus predominantly on white wines.

Their industry is currently seeking to sort out which variety they should back as their national flagship variety. The main contenders currently are:

Czech Riesling: Riesling under the local name which would just add to the confusion.

Welshriesling (aka Italian Riesling): A different variety to Riesling in that it produces softer, more honeyed and exotic wines than what Riesling does.

Palava: This is a Czech created variety generated in 1977, which is a cross between Gewürztraminer and Müller Thurgau. It produces grapes that can make wine from bone dry right through to botrytis sweet. If the wines are good enough this should be their flagship variety as it has the bonus of being very easy to pronounce (and hence remember) compared too many other country’s flagship wines.

Well that’s it for this week. I hope you have a great week and enjoy drinking some great wines. Cheers!

THIS WEEK’S WINE REVIEW:

This week I am looking at a very rare blend which originates back to one of Australia’s all-time great winemakers.

Legendary winemaker, Maurice O’Shea, created some of Australia’s best ever wines at his Hunter Valley, Mount Pleasant winery, in the 1930s through to the mid-1950s. He was one of the pioneers of multi-regional blends by adding some wine from other areas, namely South Australia, to his Hunter red wines, something that many winemakers do today.

Another one of his innovations that was basically extinct for many, many years, but has now been revived was the blending of Pinot Noir with Shiraz, to produce very elegant but powerfully structured wines that cellared for decades.

Recently, the gang at Byrne Vineyards have resurrected this rare, almost unique blend of Pinot Noir and Shiraz, in their ANTIQUARIAN wine range.


The ANTIQUARIAN 2017 CLARE VALLEY PINOT NOIR SHIRAZ is a fabulous wine. It is made from carefully selected, hand-picked grapes which are fermented in small, open fermenters. This wine is deeply coloured, has divine aromas of cherries, spices and even a hint of violets. The medium weight palate has masses of lively, delicious, complexing flavours which will continue to evolve over the next few years into a truly sensational wine. It has a tight, food friendly, lingering finish. It is an AWESOME wine, which makes me wonder why more winemakers don’t go in for this heavenly blend.

The Master-Maurice was right, Pinot and Shiraz “play together” admirably!

Go to  www.byrnevineyards.com.au  and check it out. You won’t be disappointed. Cheers!