As some may recall, in June of 2010 I visited Bulgaria and posted about that on the forum at
viewtopic.php?f=29&t=33965&p=301983 An article quite similar to my post appeared in HaAretz (Hebrew only) on 26 August. Today (17 May 2011) I attended a tasting of several of the wines tasted during that visit, the tasting taking place at the main store of the importers, Wine & More, on Tel Aviv's Rehov Carlibach. I will repeat here only that which is relevant to the wines now being sold at the chain.
Two wineries, Telish and Castra Rubra, both in the southern Sakar-Haskovo region of Bulgaria are both under the same ownership. Producing about 5,000,000 bottles annually, the Telish brand is well known throughout Bulgaria offering almost entirely unoaked wines, the majority offering clean and pleasant, fresh and fruity wines meant for early drinking at excellent value for money and a few in a higher series that stand out for their excellence. The Castra Rubra (Red Fortress) brand aims higher. Founded only in 2006 by Jair Agopian (Jaro to most), the winery is set in an exquisitely designed stone building and features state-of-the-art technology both in the vineyards and at the winery. Situated in the most south-eastern corner of the country and bordering on both the Turkish and Greek borders, in the shadow of the southern Sakar mountains, with vineyards relying largely on organic techniques, grapes are entirely hand-harvested. With fermentation taking place in 5000 liter wood vats, those with an internal cooling mechanism, wines are later transferred largely to French barriques. Some of the wines are placed on specially designed racks so that the barrels may be rotated on a regular basis, the lees thus circulating freely during the barrel aging period. Castra Rubra's production is approximately 1,300,000 bottles annually.
The consultant to both wineries is Michel Rolland. Although M. Rolland does visit occasionally it might be more accurate to state that the consultants are the team of young winemakers that work for him, for it is they that are most involved in the daily life of the wineries,
Although the Telish Winery itself is relatively new, it stands on land s once occupied during the Byzantine period some 15 centuries ago. The land later obtained fame as the route of the Roman constructed Via Diagonalis, the stone paved road that connected Rome to Istanbul. Part of that paved road is still extant. In fact, in order to reach the vineyards, one actually drives over a large stretch of the original paving stones.
One note – many of the wines now being imported are from the 2007 vintage. When I first tasted those wines nine months ago I listed most of the Telish wines as being in "drink now" condition. As noted above, most of these wines are destined for youthful drinking. As will be seen in my tasting notes, several of these wines are now throwing sediment and are clearly in a "drink up" condition. With nearly all of the 2008 wines and even some of the 2009 wines already released in Bulgaria, I find myself somewhat surprised that it is the 2007 vintage that is now appearing.
Of possible interest, starting with the 2008 vintage at least some of the wines will be issued as kosher cuvées.
Also of possible interest, at the tasting we sampled from five wines. One of my assistants purchased the two other wines on sale and those were tasted this early evening in my own tasting room.
Castra Rubra, Castra Rubra, 2007: The flagship wine of the winery. Deep, almost impenetrable garnet in color, full-bodied and concentrated but showing tannins that are soft and gentle notes of spicy wood that give the wine a round and well-balanced personality. A blend of 60% Merlot and 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, aged for 12 months in oak, showing a thoroughly New World profile of forward black fruits, those supported by hints of dark chocolate and spices. Long and generous, the tannins and fruits rising on the finish. Drink now. NIS 139. Score 89. (Re-tasted 17 May 2011)
Castra Rubra, Via Diagonalis, Sakar, 2007: A blend of 60% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% each of Merlot and Bulgaria's own Mavrud grape. Showing dark garnet toward royal purple, with country-style tannins that grip gently and notes of sweet cedar wood, those integrating nicely and showing appealing wild berries, black cherries and, blackberries. In the background from first sip to the medium-long finish appealing notes of stony minerals and a bare and tantalizing hint of muskiness. Throwing generous sediment. Drink up. NIS 100. Score 87. (Re-tasted 17 May 2011)
Castra Rubra, Syrah, Nimbus, Sakar, 2008: Oak-aged for 10 months, made entirely from Syrah grapes, medium- to full-bodied, tannic and with fine extracted. Comes together to reveal coming together quite nicely to show plum and blackberry fruits on a background of earthy minerals and finishing with a hint of smoked meat. Throwing sediment and develops a note of chewiness on the finish. Drink now. NIS 65. Score 87. (Re-tasted 17 May 2011)
Telish, Mavrud-Merlot, Haskovo, 2007: A dark garnet unoaked blend of equal parts of both varieties, showing fine extraction and flavor. Dark garnet towards brick red, opens with a mouthful of chocolate and espresso coffee, those yielding to blackberries and raspberries, both supported nicely by stony minerals as well as overtones of tobacco and freshly cut herbs. Medium-bodied, with gently caressing tannins and a not at all unappealing note of musk from the Mavrud grape, a most pleasant experience. Drink now. Score 87. (Re-tasted 17 May 2011)
Telish, Cabernet Sauvignon, Haskovo, 2007: An unoaked Cabernet Sauvignon, showing medium-dark garnet with gently gripping tannins and an appealing array of red and black fruits on a lightly spicy background. Drink now. NIS 39. Score 87.
Telish, Merlot, Haskovo, 2007: Unoaked, showing medium-bodied with soft tannins and medium body, opens to reveal notes of blackberries, blueberries, stony minerals and a hint of anise on the finish. Not a complex wine but easy to drink. Drink up. NIS 39. Score 85. (Re-tasted 17 May 2011)