A bystander at the Balkans International Wine Competition

On the second floor of the Grand Hotel Sofia, the room was crowded. Too crowded. But what had I expected? The Balkans International Wine Competition (BIWC) wine festival of 2012 was in full swing, but winding down, after what must have been four very hectic days.

Having been a participant in various South African wine competitions and wine shows, and judging by today’s ambitious sounding invitation – 400 wines from almost 100 wineries, out of about 2000 from nine Balkan countries – I expected to enter a large hall, where wine lovers could move easily from one tasting to the other. As I said, it was instead a very crowded room into which we plunged.

Sadly, the very well presented catalogue had not been translated into English. It may have been available in Greek or Turkish or any of the other Balkan languages, but not in English. So I was somewhat apprehensive.

However, I had not expected to be met in the foyer by a very charming, Belgrade-based personal guide, one Dusan Jelic, the BIWC communication manager. Dusan’s extensive knowledge of the South African wine scene made him the perfect guide, to help me draw comparisons. For any South Africans who might be reading this, I would place this show somewhere between the WineX Trophy Wine Show and the Juliet Cullinan Wine Connoisseur’s Award. The local judges had been assisted by four Masters of Wine, under the chairmanship of Konstantinos Lazarakis fromGreece.

Luckily Dusan was armed with a printout of all the winners, and we headed straight for the stand of Midlidare Estate whose Sauvignon Blanc/Semillion had won a gold medal. Here I must confess, that my wife having a preference for dry white wines it was these that we sought out in the first instance.

It goes without saying that the wine we tasted was very delicious. But I was struck by the forward-looking philosophy of this estate, not only its willingness to experiment with a number of white blends, something not often found in Bulgaria, traditionally still a red wine-drinking country. And secondly, the use of glass stoppers. They are not cheap, but they are oh so elegant.

Next it was the turn of the Chardonnays, and I was pleased to find that Eduardo Miroglio had received a silver medal for their Single Vineyard Chardonnay 2009. It brought back memories of a very pleasant stay on the “Tuscan-like” estate. Not forgetting, of course, their gold medal-winning Brut Rose Estate – one of our Bulgarian favourites.

More Chardonnay, this time Chateau Burgozone 2011, which had just received a gold medal at the recent International Bruxells Wine Competition. Interesting chats with the owners – Stefan and Svetla Marinov, about our positive South African experiences with reverse osmosis, and the use of Hungarian oak.

All the Balkan countries participating were represented on the medals table. Wines from Macedonia, Greece and Slovenia were doing particularly well. A wine we liked a lot was the Malvazija from Kozlovic in Croatia. Grown on a small island, you cannot fail to get a whiff of the sea in the bouquet of this deeply straw-coloured wine.

The overall winner of the Grand Trophy was a Bulgarian red – Santa Sara BIN41 Merlot 2008.

(Photo: Jonathon Hayward)