Parallel 43: Bulgarian Wine

When a six-foot four-inch, fuzzy-faced Irishman walks through your door offering samples of his family’s Mavrud, an ageworthy wine grape native to Bulgaria, how can you possibly decline? A few minutes into my first encounter with Parallel 43’s affable Rhys Davies, I wondered if Bulgarian born Orlin Marintchev felt the same when Rhys came asking for his daughter’s hand in marriage.

In 2013, Rhys, a bar business veteran, and his in-laws set up their Alexandria based import shop with an ambitious first shipment of 20,000 bottles from Bulgaria’s prime growing regions. The name of the company, and the name featured on every label they offer, is inspired by Bulgaria’s global position along the viticulturally-friendly 43rd parallel north. Their vineyard sources are located in two distinct areas: One in the north called Borovitza and the other in the southern village of Melnic, a region whose eponymous wines critic Jancis Robinson calls an “impressive specialty”.

In talking with Rhys, I was reminded of a few things about the geography and history of Bulgaria. (Neither subject my best in school.) Neighboring wine producing countries include Serbia, Romania, Turkey, Greece, and Macedonia and wine has been produced in this part of the world since Thracian times. Unfortunately, political and economic hurdles over the years have taken a toll on modern markets, negatively impacting production domestically, and availability overseas.

Of the twenty+ selections in the Parallel 43 portfolio, we tasted nine wines over two meetings. Our first impressions favored the indigenous red grapes grown in the Danubian Plain and a Reserve Cabernet Franc from the Thracian Valley.

Two wines arriving this week at both Unwined locations:

2012 Triangulus Bouquet – Bouquet is an autochthonous variety/ cross between Mavrud and Pinot Noir that offers up vibrant red and tangy black berry fruit with dried brush and earthy notes that warrant comparison to traditional, lighter weight Cotes du Rhone. This wine is aged for two years in neutral barrel before release. $18

2011 Quadratus Cabernet Franc – The most complex and appealing of the Parallel 43 offerings, this bordeaux like red is 100% Cab Franc and spends almost 3 years aging in barrel. Denser, dark red fruit, and roasted earth and spice aromas add an attractive silhouette to this medium-bodied canvas. Aromatic and inviting. Pair with a mixed grill of meat and vegetables. $20


Quadratus 2013 Syrah Review

Bright dark ruby blue violet color. Aromas and flavors of ripe blackberries, bread toast, vanilla, and coconut custard with a chewy, bright, dry full body and a peppery, compelling, medium-length finish with chewy tannins and moderate oak. A nice everyday red.


RATING: 86 points (Highly Recommended)

CATEGORY: Syrah, Red
TASTING LOCATION: In Our Chicago Tasting Room
TASTING DATE: Jan-12-2015


Trianguli 2013 Merlot, Thracian Valley Review

Garnet violet black color. Aromas and flavors of berry soda bread and toasty praline with a body and a tingling finish that shows notes of grape pie, nuts, and cedar with crunchy tannins and moderate oak. A nice everyday merlot with good fruit and structure.


RATING: 88 points (Highly Recommended)

CATEGORY: Merlot, Red
TASTING LOCATION: In Our Chicago Tasting Room
TASTING DATE: Jan-05-2015


Quadratus 2011 Estate Reserve, Cabernet Sauvignon Review

Garnet black color. Bright aromas and flavors of malted chocolate and cherry gelato with a supple, crisp, fruity light-to-medium body and a crisp finish with accents of pistachio nougat and citrus sorbet with chewy tannins and light oak. A very nice every day sipper or table wine.


RATING: 89 points (Highly Recommended)

CATEGORY: Cabernet Sauvignon, Red
TASTING LOCATION: In Our Chicago Tasting Room
TASTING DATE: Jan-05-2015


Wine Reviews: Tasty Values from Bulgaria

Bulgarian’s Thracian Valley is home to a wide array of wines that can be as impressive as they are inexpensive. “It’s no longer that crap they used to sell to Russia by the millions,” a Bulgarian vintner once told me.


I recently tasted through the lineup from a relatively new project called Parallel 43, a Virginia-based importer and wholesaler focused on promoting Bulgarian wines. It can’t be easy trying to convince consumers to drink Bulgarian Mavrud, but, for the adventurous and value-minded, there’s a lot to like coming out of the Thracian Valley.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

Review: 2013 Parallel43 Selections “Dreamy Wendy” Bulgaria, Thracian Valley
SRP: $12
Pale lemon color with a slight spritz in the glass. Smells of white peach, rich apple, yellow pear and a hint of green herbs. Tangy and lip-smacking on the palate but a creamy body. Tangerine and white-peach dominated with just a hint of minerals. Zesty, fun, a middle-of-the-road style. 80% Chardonnay, 20% Sauvignon Blanc.

Review: 2013 Parallel43 Selections Syrah Rosé “Circulus” Bulgaria, Thracian Valley
SRP: $12
Medium salmon color. Nose of red apple peel, wild strawberries, some mixed green herbs and some stony accents. Full-bodied and waxy on the palate (14.5% alcohol), but refreshing acid. I enjoy the strawberry and McIntosh apple-driven approach, along with the elements of white pepper and rose tea. Chalk and mineral notes on the finish. Crisp and clean but gutsy as well. I’m a big advocate of regional diversity in rosé – the more the better – and this is impressive stuff.

Review: 2012 Parallel43 Selections Syrah “Quadratus” Bulgaria, Thracian Valley
SRP: $12
Dark ruby color. Tart blueberries and blackberries on the nose, some violets, lavender and cracked pepper, but overall the nose needs time to open up. Solid tannic structure, some moderate acid, full body. Mulberries, blueberries and blackberries blend together, all of it tart and brisk. A mix of chestnut, loamy soil, graphite and sweet lavender add complexity, smoke and pencil lead on the finish. Tartness helps balance the 14.5% alcohol. I’m trying to come up with comparisons with other Syrahs, but they all fall flat. Could use two to four years. One of the more thought-provoking sub-$15 Syrahs I’ve tasted.

Review: 2013 Parallel 43 Selections Cabernet Franc “Trianguli” Bulgaria, Thracian Valley
SRP: $10
Medium purple color. Tart blueberries and raspberries on the nose, some pepper and sweet clove, with strong dusty elements. Solid, sturdy tannic structure on the palate, a bold presence. Bright blueberry and black currant fruit, some sweet teriyaki glaze as well as mushroom, earth and a bit of burned word. Surprised by the grip to this wine, but the acid is a bit low for my palate. The rare $10 wine that needs to be cellared for a while, I think.

Review: 2013 Parallel 43 Selections Mavrud “Trianguli” - Bulgaria, Thracian Valley
SRP: $15
Dark cherry colored. Deep and dark blackberry and plum fruit on the nose, along with an interesting mix of campfire, herbal liqueur, and a metallic and iron-like note. Medium-bodied with quite intense tannins and medium+ acid. The blackberry and blueberry fruit is rich and chewy, laced with smoke, beef jerky, granite and pencil lead. Lots of smoky, loamy, notes like floral incense sticks and heavy, wet soil. Complex, food-friendly because of its balance and freshness, but also rich. Lovely tartness and earthy flavors linger on the finish.


Wine: Top ten wineries to watch in 2015

ROSE Murray Brown brings you her top winieries to watch in the year ahead



A very impressive “grower champagne” house which just gets better and better – its bottles would suit those who love chardonnay-based fizz cuvées. It’s now run by Didier and Olivier Gimonnet who are based in the village of Cuis in Champagne. They own almost 30 hectares of chardonnay vineyards with 16 hectares of Premier Cru and 12 hectares of Grand Cru in Cramant, Chouilly, Oger and Vertus. The reserve wines for their non-vintage are kept in bottle rather than tank. Champagne Pierre Gimonnet Premier Cru Cuis Brut NV has a beautiful texture, is vibrant and lively and superb quality for the price (£20.99 each for 6 bts, John Armit; £25 bt, the Wine Society; £36 bt, Oddbins).

Languedoc, France CALMEL & JOSEPH

I have been impressed with the very well-made range of wines from this new Côteaux du Languedoc micro-negociant run by Laurent Calmel and Jerome Joseph. Their Villa Blanche Chardonnay was voted most popular wine under £10 with chefs Neil Forbes and Mark Greenaway in our Scotsman Google hangout. Their red Côtes du Roussillon, Corbières and Minervois are also firm favourites, but their best red is Calmel & Joseph’s Terrasses du Larzac 2011, a spicy savoury blend of syrah, grenache and mourvèdre (£13.99-£14.95, Vino Wine Shops, Edinburgh; Ellies Cellar, Dollar, Perth, Crieff, Linlithgow and Auchterarder; Waitrose).

Rhone, France MARC SORREL

This is a recent find for me, although this grower’s domaine producing famous Hermitage has been in existence for nearly 100 years. Traditional hand-crafted wines using late picked grapes from old vines grown on prime sites in Hermitage (including Meal and Greffieux) make seriously good, very intense stylish syrahs – but they are not cheap. Sorrel’s 2009s and 2010s are superb (Hermitage 2010, £42 from Laithwaites; 2009, £39, Roberson Wines; the Wine Society; Justerini & Brooks; Berry Bros & Rudd).


All those nebbiolo-lovers (aka followers of barolo and barbaresco) who despair of the high prices should head north to the little-known region of Gattinara in the foothills of the Alps – still within the Piedmont wine region – where they grow the same grape as barolo. Here the nebbiolo grape is called spanna. I have been really impressed with the wines from the Nervi winery, run by oenologist Enrico Fileppo. Now with Norwegian backing, it is going from strength to strength. Nervi owns south-facing mineral-rich vineyards beneath Monterosa, Europe’s second highest mountain. Its nebbiolos have real depth of flavour. You can buy mature bottle-aged Nervi wines from Edinburgh’s Raeburn Wines: Nervi Gattinara 2002 is £18.99.

Republic of Macedonia STOBI

A newcomer to the world of wine, Stobi has astonished many sceptical tasters with its very flavourful white zilavka, sturdy red vranec and sweet succulent muscat. It is the largest producer in land-locked Macedonia, where the very hot summers develop full bodied weighty whites, gutsy reds and succulent sweet styles. What I enjoyed was not just the quality of these wines (and slick packaging too) – but I loved the unusual grape flavours. Currently it is my pick of the countries to watch from the Balkans. Try the plummy ripe Stobi Vranec Classic 2011 (£11, Cornelius Wine, 18 Easter Road, Edinburgh; Cork & Cask, Marchmont Road, Edinburgh; £9.99, Wine Rack stores, London).


A true Bulgarian treasure. This small boutique producer is currently making some of the best Bulgarian wines, from its base in the north-west. Enterprising Dr Ognyan Tzvetanov only sources old vines and makes tiny quantities, ageing them for long periods in old oak. They have a really interesting range of white and red wines – from Vox Dei Pinot Noir with a meteorite in each barrel and sturdy Gamza Black Pack, to the luscious oaked white Cuvée Bella Rada made from the Russian rkatsiteli grape (£13.50, Berry Bros & Rudd; £11.50, the Wine Society).



This is a tiny, but high quality producer with just four hectares of vineyards in central Otago near Queenstown making delicious ripe pinot noir. Lowburn Ferry, named after the crossing of the nearby Clutha River, was set up in 2000 by Roger and Jean Gibson on sheltered north-facing terraces in the Lowburn valley below the Pisa range. Try their ripe lush Home Block Pinot Noir 2012 (£29-£32, Ellies Cellar, Dollar;


This newly imported range from Bill Easton, who used to be a wine merchant and is now a serious artisan vine grower based on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada in California, near the Shenandoah valley, focuses on classic Rhone varieties. I love his zinfandel from the old gold mining country of Amador, but his barrel-fermented, extended lees-aged white viognier produced on the granite soils in Fiddletown is really serious stuff – outstandingly good (Fiddletown Viognier 2010, £21, Luvians; Domaine Direct).


Nick Hall handcrafts one of England’s finest sparkling wines in an old Kentish hopfield. In his Marden vineyard in Kent he grows the same grapes (chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier) and uses the same method for creating the fizz as champagne. First planted in 2007, he is hoping to expand his vineyard a little to keep up with demand. Focusing on fruit rather than imitating champagne, his Herbert Hall Brut 2011 has floral delicacy with a dry stony touch. It’s impressive – and I look forward to tasting his cuvées from our warm 2013 and 2014 summers(£28, Great Grog, Edinburgh; Harvey Nichols, Edinburgh; Fortnum & Mason).

South Africa GLENELLY

Meet a newcomer on the South African scene located right in the heart of the traditional estates of Stellenbosch. An elderly French lady, May de Lencquesaing, has established herself with a series of impressive wines in this modern young winery. Lencquesaing sold her prestigious classed growth Chateau Pichon Lalande in Bordeaux, and headed to South Africa in 2003 to start anew. With 30 years’ experience of making top class claret in France she is now making very interesting Bordeaux-style reds in the Cape – and is certainly an estate to watch. I enjoyed her chardonnay, but was most impressed by her flagship red, a very elegant cabernet sauvignon with 24 months in new French oak called Lady May (£23, Marks & Spencer;


The wines of Borovitza

Impressive boutique, terroir-driven wines from northwest Bulgaria
borovitza1 300x200 The wines of Borovitza
Located in Northwest Bulgaria, Borovitza is one of Bulgaria’s most highly regarded wineries. I tasted these wines with winemaker Dr Ognyan Tzetanov (above). During the communist era he worked as a microbiologist, and then in 2004 he decided to buy a rundown winery with a view to producing high-end boutique wines. His production isn’t large, but each year he’ll make maybe 20 different wines, some in small quantities. The goal is to express some of the special terroirs found here.


borovitza2 300x200 The wines of Borovitza
Vines are planted in two spots. There’s the home vineyard near the village of Borovitza (close to the town of Belogradchik), with 7.5 hectares of vines on 240 million year old red sandstone. And then the other is near the village of Gradetc, about 10 miles North-West from the Danube port town of Vidin, which is a 2.2 hectare plot, with a further 1.6 hecares of 60 year old Rkatsiteli.
borovitza4 300x199 The wines of Borovitza

The wines are available in the UK from and also some are stocked by Berry Bros & Rudd and The Wine Society.

I found some of the wines compelling, others a bit overdone. The style seems to jump around a bit from cuvee to cuvee. Still, the good ones are world class, and it’s so good to see wines like these coming from Bulgaria.


Canyon Park ‘The Guardians’ MRV 2011 Bulgaria
This is a blend of Marsanne, Roussanne and Viognier that’s made by Borovitza. Rich and quite dense with nutty, spicy notes. Lovely weight and rich texture. Nice depth and flavours of peach, pear and nuts. 89/100

Borovitza Cuvée Bella Rada 2011 Bulgaria
This wine is a challenge to consumers because of the presence of Rkatsiteli, which isn’t highly regarded, but which makes up about 40% of Bulgaria’s vineyards. But it can make great wine. This blend is Chardonnay, Rkatsiteli and a bit of Sauvignon, mostly. Fresh aromatic nose of peach and pear with well integrated oak. Notes of white peach, spice and vanilla. Nice complexity but does show some oak. 88/100

Borovitza Chardonnay Cuvée Americano 2011 Bulgaria
Named thus because a sommelier once described it as a big fat American Chardonnay. It comes from 55 year old vines and is fermented and aged in Bulgarian oak. Very rich, aromatic nose of peach, pear and spice, with some nuttiness. The palate is rich, nutty, powerful and viscous, with a soft texture. No sulfites were added to this wine. It’s big but really good. 92/100

Borovitza Someno Rikat 2011 Bulgaria
Rkatsiteli fermented in new Bulgarian oak. Tight aromatic nose. Powerful, oaky palate but there’s freshness here too. Lively pear fruit with some citrus and spice. Complex, quite oaky, but precise. 90/100

Borovitza Pinot Noir Rose Garden 2012 Bulgaria
Very pale colour. Fermented in barrel. Warm, soft and spicy with a hint of oak. Nice spicy edge to the sweet, subtle cherry fruit. Some complexity. 89/100

Borovitza Orange Garden 2008 Bulgaria
This is a blend of Marsanne that spends 30 days on skins, and 44 months in Bulgarian oak. Amazingly textured, with power. Subtle toast notes, plus spice, pear and apricot, with a hint of tea. Lovely complexity and texture. 93/100

Borovitza Gamza 2009 Bulgaria
This region is known for Gamza (aka Kadarka) which is usually thought of as a quaffing red variety, with a lot of it being made into glugging wine by home winemakers. Wonderfully vivid, pure and fresh with red cherries, berries and some blackberries. Quite elegant with lovely weight and presence. Fresh with good acid: quite Pinot-like. 92/100

borovitza3 300x200 The wines of Borovitza

Les Amis Pinot Noir Cuvée Enrique 2010 Bulgaria
Lovely ripe, rounded cherry and berry fruit. Rich and ripe with subtle green notes and fresh berry fruits. Nice depth, with some fruit sweetness. 90/100

Borovitza Bouquet 2011 Bulgaria
Bouquet is a cross between Mavrud and Pinot Noir. From 44 year old vines. Ripe and sweetly fruited with some nice savoury grip. Lovely fresh but dense berry fruits here with some grip. Nice grippy tannins. Very attractive. 91/100

Borovitza Someno Buket 2011 Bulgaria
Ripe, sweet berry fruits with nice freshness and grip. Subtle green notes and some spicy, tarry oak. Lovely depth with a grippy finish. 90/100

Borovitza Merlot Pepper Garden 2009 Buglaria
From 55 year old vines, this spends 22 months in barrel. Sweet, warm, spicy nose with some herby notess. Ripe palate is berryish and spicy with nice depth to the cherry fruit and some grip. 91/100

Borovitza Sensum 2008 Bulgaria
80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 60 year old vines. Very sweet aromatic nose. Powerful, ripe, berryish palate is dense and sweet with plenty of weight. 90/100

Borovitza Dux 2007 Bulgaria
The top wine bottled after 5 years in barrel. Concentrated and dense with good structure under the berry fruits. Ripe yet restrained with great intensity and depth. Quite serious. 92/100

Wines tasted 05/13
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Northwest Bulgaria – A Worthy Wine Struggle

Northwest Bulgaria is one of the most ruggedly beautiful places I have ever seen in the world. It is truly a forgotten place – even by Bulgarians. Supposedly it’s the poorest region of the European Union – it certainly strikes me as the most abandoned, yet I find myself fantasizing about living here. Thorny, hissing bushes overtake the foundations of the massive red rocks that mark these plains. These colossal rocks bulge out from the grainy soil – chalky red, lonely, random – without any pretense for the natural wonders they obviously are.
People say that great wine isn’t grown easily – that remarkable wines are produced from vineyards that find a constant, balanced struggle between warm days and cold nights, sunshine and altitude, seasons of drought and cold.
Looking around I find it hard to imagine the work that went into cultivating the vines which gave birth to the champagne I am drinking. The hostess has brought cake too – it’s the winemaker’s birthday. I can’t believe it survived the bumpy ride here – at least 20 minutes of intense up-and-down in a beat up van suspiciously posing as an off-road vehicle.
They tell me it took over thirty people over twelve hours a day for over a month just to plow the field and plant the fines. No machinery could make it up there.
It was stupid to wear shorts – the surface of my ankles is torn up with slick, tingling scratches. But it feels good – like I too, did my due ‘suffering’ to enjoy these sips.