A timely tome: The wines of Bulgaria, Romania and Moldova

The wines of Bulgaria, Romania and Moldova by Caroline Gilby MW is a timely tome that puts the spotlight on what the author describes as ‘three very different but equally fascinating countries’. While she finds that wine has come a long way in the almost three decades that she has been covering the three countries – indeed a revolution has been experienced – all continue to face considerable challenges, although the overall message is one of hope.

To take the reader to the present and future, Gilby delves deep into the past and even beyond the vine in describing each country’s history in considerable detail; such an in-depth historical approach is to be applauded because these are countries still very much struggling to bear the burden of history. This naturally extends to wine production, which was hit by phylloxera and world wars like the rest of Europe – but then a whole lot more in the form of communism and the associated collectivization and shift from quality- to quantity-oriented production.

On top of that, the individual countries then experienced their own set of woes as the post-communist era proved to be no walk in the park, such as Bulgaria’s remarkably problematic process of land restitution that contributed to Bulgaria almost disappearing off the export map. Indeed, “Whatever happened to Bulgaria”, a question which Gilby remarks is often asked of her at tastings, is answered in great detail in the Bulgaria section. Then, there’s Moldova’s sudden loss of the Russian market in 2006; catastrophic for a poor country that’s so dependent on wine. “[Today, [Moldova] is the poorest country in Europe, and the country that is the most economically dependent on wine in the world,” observes Gilby.

The author not only provides a detailed description of the respective wine industries from past to present but also describes the people that have built or are building them. These include the late Bulgarian winemaker Ogy Tzvetanov, whom she deeply respected and touchingly recalls in the book. The personal touch, which also includes entertaining anecdotes, such as travelling to Bulgaria in the late 1980s, prevents this information-packed and figure-heavy book from becoming dry.

Gilby also describes the grape varieties of each country, their regions and profiles a number of producers, though stops short on individual wine recommendations, which is quite wise due to a possible lack of distribution or the fact that the wines can run out quickly. Useful information boxes also serve to colour the book’s content.

There are lots of very interesting takeaways to be had on reading this book. For example, while Romania may be the fifth largest in Europe in terms of land under vine, a lot of production is from non-Vinifera varieties. Also, Bulgaria bizarrely has two main regions under which wine from vastly different places of growth are made, yet a lot of unused PDOs!

Overall, this book is a must-have for those who have some knowledge of these countries and want to know more, as well as to those new to the vinous side of the three countries. It can be either dipped into for reference purposes, or read from cover to cover.

By Robert Smyth

The Wines of Bulgaria, Romania and Moldova is published by Infinite Ideas and available on their website.

Caroline Gilby MW is running a masterclass on the wines of Bulgaria and presenting her book on the 1st November 2019 at the Bulgarian embassy
in London. Please email vaskovino@gmail.com to reserve your place.