Story by Manos Angelakis
Photos by the producer
A really exceptional wine
For Easter dinner last May, we had a Prime Rib roasted rear, the way I liked it.
The pandemic notwithstanding, staying at home gave me a chance to look through my cellar and start opening bottles that were hidden in the back for a few years.
And that brings me to this exceptional wine called 2011 Gold Stallion that I found a number of years ago, in 2014 to be exact, when I visited the Angels Estate winery (previously known as Angelus Estate) in the Thracian Region of Bulgaria. I opened the bottle to go with my roast.
This wine is practically impossible to find in the US, though it is available in London if one really wishes to look around. The Thracian Lowlands is an exceptional wine producing region in the south of Bulgaria; the region was part of ancient Thrace and was considered, in ancient times, the birthplace of Dionysus, the god of wine.
The Thracian civilization was tribal in nature and inhabited a vast area in Eastern Europe, from the Carpathian Mountains to almost the Aegean Sea. The people never developed a written language, and what we know about them is mainly from Greek historians, specifically Herodotus (484-425 BCE) who wrote of their customs, religious beliefs, birth, marriage and burial practices. However, he wrote in a somewhat disdainful manner and his writings were heavily skewed by the Greek attitude of the day that “Πάς μή Έλλην Βάρβαρος” i.e. he who is not Greek is a barbarian.
Through countless wars and Stalinist collectivism, both the quantity and quality of the Bulgarian vintages used to vary from almost undrinkable but abundant and very inexpensive, to just acceptable as the government’s emphasis was on volume, not quality, since most exports were destined for the Soviet Bloc countries. In the past 25 years the trajectory for quality has been moving steadily up, towards outstanding and excellent. The Thracian Lowlands, is one of two PGI designations for Bulgarian wine recognized for export.
Angels Estate is a modern winery located near the Zhrebchevo (Stallion) dam in Nova Zagora. It has 1500 hectares of vineyards planted in the md-2000s. There are two cellars for aging wines in 225-litre barriques, the first with a capacity of 1400 barriques, plus another for 420 barriques; they are on two temperature-controlled levels.
The 2011 Golden Stallion, a classic Bordeaux-styled wine, is a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot or Syrah, but I don’t remember the proportions for the 2011 vintage; they seem to change by the vintage as well as the kind of grapes used in the final blend – in this case it tastes as if Merlot is very much the predominant grape. It received an award in the Decanter competition and at the Concours Mondial du Bruxelles, but it has been resting in my cellar and aging and was, I think, now well aged and at its peak; if judged today it would probably receive over 95/100 points.
The grapes are hand sorted after destemming, to get rid of damaged or rotten berries. The wine gets controlled alcoholic fermentation with long post-fermentation maceration. Cold maceration at 8ºС is in large French oak barrels and heat-insulated stainless steel fermenters. The barriques where the wines are aged are made of French oak, and the winery is using them only once. The bottle I had was sealed with black wax and a very high quality cork which saved its great aromas and taste.
The wine is elegant, deep purple and concentrated, though still very powerful and strongly expressive of the terroir, fragrant and quite memorable. Spicy and very intense with ripe black fruit -- plums, raspberries and ripe sour cherries -- with hints of marjoram and thyme, leather, dark chocolate and delicate oak. It has an aromatic, long aftertaste and elegant finish dominated by dark chocolate, cedar and black pepper.
To your health!
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