Immediate impact and serious future potential come to life once a great idea is born and more importantly, flawlessly executed. The Balkans International Wine Competition (BIWC) is the brainchild of Galina Niforou and Konstantinos Lazarakis, MW. This annual competition “aspires to draw the attention of the global wine community to the unique range of flavours that this interesting region has to offer.”
I like the concept as it seeks to unite a number of wine growing countries, who all share similar traits, for promotional purposes. The Balkan regions are marked by a large number of small wineries, indigenous grape varieties, and ancient wine traditions that are now being catapulted into the modern age. Each region has its own rich story to tell, yet it might be more efficient to target a global audience as a team, rather than through different single players.
The inaugural event took place last week and I was kindly invited along with nineteen international wine experts from fifteen countries. Our task was to taste nearly 400 wines blind and reward our top choices with medals. The full set of the official tasting rules can be found here. At least one wine of a given flight was included twice to check for the consistency of the taster, each wine was to be tasted three times, red and white wine flights alternated, and most importantly the tasting notes formed the basis of the final score up to 20 points, rather than a simple score card. Apart from the vintages, only basic information about the grape varieties and regions were supplied to the tasting panels.
The tastings were held in morning and afternoon sessions over the period of two consecutive days. Each day was followed by a winery sponsored dinner at some of Sofia’s exquisite restaurants. For me, the competition offered a rare treat to familiarize myself with many wines I had not been exposed to before. All the judges were impressed with the overall consistency and solid quality on offer. There were some real gems included that we were lucky enough to taste, they deserve recognition abroad. My fellow judges consisted of an amazing bunch of people – all professionals, but down to earth wine lovers, all completely open-minded and enthusiastic. I think the picture above speaks volumes, as it captures the spirit perfectly well. Real friendships were made during the event.
The official Competition was followed by a wine festival during the weekend which was open to the public. Balkan wineries exhibited their goods and the visitor numbers were high. Seminars and master classes were held, this was excellent planning, as it gave all of us the opportunity to emerge ourselves much deeper into different subjects. The highlight of the weekend was a stunning Gala Dinner on Saturday night which kicked off with a brilliant live performance by three Bulgarian tenors and local dancers. The gold medal winners were announced, followed by the best overall single white, rosé, sparkling, red and sweet wine. Lastly, a trophy for the best overall single wine, as selected by the judges, was handed to the happy winemaker.
A detailed list of all the trophy wines will be available shortly here, so I will not spoil the fun. But I can let slip that both the Assyrtiko 2011 from Domaine Karanika and the Assyrtiko Apopsi from the Mylonas Winery scored a gold medal (out of a total of 23 gold medals that were awarded). As I introduced both of these Greek producers to the US markets, this made me particularly happy!
I have no doubt that the Balkans International Wine Competition is already on its way to become a sought after event for wine professionals, wine lovers and exhibitors alike. I would also not be surprised to see potential future judges actually scramble to take part in the event. The opportunity to get involved and learn at the same time is too good to be missed. The BIWC hits a sweet spot with current market trends that favour exciting up and coming wine regions.