Sunday 28 October 2018

Mega, Brussels - Vive la Vinolution

'Vive la Vinolution. At last, new ways of discovering, choosing and tasting wine.'
Let's face it Belgium is not the first place where you might look for wine discoveries. As to a revelation about wine - even less so.

Nonetheless revelation is what we experienced on our visit to Megavino Brussels.

Stepping backfor a moment, we've been reading a book called 'Inventing Wine' by Paul Lukacs. Lukacs's  thesis is that what we understand as wine today is a recent phenomenon. He traces wine back from antiquity as far as that's possible right up to the present bringing sharply into focus just how different things are now compared even to 30, 40, 50 years ago.

In short, you can forget wine before the introduction of Appellation d'Origine Controlee systems less than 100 yeas ago - it was not what it said on the bottle and consumers were easily hoodwinked. 100 years is also the measure of a continuous wine disaster comprising the twin plagues of mildew and phylloxera, prohibition, two world wars and economic depression.

In what we're happy to call the Vinolution, we have gone from attitudes including "Riesling has no place on any self-respecting winelist" which Jancis Robinson remembers hearing from a crusty British winemerchant early in her career to our sighting of Moravian wines at a corner shop in Swiss Cottage a week ago.

seen in a Swiss Cottage offie recently - wines from Moravia
In other words, decent and honest wines are now produced all over the world (we recently enjoyed a magnificent Japanese Cabernet Sauvignon and a satisying Chinese Aglianico). People have hardly had a chance to wake up to this but it is so.

not something you see every day.
We are or were as guilty as many before going to Megavino. Our purpose was to taste Belgian wines which are tantalisingly elusive outside that country. Thanks to Napoleon Belgian vineyards were destroyed and taaed out of existance in order to remove any competition. They don't seem to have got over this until recently - the last 20 years in fact. The vast majority of Belgian wine is white. At 185 ha. it is the smallest wine producer in the world. We have written admiringly of Dutch wines and the wines of Luxembourg are not just good but actually available in the UK and elsewhere, so why nor Belgian wine?

A list of grape varieties shows some similarity to UK plantings but a few differences attest to the slightly warmer climate and also to a more eclectic and imaginative range of choice.

Cabernet Blanc
Cabernet Jura
Leon Millot
Madeleine Angevin
Muscat Bleu
Pinot Blanc
Pinot Gris
Pinot Meunier
Pinot Noir
Pinot Noir Precoce

and twelve others.

The inclusion of Gamay, Merlot and Riesling single Belgium out as different from the UK. In addition the Blattner varieties Pinotin and Cabernet Jura as well as the Hungarian Bianca show Belgian producers to be perhaps more eclectic than we are. Old hybrids such as Leon Millot are evident to be sure but we didn't come across any Schoenburger or Reichensteiner - so beloved of UK producers of a certain age.

Muscat Bleu is a dessert grape originating in Switzerland.
Vin de liqueur, 14.5% recommended 'on the rocks.'
The skills of Belgian winemakers on this showing seem to be considerable. Our first wine was a Muscat Bleu from Domaine Chenoy. We were on the lookout for this having heard Muscat Bleu is grown in Belgium but the Chenoy people told us they were in fact the only producer making wine from this variety.

You can buy wine at Megavino so this was our first purchase. The Muscat Bleu is of course a sweet wine.

Sparkling wine is as much a Belgian speciality as in the UK and some produced from unlikely blends were surprisingly good.

Perle de Wallonie is made from Johanniter, Bronner, Merzling and Helios for example.

The addition of the outdated and not always lovely Leon Millot to Waes's Rood 2016 Rondo and Regent didn't hurt at all.

The obscure Hungarian hybrid Bianca lent a rather original but not unpleasant taste to their Wit 2017 otherwise made from Solaris.

Entre Deux Monts' Kerner was not as good as the Astley 'Veritas' we have so much admired but Kerner is a difficult grape and this was good in its way.

Auxerrois is Luxembourg's signature grape and so it was not surprising to find it in sparkling blends or as still mono-variety wine as in this very pleasant example by La Mazelle.

Chateau Bon Baron sign

Bon Baron is one of the largest producers with a whole range of sparkling wine and this delicious Acolon. A 1971 cross between Lemberger and Dornfelder it has not always had a good press but our experience with an Acolon from Moravia has been excellent and Bon Baron's example was no less engaging.

some of the Bon Baron range
The Belgian Wine enclave was a real eye-opener as far as it went. In fact it went further than we could see because a number of wines were to be offered on alternate days due to lack of space and people to present them.

That was a pity because it would have been interesting to taste Vin de Liege's 100% Johanniter and blends including Souvignier Gris and Muscaris. Their reds include Cabernet Cortis and Pinotin..Also Genoels Elderen might have been of interest if only because it is one of the oldest (1991) and largest estates. It specialises in Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Aldeneyck produce sparklers from Pinots Blanc, Gris and Noir.

Wilfied Schorpion, maker of Sparkling Wine, Beer and Spirits.
Megavino is a fair for beer and sprits as well as wine and we found another producer outside the Belgian wine enclave because he is also a brewer. A serious gentleman called Wilfried Schorpion who makes a very commendable sparkler from Chardonnay Pinot Blanc and Pinot Noir. There are barely 2 ha. This kind of enterprise seems to typify plucky Belgian winemaking.

Muharrem Cobo presiding

As if the discovery of Belgian wine was not enough to support our thesis a big revelation awaited us at the Cobo Albanian stand. We never doubted that wine was produced in Albania but even we had been guilty of making jokes at their expense (see our post on the grape variety Pules i Bylyshit).

No more. The wines on show at this stand were world class. Our host, Muharrem Cobo is a charming lawyer from a winemaking family - urbane, multi lingual and cosmopolitan.

the Cobo place

The family winery in Berat was not allowed to operate as such under comunism and the Cobos left the country, returning after the fall of Enver Hoxa. Winemaking traditions had been passed down from his grandfather who founded the winery in the beginning of the 20th century so it is not by accident that world class wines - mercifully from indiginous as well as international grapes - are produced.

Vlosh grape variety 100%

Kuqja e Beratit  means Berat Red

A magnificent red costing 48 Euros and weighing in at 15% was the flagship wine made from Vlosh. Cobo is the only commercial producer of Vlosh in the whole world.

We also tasted Shesh and the aforementioned Pules. Mr. Cobo was kind enough to sell us a bottle of his E bardha e Beratit Shesh white (13%) despite limited supplies. NB. the two most common Albanian grapes are both called Shesh: Shesh bardhe is the white and Shesh i zi, the red.

and gave us a handsome box with a magnetic closure to keep it in.

Cobo also produce sparkling wine which we didn't taste, such was our enchantment with the still wines. You can bet they are good though. Here is a complete list of Cobo wines and their grapes;

Sparkling White

Shendevere {Joyous) - Puls (aka. Pules)


E bardha e Beratit - Puls
Shesh i bardhe - White Shesh


E kuqja e Beratit (Red of Berat) - Vlosh
Kashmer - Cabernet, Red Shesh and Merlot
Reserve 2012 - Shesh i zi  (Red Shesh), Merlot, Cabernet
Shesh i zi - Red Shesh

They also produce a Raki of course.

Two other pleasant surprises awaited us at Megavino, predictable perhaps but ones that re-inforced our impression that there is outstanding wine to be found everywhere.

Tamianka, aka. Muscat Blanc a Petits Grains.

At the Bulgarian stand we made the acquaintance of what we thought was a new white grape, Tamianka but turns out to be a Bulgarian synonym for Muscat Blanc a Petit Grains. The second so-called Bulgarian grape variety on the poster, Misket is just their name for Muscat. Nice wines though.

Shilda labels feature paintings by David Kakabadze
Khikhvi from Khikhvi
and at the Georgian stand not unexpectedly two delicious whites from Tsinandali and Khikhvi. Tsinandali is a region where Rkatsiteli and Mtsvane are grown and Khikhvi is not only another region but a rare grape as well.

The Charming couple from the Shilda Winery actually gave us a bottle of the Khikhvi, such was their happiness in sharing their excellent wine.

Shilda is a beautifully designed modern winery with what they call a productline of 17 wines. These include the following lesser known grape varieties apart from Khikhvi;




Otskhanuri Sapere

We're particularly looking forward to tasting Usakhelouri one day. It's known for producing semi-sweet rose-scented wines and less often, dry ones too.

no takers at the Mateus Rose stand for the moment.
We also took in several points of interest on the way. Remembering actually enjoying Mateus Rose some decades ago we asked the lonely chap at the rather jolly Mateus stand what grapes in fact went in to the wine. The answer, Baga, Rufete, Tinta Barroca and Touriga Franca - estimable grapes all. Maybe we should give it another try?

Speaking of Portugal, we dropped by the Quinta dos Termos stand where two nice gentlemen showed us a wine containing a grape we had never heard of, Fonte Cal. 

They had a bottle of a blend of Siria, Fonte Cal and Arinto. 100% Fonte Cal bottlings are extremely rare. There are 134 ha. planted in Beira, Lisbon and Setubal. The wines are said to be aromatic and promising. We'll put them on the wish list.

By this time it had dawned on us that there were no so called New World wineries represented. Not a single American, Australian South American or South African that we could see. Strange.

the charming Morando couple Tiziana and Silvio
From the old world, two producers stood out for us; La Locanda degli Ultimi of Morando Silvio in Monferrato, Piemonte and Kthima Mitoulis of the Mygdonia Valley, Northern Greece (near Thessaloniki}.

Silvio Morandi's Grignolinos were exemplary. Refusing to jack up the alcohol and producing this difficult variety to the best of its potential resulted in two heavenly examples. They also grow Bonarda we discovered after we had left.

The Mitroulis Family Winery is all about Limnio. It's an amazing story. Mitroulis pere used to pinch grapes as a kid from a local vineyard and remembered how sweet they were. He made his living as a shepherd before going to live in Germany and working in the fashion business. Returning to Greece he bought the vineyard and now makes Limnio 100%.
Mitroulis, the only exhibitor ever to bring a bust of Aristotle to a wine fair.

Limnio is not unknown but Mitroulis Limnio is a benchmark as they say. We especially enjoyed the 2006 and bought a bottle on the spot. Mitroulis fils is responsible for sales. He works out of Hamburg. 

Niko and Konstantinos Mitroulis
Father and son are a delightful pair and their wines are outstanding. Aristotle is supposed to have been a great proponent of Limnio. Who knows, maybe he was?

The wine is called Philosophia. The 2006 vintage is lovely and soft. 

Just time for a last grape; Bianchello. It comes from Le Marche between Urbino and Pesaro and is also called Biancame. Not as interesting as Biancolella but another one to add to our list.

Mega Vino Brussels - maybe not Mega as Vinitaly but Mega in good surprises.
Even if Megavino isn't mega, there was so much of interest.