Caroline Gilby Master of Wine. About Me

Who Am I?

A Master of Wine since 1992.  I abandoned life behind the microscope after a degree in Botany and a PhD in plant sciences. I joined Augustus Barnett as trainee wine buyer in 1988 and never looked back.

The Start to my Career in Wine

Seven years as Senior Wine Buyer for Augustus Barnett and the whole Bass Group gave me the chance to travel to vineyards all over the world.  I have bought wine from most countries that grow grapes, in parcels ranging from a few cases to over a hundred thousand cases, for wine shops, pubs and hotels.

The Freelance Life

In 1995 I left corporate life behind to start my own business as an independent consultant and freelance wine writer.

I provide consultancy on wine quality; brand development; benchmarking against competitive products; range selection; technical specifications; copy writing for websites, back labels, shelf talkers and brochures. Clients range from major international PLCs to small boutique wineries.



I am a member of the Circle of Wine Writers and I contribute as freelance writer to magazines including Decanter, Harpers, The Drinks Business, VinCE and Meiningers Wine Business International.  I also contribute to Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Book, The Wine Opus and other books including Oxford Companion to Wine and Wines of the world, and while it was still being published Tom Stevenson’s Wine Report. Websites I write for include http://www.divino.bg and http://www.wine-pages.com.

I judge regularly at international wine competitions including being appointed Panel Chair for Hungary at Decanter World Wine Awards in 2011 and have since added Slovenia, Romania and Czech Republic to my responsibilities. I’ve also judged recently at Pannon Bormustra in Hungary, Vinaria in Bulgaria, the biannual Georgian wine competition and the annual Cyprus wine competition and was appointed President of the Vinistra Wine competition in Croatia in 2014 and 2015.

I can offer wine talks and wine dinners to companies and wine societies. I have worked with WEI on a programme of trade seminars and consumer tastings on the New Face of Hungarian wine for Pannon Wine Guild in 2007 and 2008.  I also led a programme of seminars and tastings on the wines of Robert Mondavi on behalf of Constellation Europe in 2008.

I have lectured for the Wine and Spirit Education Trust at Diploma level on the global drinks market, UK wine market, wine tasting technique, vinification, wine handling and quality control. I also lectured  on the UK wine market for (2003 to 2011.) for OIV’s Master of Science in Wine Management.

I was a board director of the UK Wine Standards Board for 4 years until 2003, appointed by the Minster for Agriculture.This was a Non-Departmental Public Body responsible for supervision and enforcement of EU wine law in the UK, a function now held within the Food Standards Agency

Advertisements
Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Dolenjska – Slovenia’s forgotten corner

This is an article I wrote for Revija Vino magazine after trip to this beautiful but usually overlooked corner of SloveniaScreenshot 2019-02-22 at 13.23.17

Published in Slovenian but English text below:

Mysteries of the East

 

Dolenjska seems to be a forgotten landscape as far as quality wine goes in Slovenia. It’s definitely overshadowed by Brda, Vipava and Štajerska in the minds of non-Slovenian visitors to the country’s vineyards. And for all my trips over the years to visit Slovenia, Dolenjska was one area I had never visited, with only a brief trip to neighbouring Bizeljsko-Sremič a few years back. This visit was a chance to remedy that gap and meet a group of seven family wineries.

 

I’m not sure what I was expecting to find, based on what little I knew and had tasted from the region – largely sour, sharp pale reds masquerading as wine under the name Cviček. And based on my usual assumption that wine needs a food culture to match it, I rather expected that food would be backwards and peasant-like too. How wrong I was – assumptions were definitely knocked on this small snapshot visit.

 

I have to start with Cviček as the region’s best-known product and the cash generator for so many producers.  It reminds me a little in concept of Marmite, a savoury spread in the UK that you either love or hate, and certainly have to grow up (by the way, it’s a brown paste made from boiled-up leftover beer yeast and salt). I think Cviček is also a love-or-hate product that you have to grow up with. For anyone outside the region, even the well-made ones suffer from teeth-hurting acidity and searing dryness. At the same time, the grapes  are picked too young to be fruity because of the low maximum permitted alcohol, and yet the wine is too structured to work as rosé. It’s a double-edged sword here, providing good income to producers, but it’s also a product with few real wine values. On the other hand, winemakers are starting to realise that it won’t last. Their core drinkers are getting older and will in time die out, while young people don’t want the traditional stuff their parents drank. And if these young people are travelling and educated, and picking up an interest in real wine then they will never turn back to Cviček. I actually don’t think it would take a lot to reinvent the product for a new generation, but that’s up to the producers to decide and lobby for legislation changes. If the grapes were allowed to ripen a little bit more to 11 or 11.5% alcohol, with a touch of residual sugar this would help give the wine actual fruit flavours, while a paler colour would also help make it saleable as a bright rosé rather than a insipid red. Oh and proper second fermentation for the sparkling version should become mandatory, with a ban on the “bicycle pump” method of adding bubbles.

 

The very first thing that struck me was what a beautiful, forested and green region this is, with dramatic hillside vineyards (covering around 4,000 ha), hilltop castles and picturesque villages. So it was particularly encouraging to hear that most of this group of producers are thinking about sustainable vineyards and several are working on organic methods and status. The second thing that struck me was the dynamic and exciting food culture and this is so important to allow premium wines to develop. Dinner at Debeluh was stunning, using local ingredients like trout, pumpkin, goat cheese, asparagus and mushrooms in an imaginative and beautifully presented manner (I don’t eat meat which didn’t seem to be a problem for any of the chefs who cooked for me) and well thought out wine pairings too from chef Jure Tomič. Gostilna Repovž provided a cosy base with a lovely breakfast spread of home-made and local ingredients (and who doesn’t love breakfast dessert of a strawberry praline in a white chocolate shell). Lunch and dinner here were equally stunning – with excellent trout, local vegetables and who knew that Brussels sprouts or green bean stew could be so good? To round off the trip there was a visit to Tri Lučke which has been beautifully renovated with stunning views across vineyards, comfortable modern rooms and excellent food with well-chosen wines.

 

So finally to the wines. I love the very personal family stories of these winemakers and it was clear that all are genuinely family endeavours. Each winery I tasted with had something interesting and even exciting to offer and I have to admire their bravery in opening themselves up to honest feedback from a foreigner (though this in itself is a good sign of willingness to progress).

 

Starting with Žaren, this winery is owned by Jernej Žaren, along with his wife, parents and children – the initiator of this group project. The winery has stunning vineyards on gently rolling hills and a 300-year-old cellar where the steel tanks had to be welded together in situ as they wouldn’t fit through the doors. He even has two casks made from an oak tree that grew in the same vineyard as his Modra Frankinja. It was a first for me to taste a wine aged in oak from the exact location where the grapes are grown. He has recently updated his branding – naming his wines after his grandparents Ana and Albin to create Albiana.  A nice concept that is based on authentic family history but is also appealing and easy to pronounce in any language. He makes an attractive and very drinkable Laški Rizling and lovely vibrant rosé, there are also appealing and competent Silvaner and Chardonnay. The entry-level Modra Frankinja is a modern, refined, elegant style with loganberry fruit and violet hints. The premium Alto Modra Frankinja 2016 has lovely fruit, classic structure and excellent varietal expression, and though young, is very promising.

 

Kobal wines (not to be confused with Janko’s brother in Štajerska) counts its founding back to 1931 when Janko’s grandparents escaped Mussolini and left the Vipava Valley for this region. Janko and his wife Andrea both have other jobs but clearly adore their 2 ha of vines, “We love it and find it creative after a hard day working,” says Andrea. The couple took over 12 years ago, and from the start premium wines were their aim, focusing on Sivi Pinot and Modra Frankinja as their two favourite grapes. All the wines they showed were good but their Luna selections of the best grapes were particularly exciting. Gently macerated Sivi Pinot showed spice, intense and bright peach flavours and salty freshness on the palate, while the 2016 Luna Modra Frankinja is genuinely exciting – an elegant wine full of bilberry and black cherry fruit,  beautifully refined tannins and lovely freshness.

 

David Kozinc was bored just making Cviček and when his father told him that he’d never sell premium wines David took this as a personal challenge. The first vines were planted here in 2001 and there are now 10 ha ranging from 380m to 500m. David himself finished agricultural school in 2007 and went to work in France’s Saumur region before coming back to take over the family business, alongside his parents and wife. Importantly he has started to think about clones, wine style and micro locations in vineyards. He has a true passion for Sauvignon Blanc which shows in the lovely aromatic expression of his 2017 version which has a style that is distinct from other regions in Slovenia with its concentration and texture, backed by vibrant zesty acidity.  There is also a fresh and appealing Modra Frankinja and a fruity, off-dry, summery rosé.

 

Bogdan Dular started 23 years ago with a small bar selling wine, and along with his parents, they saw an opportunity to sell their own wines from their own vines. Bogdan gradually realised that better quality was the future. He has also now stopped using herbicides and pesticides and feels this is the right decision for his beautiful region. He started on premium wines in his 7 ha of vineyards only three years ago, so this is still work in progress. His Laški Rizling 2016 is in a traditional style but makes an attractive food wine with plenty of weight, while his Modra Frankinja Selection 2015 works well with its violet-scented, forest fruit notes, polished tannins and good balance.

 

Lojze Kerin discovered wine as early as primary school and nagged his parents (who were growing apples) to start growing grapes. He started making wine himself aged just 15 and while studying agriculture at university begged the professors to let him study wine and take winemaking exams. He’s another winemaker that is working on organic production and has a really spiritual approach to his winemaking. Maria Brut sparkling is named after his first daughter and is a biscuity, complex sparkling blend of Chardonnay with Kraljevina and Plavec, which gives an interesting local dimension. He makes eight different Frankinja versions, which unfortunately I didn’t taste, but I enjoyed his intriguing Klara 2012 – a really inviting expression of an orange wine, with lovely candied peel and peach notes. Lojze has retained bright fruit here through keeping barrels topped up and avoiding oxidation.  For the future, Lojze has found a single vine of Tična in his vineyards (the parent of Modra Frankinja), and excitingly, he hopes to develop a wine made from an old plot he has found of this grape.

 

The Martinčič family has been making wine continuously for 200 years. They own 5 ha of their own vines for wine and a nursery that exports 90% of its grafted vines back to France. Owner Martin Martinčič  is proud to have won the title of “King of Cviček” this year but at the same time sees this as a product with no real long term future. Given his viticultural skills, it is not surprisingly that he is thinking beyond winemaking to the vineyards, where rootstock choice, soils and micro location are on his mind. He already has several clones of Modra Frankinja to explore and travels to other wine countries regularly. Martin makes a fresh and crisp Laški Rizling with notes of lime peel and green melon from a plot of younger vines, while his 2017 Modra Frankinja and Pinot Noir (both unfinished barrel samples) look promising for their lovely purity of fruit and freshness, though both still need time to tame the tannins.

 

Marjan Jelenič is one of the larger producers in this group with 14 ha in three locations where he reports taking a sustainable approach in the vineyards. His grandfather came here from Croatia and bought the family cellar. Marjan’s business is still 90% Cviček so he is still taking early steps exploring other wines. Chardonnay Premium 2015 was the star here – a golden amber wine, expressive and complex with generous apricot and honey notes, velvety texture and a long finish.

 

I tasted a few other wines from the region weren’t part of this group, including a pair of very good sparkling wines from Domaine Slapšak. Cellarmaster Andrei Slapšak feels his cellar is not quite ready to show off yet as the business only became more than a family hobby 18 months ago. Making great sparkling wine is the focus here and the winery has consultancy from Champagne in the form of Andrei’s brother-in-law who met his wife through the game of underwater hockey. The Domaine even provides disgorging services for several wineries in the region and it seems that Andrei’s training as an electronic engineer also makes him quite handy at repairing winery equipment. There’s an attractive, appetising non-vintage Brut sparkling from Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Žametovka, and a very fine pale pink fizz made from 100% Žametovka which really highlights the potential this grape has for sparkling wine. A couple of wines from Frelih appeared with meals and I particularly enjoyed the Silvaner 2016, a complex and exciting interpretation of this often disregarded grape.

 

I came away from this trip feeling that this is a region that deserves more attention. It’s genuinely beautiful with great food and a dynamic wine scene developing. Strengths include the ability to make ripe but fresh red wines, with moderate alcohol, especially from Modra Frankinja. This is a grape which is quietly gaining status among sommeliers and wine buyers under some of its other guises (Blaufränkisch, Kékfrankos) because it flatters rather than dominating food. Whites at their best are appealing and fresh, even as orange wines, but  not so far the region’s flagships. However there seem to be exciting prospects with sparkling wine especially where local grapes such as Žametovka, Kraljevina or Rumeni Plavec can play a role. It’s exciting to see the efforts of this group of winemakers in focusing on premium wine, and even more exciting that these producers are open-minded and prepared to share ideas and even equipment. Not all are at the same stage of development, but I for one will be following this region with interest.

 

 

Posted in Kekfrankos, Opinion, Revija Vino magazine, Slovenia, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Moldovan Value?

Recent piece on the door opening for Moldovan wine in Meininger’s Wine Business International.

Screenshot 2019-02-07 at 10.39.38

WBI_518_p44_45_moldova

Posted in Meininger's Wine Business International, Moldova, Opinion, The Wines of Bulgaria, Romania and Moldova, Uncategorized | Tagged , | 1 Comment

More About Moldova

Moldova Tastings London October 2018

IMG_20181010_185916_564

10 October 2018 found me in London to present the wines of seven Moldovan wineries on behalf of importer Novus B H Magister Wines. This is run by two Moldovan sisters who want to put wines from their home country back on the map. I am really passionate about Moldova, and feel it is so often overlooked, yet with 81,000 hectares of noble vines it is bigger than Bulgaria, Hungary and even New Zealand. It grows more vines per person than anywhere else on earth and so many here people depend on grapes for living, which is great motivation to get it right.  Moldova is a country very close to my heart and I wanted to tell the story of how its winemakers have reinvented themselves after brutal economic and political battles to emerge with a new generation of exciting wines.

DSC_4248

My first masterclass took a look at Moldova’s indigenous grapes or at least those indigenous to the region, given Moldova’s shared viticultural history with its bigger neighbour Romania. The small newcomer Poiana in the cool rolling hills of Codru was first with their fresh, apple blossom-scented, delicate crisp Feteasca Alba. This is a winery that believes in minimal intervention to protect their beautiful wooded environment. My second choice was Viorica  from Timbrus estate near Purcari, established as recently as 2013 by Spanish investors.  This is a truly local grape with exotic muscat-like aromas and zesty acidity, created in Moldova in 1960s.  The third wine was the Individo Feteasca/Riesling blend from Chateau Vartely. This  was the first private winery set up in 2004. Winemaker Arcadie Fosnea trained in Germany and brings precision and purity to his white wines, this blend combining the more textured Feteasca Regala with crisp Riesling. Moving onto reds, I began with Fautor’s Rara Neagra from its new Aurore range.  This is a grape that looks promising as Moldova’s red flagship – moderate in colour and tannins but capable of elegance when vinified well – as it is here by a mother-daughter team. Next I moved onto black cherry and violet toned Feteasca Neagră from the state-owned winery Cricova with its legendary underground cellars dating back to the 1950s. The winery has recently invested in its own vineyards and much improved winemaking.  I then moved on to blends, the first, the superb Negre from Fautor bringing together Rara Neagra and Feteasca Neagra.  The final wine was 5 Elemente from Equinox – a impressive blend of 5 varieties from Moldova’s pioneering first small private winery (organic as well). As owner Costia Stratan explained, it came about in 2010 when he had such a tiny crop he blended all his grapes together – he liked the results so much he kept the concept.

DSC_4247

My second session was to take a look at what Moldova can do with international grape varieties, possibly less intriguing to press and the trade, but important to benchmark what Moldova can do with grapes that consumers understand and are more likely to buy from a country they don’t know. This line-up began with a traditional method sparkling wine from Cricova. Most famous for its huge cellars (55 km) and famous wine collections, it’s been making sparkling wine in the cool limestone caves since the 1950s. These are hand-riddled by a team of women who hand the role on from mother to daughter. Then came the benchmark Pinot Gris from Salcuta, one of the first wineries to understand that investing in its own vineyards would stand them in good stead for the future.  Next came the unique and surprisingly delicious blend of Sauvignon and Albarino from Fautor – one of the  advantages of lack of regulation here is that wineries are free to experiment with their own blends. Chateau Vartely’s top Taraboste blend – based on sleek  barrel-fermented Chardonnay along with Pinot Gris and Sauvignon was another example of a very well-made blend. Poiana’s crunchy, red-fruited Cabernet Sauvignon rosé came next. Moving onto reds Saperavi may be of Georgian origin but it appears to really suit the growing conditions in Moldova, exemplified in Timbrus Estate’s bright, crushed berry version.  The line-up concluded with 310 Cabernet Sauvignon/Feteasca Neagra from Fautor, named for the  altitude of the vineyards which are some of Moldova’s highest. Here the touch of Feteasca Neagra added a unique local twist to the dark cassis Cabernet varietal character.

Moldova is a country that has undergone a complete revolution in its winemaking in the last dozen years or so. It will more than repay another look  at its wines, offering  both fascinating local grape varieties and very well made wines from international grapes too. And all offering excellent value for money. Noroc!

Read more in my book “The Wines of Bulgaria, Romania and Moldova”

IMG_20180713_125650_275

Posted in Moldova, The Wines of Bulgaria, Romania and Moldova, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Wines of Bulgaria, Romania and Moldova is released

IMG_20180713_125650_275My first (and only) book is now out in all the usual places.  You can also buy it from

https://www.vaskovino.co.uk/collections/all.

https://apollowine.com/?lang=en

and several other wineries

also here http://www.infideas.com/books/wines-bulgaria-romania-moldova/

Bulgaria etc full cover_V2-1

Posted in Bulgaria, Moldova, Opinion, Romania, Uncategorized, Wine Science | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

2018 Master of Wine Exam

This year’s papers have juts been published. Huge respect to anyone who passes.  Reckon I could have fair stab at getting through theory still. But I taste too much Eastern European wine to have time for knowing the classics in enough detail.

https://www.mastersofwine.org/filemanager/root/site_assets/documents/exam/2018_examination_questions_and_wines.pdf

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Decanter World Wine Awards 2018 – the results are out

Results for 2018 are now out with lots of exciting and positive results for Central, Eastern and Northern Europe plus the Caucasus and near East. Several other judges commented that my “patch” was the most exciting – we still get top producers entering, along with such a varied range of grapes and wine styles. Take a look at the nearly there silver medals too – still scoring over 90 points showing that these are world class wines too.  Worth remembering that in many wine competitions, especially  ones based on OIV rules 85 or 86 posts gets a gold medal whereas at Decanter it’s 95 points for gold.

UK results – Decanter World Wine Awards 2018

Screen Shot 2018-05-29 at 16.23.22

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Hungary’s Winemaker of Winemakers and Friend of the Winemakers Awards 2018

Janos Konyari (RIP) was a worthy winner of the 2018 Winemaker of Winemakers’ award in Hungary last week, though congratulations are also due to the other shortlisted winemakers, all superb winemakers in their right. More details here

 

_20180423_142403

I was also hugely honoured to receive the Friend of Winemakers award for 2018.  Thank you to all who nominated  and voted for me, and  most importantly to all the producers who make the wines I get to write and talk about.

Posted in Hungary, Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment