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Gilby lauds ‘new era’ at landmark CEE tasting

Published:  19 June, 2024

Interest in central and eastern European wines has undeniably been growing, with the turnout at The Ultimate CEE Wine Fair on 18 June seeming to confirm this trend. Bringing together 15 countries, from Armenia to Ukraine, by way of the Czech Republic and Slovakia down to the Balkans, and even Cyprus, this inaugural London event may have stretched the definition of ‘central and eastern Europe’, but couldn’t be faulted for the diversity and quality of wines on show.

The likes of Vinčić Winery from Serbia, Sebestyén Cellar from Hungary and Puklavec Family Wines from Slovenia (to name but a few), put in a strong showing, also majoring on indigenous grapes, of which CEE has a wealth to show. Grašac, Kékfrankos and Furmint, respectively, were the stars of the show with these forward-looking producers, merely hinting at the wealth of varieties on offer, but also the quality potential.

A good example was Romanian winery Domeniile Averesti, whose Feteasca Neagra may have toed the line in presenting the country’s de facto ‘flagship’ grape, but the producer’s equally compelling Zghihara is apparently the only bottling of this vanishingly rare variety in the world.

The CEE event is the brainchild of regional expert Caroline Gilby MW and Zsuzsa Toronyi, bringing together both existing clients and new countries at a time when trade and consumer focus on new, ‘authentic’ discoveries, often coupled with real value, has been on the rise. As such, it marked a key moment for CEE in terms of carrying that momentum forward, with notable sommeliers, indie buyers and specialist importers all putting the many ‘seeking representation’ wineries and wines through their paces.

Speaking at one of the masterclasses on the day, Gilby explained why she and Toronyi had felt the time was right to launch The Ultimate CEE Wine Fair.

“The hard work has been done, there are revolutionary things to discover… in central and eastern Europe we have this deep legacy of wine, with this modern wine story, some great winemaking nowadays, and indigenous grape varieties that can be communicated in the glass in front of you,” she said.

“Today, [these countries are] almost universally private wine industries, full of professional people who really want to make a difference and build their stories. So, we’ve now had three decades of being in a new era, which is worth shouting about, and partly why I’ve organised this event, along with my partner in crime.”

That evolution has more often than not seen CEE-producing nations “going through a similar story of going from mass-market wines to a much smaller, more private wine industry”, resulting in the commendable showing of hugely varied but engaging wines at the event. And judging by the interest shown by attending buyers and wine hacks that Harpers spoke to, this ‘Ultimate’ tasting is almost certain to return, bigger and better, next year.