It was one of those weeks when you’re waiting for a female winemaker and then 25 of them come along at once. To be specific, female winemakers from Central and Eastern Europe –  from Aya to Zsirai – who were the focus of a busy trade tasting in London. 

Master of Wine Dr Caroline Gilby took us on a journey from Bulgaria (where a record-breaking 50% of winemakers are women), via Moldova, Romania, Serbia and Hungary to Slovenia; referencing her own experiences of sexism when she started out in wine to explain her reasons for curating the Cherchez la Femme tasting in association with Wine Communication MD Zsuzsa Toronyi. 

There was chat about low-intervention ‘slow wine’, with one winemaker holding on to wines in barrel for 30 years, releasing them ‘when they are ready’ – possible only because the world was not clamouring for them, oblivious to the quality winemaking on Europe’s eastern doorstep while they were focused elsewhere. 

Meeting the winemakers and tasting with them is always so valuable, as they can tell you more about what’s in the bottle than a simple back label. For example, the vivacious Bulgarian Elizabet Porteva, who works with native varieties at her family’s Bendida Winery near Plovdiv, explains how her limited-edition wines are pressed by foot at a harvest festival, to the accompaniment of folk bagpipe music. Her extremely limited-edition biodynamic wines (the winery only produces 15,000 bottles a year) includes Ritual, very impressive natural ‘wild’ Rubin with hand-written labels. It doesn’t get more artisan than that! 

Lorena Deaconu Stoian is the oenologist and winemaker at Iconic and Domaniile Alexandrion Rhein 1892, where traditional method sparkling wine has been made since 1892 including the delicious, summer-fruit driven Rhein Extra Rosé Brut.

From Moldova, Gitana presented the wines of Iuliana Dulgher, including La Petite Sophie 2020, a Chardonnay-Riesling-Feteasca Regala blend in a beautifully decorated bottle. 

Vines were first planted at the Doppler estate in Slovenia by Benedictine monks in 1815. Now Mihaela Krsnik Kopše and her three daughters make the wines there. I was particularly impressed by their 2017 traditional method sparkling Chardonnay called Diona.

From Vranje in southern Serbia, the Aleksić sisters presented a 2019 Vranac full of dark cherry and plum flavours, notes of dark chocolate and dried fruit, with great structure and minerality. 

Zala Sekoranja from Vino Graben near the Crotian border in Slovenia, is now in the charge of the family winery that has been making low-intervention wines for over a century. Her masterpiece is the 2016 Les Grandes 5, a blend of five varieties which everyone told her would never work. But in her hands it is a work of art, blending Blaufrankisch, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and a touch of Merlot. I was even more enchanted by her 2009 Gamay, a light red wine more commonly known for early-release Beaujolais and Anjou wines from France. But over 14 years this wine has developed deep and intense layers of ripe fruit, sweet spices and resolved tannins while still holding on to some fresh acidity and delivering a powerful, lingering finish. This is fireside sipping at its finest, and at 11% abv you may be tempted to finish the bottle (you can probably tell, it was my favourite of the tasting). 

A lot of these wines are not yet available in the UK, but as a broad region of generally outstanding value, Central and Eastern European winemakers are making headlines and headway in the UK and beyond. 

For a selection of wines from the region you should try online retailers The Old Cellar,  NIKO , Corney & Barrow, Tanners or Majestic. Trade buyers should contact Malux, Kingsland Drinks or Jascots . 

© Linda Galloway 2023