Notes on the Ultimate CEE Wine Fair 2024

I attended this event dedicated to showcasing Central and Eastern Europe wines.

It took place on the 18th of June in St. John’s Church in Waterloo, a venue I had walked past many times and which I had never imagined being used for a wine tasting event!

There were many producers attending the event so I tried to be a bit selective with what I tasted, rather than aiming to taste the entire room. And despite tasting more than 50 wines I still missed entire countries!

But there was so much to look into in just one day…

However, I noticed a few common themes throughout the day

There are so many interesting grapes to be discovered

I had a lot of fun learning about all the indigenous grapes that were presented, hearing all the different names (so many diacritics and accents—and so many failed attempts from me trying to get the pronunciation right) and of course, trying them out!

It was specially interesting when you got to try wines that had been produced “as purely” as possible, i.e. without maturing in barrels, as that would put the focus on the grape’s flavours.

Some of the grape varieties I had heard of while studying for the WSET level 3 award in wine, for example the Hungarian Hárslevelű, or Kékfrancos.

But most of them were entirely unknown to me, like the Žilavka in Bosnia-Herzegovina. It was a good challenge to try to place them in my mental framework. For example, the Bulgarian Dimyat grape made me think of the Vermentino wines we drank in Sardinia.

While doing the rounds, it soon became obvious which grapes had regained popularity in each country, as producers revive their own traditional indigenous varieties and styles of winemaking, instead of focusing on planting international grape varieties (think Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot…) and mimicking French style wines (although I tried many wines with “classic” sensibilities, but using local grapes).

By the way, the introductory speech also mentioned that many of these countries were starting to finally, truly, get to grips with their traditional wine-making techniques and styles, after the communist regime turned things upside down and the aftermath wasn’t immediately conducive to wine-making.

Using indigenous grape varieties and traditional methods might help in adapting to climate change… although I didn’t hear any mention to that, while we did hear about it, loud and clear, last year when we visited Melsheimer Weingut and the owner told us, five minutes in, how they’re planting in plots they had never considered in the past, because the orientation made the temperatures in the plot way too cold for the vines to grow successfully.

I didn’t find anything as bonkers as I expected

I also was expecting to find wines made of hybrid grapes, like the Turbo Diesel injection from Slovenia I tried a while ago.

That wine was made with a grape called Šmarnica, which is a cross between Vitis vinifera and some other grape vine, making it a ‘hybrid’, and the flavours were entirely unlike anything I had drank before: the classic “petrol” note that is often applied to Riesling does not even start to describe the nose of this wine—which is, I suppose, what brought the makers to christen the wine as “Turbo diesel”. In fact, as the linked page says: “[…] You can smell it from a meter away and the aromas are impossible to compare to any universally known variety. […] Not for the faint of heart!”—a perfect description!

And yet I did not find wines as extreme as that in this fair… I think the most surprising one I found was a smoked rosé (!), which strongly reminded me to Bamberg’s smoked beer style.

There were also several wines that somehow tasted of blue cheese, which is something I had only noticed once before.

Everything else was between classic and slightly adventurous, but not extreme.

A focus on precise and high quality wine-making

Several producers mentioned controlling temperature throughout the process, an obsession with cleanliness, releasing wine only on the years when it was good, and using only the best clones, then letting the terroir shine.

For example, making wine from two different plots, but with the same grape, the same way, and then bottling each wine separately. One would be deeper in colour and higher in alcohol as it was facing south and had ripened more, while the other plot was more red than black fruits, and displayed a lighter body. And yet it was the same grape produced in the same winery with the same methods!

There were also some examples of wines “Burgundy style” that actually were not even using classic Burgundy grapes like Chardonnay, and yet all that came to mind was “Burgundy”. I haven’t looked at the prices, but I bet they aren’t Burgundy prices. I guess that “many a bargain is to be found if looking east” is what I’m saying.

Their orange wines are very different from what we understand as an orange wine.

Each time someone was about to describe an orange wine, they prefaced it with something along the lines of “but it’s a clean orange wine”.

I got the impression that they are unimpressed by the organic/”biodynamic” or natural orange wines we’re sort of used to in Western/Southern Europe and they favour a more controlled, less oxidised style of orange wines.

There was plenty of evidence of skin contact in the wines, but I do not remember having tried any “wild!!!” orange wine like the ones I am used to. Even the ones that had been fermenting for long were subtle and not at all “wild!!!”. They would be interesting, but didn’t feature oxidation or absolutely indescribable flavours.

Devvers says that it is a bit like in sake, where “the fermentation is long and at low temperatures to allow the esters to develop, to get the best flavour and fragrance”.

Producers trying to adapt to the UK market

There were a lot of very drinkable wines on display: light white wines reminding me of Vermentino: lemony, refreshing, and hinting on a touch of sweetness but without reaching the “off-dry” level. Others reminded me to the nicely balanced, easy to drink (low/medium alcohol, slightly off dry, medium/high acidity) Kabinetts we drank last year in Germany.

Likewise, there were some off-dry sparkling rosés that were super enjoyable (some of them even labelled as “Sekt”), or some strongly cherry-flavoured rosés…

… and yet producer after producer kept saying these very drinkable wines were rarely marketed outside their country as the UK were more after “bone dry” or “extremely pale” rosés, specially bone dry white sparkling for celebrations.

What a loss! We should have more variety in wines. Sometimes “the UK market” really frustrates me! Be more adventurous!

I was also thinking that after the new duty fees where (roughly) the higher the alcohol in the wine, the more tax is paid, it’s probably time for this type of lower alcohol wines to become a thing in the UK.

On the other hand, I noticed a lot of higher alcohol wines, even wines that did not feel like they were so alcoholic because they were very well integrated and balanced, but the 13.5% and above were present in pretty much all the producers’ tables.

Side note: the algorithm for determining the duty to be paid per litre makes my head hurt – 8 base categories, with some ranges of alcohol to take into account (what happens outside those bounds??) AND then some five relief categories, again, with some bounds inside which the relief applies. I can’t even... it’s so unnecessarily complex 😖

Making wine despite the adversities

Perhaps one reason I did not hear talk of climate change, which can be a bit of a vague and faceless problem, is that producers in this area are facing more immediate, in your face, issues. Such as the war in Ukraine or the simple fact that it is just not allowed to make wine in some countries like Iran.

It never fails to impress me when I hear about these stories of “succeeding in the face of adversity”.

Wines I tasted

Moving on now to the stars of the show: the actual wines!

If the producer had a lot of wines on offer I often asked for trying in this order: the reds, the novelty wines, the oranges and still wines, and then maybe the sparklings if I was interested enough. Although often the producer only had whites so in those cases I would try them anyway.

My after-the-fact count tells me I tasted … 81 wines?? is this possible? 😆 no wonder I was tired at the end and unable to distinguish much anymore!

Of course I made copious use of the spitoons and from drinking water! It was good these were present everywhere and easily accessible, not blocked by people.

My favourites of each table (or in general) are marked with a ⭐️!


Keush Family wines

Using Areni, Iran’s flagship grape.

The representative told me for some wines they buy the grapes from Iran, then make the wine in Armenia.

  1. Zulal Areni Classic 2020, red, light, not fizzy, 14.5% ABV
  2. Zulal Areni Reserve 2918, red, deeper, browner, bit fizz? (unreadable) 15% ABV


Carska Vina Grgo Vasilj

Using indigenous varieties Blatina (for red) and Žilavka (for white) as main focus. A couple of the wines were made to celebrate the daughter and son of the wine makers, so there’s some personal history here!

  1. Carska Zilavka 2023, white, 12.5% ABV – clean citrus, bit fizz, peach
  2. Carska Vina Cuvée Sophia 2023 (Žilavka & Pinot Grigio), white, 12.5% ABV – very light, slight wax, cream, clean finish
  3. Carska Zilavka limited edition 2023, white, 12.5% ABV – got a medal, but doesn’t quite do it for me…
  4. Carska Blatina 2021, red, 13.5% ABV – smooth
  5. Carska Vina Cuvée David 2019 (Blatina and Cabernet Sauvignon), red, 14.5% ABV – lovely! red quite intense, forest floor, for meaty stuff – a Sunday lunch wine

Škegro Family Winery

Again using indigenous varieties.

I really liked these ones, and the rep was a lot of fun!

  1. Krš Bijeli 2023 (Žilavka), white, 13.5% ABV – pear, stainless steel, like burgundy but not so waxy ⭐️
  2. Carsus Žilavka 2022, white, 13% ABV – on old vineyard 40yr old vines, “cool” (or unreadable), slight fizz, deeper than number 1 ⭐️
  3. Krš orange 2022 (Žilavka), orange, 13% ABV – not made every year, “only when it will work” – tasted of GREEN, celery, vegetables (in the best possible way)
  4. Krš Crni 2022 (Blatina), red, 14.5% ABV – although it didn’t feel as alcoholic, really well balanced, recommended slightly chilled
  5. Carsus Blatina 2022 (Blatina), red, 14% ABV – smoother than number 4. Oak!
  6. Carsus Trnjak 2022 (Trnjak), red, 14.5% ABV – serious business wine, huge potential for aging. Producer has magnums of this so it can be aged even more nicely. Another Sunday lunch wine! He’d have it with “lamb and peas” as it’s typical in their country ⭐️


Clos Bibliotèque

They had some samples of the types of fossils they find in their plots. It was so distracting as they were such beautiful fossils! 😂

Also really good classic wines, possibly at a fraction of what they would cost in ‘classic’ regions.

  1. Terre Princière – Dimyat, 2021, white, 13% ABV – on amphora – lemony and refreshing ⭐️
  2. Terre Princière – Chardonnay 2021, white, 13% ABV, something like 50% barrel and the rest amphora – has a Burgundy feel. Mineral. Smoke.
  3. Terre Princière – Pinot Noir, 2021, red, 13% ABV – very good Burgundy style
  4. L’Amphithéâtre – Pinot Noir, 2021, red, 13% ABV – no barrel contact at all, feels more acidic in the mouth than number 3, but producer says NO! they have measured it. It’s a perception!
  5. L’Amphithéâtre – Syrah, 2021, red, 14% ABV – deep purple, black fruits, white pepper, very well executed
Two wooden boxes with pretty shell fossils, one has a label that says "Terre Princière", the other box's label says "L'amphithéâtre"
Fossil boxes

Czech Republic

Wines of Bohemia

This rep was just so nice. And had so many wines! It was a struggle to be selective here, but she did the best to provide a good representative selection.

  1. Castle Winery Bzenec Ryzink Vlassky, 2022, (Welschriesling), white, 12% ABV – bit of botrytis, so a bit of honey, refreshing!
  2. Castle Winery Bzenec Starak 2022 (Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris), white, 12% ABV – bit fizz? sweet? off sweet? like (unreadable, maybe Riesling) ⭐️
  3. Winery Cech Tramin Cerveny 2021 (Gewurztraminer), white 12.5% – very subtle, good balance, very slightly sweet?
  4. Castle Winery Bzenec Palava (Palava) 2022, white, 12% – a bit like Gewurztraminer, but not. Lovely, not too bonkers!
  5. Valka Palava Orange (Palava) 2022, orange, 12.5% – like creamy and fizzy, blue cheesey and… does it taste of dill? it does taste of dill
  6. Castle Winery Bzenec Svatovavrinecke (St Laurent) 2022, red, 12% ABV – very smooth


I had tried wines from Georgia in the past (one from the M&S “Found” range and others when I went to a Berlin Georgian restaurant), so I was curious to see if I’d still like them!

Chelti Winery


  1. Kisi Qvevri 2021 (Kisi), orange, 13% ABV – Weird! Lots of contact, unfiltered. Blue cheese? “A classic Georgian style of wine”. Not oxidised orange wine.
  2. Tsinandali 2022 (Rkatsiteli, Mtsvane), white, 13% ABV – peach but fresh
  3. Saperavi 2020 (Saperavi), red, 13% ABV – Red fruit
  4. Saperavi Qvevri 2019 (Saperavi), red, 14% ABV – is this semisweet? odd
  5. Kisi 2022 (Kisi), white, 13% ABV – stainless steel, no contact – bit of fizz


Fine Wine Association

They brought several wines from two wineries.

  1. Vida – Petit Bonsai Kadarka clonal selection 2023 (Kadarka), red, 12% ABV – very fresh, crispy
  2. Vida – Bonsai 100-year-old vines Kadarka 2023 (Kadarka), red, 12.5% ABV – Deeper and seriouser, smoky (maybe? slightly unreadable)
  3. Vida – Hidaspetre single vineyard Kékfrankos 2020, red, 13% ABV – Rounded
  4. Homola – Kékfrankos 2019, red 12.5% ABV – very nice, deep

Heritage Hungarian Wine

This one had some really interesting wines (maybe because they were sweet…), I really enjoyed talking to the rep. I focused on whites and sweets for this table:

  1. Bujdosó Balatonbor 2023 (Olaszrizling), white 12.5% ABV – summery, feels a bit like Riesling ⭐️
  2. Figula winery – Gella Olaszrizling 2022, white 12.5% – elegant, richer
  3. Figula winery – Öreghegy Olaszrizling 2022, white 12.5% ABV – salty feeling! a bit of fizz, limestone
  4. Attila winery – Leányka 2018, white 12% ABV – has won a Decanter 2023 award. Peach. “Would be good with seafood”
  5. Bujdosó – Csomó 2023 (Sauvignon Blanc), white 12% – very summery, Sauv Blanc and also FIG LEAF? ⭐️
  6. Tokajicum Borház – Sárgamuskotály kései szüret 2022 (Sargamuskotály), sweet white 10.5% – would work nicely with a milk chocolate dessert
  7. Tokajicum Borház – Edes Szamorodni 2021 (Furmint, Hárslevelű), sweet white 10.5% – “more structure”, steel bits, but also blue cheese, walnuts
  8. Tokajicum Borház – Tokajicum Aszú 5p 2021 (Furmint, Hárslevelű), sweet white 10.5% – liquid glorious PEACH, this one is amazing ⭐️ (I did not spit it out)


This is a region in Hungary “stronghold of Kékfrankos and Kadarka”, the table had wines from three wineries but I only got to try two as it was nearing lunch time and one of the reps was out for lunch:

  1. Takler Winery – Szenta-hegyi Kékfrankos 2020 – red, 14% ABV – red fruit, [unreadable], very nicely rounded
  2. Takler Winery – Gurovicai Kékfrankos 2020 – red, 14% ABV – same method than above but different soils – darker fruit
  3. Takler Winery – Örökség (Heritage) Bikavér 2021 (Kékfrankos, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Kadarka, Syrah) – red, 14.5% ABV – balanced between red and black fruits, deep, not sour! ⭐️
  4. Sebestyén Cellar – Szél 2023 (Kékfrankos), rosé, 13% ABV – cherry and strawberry
  5. Sebestyén Cellar – Görögszó Kadarka 2022, red, 12.5% ABV – means “greek word”, from old vines
  6. Sebestyén Cellar – Porkoláb 2020 (Kékfrankos), red, 13.5% – liquorice? I like it ⭐️
  7. Sebestyén Cellar – Iván Bikavér 2019) (Kékfrankos, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Kadarka), red 13.5% ABV – another Sunday lunch style, but a bit sourer than I’d like
  8. Sebestyén Cellar – Mozaik 2020 (Kékfrankos, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Kadarka), red 13.5% ABV – red fruit, ripe fruit, red cherry? A Sunday lunch wine ⭐️


Castel Mimi

This was actually the last table I visited, so I got to try almost all of the wines, hear all of the stories behind them and finish with a genuinely strong red wine one!

  1. AnimAliens Viorica Feteasca Alba 2022 (Viorica, Feteasca Alba), white, 13% ABV – lemony
  2. Castel Mimi Sanzienele (Feteasca Alba, Feteasca Regala, Viorica), white, 12.5% ABV – a summer wine, honey
  3. Castel Mimi Viorica de Bulboaca 2023 (Viorica), semi-dry, 12.5% ABV – a dangerous late harvest. Has a glass cork for that extra giftability!
  4. AnimAliens Rosé 2022 (Pinot Noir, Saperavi, Rara Neagra), rosé, 12.5% ABV – cream-ish, strawberry-ish
  5. Castel Mimi Rara Neagra rosé (Rara Neagra), rosé, 12.5% ABV – strawberry
  6. The Governor First Lady Rosé (Feteasca Negra), rosé, 12.5% ABV – barrel aged, reminds me of smoked sausages! ⭐️
  7. AnimAliens Pinot Noir Saperavi Rara Neagra 2021 (Pinot Noir, Saperavi, Rara Neagra), red, 14% ABV – This one was made by accident as some grapes got mixed up in the tank, very interesting balance (it was meant to be like the Saperavi below)
  8. AnimAliens Saperavi 2021 (Saperavi), red, 14% – silky and fruity
  9. Castel Mimi Rara Neagra 2021 (Rara neagra), red, 14% ABV – deep and red fruits
  10. Castel Mimi Rosu de Bulboaca 2020 (Cabernet Sauvignon, Feteasca Neagra, Merlot), red, 14.5% ABV – leaf, green
  11. Castel Mimi Feteasca Neagra 2020 (Feteasca Neagra), red, 14% ABV – losing track at this point, but deep, smooth, silky
  12. The Governor Feteasca Neagra 2019 (Feteasca Neagra), red, 15% ABV – STRONG but smooth, it comes in a fancy pack for gifting – a “Christmas wine” ⭐️ … the wine I finished my tasting with, after this there was nothing left to do 😆
Castel Mimi bottles


Klet Brda

In the UK:

  1. Quercus Rebula 2023 (Rebula), white, 13% ABV – local, normal drinking wine / table wine
  2. Quercus Pinot Bianco 2023 (Pinot Bianco), white, 13.5% ABV – felt a bit indistinct to me
  3. Quercus Pinot Grigio 2023 (Pinot Grigio), white, 13.5% ABV – bit of waxiness, nice
  4. Krasno Rebula 2022, white, 13% ABV – matured/rounded in barrel, I think (notes a bit unreadable as I was trying to talk and listen and note things at the same time – hard!)
  5. Krasno Orange 2022 (Rebula, Sauvignonasse, Malvasia), orange 13% ABV – “A clean orange” “the pure orange”
  6. Bagueri Rebula 2020 (Rebula), white 13.5% ABV – in barrel? blue cheese, lactic
  7. Quercus Cabernet Merlot 2022 (Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc), red, 13% – a nice one, in “traditional Bordeaux style”, at 13% it’s not brutal!


In the UK:

  1. Sauvignon Blanc 2023, white 12.5% ABV – as described, not super intense
  2. Pinot Gris 2023, white 13% ABV – medium bodied
  3. Furmint 2023, white 12.5% ABV – Smoothish
  4. Furmint selected vintage 2021, white 13% ABV – smoother, slightly like Tokaj but subtle
  5. Riesling 2022, white 12.5% ABV – a very subtle Riesling
  6. Pinot Noir 2019, red 14% ABV – red cherries, feels light but it ISN’T!


They brought a selection of wines from different wineries.

I’m still remembering their answer to “so how do you find making wines in the face of… everything that is happening?”: “well, yes, we have had a few challenges but we have to go on…!”

The wineries might have been literally bombed, the factory that makes glass bottles too, people are recruited for fight and you have no workers, but yes, you are just “facing a few challenges” 🤪

  1. Frumushika-Nova – Sukholimanske Not Filtered 2022 (Sukholimanske), white 12% ABV – a hybrid grape (?), this looked a lot like lemonade, very interesting! Hazy, a bit like vermentino
  2. Beykush winery – Telti-Kuruk 2022 (Telti-Kuruk), white 12.5% ABV – (I think he said it means fox tail), gentle, mineral, milky creamy
  3. Biologist Craft Winery – Orange blend 2022 (Rkatsiteli, Pinot Blanc, Sylvaner), described as white, 11.9% ABV – honey and blossom nose, mint in the mouth, really interesting! ⭐️
  4. Stakhovsky Wines – Saperavi Ace 2021 (Saperavi), red, 12% ABV – the “Ace” goes for a famous tennis player that is also depicted in the label
  5. Villa Tinta – Odesa Black VIP Wine Selection 2019 (Odesa Blanck), red, 13% ABV – “a gastronomic wine”, VERY STRONG – leaf, bell pepper, you know (I had to eat a cracker right after this so my tongue would be de-tannined somehow)
  6. Kolonist Wine – Bisser Brut White Aged Sparkling 2020 (Chardonnay), white brut 11.5% ABV – a bone dry traditional method sparkling wine
  7. Chateau Chizay – Carpathian Sekt Blaufrankisch Brut Rosé 2022 (Blaufrankisch), rosé brut, 11.5% ABV – described as brut but still had a touch of sweetness left – very drinkable ⭐️
A rosé sekt bottle with pink foil, and an unfiltered frumushika-nova white wine bottle, showing its hazy lemony colour and the metal tap
Pink rosé sekt vs unfiltered white wine from Ukraine

Tables for countries that I sadly had to skip because I literally ran out of taste buds

  • Croatia
  • Cyprus
  • North Macedonia
  • Romania
  • Serbia
  • Slovakia

… and the tables for UK importers:

For future reference and for the next time!

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