A Welcome Revival: A Guide To Upcoming Bulgarian Wines
Sep 07, 2023
Until recently, Bulgaria has been overlooked as a wine producing country, which is a shame because Bulgarian wines combine high quality with excellent value for money. If you have not previously sampled wine from this eastern European nation, then you will be in for a very pleasant surprise. Here is an overview of what to expect.
The history of winemaking in Bulgaria
Wine has been produced in Bulgaria since the time of the ancient Thracians, around the fifth century AD. References can be found in Homer’s Iliad to the ‘honey-sweet black wine’ of the area. The age-old techniques were handed down across the generations, and endured throughout the Roman Empire, the Byzantines, the Ottoman Turks and well beyond.
In fact, the wine making industry even thrived during the Communist era of the mid twentieth century, when there was significant investment in modern wine making machinery. This resulted in Bulgaria becoming the fourth biggest wine exporter in the world.
However, the majority of the wine produced during this era was exported to Russia and was not widely available on the global market. Many indigenous varieties of grapes were also lost in favour of more well known international grapes that were in high demand at the time.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the industry fell into a decline as the vineyards were sold off, but in recent years it has been making a comeback. The fertile valleys and plains and warm Mediterranean climate make Bulgaria an ideal location for word-class wineries.
There has been a renewed interest in native grape varieties, which has begun to earn Bulgaria a reputation for some of the world’s most exciting and unique new wines.
The five winemaking regions
In 1960, the Bulgarian government divided the country into five viticultural regions as follows: the Danubian Plain to the north, the Black Sea to the east, the Rose Valley to the central region, the Thracian Valley to the south, and the Struma Valley to the southwest. Generally speaking, the northern regions produce white wines, while the south produces red wine.
Popular red wines
Bulgaria is best known for its red wine, and it produces some of the most popular grape varieties, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah. It also has some distinctive native grapes which are making a comeback, including the Mavrud. This is used to produce medium-bodied wines with flavours of chocolate and cherries which age extremely well.
The Melnik 55 is the key grape of the Struma Valley, and is used to produce medium-bodied reds with notes of red berries, herbs, and spices. The Rubin is particularly noted for sophisticated reds with a rich fruity and herbal flavour profile. The wines mature well in oaked barrels, which may add overtones of coffee and vanilla.
Gamza wines, also known as Kadarka, are black grapes cultivated in the northern regions. It is described as having a crisp fruity flavour that is slightly tart and spicy. These wines are ideal for pairing with red meats and dishes with tomato-based sauces.