Bulgarian Wine – experience pleasure and history in every bottle
Bulgarian wine has a very prominent and epic past like its’ passionate connoisseurs Spartacus, Orpheus and Alexander the Great. Bulgarian wine has one of the longest wine histories in the world. It was born by the Thracians, nurtured by the Greeks, and mentored by the Romans. The wine impressed later on the Byzantines and the Ottomans and now is ready to win a place on the global wine arena. A true reflection of the magical nature and the fascinating past of its country of origin, Bulgarian wine is sophisticated and very unique because of its indigenous grape varieties.
The wines of Bulgaria are more than just an ambitious embracement of the innovative winemaking. Modern Bulgarian wine production has been one of the world’s best kept secrets in the industry. This is because of the complex organic and biodynamic styles, limited editions and lively blends. This secret is about to be revealed by passionate wine lovers and professional connoisseurs alike. Bulgarian wine has a very proud and most mythical story to tell and wine ambassadors like my friends form The Old Cellar company in England, are on a mission to unveil spectacular selections. The Old Cellar is a leading Bulgarian wine importer for the UK, determined to bring the old glory of these wines back to the forefront. We can now buy them online and experience again the beautiful vino from this part of the word.
What is really unique about the new wave Bulgarian wines is the perfect encounter of the old winemaking techniques, combined with the latest aspirations in winemaking. Many wine specialists believe that Bulgarian wine has it all – it is deep and complex as some of the best Continental wine, playful and crisp as the New World wine, charismatic as some of the South American wine and it can be very intense as those from South Africa. There is only one explanation for this, Bulgarian winemakers are radically open minded and at the same time live and work with the legacy and the drive of their Thracian ancestors.
Passionate young winemakers have started bringing back to life the best of the old Thracian winemaking traditions. The land of Bulgaria was once the land of the Thracians, a bold, skilled tribe, who lived 5000 BC alongside the Romans, Greeks and Macedonians. Thracians were the ultimate winemakers, they were the first to create rituals around wine drinking and they invented the girls’ bare foot dance over the freshly picked grapes. They were the first to worship the God of wine, called Zagreus, or Zelanos, before Dionysus and Bacchus. They were the first to create an experience of wine drinking by focusing on the “breath of the wine” – the aroma, which is the essential step of the wine tasting today.
Thracians had the reputation of being the wine and entertainment experts in the Old World, not only for the Greeks and the Romans. The tribe was never properly conquered and the reason for this was possibly their incredible skills of mastering wine making and bringing the concept of “ecstatic living”, which obviously involved loads of wine drinking.This was complimented by dancing and live music, provided most of the time by the famous Thracian musician Orpheus, or some of his followers, enhanced by philosophical conversations and possibly lively physical encounters. Elevating winemaking to such a blend of exuberant experiences left a very intense cultural mark and shaped the Bulgarian wine heritage and its’ modern vision.
In the “World Atlas of Wine”, Janis Robinson, the Queen Elizabeth’s personal sommelier, describes this country as ‘the most single-minded” of all in the Eastern part of Europe. This is probably, because the land of Thracians was a cultural and geographical crossroads. This part of the world was a social playground, full of mineral water springs, resort villages and hedonistic energy. Bulgaria is blessed by incredible natural beauty. Having four true seasons, the Danube river, the Black Sea coast, Greek and Turkey on it Southern Boarder and the Balkans running through the county leading into the Adriatic. Every one of this regions is desperate to compete in delivering high quality grape varieties. Formally Bulgaria has 2 recognised wine regions Danube Plain and Thracian Valley, however the intense growth in the industry is about to shape a new exciting wine map across 5 regions: Danube Plain, Black Sea Coast, Thracian Valley, Struma Valley, Rose Valley.
The hot and cold temperature fluctuations and drafts in the Danube plain, Northern Bulgaria, surprise with lively and vibrant, crisp whites like Chardonnay, Misket, Viognier, Dimyat and Sauvignon Blanc. Fruity subtle reds with less alcohol, like the native Gamza, which is very similar in style to Pinot Noir, also grown here, alongside fine Merlot. Nested in the red rock formations, dating back several million years near the town of Belogradchik is Borovitza winery. The wines are produced from very old vineyards of Gamza, Pinot Noir and Rkatsiteli.
In the South, where the climate is warmer you can taste some of the most intense Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah, as well as superb grape variety, called Mavrud. In the famous Valley of the Roses, popular for the expensive rose water and oils, wine making is delivering even more interesting, aromatic white blends like Red Misket and Muscat Ottonel. Must visit wineries in this beautiful region are Rumelia, which produces fantastic red wines from Mavrud, Neragora with its organic whites and red blends and Bessa Valley, the pearl in the crown with its Enira brand producing outstanding red blends from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and Petit Verdot.
One of the ultimate wine experiences today in Bulgaria is visiting the picture postcard town of Melnik. This takes you back in time and you should try its original, tangy red wine from the indigenous grape variety called Melnishka Loza (Melnik Vine). Excellent for wine tourism due to a cluster of wineries that can be visited in one or two days. The signature Villa Melnik winery is a must, where you’ll be able to taste great Melnik wines and see the tunnels for wine ageing dug deep into the mountains. One must try their Bergulé Melnik and Pinot Noir blend.
Bulgarian Wineries to visit and enjoy excellent wine and food experience:
Every Bulgarian countryside home is a wine sanctuary on its own. Typical house will have a modest rustic summer kitchen, connected to a garden, or a patio, wrapped in leafy vines with a long solid table, always ready for the family and guests to turn up. People in Bulgaria are very friendly and chatty, they love visitors, foreign and local. I still remember my grandmother, who would cook a big tray of cheese pie in the morning, just in case someone may turn up to see us. Bulgarians don’t talk much about the weather, they don’t start the conversation with the global events, not even asking the guest ‘how are you”… they just jump straight to the point with an invite, almost an order of “Come and have a glass… taste my home made wine, or try my home made brandy!” If you are not prepared to experience this friendly welcome, Bulgaria is not your destination. The truth is once around the table, you would want to prolong lunch all afternoon. Almost every household in the past was producing their own organic wine and brandy. New laws and regulations around the amount homemade produce changed things and it is now the artisan winemakers who continue this tradition.
Bulgaria is a perfect wine destination and the beautiful wineries and family hotels only enhance the strengths of the “new wave” winemaking. The food in the country is incredibly healthy and fresh, seasonal vegetables and organic meats are served in most of the wineries across the country like: Rumelia, Bessa Valley, Neragora, Midalidare, Edoardo Miroglio, Eolis – in the Thracian valley, Tsarev Brod and Borovitza in the Danube plain, Zelanos at the Black Sea Coast, Villa Melnik and Medi Valley in Struma Valley and Chateau Copsa in the heart of the Rose valley.
Thracian wine goblets, gold and silver, can be seen all over the world and are commonly part of Thracian exhibitions in most museums across the world. The astonishing romantic story of this wine is truly magical, only experienced when connecting with and sipping the real Bulgarian Vino.
Visiting Bulgaria can be fun and a very special experience, which reflects the winemaking approach in the country. However, if you are unable to visit in person, approach The Old Cellar team (email@example.com) and ask them to deliver the aroma and the taste of Bulgaria to your table.
The Old Cellar, specialises in fine innovative Bulgarian wines, with an extensive selection, with expert advice and wine tips, which are available at the end of this post.
Tips on Sips from Dimitar Nikolov
The Old Cellar www.theoldcellar.com
Dimitar Nikolov is Co-founder The Old Cellar, passionate sommelier, International wine judge at Decanter, author and educator. He started his career in the buzzing Chicago. Later on he worked for the largest supermarket chain in Bulgaria “Metro Cash & Carry”, as the wine buyer for Bulgaria and the Russian Federation.
Dimitar is co-founder in The Old Cellar company, exporting fine Bulgarian wine for the UK market. With WSET graduate himself, Dimitar is the co-founder of Wine and Spirits Academy Bulgaria (WSAB) Bulgaria, teaching WSET courses.
If you are bubbles wine lover try our:
|Brut, 2011, Edoardo Miroglio, Thracian Valley, Bulgaria|
|Made by the classic Champagne method with 24 months ageing on the lees. Aromas of lemon, white fruits and brioche, with creamy fine mousse in the mouth, showing lots of freshness and elegance and a very good mineral character.
Drink as an aperitif, with salads or seafood dishes.
If you are a white wine lover try our:
|Sauvignon Blanc, 2015, Tsarev Brod Winery, Danube Plain, Bulgaria|
|The grapes for this great white were picked mid-September 2015, then pressed and fermented in small stainless steel tanks under control temperature for 30 days, followed by further ageing on the lees for another 6 months. It has light golden colour with green hues, the palate is very fresh, with expressive herbaceous, grassy and fruity notes.
Crisp medium body with very good length and fine citrusy finish. Drink with seafood, shellfish or salads.
|Great Terroirs Cuvée Bella Rada, 2016, Borovitza Winery, Danube Plain, Bulgaria https://www.theoldcellar.com/cuvee-bella-rada-2016-borovitza-winery-oc607/
|Hand-picked blend of Rkatsiteli and Aligote from 55-58 years old vineyards on 6 milion years’ old sandstone rocky soils. Minimal intervention in the winemaking, no sulphites used.
Floral nose with light spices on the background, intense and vibrant, with lively citrus and white flower notes combined with good backbone of acidity bringing more freshness. Drink with roast chicken, fish dishes or Asian food.
|“Z” Chardonnay, 2015, Zelanos Winery, Black Sea Coast, Bulgaria|
The grapes are sourced from Zelanos winery’s own vineyard Bash Koliba near the village of Slavyantsi, Black Sea coast. Aged for 12 months in oak barrels, with deep golden colour, notes of ripe yellow fruits, butter and toasted hazelnuts on the nose, clean stony palate, bold but incisive with bright citrus fruit notes. Very good textural presence over well integrated oaky notes on the finish. Drink with fish dishes, pork fillet or roast chicken.
If you are a rosé lover try our:
|Mourvèdre & Grenache Rosé, 2016, Alexandra Estate, Thracian Valley, Bulgaria|
The grapes are sourced from Oreshetz village vineyard, near the town of Harmanli in the Thracian valley, hand-picked in small crates and fermented at low temperature in stainless steel tanks. Alexandra estate’s rosé has a pale salmon pink colour with intense nose of ripe berries, finely balanced on the palate with soft red fruit notes combined with bright acidity, clean and fresh, with a nice depth. Drink with fresh seafood and summer salads.
If you are a red wine lover try our our:
|Organic Merlot & Mavrud “Ares”, 2015, Neragora Winery, Thracian Valley, Bulgaria|
A blend of 60% Merlot and 40% Mavrud made by Azzolini family’s Neragora estate. The name Ares derives from the ancient Thracian God, later adopted by Greek mythology as a divinity of war. Bright red in colour with intense nose of rich fruits and spices, very ruity on the palate with a good balance, delicate tannins and a long finish. Drink with red meats or pasta with rich sauces.
|Enira Neipperg Selection, 2014, Domaine Bessa Valley, Thracian Valley, Bulgaria
|Made from 82% Merlot, 12% Syrah, 4% Petit Verdot and 2% Cabernet Sauvignon picked from domaine Bessa Valley’s own vineyards near Ognyanovo village and matured for 12 months in French oak barrels – both new & old. It has a vivid, deep garnet colour and intense notes of dried berries, cherries and vanilla on the nose. The palate is well-balanced and juicy, with velvet tannins, impressing with richness of aromas of nuts and wild berries, very pleasant and harmonious aftertaste. Drink with grilled red meat, lamb or pork.
|Merul Estate Selection Reserve, 2010, Rumelia Winery, Thracian Valley, Bulgaria
|Picked from Rumelia’s own old vineyards near the historic town of Panagyurishte – a lovely mature red that combines the advantages of the ancient Bulgarian variety Mavrud with the classic Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Matured for over 12 months in French oak casks and developed complex bouquet of ripe black fruits, dry leaves, vanilla, tobacco and spices, very long and refined finish. Drink with roast beef, steaks, venison.|
For more advice and inspiration on where to start your Bulgarian wine love affaire visit: The Old Cellar: www.theoldcellar.com