Although wines have been produced in Bulgaria for thousands of years, only recently, following the collapse of the communism regime, has a quality revolution been on the move. I recently visited this beautiful country and would like to share with you the latest trends in this booming wine industry.
Regions and grapes:
As a wine producing country, Bulgaria is quite small, with only 60,000 hectares of vineyards, half the size of Bordeaux. Forty plus grape varieties are planted, divided equally for white (22) and red (22). Slightly over 60% of the vineyard is planted to red, with international varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot dominating (30%).
Local red grape varieties such as Mavrud, Melnick 55 and Rubin remain important for quantity and quality wines. As for whites, indigenous varieties like Dimyat, Misket and Buket complement the classic international gapes Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.
The Balkan Mountains divides the country in half. Simply put, you will hear of the Danube plain (cooler climate) in the northern half of the country and the Thracian Valley to the south. But the reality of climate/terroir variations announces five (5) wine producing districts: Danube Plain (21%) and Thracian Valley (41%), but also to the west end the country the Black Sea Coast (19%), on the eastern border with Macedonia, Struma Valley (15%) and in the center of the country just south of the Balkan Mountains, Rose Valley (4%).
In search of a new image:
Bulgaria is quickly changing its image. Until 1989 Bulgaria was a bulk wine producer exporting huge amounts of low quality wine to Russia. Today high quality boutique wineries are popping up everywhere in the major wine producing districts. Bulgaria now has 260 officially registered wineries. Exports are booming! According to the Bulgarian Economy Minister, wine exports have risen by nearly 13% in 2017.
Producers and wines :
Todoroff Winery: Originally created in 1945, this winery was purchased by Ivan Todoroff in 2001. Located in the eastern Thracian Valley, Todoroff winery is also a five star Hotel and Spa. It focuses on producing high quality reds from Mavrud, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Three quality levels: Boutique, Gallery and Teres plus three (3) Reserve wines. Eighteen (18) wines tasted. Best results:
Mavrud Teres 2016 : Ripe dark berry fruit, some new oak. Quite full and flavourful. Good aging potential. Score: 90/100
Merlot Teres 2016: Some new oak, good extract and concentration. Bursting with field berry scents. Typical soft texture with good aging potential. Score 91/100
Thracian Mystery Reserve 2016: An original blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (40%), Mavrud, Merlot and Syrah. Hint of smoke, new oak and ripe berry scents. Full bodied, with good extract and structure. Excellent aging potential. Score : 93/100
Midalidare Winery: Located near the town of Mogilovo in the Starazegora region in the Thracian Valley. A very young winery that focuses on high quality reds and whites Midalidare winery is aslo an upscale Hotel and Spa. The first vintage was released in 2009. A new building presently in construction will focus on traditional Champagne method sparkling wines. Midalidare owns 160 hectares of wines planted only to International varieties with some amazing cuvées from Syrah and Malbec. Special mention to the amazing winemaking team headed by the passionate Aleksandar Aleksiev.
Twenty-six (26) wines tasted. Best results: many outstanding wines
Malbec Mogilovo Vineyard 2016 : Opaque black cherry color. Rich and powerful but remains elegant. Great structure and aging potential. Score: 94/100
Syrah Dobovitz Vineyard 2016: Tons of ripe berry fruit with anise and pepper. A very elegant and perfectly balanced red for long aging. Superb! Score : 93/100
Sauvignon Blanc Premium Selection 2017: Intense nose, in a style reminiscent of New-Zealand: citrus, guava and tomato vine. Very flavourful, lively with good length. Score: 90/100
Villa Yustina Winery: The winery is located in the village of Ustina at the base of the Rhodopi Mountains in the eastern Thracian Valley. Vila Yustina is also a very young winery, 2006 was its first vintage. It owns and manages 42 hectares of wines planted mainly to International varieties. Excellent quality wines that will only get better as the vineyards gain in age. This area is said to be the birthplace of the indigenous Mavrud grape. Also grown is the Rubin variety, which is a cross of Syrah and Nebbiolo. Fifteen (15) wines tasted. Best results:
Reserve Red 2013 : a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Franc with Merlot and Pinot Noir matured 14 months in French oak. Full and rich with some firm tannins for long aging. Score: 90/100
Monogram Red 2013: a blend of Mavrud and Rubin, aged 18 months in Bulgarian oak. Lots of extract, in a more rustic style with powdery tannins. Good aging potential. Score: 89/100
Monogram White 2016: A barrel fermented Chardonnay in a very «New World» style. Ripe, full with soft acidity and a sweet oaky finish. Matured 7 months in French oak. Score: 88/100
Black Sea Gold Winery: Established in 1932, this large scale winery owns 650 hectares of vineyards on the Black Sea Coast. It produces very good quality wines at all price points. But this winery is especially reputed for it spirits: amazing Brandies and great Rakia, the local spirit often compared to Grappa. Sixteen products tasted. Best results:
Arte Ante Special Reserve 2014: Aged in French oak this lovely red blend is well balanced, supple with good length and aging potential. Score: 89/100
Rakia Burgas (Muscat) 7 year old: A superb example of this local spirit. Rich and perfumy with a charming velvety texture. Score: 92/100
Vintage 2002 XO Brandy : Complex nose with hints of caramel. Sweet velvety finish. Intensely flavourful. Score: 93/100
Photo: Nick Hamilton