Ancient History & Timeless Beauty In Europe’s Undiscovered Wine Country
Credit: Wine Tourist Magazine, published March 2016
Bulgaria is a timeless country located at the crossroad between Europe and Asia, nestled between Greece, Turkey, Macedonia, Romania and Serbia. A magical place where century-old traditions are a core element of life, ancient history and cultural heritage are the pride of the nation, the mountainous landscapes are beautiful and rugged, and where food and wine are wholesome, flavourful and distinctive.
Meet The Thracians (The History Of Bulgarian Wine)
Bulgaria is one of the oldest wine producing areas in the world with evidence of wine production dating back to 4000 BCE. The Bulgarian lands were then inhabited by the Thracians – numerous tribes who worshipped wine as a divine drink. Thracian wine was even mentioned in Homer’s The Illiad as the finest wine in the known world.
It is believed that the world’s first documented wine appellation was designated in current-day Bulgaria when in the second century CE emperor Antonius Pius proclaimed the vineyards in Lower Mizia (now northern Bulgaria) as protected.
The winemaking tradition in Bulgaria continued through the intervening centuries. The Bulgarian wine industry peaked in the 1970s when Bulgaria was one of the world’s largest exporters of wine and declined after the fall of communism in the 1990s. Following Bulgaria’s accession to the EU in 2007, a number of small and medium-sized boutique wineries began to appear on the Bulgarian wine map. The quality of their work is acknowledged by the fact that Bulgarian wines are the most awarded wines in Central and Eastern Europe. The same boutique wineries are also the drivers of wine tourism development in Bulgaria.
Bulgarian Wine Regions
There are 262 wine producers spread out over Bulgaria’s five wine regions, 52 PDOs (Protected Designation of Origin) and 2 PGIs (Protected Geographical Indication), which are EU quality schemes for agricultural products and food products. The Thracian Valley wine region is the region with the highest concentration of wineries.
Local Grape Varieties
There are 44 local grape varieties in Bulgaria – 22 red and 22 white varieties. Not all of them are actively used in wine production but interesting grape varieties utilized for winemaking are:
Mavrud: an ancient red grape variety, mainly grown in the Plovdiv area. The wines are dark, strong and develop nicely in contact with oak.
Rubin: a hybrid between the grape varieties nebbiolo and syrah. Rubin wines have a deep ruby colour and typical aroma of berries and are sometimes blended with Mavrud for a 100% Bulgarian blend.
Shiroka Melnishka Loza (+ Melnik 55): a red grape variety endemic to the Melnik area. There are different hybrid varieties created from this grape variety, such as Melnik 55. An interesting note is that Winston Churchill usually purchased 500 liters of Melnik wine each year
Dimyat: a white grape variety cultivated mainly along the Black Sea coast, used for the production of dry white wines and cognac distillate.
Tamianka: an old white grape, which is rather difficult to work with and thus, rare to find. Tamianka wines are fresh with aromas of spring flowers and citrus fruits.
Cherven Misket [Red Misket]: used for high quality white wines. There are different geographical variations of the grape in Bulgaria. The various Misket wines are sweet and floral.
Zina Sorenson is a wine enthusiast, small-business owner, sustainable tourism advocate, social media aficionado, travel fanatic and food lover. Besides managing her company Bulgaria Wine Tours, she spends her time trying to raise awareness of Bulgaria as a destination for alternative tourism.