Bulgaria has three thousand years of vinous history. This gem in Southeast Europe has the same latitude as Italy, France and Spain, and its proximity to the Mediterranean means growing grapes here is easy.
Still, little is known about Bulgarian wine, and we don’t see it all that much in the international market. It’s time to talk about Bulgarian wines. The sixth largest country in Europe has more than a few surprises for wine lovers and enthusiasts alike. Let’s talk about the history of wine in Bulgaria, its regions and wine grapes.
The History of Wine in Bulgaria
Although people have lived in Bulgaria for 150,000 years, we can trace winemaking in the area back to the 12th century BC, when the Thracians established in the area. The sophisticated civilization developed viticulture even before the Greeks, and, according to ancient historians, the wine was good! Eventually, the Romans colonized Bulgaria, but the wine scene didn’t suffer; instead, it thrived.
Fast-forward to the mid-20th century, Bulgaria fell under the influence of the Soviet Union, and by the 1980s, the country was the fourth largest wine importer worldwide. The fall of communism hit Bulgaria hard, and without Soviet support, its wine industry crumbled.
It took the might of talented and enthusiastic grape growers and winemakers, and the help of the west, to bring Bulgarian wine back on its feet. Everything started to go uphill by the turn of the century, and now, Bulgarian wine is back. This time not as a wine powerhouse but as a niche source of fine wine at competitive prices.
Bulgarian Wine Grapes
Bulgaria has an extraordinary terroir for growing wine grapes, and the country is home to several local varietals not found anywhere else. Still, winemakers in the country, in dire need of recovering from their Soviet era, betted on international grape varieties that would ensure a quick return on their investment by luring the western palate.
Two popular red grapes, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon are the most planted international varieties in the country’s 150,000 hectares of vines. Still, the most grown variety in Bulgaria is local, Pamid — a thin-skinned red variety that produces fruity, everyday wines. Gamza, Melnik and Mavrud are popular too. Other local varieties include the whites Rkatsiteli, Dimyat and Muscat Ottonel.
The question is: will the market fall in love with Bulgaria’s recently adopted international varieties? Or will it be more excited about Bulgaria’s native grapes?
Bulgarian Wine Regions
The Bulgarian government established five wine regions in 1960, the Danubian Plain (North Bulgaria), Black Sea region (East), Rose Valley (south of the Balkans), Thracian Lowland (South) and Struma River Valley (Southwest). Still, only two regions are recognized by the European Union as Protected Geographical Indications (PGI), which cover most of the appellations above:
Danubian Plains. This region covers almost all northern Bulgaria. The grapes Pamid, Kadarka, Cabernet and Merlot are popular, and the whites Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Muscat are trendy. Wine to try: Bononia Estate ‘Gomotartzi’ Gamza, Danubian Plains, Bulgaria
Thracian Lowlands. This appellation covers most of southern Bulgaria. Red grapes also dominate the area, from which the local Mavrud performs better. White wine is also significant in this vast area. Of course, in such a wide territory, many micro-climates are suitable for growing different grapes and making varied wine styles.
Wines to try:
Make Bulgarian Wines Part of Your Life
Bulgarian wine is hard to find — it’s still unavailable in most markets. Still, the quality is better than ever, and the country’s quality-price ratio is unbeatable. Visiting Bulgaria is still the best way to appreciate the country’s wine styles and local specialties, but you won’t have to wait long before seeing a few Bulgarian wines on the shelves near you. Despite having thousands of years of winemaking history, Bulgaria is just being reborn.
Big Hammer Wines
The wine experts at Big Hammer Wines taste thousands of wines every year from around the globe, looking for quality and value. This special offer reflects the passion we have for our clients.