The wine market in Bulgaria is rich enough to offer a few years of discoveries
Issue 49-50, October-November 2010
by Gergana Manolova
In Bulgaria, the end of one year and the beginning of the next signifies the start of a serious wine drinking marathon. This usually happens not only because of Christmas and New Year celebrations, but also because of the many name days such as Dimitrovden on 26 October, Arhangelovden on 8 November, Nikulden on 6 December, Stefanovden on 27 December, and Vasilyovden on 1 January. Even if you have only lived in Bulgaria for a short while, you will be surprised how many acquaintances you have who celebrate on one of those days. What is more, they simply insist that you have to come and celebrate with them. Get ready – wine features heavily in all kinds of celebrations in Bulgaria. It's part of the tradition.
Bulgaria was a grape-growing land as far back as the time of the Thracians, some 2,500 years ago. The temperate climate, moderate rainfall and many hours of sunshine per year provide the perfect conditions for various sorts of vines and different methods of production. Rakiya is one of the results and, while much of it is homemade, giving rise to newspaper articles about alcohol poisoning as a result of inadequate preparation, its reputation as a national drink comes second to that of wine.
In Bulgaria wine-making is the first priority of over 300 private producers, who are steadily gaining popularity. In some cases, as much as 80 percent of the production is exported and the rest of the wine is released on the internal market. This tactic sometimes achieves the paradoxical result of a brand being easier to find abroad rather than in Bulgaria – unless you know the producer.
Things are changing, however, as more and more people within the country begin to appreciate high-quality wines and the market for them is steadily on the rise. Many renowned styles such as Chardonnay, Traminer, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Riesling are grown here, but the local varieties such as Mavrud and Gamza also deserve your attention.
Almost every plain and lowland in Bulgaria has a characteristic wine-producing region, because of the diverse climate. If you are looking for a particular taste, then a wine cellar from this area usually delivers it. The Black Sea region is home to 30 percent of all vines and is particularly well known for its whites. This is the place where you can find good Traminer and Sauvignon blanc wines thanks to the warm and mild autumn, which results in a higher concentration of sugar in the grape.
Several famous styles grow in the Danubian Plain, with its sunny days and hot summer. The local Gamza was once an important part of Hungary's famous Bull's Blood wine, but now its production is limited there, unlike in Bulgaria. You could also try also the blends with Aligoté, which came from Burgundy but is now twice as much grown in Bulgaria as it is in its place of origin.
The terroir in the Rose Valley, just south of the Stara planina, is also suitable for many white-grape styles such as Riesling and Rkatsiteli, used to produce dry wine. An interesting local variety, grown in the Sungurlare Valley, is the Red Misket, which has a pink to violet skin colour but is blended into white wines. A little to the south is the Thracian Lowland with its Mediterranean climate, where red grape styles such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Mavrud and Merlot are grown. The wines produced in this area are suitable for the winter because of their strong and warm taste.
70 years ago, on 10 March 1943, Bulgaria's pro-Nazi government decided to defy Berlin and halt the deportation of Bulgaria's 50.000 Jews. This was down to the actions of one man - Dimitar Peshev. Just two years later he faced Communist justice and found himself on trial for his life. His niece Kaluda Kiradjieva remembers