The Flavors of Bulgaria

One can tell a country’s history by its food. The same is true for its wine. It is very telling of the culture and its people, and a great example of this is Bulgaria. Together with beer and a fruit brandy called rakia, wine is among the most popular beverage choices in the country.

Bulgaria used to be the second largest producer of wine in the 1970s and 1980s. Some would even argue that the Bulgarian variety was the basic red for all wine drinkers back then. But what’s interesting is how Bulgaria came to produce some of the best wine varieties even if it lacked the natural materials traditionally required for winemaking. It even went on to be one of the largest suppliers of wine to the Soviet Union and the United Kingdom.

Bulgarian Wine Regions

The country is divided into several wine regions each with its specialties and brands. Among the regions of viticulture are the following:

Black Sea Coastal – It is in this region where around 30% of Bulgaria’s vineyards are located. The region enjoys long and mild autumns, creating a favorable condition for the cultivation of sugars necessary to make fine whites. Some of the variants include the Dimyat, Riesling, Muscat Ottonel, Ugni Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc and Traminer.

Valley of the Roses – It includes the Sungurlare Valley, which mainly grows “Red Musket”, designated for the production of dry and semi-dry wines. Some of the varieties cultivated here are the Muscatel Riesling, Cabernet, Sauvignon and Merlot. More white wines are produced here.

Thracian Valley – This region has its large share of vineyards as well (around 35%) and is known for its own local variety of wine, the Mavrud. The temperate continental climate in the area and the good distribution of precipitation create the best conditions for the cultivation of red wines. The Balkan Mountain serves to block the cold winds from Russia, and its neighboring areas provide a Mediterranean climate with its mild, rainy winters and warm, dry summers – the best conditions for producing wine. The Americans have coined the term “Thracian Valley condition” to describe other areas with similar conditions.

Struma Valley – This Bulgarian region includes the southwestern parts of the country. Though smaller in size, it possesses the idyllic Mediterranean climate deemed as one of the best conditions for the cultivation of wine. Some of the wine varieties produced here are the Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. They also produce local originals such as the Shiroka Melnishka Ioza, used for the production of dry and semi-dry wines and described to “have a full taste, with spicy southern tones.”

Wine Varieties

Unlike other wine-producing countries such as Germany, Italy, and France, much of Bulgarian wine is produced from a variety of grapes grown in its many wine regions. As a result, they have produced the following unique varieties of wine:

Mavrud – Commonly referred to as the dark horse for its deep ruby color, it is a soft-tasting wine typically produced in small sizes because of its low yield and late ripening. It has a distinct spicy and fruity flavor and is appreciated for its high quality, remarkable maturing potential and local character.

Broad-leaved Melnik – Otherwise known as just Melnik and named after Bulgaria’s smallest town, and made from the late-ripening broad-leaved grapes, this variety offers a distinct Mediterranean flavor. It is described to have a captivating taste comparable to that of the Châteauneuf-du-Pap of Southeastern France, but with distinct tobacco and leather hints.

Dimyat – Often called the white perfume for its aroma, it is produced from Bulgaria’s most widely-grown white grapes. Dimyat wine is usually not aged and offers a sweet taste coupled with strong aroma and a light body which makes it suitable as an everyday dessert wine.

Pamid – This antique Bulgarian red wine classic is the counterpart of the Dimyat in that it’s produced from the most widely-grown red grape varietal. It is often consumed young as table wine and offers a pleasant and light fruity taste, a fitting companion for heavy meals.

Pelin – Pelin is not a grape wine but is produced using wormwood. It can be made into either white or red wine and has lower alcohol content. It is typically enjoyed in winters as its stimulating effect is suitable to get through the cold days.

Keratsuda – Keratsuda is produced from a native white grape variety and has a characteristic golden color which quickly turns rose-amber once the bottle is opened. It has a light, refreshing, and gentle astringency with an intense aroma.

Gamza – Gamza is grown from a red grape variety similar to those found in Hungary and Romania. This wine offers a harmonious, fresh and gentle fruity taste comparable with the Pinot Noir.

It is unfortunate that Bulgarian wine production has declined over the past two decades following the collapse of the totalitarian movement in Russia, its primary importer. Businesses and wine producers in Bulgaria had to stop operations.