Bulmer on Bulgaria—
One of the wonderful things about buying wine for a living is the amazing places that I end up getting the opportunity to visit but a recent trip to Bulgaria was one that will stick with me for a very long time…
Situated between Turkey, Greece, Macedonia, Serbia, Romania and the Black Sea, Bulgaria is a small country which I knew nothing about and had never visited before, until now. To be entirely honest, before going there I likely wouldn’t have been able to say anything more specific than “It’s in Eastern Europe” if I was asked to tell you all I knew about it. I’ve since fallen totally in love with the place and haven’t shut up about it since.
When I got the opportunity to spend a few days out there, in order to explore some of the country’s wonderful wineries and vineyards, I leapt at it. Not ever being one who likes to turn down an opportunity to make a discovery and tick another country off the list (and sample a local beer too, where possible) I piled myself on a plane and left rainy London for sunny Sofia.
I had been to Romania a few weeks before and found that to be an eye-opening experience, one which can only be likened to stepping back in time, especially when you head out into the countryside. Since I had absolutely no idea what to expect of Bulgaria I foolishly assumed that since it borders Romania it would be the same sort of thing but how wrong I was! What I discovered was a complete hidden treasure and a cultural melting pot, with influences from many of its neighbours but especially Greece to the south. Bulgaria is a mountainous, green, luscious country, with wonderfully hospitable people and some delicious wines which I urge you to seek out and try for yourself. The remarkable thing though is the incredible value which can be found in Bulgaria. In fact this is why you should definitely head there on a holiday because compared to prices in the UK, it’s a complete bargain! The first night was spent in Sofia, the capital and ever since I have been desperate to head back here for a long city-break weekend as it’s bursting with amazing places to eat and drink along with a rich history and great vibe. One night there was not enough to satisfy my new-found love.
During the four-day trip we visited a whole host of different wineries, from big producers such as Domaine Boyar and Domain Menada, to remarkable smaller producers such as Villa Melnik, Rumelia, Via Vinera and Zelanos.
What always interests me when heading to a country like Bulgaria is their local and historic grape varieties and I was just as keen to see what they were capable of in Bulgaria.
While there is a huge amount of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay and other well known “international” grape varieties grown in Bulgaria, I was mostly interested in the likes of Mavrud, Melnik, Rubin, Bouquet, Dimiat and Misket Cherven.
Villa Melnik takes its name from the Melnik region in which the winery is situated and so does the grape, Melnik. Although just to be even more confusing the grape comes in two different guises; Broadleaved Melnik and Melnik 55 – both of which, in the right hands, make full-bodied red wines. Broadleaved Melnik unsurprisingly has very broad leaves. Huge in fact! When I asked the charismatic man behind Villa Melnik, Nikola Zikatanov why the leaves were so huge, he explained that in Roman times, when vine leaves were used to cover the “equipment” on a statue of a chap, it was found that for Bulgarian men the standard French or Italian vineleaf was simply not big enough… I didn’t ask so many more questions after that!
Regardless of the size of the leaf, if you like a medium to full-bodied red wine then look out for a Broadleaved Melnik or Melnik 55 from Villa Melnik in the Melnik region of Bulgaria because if nothing else it should be easy to remember!
If white wine is more your thing, then keep an eye out for Misket Cherven. It’s also known as “Red Misket” which is appropriately confusing since it’s a white wine grape but then life would be boring if it was too easy. This grape can make some wonderfully charming, soft and gluggable white wines.
The thing which struck me the most, aside from the delicious food, wonderful people, stunningly beautiful landscape, gorgeous weather (I could go on…) was just how diverse the wines were and at such an amazing price too. If you haven’t already, seek out some of these Bulgarian beauties but even better still, book a flight to Sofia and see it for yourself!