If you’ll be in Bulgaria and you take pleasure in wine, taking a tour of a wine area is a superb day journey or in a single day journey choice.
Not solely is touring a wine area or areas a superb method to achieve entry to and style wines from smaller wineries you may by no means discover in any other case however it’ll additionally take you into some lovely elements of Bulgaria. And who doesn’t like a wine street journey?
Picture courtesy of Positive European Wines
The 2 areas I visited have been the Melnik and Struma Valley and South Sakar wine areas. Melnik and the Struma Valley (they’re lumped collectively as one area) are within the Southwest, solely a few hours drive from Sofia. South Sakar is within the Southeast and is lower than a few hours drive from Plovdiv, a tiny charming metropolis that sits atop a lately found historic Roman metropolis. Each Melnik and South Sakar are technically situated inside the Thracian Valley (a really giant area designation in Bulgaria).
These two areas are largely thought-about to be the 2 areas producing wines with probably the most potential and, as each are pretty close to main cities you may already be visiting if in Bulgaria, they’re nicely value looking for out.
The view as you we you drive into Melnik…
The wineries in Melnik are a bit extra developed for tourism functions and the world is a bit simpler to navigate and see all of the wineries inside a small period of time in addition to discover a restaurant to cease for lunch at or a lodge by which to remain in a single day.
The area could be very scorching and dry and as such, tends to supply wines which might be excessive in alcohol. However, Bulgarians like greater, heavier extra highly effective wines (no less than that is nonetheless the place nearly all of the Bulgarian market’s palates lean at present) so though the worldwide development for consuming extra and extra white wines and Rose has began to impact the wine market right here as nicely, massive reds are nonetheless a serious focus for many wineries.
Along with greater reds additionally, you will high-quality off-dry (barely candy) white wines, dry white wines and rosé. Winemaking strategies are more and more trendy and the grape choice is sort of worldwide (you’ll see Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet and so on) so to pinpoint one thing that Melnik does a lot in another way than different areas is troublesome at first. Nevertheless, there are specific grapes which might be actually solely used on this area in Bulgaria and these grapes are very totally different than any others I’ve ever tasted.
The grapes are Melnik 55 and Shiroka Melnik.
Melnik 55-A hybrid of the native Shiroka Melnik and a mixture of French varieties (Durif, Jurançon, Valdiguié and Cabernet Sauvignon) created in 1963 with the target of getting an earlier ripening Melnik grape. When oaked (with some new oak) this grape could make fairly an inky, heavy wine. In case you are a Rioja or Ribera del Duero drinker-this is perhaps the Bulgarian grape for you.
Shiroka Melnik –Translated as ‘broad leaved’ melnik, this grape has been cultivated since historic occasions within the Struma Valley. It has a purple fruit-forwardness (with some baking spices or tobacco) and medium physique with extra delicate tannins and tar notes than Melnik 55.
Villa Melnik, Orbelus and Orbelia are a few of the principally extremely beneficial wineries on this area. All have their promoting points-but I liked the nice and cozy welcome and effusiveness of proprietor Nicolay at Villa Melnik, the normal inside of the tasting room at Orbelia and the distinctive barrel formed constructing at Orbelus.
Inside tasting room at Orbelia
See my notes on extra of the Bulgarian grapes and wines I sampled right here.
South Sakar and Bulgarian Wine Tours
South Sakar (in what’s often referred to as the Sakar and Japanese Rhodopes wine area) is just not an space that has been developed for tourism and that is clear once you drive across the area and try to go to wineries. There’s not a lodge close by nor many choices for good eating places. There are a complete of 9 wineries on this area at present and out of these 9 wineries a lot of the wineries are very small and some don’t have amenities to simply obtain guests. That stated, that is a part of the appeal of the area.
South Sakar is a area during which taking a tour with an area information or firm, like Zina and Vasil of Bulgarian Wine Tours is very beneficial. They may make the calls to the wineries so that you can arrange the occasions on your tastings and organize for lunch to be cooked and served at one of many bigger wineries whereas different winemakers from smaller wineries come and share their wines with you. It’s a shut knit group and most vineyard house owners and winemakers are associates who get collectively and style and examine notes recurrently.
Maria, winemaker at Bratanov vineyard with a Chardonnay-Tamianka mix in her glass…
On my journey to the area, I used to be fortunate sufficient to satisfy with all the key wineries and winemakers doing thrilling issues within the area in addition to do barrel tastings of numerous totally different wines in several types of oak. I discovered a lot about Bulgarian grapes and what circumstances sure grapes (like Mavrud) want to succeed in their full potential because of being pulled proper into the guts of the area’s winemaker group by my superb hosts, Zina and Vasil.
South Sakar is (slowly) up and coming and the small wineries making wonderful high quality wine there have been began by devoted and passionate individuals who’ve labored for many years within the wine business and now lastly are operating wineries of their very own.
Take, for example, Iliana and Kamen of Villa Bassarea. Iliana is the winemaker at close by Chateau Kolarovo but in addition runs Villa Bassarea with her husband. They’ve been working within the wine business for 20 years and now have their very own firm. Like many unbiased non-billionaire winemakers within the New World (and Bulgaria’s wine business rather more intently resembles the New World than the Previous regardless of the age of the nation) they made wine in different individuals’s amenities for a few years earlier than with the ability to have their very own area.
You possibly can see the worth they place on and the enjoyment they really feel in lastly having their very own vineyard and manufacturing facility.
The wines from Villa Bassarea (made by Kamen) in addition to from Chateau Kolarovo (made by Iliana) are nicely balanced and elegant. From the dry, pristeen & fairly Rosés to the pink blends and varietal reds these two winemakers have a knack for mixing, a light-weight contact when it come to oak and an eye fixed for element with regards to sugar ranges and ripeness of the grapes in addition to winemaking methods within the cellar. Their wines are clear. No main funk or wafting aromas of barnyard meet your nostrils once you delve right into a glass of the Bassarea Syrah. And, the Kolarovo Merlot and Cab Franc mix is clean, plum & blackberry spice with construction and balanced tannins.
The fruit, the winemaking and the vessel (Bulgarian or French oak in various ranges of latest versus impartial and so on) take the stage at Bassarea and Kolarovo.
*A tasting area to host guests at Villa Bassarea is presently within the works (subsequent door to the vineyard)-but for now you possibly can style with owner-winemaker Kamen within the cozy barrel room inside their manufacturing facility.
This small household owned operation is presently being run out of a rented facility although they’ve their very own vineyards. Tanya and Hristo (husband and spouse group) have introduced on winemaker/eonologist Maria to make the wines and their efforts are being rewarded.
Amongst my favorites of the Bratanov wines have been the South Sakar Hills mix (Cabernet franc, Merlot and Rubin) and their Chardonnay-Tamianka mix. Tamianka is a grape that I discovered to be perfumey in most situations however mixing it with the Chardonnay actually toned down the overt perfuminess and added a mid-palate weight (although nonetheless a crisp, refreshing lighter bodied wine) that labored rather well. It’s clear that these guys are usually not simply throwing widespread grapes in a barrel and checking international tendencies to determine what else to make or how a lot to oak, and so on. Which is a follow all too widespread now-in nations making an attempt to seize a bit of the worldwide wine market pie.
They’re actually taking a look at what varietals work greatest within the terroir they’ve, what sort of blends improve high quality, what sort of oak and how a lot oak advantages sure wines, and so on. And, most importantly-they are making what they need to drink.
A lot of the Bratanov wines are made in very small quantities-often solely a pair or a number of barrels. So, should you get an opportunity to attempt a bottle, you’re actually getting one thing particular. A style of South Sakar.
Extra info on the South Sakar area:
It’s a pity that there’s not but a functioning web site that gives info particular to South Sakar however it’s within the works!
Passionate younger winemakers and South Sakar ambassadors reminiscent of Svilen Georgiev from Malkata Zvezda Vineyard who’re decided to make this area extra accessible, know that info is essential to serving to develop the popularity of their area. Info and…….a lodge/restaurant that’s. And that’s within the works too, on the Malkata Zvezda property!
Give this space 10 years and I feel you’ll be amazed at what you see. Like most up and coming areas it takes loads of onerous work and a few years to develop not solely the infrastructure in however the consciousness of a area to actually begin attracting individuals and getting them to take the time to go to and study concerning the variations between areas and sub-regions.
I keep in mind when nobody had heard of Sonoma County and had solely (perhaps) ever heard of a spot referred to as Napa when it got here to wine and vineyards in California.
Simply an instance of how a lot issues can change over a decade or two!
A couple of Bulgarian wine area assets (in English):
Wine Folly-Get to Know Bulgarian Wines
Bulgaria Wine Tours ‘Get to Know Bulgaria’ assets
Weblog Publish: The Appeal of the South Sakar