Discovering the wine region of Bulgaria
Bulgaria, while far from the most famous or prestigious of the world's wine-producing nations, certainly ranks among the most prolific. This Eastern European country has a long history of viticulture, and its wine has more to offer than the sea of cheap reds (mostly Cabernet Sauvignon) that flowed westward in the 1980s would suggest.
The country now has a growing number of promising wine pioneers, but perhaps the most remarkable era of Bulgarian viticulture dates back to the mid-14th century, just before the once-mighty Bulgarian Empire began to fragment and cede power to the Ottomans. Bulgarian art, more than 1,000 years old, depicts wine as part of Bulgarian culture, especially among the ruling classes.
A remarkable painting from 811 AD shows the Bulgarian monarch Khan Krum drinking wine from the skull of the Byzantine emperor Nicephorus I, his opponent at the Battle of Pliska. Today, Khan Krum's cellar in the Black Sea region bears his name.
Bulgaria is gradually regaining its identity as a modern wine-producing nation, discovering new terroirs, grape varieties and styles. It has yet to establish a distinctive "Bulgarian" wine style, opting instead for reliable and marketable names such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, Riesling and Muscat.
These French varieties were introduced to Bulgaria in the 1960s, at the height of the communist regime, and their productivity earned them a place in many Bulgarian vineyards. They quickly replaced traditional varieties such as Kadarka (Gamza), Mavrud and Melnik.
Only two sub-regions have been officially recognized by the EU at PGI level, which is roughly equivalent to a French PGI or an Italian PGI. These are
- The Danube plains, including the northern part of the Black Sea region
- The Thracian lowlands, including the Struma valley and the southern part of the Black Sea region
In addition, there are 52 designations at PDO level (PDO/DO/DOC).