BULGARIA IS BACK

By Rose Murray Brown MW  Published in The Scotsman 6 April 2024

Bulgaria was one of the first countries in the modern wine world to sell its wines by varietal labelling – with the grape name clearly emblazoned on the front label – a practice which was swiftly taken up by the New World countries.

Back in early 1990s Bulgarian Cabernet Sauvignon was one of the UK’s biggest selling supermarket wines, long before New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, Australian Chardonnay, Chilean Merlot or Argentinian Malbec appeared on the scene.

Thirty years on Bulgaria is back.  Following the fall of communism and land restitution, the Bulgarians very gradually began to restructure their industry and vineyards – and since then the wine offering has changed dramatically.

The grim communist wineries and vast collectivised vineyards with wide spacing and high-trained vines designed for soviet tractors and volume production are long gone. They have been replaced by artisan boutique family-owned wineries with modern technology, carefully tended vineyards and hand-crafted wines – aided by EU and foreign investment.

Today Bulgaria, which incidentally has a long wine history dating back 7000 years, has 60,000 hectares of vineyards – but surprisingly only 29,000 hectares are used for wine grapes (60% red/40% white) by the 280+ registered wineries – the remaining vineyards are abandoned or neglected.

Ninety-nine different grape varieties are planted in Bulgaria with a mix of both international and local grapes.  Most popular red is Merlot, followed by Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah with local Mavrud, Rubin, Melnik, Pamid, Buket and Gamza (aka Kadarka) which thrive in the warm continental climate.  The most planted whites include Muscat Ottonel, Chardonnay and Rkatsiteli – with local grapes Red Misket, Dimyat and Keratsuda.

With just two PGIs (Danube Plain in the north and Thracian Lowlands in the south) it is might be easy to understand, but according to Caroline Gilby MW author of an excellent book (The Wines of Bulgaria, Romania & Moldova www.infiniteideas.com £30) this needs to change, due to the diversity of microclimates and soils within the PGIs.  In her book Gilby also comments that in Bulgaria there is also a thriving ‘home-made wine’ market to contend with and there is an education job to be done, particularly with the older generation, who believe that homemade wine styles (with all their faults) are part of their authentic cultural heritage, rather than modern clean commercial wines.

For us in the UK, Bulgarian wine is not as cheap as it used to be – as it now has to compete with Western Europe.  Land might be less expensive there, but they have to employ trained winemakers, buy vine stocks, vineyard and winery equipment, bottles and bottling equipment on the same market and they are not doing this on the volume scale they once did.

Nowadays it is good to see the focus is on understanding terroir with detailed soil assessments and research which has seen the emergence of the first single vineyard wines.  In my opinion, the best Bulgaria has to offer stylistically are the soft fruity reds which once made them so famous.

SPARKLING

GRAND CUVEE BLANC DE NOIRS ‘SATIN’ BRUT 2017 Logodaj

£ 21.95 The Old Cellar

Logodaj winery pioneered sparkling Melnik (Broad Leaved Melnik is the grape); this interesting ‘traditional method’ fizz with 24 months on lees has light toasty brioche notes with heavy spicy liquorice flavours.

WHITE

AXL MISKET 2021 Chateau Copsa

£15.90 The Old Cellar

One of Bulgaria’s crispest freshest floral-scented dry whites, made from Karlovski Misket grape grown in beautiful Rose valley (Bulgaria is known for its roses).

ORANGE

KERATSUDA 2022 Libera Estate Damianitza

£18.90 The Old Cellar

Apricot-scented with rich mouthfeel and soft texture; impressive effort from Libera in Struma valley – this is one of the first Bulgaria’s orange wines (made with long skin contact) I have tasted.

RED

SANTIMENTI MAVRUD 2022 Zagreus

£18.50 The Old Cellar

Modern version of gutsy sturdy Mavrud grape; inky dark colour, firm tannins and high acidity with a glycerol mouthfeel and herby medicinal notes.

RUBIN BESTOVISTA SINGLE VINEYARD 2022 Georgiev/Milkov

£24-£25 The Old Cellar; Oxford Wine; Crushed & Cured

Robust red fruited with spice, pepper and chocolate notes made from Rubin, a Bulgarian cross between Nebbiolo & Syrah.

MERLOT – SYRAH QUEL MARIAGE 2018 Bratanov

£20.95 The Old Cellar

French-trained winemaker Maria Stoeva made this attractive blend in warm South Sakar; tank aged Merlot and oak aged Syrah (36 months in used Bulgarian, Hungarian and French oak); so well integrated and now showing development from age in bottle.

SOLI PINOT NOIR 2021 Edoardo Miroglio

£15.25 L’Art du Vin

Italian investor Edoardo Miroglio has created a superb range of wines at his Thracian Lowlands winery – this juicy cherry-fruited sweet toned Pinot Noir is one of his best value.

MELNIK 55 2020 Orbelia

£16.90 The Old Cellar

One of my favourites from Struma valley in south west Bulgaria; ripe cherries, soft juicy raisiny palate with some complexity, made by a small artisan family winery.

Join Rose’s French Classics Dinner in Prestonfield on Thursday 16 May www.rosemurraybrown.com

wine tastings

The perfect gift for the wine enthusiast in the family. Rose does In-person tastings too.

cellar advice

Rose does cellar valuations for private clients, valuations for insurers & bespoke portfolio management.

Related stories

  • March 31, 2024

    By Rose Murray Brown MW  Published in The Scotsman 30 March 2024 On 2 February 1659, the first wine made from grapes grown in South Africa was crafted by the Governor of the Cape, Jan van Riebeeck.  He had planted vines four years earlier in the Company’s Garden near Cape Town from cuttings imported from France. Van Riebeeck’s first

  • March 24, 2024

    By Rose Murray Brown MW  Published in The Scotsman 16 March 2024 Heatwaves and bushfires were very much on the agenda when I visited Chile last month as winemakers prepared for their 2024 harvest in blistering heat and drought, with a plume of smoke from the devastating fires lingering over coastal hills. Heat and drought are the greatest challenges

  • March 23, 2024

    By Rose Murray Brown MW  Published in The Scotsman 9 March 2024 I have two glasses of Malbec in my hands from the same high-altitude vineyard in Uco valley in Argentina. I am in the Catena Institute of Wine in Mendoza with winemaker Agustin Silva.  He has asked me to taste the two wines, both from the 1500m high