First, vine and the wine culture of Bulgaria have deep roots in history. Then, through the generations, Bulgarian people have long since heard stories about elder women in villages up and down the country and their wine culture who, according to folklore, used to feed children “popara with wine” (bread soaked in wine). Finally, today people are not sure whether there is any truth to this. Maybe “popara with wine” is only a bedtime story for children. And maybe 100 years ago this was a common practice in Bulgarian provinces, who knows?
Prof. Mutafchiev, the famous Bulgarian historian claims that the Black Sea region of Bulgaria is the home of the vine. Moreover, Dionysus, the ancient God of wine, originated in Ancient Thrace. Ancient Greeks, who were the southern neighbours to the Thracian people, “borrowed” this God from the Thracians. The Greeks, being one of the few literate peoples at that time, inscribed these stories. Unfortunately, unlike the Greeks, Thracians had no alphabet then, so they were unable to document this knowledge. Thus making it difficult to prove that viticulture originated in Bulgaria.
Vine and Wine Culture of Bulgaria
Once upon a time Bulgaria was one of the top wine producers in the world. Things changed after the fall of communism in the late 1980’s. Today, Bulgaria is one of the three biggest wine producing nations in Eastern Europe. Gradually, the Bulgarian wine industry has been transformed during the last two decades. Different international projects have helped modernise and bring our wine industry up to global standards. As a result, many new wine estates have been established throughout the country. Rather than having grape brandy (known locally as Rakiya), people are increasingly opting to have wine with their Shopska salad.
Bulgaria’s Wine regions
Bulgaria, with only 42 000 square miles of territory, has 5 wine growing regions. Here they are: the Thracian Valley, the Rose Valley, the Struma Valley, the Black Sea and the Danube River Plains. Each and every one of these has its own unique local wine varieties.
First is the The Thracian Valley. It is the best known and oldest region of all. It produces the most wines, around 35%. The Thracian Valley wine region produces the famous red wine Mavrud. Then Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Muscat and Pamid follow.
Second is the Rose Valley. It is famous for its production of Muscat, Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Red misket made Sungurlare Valley sub-region notable for this red variety
The Struma River Valley which is a relatively small region, has unique climatic conditions which are quite similar to Mediterranean regions. It is famous for a variety of vines called “Broad Leaved Vine of Melnik”. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Pamid varieties are among the most popular varieties in the region.
The Black Sea Coastal Eastern region
Actually, about 53% of all white wine varieties are concentrated in this region (Dimyat, Traminer, Sauvignon Blanc, Muscat, Gevürztraminer, Riesling). Long and mild autumns are typical for the region. And that helps the accumulation of sugars required to make fine white wine.
The Danube River Plains
The region produces around 30% of Bulgarian wines. Hot summers with long sunny days boost the traditional viticulture. The local Gamza is a popular style in the region. Muscat Ottonel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Pamid are also produced here.
We all know that the wine world is extremely diverse and highly competitive. Bulgarian winemakers try to specialize in the niche of high-quality wines made of local vine varieties. Some of them even go one step further and claim organic status.
Vine Varieties – Vine and Wine Culture of Bulgaria
First of all, find some of the best-known local varieties here.
Let’s start the presentation with Mavrud, the most famous of all. It’s a local red grape variety, cultivated here since ancient times. Mavrud grapes are ripening very late, at the beginning of October. It is one of the best local Bulgarian varieties for making high-quality red wine. One can find Mavrud in the regions of Plovdiv and Pazardjik.
Next comes Rubin. It is a red variety, also a local original Bulgarian selection. This cross-variety between Nebbiolo and Syrah is used for producing dessert and table wines. As a result, Rubin wines have a ruby color and typical aroma of berries. Often blended with Mavrud to create a 100% Bulgarian blend.
Broad Leaved Melnik Vines
Thirdly,Broad-leaved Melnik Vine. It is an endemic. Actually, you won’t find this vine variety elsewhere, except in the region of Melnik. Melnik 55 is one of the hybrid varieties created from this grape variety. Local winemakers cultivate Melnik-55 for the production of dry and semi-dry wines.
This pink-skinned grape variety is another grape that is only native to Bulgaria. Winemakers use Pamid for producing light red table wines, designed for early consumption.
Gamza is a red grape variety. Bulgarians cultivate Gamza since ancient times. Nowadays, it is cultivated mainly in north-western Bulgaria. Gamza is rarely found in Southern Bulgaria. Gamza is a late-ripening variety – it ripens at the end of September or beginning of October.
A white grape variety cultivated mainly along the Black Sea coast. Wine-makers use it for the production of dry white wines.
Misket is another local vine variety, a mix of Dimyat and Riesling. It is cultivated in the region of Karlovo.
Vine and Wine Culture of Bulgaria: Wine Tours and Wine Destinations
In summary, as you can see, there are many varieties around the country. Therefore, this makes it hard to visit each region and sample all wines during one short trip.
The three regions are the most densely populated with new, boutique wineries. And that is the Thracian, the Rose and the Struma Valleys. It’s possible to visit 10-12 wineries within 4-5 days. Several wineries have created a Bulgarian version of a sparkling wine. For one thing, we believe that you will be pleasantly surprised by the quality, drinkability and price.
In the end, for that reason Wine tours are an excellent way to meet local people and immerse yourself in the local wine culture. And, of course, to taste huge variety of Bulgarian wines.
All in all, the younger generation of Bulgarian winemakers are quite active. To put it another way, they created the annual “Young Wine Festival”, You can visit it, too, in the Old Town of Plovdiv at the end of October. So much so, 2021 was the first year of a new festival, the so called “Mavrud Days”. This is bringing a new start for promoting Mavrud local wine variety. In fact, every wine region organizes a local wine festival and some are really worth a visit.
Finally, it’s vital to keep in mind the ancient Latin phrase “In Vino Veritas” (In Wine, There is Truth).
Enjoy the wine. Наздраве! (Cheers!)