I know next to nothing about Bulgarian wines. When I have tasted them, usually at wine fairs, they were disappointingly dull with but one exception (Bessa Valley wines – but only because they are part owned by Count Von Niepperg of Canon-la-Gaffalière fame, whose wines I have tasted in Bordeaux) and the only Bulgarian wine to make it into Wine behind the label.
At the London Wine Fair in May, I was impressed by the wines of Villa Melnik, and they will certainly be in the next edition and so I was particularly pleased to find out that this years Digital Wine Communicators’ Conference was to take place in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, one of the oldest settlements in Europe (8,000 years +). So I went.
The travel aspect of the visit to Plovdiv is going to be the subject of another blog, but as far as a goodly number of the Bulgarian wines we came across, this was certainly a very pleasant eye opener to me.
In ancient times, Bulgaria was part of Thrace and maybe it was no coincidence that the main god that the Thracians worshipped was Dionysis a.k.a. Bacchus. Orpheus, Spartacus and Constantine the Great were three of the most famous of the Thracians which somehow proves that they went from the underworld to near godliness in just a few centuries.
Nowadays Bulgaria still consists mainly of rural communities and whilst there has been a longstanding tradition of wine producing, it is only in the last decade or so that the quality of some of the wines are reaching international standards. It is at this stage, though, that tough decisions have to be made by their wine industry and a lot of help is needed for them to break through into the international markets because of the perception (and I was just as guilty as anyone) of Bulgarian wines being thought of as rather cheap and nasty. The quality wines, by international standards, ARE cheap, and if they CAN find their way into other markets they will prove to be exceptional value for money. Four star wines retailing at €7.50 is not bad going at all – and even if you add on the cost of transportation and the rapacious taxation on alcohol from bankrupt governments, they are still going to be value for money.
But there is also competition from within the country to contend with. Many farmers have grubbed up their vines in favour of sweet fruits which are easier to sell and the tough decisions that I mentioned above involves just that – which produce is going to be more profitable for the amount of effort that needs to be put in?
During my short stay, I came across some most enjoyable wines but this report is not about detailed tastings of individual wines – more information will be given in future editions of Wine behind the label, but to point out a few producer names to look out for should they ever appear in your local wine shop. Villa Melnik, for making local varieties like Melnik, Mavrud and Rubin (no, that’s not a firm of New York lawyers!) more exciting than most, Alexandra Estate, producing international wines with true varietal flavours, Domaine Boyar, with an impressive range of reds across the board, Zelanos Winery with delightful, refreshing whites and Minkov Brothers, one of Bulgaria’s largest producers (a million bottles plus) but whose top boutique cuvées show remarkable finesse.
Alexandra Estate and Zelanos have only been producing wine since 2013 and 2014 respectively, but the others are more established, with Minkov being around since 1875. All of them, in my opinion, deserve better recognition and if I can take note from comments made by other delegates to the conference, these are not the only ones
Bucolic Bulgaria may still be, but their wines are ready to take that giant leap forward on the international stage – they just need some plugging from the likes of us wine writers (and now that we have been there, that’s not going to be difficult) and perhaps some more practical encouragement from their own government.