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Bulgaria: A vineyard that spreads and improves


World Bulgaria

During the Soviet era already, in the 50s and 60s, international varietals (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, Shiraz …) have been massively planted, especially for the USSR but also for the West: “Pepsi-Cola then exchan­ged soft drinks for Bul­­­ga­rian wines,” Lioubomir Stoia­nov, maître d’hôtel and sommelier of Di Wine Restaurant and Wine Cellar in Varna, on the Black Sea, explains. “In the 70s, the Cabernet Sauvignon was good, ex­por­ted to America, Sweden, England, etc., and covered 20,000 hectares, second surface area after Bordeaux.”

And then quality decreased to face demand, Gorbatchev launched his crusade against alcoholism. The result: a drop of exports. All had to be rebuilt after the communism. Australians, Chileans then invested, sometimes in big domains like the excellent Boyar in the Thracian plain in the South (Lambol, Sliven and Korten). Experts from Bordeaux came to give a hand as from the late 1990s: Marc Dvorkin, still in Bessa Valley, a domain in which Stephan von Neipperg, owner in Saint-Emilion, invested; Michel Rolland in Castra Rubra near Stara Zagora, in the South of the country; or Stéphane Derenoncourt, formerly in Terra Tangra, not far from there.

In the eastern region, close to the Black Sea, the best Bulgarian wines are produced, very dry, with really beautiful Traminers (close to Gewurtztraminer), but also Sauvignons or Chardonnays. In the North in the Danube plains, and in the South in Thrace, the red vines (Cabernet Sauvignon and Franc, Merlot, Shiraz and Pinot Noir, Petit Verdot and Marsala which are starting out) are often better than the white ones (Chardonnay, Sauvignon). But what about the local varieties? In Bessa Valley (and elsewhere), “we have chosen for Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot, after samples of soils of Bordeaux’ vineyard have been analysed. It is the terroir that dictates the type of vine, we want exceptional wines”, oenologist Svetolzar Dzhurov justifies. Is it inevitable in a country that exports 65% of its wines (to Asia, Germany, England or the Netherlands), markets who demand well-known varietals?

By the way some Bulgarian varietals are mediocre: “There are no good Rkatsitelis or white Mavruds [very productive – editor’s note]”, Lioubomir Stoainov informs. On the other hand, he appreciates “the very aromatic Misket (hybrid of Dimiat and Riesling), to enjoy young as it has no acidity”. Dimiat produces a semi-dry to sweet wine: “Blended with Char­donnay, it gives a very aromatic wine like Dragomir Winery’s in Plovdiv”, the sommelier states.

As for the red wines, the Bulgarian star crafted in the South of the country is the Mavrud, powerful with flavours of plum: “When the grapes are dried (at Zagreus’ near Plovdiv) like Italian Amarone, it makes excellent dessert wines”. Rubin, a hybrid of Shiraz and Nebbiolo, “powerful, velvety and complex” still according to the sommelier, can be found in the regions surrounding Plovdiv and Melnik.

In the Southwest of the country, bordering Greece, the region of Melnik, with a Me­di­t­erranean climate, outstands with its eponymous variety: “Very spicy, tannic, with a good acidity and an average extraction. At Damianitza, Villa Melnik or Kiosev, and just like Rubin, it gives wines with a good ageing ca­pacity”, Lioubomir Stoianov goes on. Another example: Gamza (Hungarian Kadarka) made by Borovitza Winery in the Northwest of Bulgaria: “A whimsical young lady as it is delicate to mature, but velvety, mineral, tannic and with good acidity, tasting a bit like Pinotage”.

The Bulgarian wine growers would be well-advised to export these racier wines.

Texte and photos: Frédéric Ville

Di Wine Restaurant
& Wine Cellar
9000 - Varna - Bulgaria
Fixe: +359 878 606050