Bulgaria has been producing wine for at least 7,000 years—the ancient Thrace region of Southeast Europe is said to be the birthplace of winemaking. But few in the U.S. are familiar with the country’s wines. An educational master class and tasting held in New York’s Astor Center on April 14 provided some insight on the country’s wine.
The event, moderated by Balkan wine experts Mike DeSimone and Jeff Jenssen–a.k.a. the World Wine Guys—detailed the country’s four major vine and wine regions. Defined by the soil and climatic conditions as well as the grape varieties, these are the Danube Plain region (North Bulgaria); the Black Sea region (Eastern Bulgaria); Thracian Lowlands region (Southern Bulgaria); and the Strouma Valley region (Southwestern Bulgaria).
Bulgaria, which joined the European Union in 2007, has 55 areas for the manufacture of Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) wines. It has two main viticultural and oenology regions for the production of Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) wines: the Thracian Lowlands and the Danube Plain.
The Danube Plain region of North Bulgaria is between the Danube River to the north, the Balkan Mountain foothills to the south, the Timok River to the west and the Black Sea to the East. The Danube Plain has a temperate continental climate, Jenssen said, with hot, dry summers and cool nights.
“There are a lot of alluvial soils in this area,” he noted. For instance, one of the wines sampled from this area, a 2012 viognier from Chateau Burgozone, was fresh and floral with enhanced minerality from the limestone in the soil.
The Thracian Lowlands region, with the Balkan Mountain range on the north, the Black Sea on the east and the borders with Greece and Turkey on the south, benefits from the Mediterranean influence, which provides a transitional continental climate that’s mild and warm. A white wine tasted from this region, a 2012 Bulgarian Heritage misket from the Karabunar Winery, had gentle citrus fruit and melon flavors.
What is misket? While the word translates to muscat, DeSimone noted that it’s not actually a muscat varietal. A Master of Wine in the audience volunteered that DNA evidence has shown that red misket is likely a blend of dimyat and riesling.
Bulgaria is perhaps better known for its red wines, and several were featured as part of the event’s guided tasting. A 2010 Villa Yambol cabernet sauvignon reserve from Vinprom Yambol, one of the oldest wines in Bulgaria, was intricate and grassy.
The 2012 Encore Syrah from Katarzyna Estate aged in French oak barrels was full of ripe, red fruit flavor, but also quite tannic. Syrah is one of the leading red wine grapes grown in Bulgaria, according to the some of the winemarkers; the country’s merlot is impressive as well.
“Bulgaria is one of the best places for making merlot because of the terroir,” said Ivan Petrov, sales manager for Eastern Europe for Domaine Boyar. One of the first private wine companies in Bulgaria after the fall of Communism in 1990, Domaine Boyar has been exporting wine since the 1970s, he said.
Bulgaria is also famous for malvrud–the red varietal is believed to be one of the oldest grapes in Bulgaria, said Velizar Chatalbashev, export director for Vinzabod Assenovgrad. Rubin, a crossing of nebbiolo and syrah, is also a Bulgarian specialty, he added: “Wine from this grape is one of the best.”
One of the younger wineries in Bulgaria was started in 2001 by an Italian named Edoardo Miroglio. The company presented its 2010 Soli Invicto—a red blend of 55% merlot, 25% cabernet sauvignon, 10% cabernet franc and 10% syrah–from the Thracian Valley region.
Aged in French oak barriques for 18 months, the Soli Invicto is a style of wine that is elegant with medium body, said Edoardo Miroglio’s export manager Sylvia Taskova. She noted that the she and the other vintners from Bulgaria had come to the U.S. “not just to pique interest in Bulgarian wine, but to hold it.”