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When most people think of wine, they think of countries like France, Italy, Spain or America.
Bulgaria probably doesn't enter many people's minds as a major wine-producing country, but Bulgarian wine production dates back thousands of years and up until the late 1980s Bulgaria was one of the largest wine-producing nations in the world.
In this article, we'll take a look at the history of winemaking in Bulgaria. We'll look at some of Bulgaria's most well-known wine areas as well as the grape varieties grown there. Finally, we'll suggest some of our favourite Bulgarian wines.
The history of wine in Bulgaria dates back to ancient times. There is evidence of winemaking in the area of Thrace (currently known as Bulgaria) as far back as 4000 B.C.
One of the oldest civilizations in Europe, the Thracians were known for their mastery of viticulture. Even the first-ever known God of Wine was Thracian in origin, which later became known as the Greek god Dionysus.
In fact, Bulgarian wine has made appearances in notable works throughout history; even Homer wrote about wine coming from the Thracian region in the seminal work The Iliad.
In the 1920’s and 1930’s winemaking became incredibly popular in Bulgaria, and there was an introduction of wine cooperatives that helped transform wine production in Bulgaria from a diverse collection of small independent wineries into a thriving wine co-operative industry.
In the 1970s and 1980s Bulgaria was actually one of the largest wine producers in Europe, and at one point Bulgaria was the fourth largest wine producer in the world, with 90% of its wine exports going to the Soviet Union. The fall of communism in 1989 brought about a collapse in the Bulgarian wine industry that cut production significantly.
However, in recent decades the industry has been recovering. The last 15-20 years has seen significant investment in the Bulgarian wine sector. More vineyards are being planted with different varieties of wine grapes, and modern techniques for vinification are being embraced to create some really great wines.
Bulgaria has over 300 wineries across 148,000 acres of vineyards. Wine production in Bulgaria is common in 5 main regions:
The Danubian Plain or North Bulgarian region has a temperate continental climate. The hot summer weather and the many rivers between the Danube and the Balkan Mountains create perfect conditions for vineyards to grow.
Typical international grapes found in the Danube Plain include Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, as well as traditional grapes for Bulgarian wine making such as Gamza.
While Bulgaria is predominantly a red wine country, the Black Sea region is best known for its excellent white wines.
The long and mild autumns in this region are ideal for the production of international varieties such as Riesling, Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc.
This region is best known for the production of dry and off-dry white wine, and is located just south of the Balkan Mountains in the centre of Bulgaria.
Being surrounded by mountains means that the area is protected from extreme weather, and is ideal for the production of high-quality wines.
In addition to growing international varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Muscat , the Rose Valley is home to the unique native Red Misket grape - which is a white wine grape with a pink skin that produces a dry white wine.
The Thracian Valley wine region is on the border of Turkey across the Thracian lowlands. It is in the valley of the Maritza and Tundsha rivers.
The region has a climate that is ideal for red wine varieties, and red wine production makes up over 70% of the wine produced in the region. International varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are commonly grown in this region.
The Thracian Valley is also home to the native Pamid grape, which is one of the oldest known red grape varieties in traditional Bulgarian wine making.
This is predominantly a red wine region and can be found in the valley of the Struma River on the border of Greece.
Possibly the most famous grape to be found in the Struma Valley region is the Melnick red wine grape, which is native to Bulgaria.
However, the strong Mediterranean influence from the south has been influential in the production of popular international wines such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
In terms of the area dedicated to vineyards, red wines tend to dominate Bulgaria, with an estimated 18,000 hectares dedicated to growing red wine grapes compared to 11,500 hectares committed to white wine varieties.
However, with white wine grapes having a slightly higher yield the actual wine production between red and white is split 50/50.
Internationally recognised wine grapes are common across Bulgaria, with the region being recognised for producing good wine of the Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling varieties.
Passionate winemakers across Bulgaria continue to champion the production of traditional Bulgarian wines, made from local grape varieties.
Mavrud is a red grape variety wine from Bulgaria. It is one of the country's oldest and high-quality local varieties, and draws comparisons with Malbec.
Gamza is a late-ripening indigenous red wine variety which can be found in north-west Bulgaria.
Melnik is a red variety that thrives in the Struma River Valley. Melnik 55 (sometimes known as 'early Melnik') is a cross between the indigenous broad-leaved Melnik and Valdiguié.
Pamid is an ancient red wine grape variety that may be traced back to the times of the Thracians. This red wine grape is cultivated in the Thracian Valley area of Bulgaria.
Dimyat is the most commonly planted native white grape in Bulgaria, and it is commonly found in wineries around the Black Sea area. In addition to making white wine, Dimyat grapes are also used in the production of brandy.
Red Misket is a white wine grape with a pink skin that produces a dry white wine. It is one of the oldest known red grape varieties in traditional Bulgarian wine making, and is indigenous to the Rose Valley wine region.
We stock a small amount of high-quality wine originating from Bulgaria, so why not head over to the Bulgarian Wine selection and take a look?
Some of our favourites from Bulgaria include: