The heyday for Bulgarian wine was in the 1980s! Well that is until now. If you were old enough to drink alcohol in that decade, it was a great time as Bulgarian wines were selling in container loads and provided amazing value. At its peak, Sainsbury’s Bulgarian Cabernet Sauvignon was reputedly the biggest selling wine in the country and in 1996, Bulgaria shifted 4.5 million cases in the UK, yet today it’s less than 10% of that. So what went wrong?
The collapse of the Soviet Block and the fall of communism in most of Eastern Europe stripped away state subsidies and devastated the wine industry in Bulgaria. It’s taken literally 25 years for it to recover, but now they’re back stronger and fitter. In the last few years there have been huge changes in Bulgarian wine, vastly improved quality, and the emergence of a new generation of quality focused producers. As we found out last year during the Criterion Wine Tours wine tour of the country…
Based in Plovdiv, the historical and cultural capital of the country, and indeed the oldest continually habited city in Europe, we visited several wineries in the Thracian Valley including Zagreus, Chateau Copsa, Villa Yustina and Dragomir. We tasted some stunning wines, from international to local varieties like Mavrud and Rubin. We explored Roman ruins, Art Deco buildings, an ancient monastery and the highlight of the trip – a fabulous Food & Wine Festival in the Old Town.
Our tour was organised by the premier wine tour company in the country, Bulgaria Wine Tours, which is run by Bulgarian/Danish husband and wife, Vasil and Zina, who are extremely knowledgeable, efficient and helpful. Bulgaria is still amazing value so if you ever want to explore the wine regions of Bulgaria look no further.
During lockdown we have drunk a couple of excellent Bulgarian wines:
- Orbelia Aristotelis Chardonnay 2017: a ‘serious’ chardonnay which wouldn’t be out of place in Burgundy. Rich buttery, tropical fruit, caramel nose; off-dry, medium/full bodied palate with fine balance and good length. Delicious and went well with pork stroganoff €8.00
- Zagreus Vinica Mavrud 2016: intense aromas of sweet black fruit, black pepper, and new oak; a big mouthful of black fruit and fine tannins. The oak is a bit too dominant at the moment and the wine would benefit from another 2-3 years ageing in bottle €14.00
Mavrud (from the Greek ‘mavro’ meaning black) is indigenous to the Thracian region of Bulgaria. The grape has been described as characterful, low-yielding, small-berried and late-ripening capable of producing tannic, spicy wine with a potential for ageing.
Both wines were bought from Apollo Wines in Bulgaria but are sadly not available in the UK.