Let's start with a few facts that you probably didn't know about Bulgarian wines. We all remember the 1980's early 90's when Bulgarian Cabernet was cheap and cheerful, the wine of choice for those strapped for cash. They had started on the varietal labelling before the Australians and Californians had thought of it and they flooded the market with gluts of very drinkable low price wines, particularly reds. The reason they could do that was that the whole industry at the time was state owned and subsidised by the Communists to bring in much needed hard currency.
But what happened before or after? Well long before, very long before, the Thracians invaded the territory of what is now Bulgaria and made themselves at home there. This ancient tribe, that never managed the basics of reading and writing, were famous for 2 things: they were fierce fighters and they loved their booze. So they introduced viticulture to the region well before even the Greeks and Romans had thought of that, in fact the latter were still busy wielding wooden clubs and crawling out of caves. Bulgaria can therefore claim to be one of the cradles of winemaking alongside Georgia and Armenia, something not many people are aware of.
Wine production continued to flourish as the Greeks and Romans invaded respectively, but then the 15th century came along and with it the Turks, Muslims of course, who weren't very keen on wine for some unknown and unfathomable reason. So viticulture went into decline and never fully recovered, until now... perhaps...
Well the Wine Anarchist has set out to find out more about the current state of the wine industry in Bulgaria. After the fall of Communism the land formerly nationalised was redistributed to it's former owners, a slow and messy process. Some native varieties have miraculously survived centuries of neglect, such as Melnik, Mavrud, Gamza and new money started pouring in, but the country is still poor and infrastructure isn't what you'd expect of a member of the EU. People are starting to find their feet again and wine producers are finding it hard to compete in a market that still remembers the cheap offerings from a couple of decades ago, but the potential for quality wine is clearly there as the WA discovered on his visit to Borovitza.
To find out a bit more the Wine Anarchist went into a large supermarket and selected a random selection of Bulgarian wines from the shelves and tested them. This is a totally unscientific sampling, all made from international grape varieties, that should give some idea of what is now produced. Here are the results of the experiment:
according to their web-site, apparently won the 'Golden Rython' Prize, which the WA has never heard of either. The colour is a pale straw; the nose has notes of green apples and nettles; the palate is well defined with crisp fresh apple notes, hints of cloves and minerals. A very elegant wine in the Loire style with a long elegant finish and nice fruit characters. Jolly nice value at BGN 6.75*
The No Man's Land brand is apparently because the winery own vineyards in the former no-go zone near the Turkish border, but this offering comes from the north of the country. The 600 in the name is not explained... The wine is very pale straw; the nose displays green gooseberries and some minerally, flinty notes; on the palate we found fresh zesty lime fruit and steely notes. Perhaps a bit mean, lacking real fruit, neither having huge complexity or length. It came in a gift pack with a 1/2 bottle of Buteo Cabernet Sauvignon from the same company, together costing BGN13.65
70% of this wine have been matured for 10 months in French barrique. The colour is medium ruby with a garnet rim, showing it's age; the bouquet has herbal qualities, including eucalyptus reminiscent of cough sweets, combined with hints of cow manure and sweet redcurrants; whilst this may not sound too appealing the palate was complex with more slightly medicinal characters and a soft yet firm structure and a good length. A wine definitely at the peak of it's development and good drinking if you like mature wines. Note: this wine was out of a half bottle and therefore be a bit more advanced in its development.
Junior Merlot Tempranillo 2012 'Young Wine' Katazyna Vineyards, PGI Thracian Valley: This was obviously an attempt to emulate a Rioja Joven and had caught the WA's eye for that reason, however he was to be disappointed: The colour was medium purplish and the nose was quite promising with intense ripe and lush fruit of elderberries, plums, cinnamon and stewed figs; however the palate was dominated by the high alcohol levels, giving a burning sensation (14.5%); the very soft acidity and lack of tannin failed to offer a balance to the alcohol and it finished on an unpleasant bitter note. Altogether a badly balanced wine and not worth the BGN8.55. The WA did not even manage to finish the bottle, a rare occasion for him!
Edoardo Miroglio Cabernet Franc 2010 PGI Thracian Valley. Now if this sounds a bit Italian, it's because the owner IS Italian Edoardo has actually come into wine via the textile industry, which, forgive the WA's cynicism, was probably a way to invest his money safe from the Italian tax authorities. However the wine isn't so bad at all! The colour is medium ruby; intense, lush notes of ripe blueberry, freshly mown hay and plums pervade the attractive aromas; the palate is soft and rounded with some gorgeous fruit finishing long on hints of liquorice, vanilla, spice and chocolate. A really pleasant, easy drinking wine. In fact the WA is sipping on some of it as he writes these lines and enjoying it immensely. BGN 12.99
Dominant 2009 Castra Rubra (Syrah/Cabernet), Tharcian Valley. Made from organic grapes under the supervision of French winemaker Michel Rolland.
This was definitely the highlight of the tasting. A deep ruby colour was followed by an intense and complex nose of liquorice, black pepper, brambles, violets, lilac and dark chocolate; the palate was rich and full-bodied, displaying spicy notes, more liquorice and blackberry with a fair backbone balanced by some lovely juicy fruit. Long, complex, very good indeed, giving many an Australian Shiraz a run for is money, but at a fairly hefty BGN17.49
In conclusion it must be said that Bulgaria certainly has the potential to produce world class wine, but seems to be struggling to find its new identity again. On a future occasion the WA is planning a tasting of indigenous grape varieties, which surely should be the strength of what this country can produce
*BGN (Bulgaria Leva) converts to about €0.50