Wine Tastings & Tours

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Sunday, 12 May 2013

Pleven Wine Museum

This was supposed to be a post about THE place to start finding out about what Bulgarian wines have to offer in a place of stunning natural beauty with plenty of photos of the exciting and informative exhibits in the Pleven Wine Museum.  Well as for the photos... the Wine Anarchist lost his camera before he got around downloading his photos onto another device, so all photos are taken straight from the official website of the Pleven Wine Museum.  As for the exciting and informative exhibits, more on later.  At least there was some stunning natural beauty,one out of three ain't bad...

If you google the words wine and Bulgaria, the website of the Pleven Wine Museum comes up fairly near the top.  It claims to be the only museum dedicated to wine in the Balkans and according to their blurb "is a result of a long-time development work carried out by a team of Bulgarian and French professional architects, designers, enologists and museum experts".  It boasts a collection of some 7,000 Bulgarian wines, some as old as 90 years old, and "visitors can taste wine and buy bottles of over 6000 kinds of wine from all regions of Bulgaria."

As the town of Pleven,just to the north of the Balkan mountain range in the Danubian plain of northern Bulgaria was kind of on the way for him, it seemed an unmissable place.  The Wine Anarchist had done his research, locating the Wine Museum actually a few km south of the city of Pleven in the Kailaka National Park, and established that the opening times were Wednesday to Sunday from 11am to 6pm, although this was not clear from the official website.

So he timed his arrival in the area for a Tuesday afternoon, plenty of time to book into a nearby hotel, take the dog for a wander around the nature reserve and be ready and fresh for a late morning visit to the museum the next day and an interesting tasting, before heading off to where he was actually heading for.

The Kailaka National Park was indeed beautiful, situated within a green valley south of the city, with a small river running through it, plenty of little wetland areas created for all kinds of critters and two artificial lakes at the top of the valley.  A popular place for the good citicens of Pleven to come out to jog, cycle or walk their dogs.

And right next to the lower of the 2 lakes, inside a natural cave is the Pleven Wine Museum.

The Wine Anarchist got there a little early and since the weather was nice, he took his dog and his wife for a walk around the lakes.  11 o'clock came and went and nobody had showed up.  He was starting to wonder, whether this was a completely wasted 200km trip he had embarked on.  Finally at about a quarter to 12 someone opened the gates and he was let in in eager anticipation.  They didn't even mind his dog coming in with him once he explained to the pleasant English speaking lady that the dog had a much better nose and was relied upon for giving judgements on wine tastings. 

The Wine Anarchist had no qualms about paying a 5 Bulgarian Leva entrance fee (about €2.50), after all here was the promise of 5 galleries within the museum. Little did he know that the first gallery was the one he was in, which simply was the wine shop.

At least the young lady put a glass of wine into his hands, namely a Villa Rustika Chardonnay Sauvignon Blanc 2011 from the nearby Ch. Kailaka, which indeed was excellent.  A very nice aromatic Sauvignon nose of gooseberry and elderflowers.  Almost New Zealand style.  The Chardonnay adds a bit of body and width to the wine.  Good start.  He swiftly moved onto the central gallery which consisted of a large round table with chairs around and a video screen.

The lovely asistant proceeded to put on a promotional video on the wine museum and the city of Pleven.  It kind of told us the same as the promotional blurb on the website, but very little about Bulgarian wine, which would have been more interesting especially since he was about to see the museum itself with his own eyes, so why show a video wth all the exhibits in it beforehand?

From this central gallery the other 3 galleries come off.  First the Wine Anarchist wandered off to is left to a gallery with yet another table and some barrels... old barriques to be precise...


He knocked on a couple of the barrels and they sounded hollow and empty to him...  hmmm... not very interesting so far, seen plenty of those before and usually full.  Hoping things would improve he wandered off into the gallery with the historical exhibits.  Most exhibits, and there aren't that many in the first place, are simple pictures of wine related items going back to Thracian, Greek and Roman times.  There were a couple of actual exhibits too as well as what looked like an illegal poteen still.  It took all of 5 minutes careful study to complete the tour of that gallery.  Here a the two highlights:

The final gallery contained bottles, mostly full, sticking horizontally from holes in the wall in order of their geographic regions.

No further explanations, no maps to show where these regions actually are, what their specific characteristics are, what grape varieties are grown there, soil types, climate, nothing, zero, zilch, niente!  Now don't get me wrong, the Wine Anarchist likes looking at wine bottles as much as the next person, but if you don't know anything about the contents, looking at bottles quickly becomes very boring, especially if some of the labels are in undecipherable Cyrillic letters, or as in some of the older examples, there is no label at all!

So the only thing that could now safe the day was a tasting of some of these wines, followed by a possible purchase of some these treasures.  As the Wine Anarchist approached the front desk again and timidly asked what else there was to taste, how about something else from this local winery for example, she recommended a Cabernet Mavrud from the same winery.  The WA said that sounded interesting, which prompted the lovely assistant to wrap up the bottle and ask for 11 Leva.  Confused, the WA said he thought he was going to be given a taste.  "Oh no", she said, "there is nothing else open to taste at the moment."

Maybe as a booked group you would get better treatment.  In fact the Wine Anarchist has plans of organising wine tours for foreigners in Bulgaria and was considering making this one of his stops.  But as a visit for anyone visiting Bulgaria, this is not worth a detour and does not deserve the term museum.  It's a wine shop in a pretty location.  Do stop for the park if you happen to be passing, and if you're looking for a specific Bulgarian wine, you'll probably be able to find it here.

NB: The Wine Anarchist has found his camera again and replaced most of the images with his own.

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