Wine Grape Varieties in Bulgaria
About 58% of the vineyard’s area in Bulgaria is covered by red wine grape varieties, and the remaining 42% by the white wine grape varieties.
Among the red varieties, the largest share is Pamid – 16%, the second most cultivated variety is Cabernet Sauvignon – 14%, then comes Merlot – 12%, Gamza represents 4%, and Broadleafed Melnik vine – 3%.
Among the white varieties, the largest share is Rkatziteli – 14%, Dimiat represents 7%, Red Misket – 6%, Muscat Ottonel – 6%, Chardonnay – 3%, Ugni Blanc, Aligote, Riesling, Traminer forms 1% of white wine grape varieties production in Bulgaria.
Local varieties – diverse as their motherland, with every year they evoke bigger international interest, as the wines produced from them are of high quality and have a unique taste.
Mavrud is an old local variety, which is grown only in Bulgaria since ancient times. The name Mavrud comes from the Greek word for black. It is mainly distributed in the Plovdiv region. Mavrud is a late-ripening grape (the harvest is in late October) and is one of the most valuable local varieties for red wines. Wines made from this variety have a saturated ruby, almost black colour and pronounced density; they have enough tannin and acids, which make their flavour specific: thick, soft and harmonious. You will feel in it a dominant taste of berries and spices. Mavrud wines develop perfectly well in contact with oak wood where they acquire a mild oaked scent. They have remarkable ageing potential. Several wineries in the region of Asenovgrad, Pazardzhik and Plovdiv offer degustation of Mavrud of superb quality.
Gamza is an old local variety, grown since ancient times in the territories of Northern Bulgaria. Gamza is a relatively late-ripening variety. From this variety, you will find light-bodied dessert and table wines. In years with warm and dry autumns, the red Gamza wines feature vivid but not very dense ruby colour, pleasant aroma of berries dominated by raspberry and a pronounced but mild freshness and pleasant tannins. The best quality Gamza wines can be tasted in North Bulgaria, in cellars in the region of Vidin and Pleven.
Red Misket has a very long tradition in these lands and it is considered an old Bulgarian variety. It is mainly distributed in Sub-Balkan Valley, Sredna Gora region and smaller areas around Stara Zagora, Sliven, Yambol and Vratsa. Red Misket occupies first place in frost resistance among local varieties and surpasses many foreign wine varieties. The wines have a straw-yellow colour with pink shades, a harmonious taste of quince and honey and a pleasant aroma with subtle herbal nuances. The well recognized white dry Euxinograd wine is a result of blending Red Misket variety with Dimiat and Italian Riesling. Places, where you can taste Misket wines, are the wineries near Straldzha and Sungurlare.
Pamid wine variety has very deep roots in Bulgarian viniculture history. Originally, it was grown by the Thracians. Before the advent of worldwide favourites like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot in the 1960s, it was the most common variety in Bulgaria. Nowadays, however, its plantations are highly limited. Pamid wines have a light red colour, fresh flavour with fruity nuances, an elegant body and a soft finish. They have low acidity and low content of phenolic substances, thus not suitable for ageing and consumed young, right after fermentation and clarification. You can degustate Pamid wines in the cellars in the region of Pazardzhik, Plovdiv and Pamidovo.
Shiroka Melnishka Loza (Broadleafed Melnik Vine), an essential Bulgarian variety, takes its name from the place where it has been cultivated for centuries: the region of the picturesque traditional town of Melnik. Grown in the very south, in the warmest corner of the country, Shiroka Melnishka Loza bears the characteristics of an age-worthy southern red grape variety. Its valuable qualities are developed thanks to the Mediterranean climate of the Melnik region: high-temperature sun during vegetation, early spring, hot summer, long, warm autumns and relatively mild and warm winter. Young Melnik wines have a dense cherry colour, intense aroma, ripe cherry flavour, enough density and a typical piquant tartness. Their crispness becomes softer and milder with time. Mature wines of this variety are distinguished by a fresh, rich and complex flavour. After being in contact with oak wood, they develop interesting nuances of tobacco and leather. Broadleaved Vine wines with their truly unique taste can be tasted in cellars in the region of Sandanski and Melnik.
Dimiat is an old local variety. This is the leading white wine grape variety in the East Black Sea region of Bulgaria (around Varna, Pomorie, Preslav and Pliska). A legend says that Dimiat was originally cultivated in the Nile Delta in Egypt and was brought to Bulgaria by Crusaders; for all we know though, its characteristics are typically Balkan. As a wine variety, it is mainly used to produce pleasant table and dessert dry white wines. They have a mild, fresh, sweet taste and feature discreet vanilla nuance in the aroma. Dimiat is used as well for the production of wine distillate and grape rakia due to its high acid content. You can taste Dimiat wines in wineries in the area of Euxinograd near Varna, in Shumen and Stara Zagora regions.
Cabernet Sauvignon is the most widely cultivated red wine grape variety in Bulgaria. The wines have an unmistakable intense aroma of blackcurrant, blackberry and mulberry, intense ruby colour and high density. When aged in oak barrels, they develop a rich, complex flavour of spices, hints of oak, smoke, and in older wines, there are traces of chocolate and cinnamon taste.
Merlot originates in France. In Bulgaria, it is widespread in all wine regions. The aroma of young wines is dominated by ripe cherry and plum shades. In some regions, there are detected also flowery nuances. They develop very well in contact with oak wood. Mature wines are characterized by a complex aroma with nuances of oak, candied fruits and smoke. Very typical for the aged Merlot wines is the flavour nuance of truffles.
Riesling is a white wine grape variety, originated in the valley of the Rhine River in Germany and it’s among the oldest European wine varieties. Dry wines of this variety are described as delicate, with an intensive aroma characterized by mineral tones, combined with fruit flowery and herbal nuances. The aroma and the flavour develop with the ageing of Riesling wines. It acquires a complex, very specific spicy character with petroleum notes. In Bulgaria, Riesling is grown in the cooler northeast regions.
Muscat Ottonel was first obtained in France, and nowadays it is common in almost all wine-producing countries. The grapes are small, spherical, juicy, with a pleasant taste and strong characteristic muscat aroma. Dry white wines made from this variety have a very intense aroma with flowery character, resembling violets and geranium with significant density and moderate freshness. From this variety are produced also quality dessert wines. These wines are always consumed young.
Chardonnay is another prestigious grape variety grown initially only in France. Today, it is spread in all wine-producing countries in the world. From Chardonnay are produced high-quality white wines with intense flavour, most often dominated by shades of tropical fruits (melon, pineapple), fig, if it is grown in calcareous soils, typical mineral nuances. Chardonnay wines are developing very well in contact with oak wood and form rich complex flavour.
Rkatsiteli is Georgian variety, which has been grown in Kakhetian region since ancient times. In Bulgaria, it was cultivated in the ’80s due to its good fertility and sustainability. From Rkatsiteli are produced dry white table wines and natural sparkling wines, primarily in North-East Bulgaria. Due to its high content of malic acid and susceptibility to oxidation of musts, this variety is very hard to be distributed.
Sauvignon blanc is a French wine grape variety. Besides Europe, it is cultivated in Australia and New Zealand, where it’s best known as “fume blanc”. In Bulgaria, it is mainly grown in Burgas, Razgrad, Targovishte regions. From Sauvignon blanc are produced single varietal wines as well as excellent wine blends. These are refined dry whites, which are considered one of the most difficult to produce. The most characteristic notes in the aroma of the Sauvignon blanc wines are the scents of hay, tropical fruits and gooseberry. The taste is fresh, fine and very harmonious.
Traminer (pink) has Austrian origins. In Bulgaria, it is grown in small areas in the Northeast regions. From Traminer are produced highly aromatic dry white wines with a harmonious fresh taste. The intense aroma is full of flowery and herbal nuances reminiscent of roses and spices.
In the last 10 years or so, Bulgaria has experienced a real upsurge in its winemaking. Quality increases steadily, stimulated by the high requirements of producers and consumers. New terrains have been planted, expert winemakers are experimenting with new varieties, applying modern winemaking techniques. Bulgarian wines often earn prestigious awards at international wine fairs.
The taste for good wine and the interest in local varieties triggered the entry of the wine tourism and wine tours and tastings in Bulgaria. Many of the wineries in the country organize events where experts and guests get acquainted with the best products. The number of private cellars which are offering not only exquisite wine degustation to their visitors but also have wonderful family hotels right next to the vineyards has increased.
Whether you are an experienced enotourist or you have decided to try
a wine tasting trip for the first time, don’t hesitate to put Bulgaria on your list as this beautiful country is one of the best wine destinations in the world!
Article by Kylie Ralston
Kylie is an Australian living in Bulgaria. Coming from an extensive HR background, she now has a freelance business offering management services to clients around the world.
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