It may not be widely known, but Bulgaria is amongst the world’s most prolific wine-producing countries. It is famous for its preservation of local ancient wine-producing traditions that are combined with the latest modern technologies. Wine from Bulgaria brings you an unforgettable deep taste of tradition while maintaining the highest international standards.
Bulgaria has a long history of viticulture and testimonies of wine culture thriving in Bulgarian lands can be found in archaeology, folklore and literature dating back to the Neolithic period.
6000 years ago, the ancestors of Bulgarians, the Thracians, were cultivating the oldest grape variety, Pamid, which is still produced in Bulgaria today. According to legend, the first wine in the world was produced in Bulgaria from Pamid grapes. The Greek poet Homer mentioned the Thracian wine in both of his great poems: The Iliad and The Odyssey.
The evidence of the ancient Thracian traditions in wine production, and consumption, can be seen in the magnificent Thracian treasures – decorated wine sets made of gold. For Thracians, wine was not only part of their everyday life, but also part of their religious rites in honour of their gods. Among the most revered was Dionysus, the God of the grape harvest, wine-making and wine. Thracians believed that through wine, men could reach gods.
Slavs and Proto-Bulgarians, who later populated the Balkan peninsula and established the Bulgarian state in the 7th century, inherited and kept the highly developed wine-production traditions of the region. Bulgarian art that is more than a thousand-year-old often depicts wine as a part of Bulgarian culture, particularly among the ruling classes.
One notable painting from 811 AD shows Bulgarian monarch Khan Krum drinking wine from the skull of Byzantine Emperor Nicephorus I, his opponent at the battle of Pliska. Today the Khan Krum winery in the Black Sea region bears his name.
After Christianity was introduced, the worshipping of Dionysus died out, the pagan holiday was Christianised and in its place began the honouring of Eastern Orthodox Saint, Triphon Zarezan, as the patron saint of winegrowers and winemakers.
The Triphon Zarezan`s day is celebrated on the 14th of February in Bulgaria and the practices still bear the spirit of the ancient rites. Drinking wine is almost obligatory, as people believe that it strengthens vitality and fertility. There is no better time to celebrate wine and love than on the 14th of February in Bulgaria!
Winemaking in Bulgaria has remained a family tradition and almost every Bulgarian family enjoys local or regional homemade wine. Wine and grape rakia (local fruit brandy) are considered national drinks and belong to the most popular spirits in the country.
In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, viticulture and winemaking were already approached professionally and the foundations of modern Bulgarian wine production were laid. In 1980, Bulgaria was the second-largest wine producer in the world.
Nowadays, Bulgarian wine is popular worldwide due to its undeniable taste qualities, which are achieved through the combination of very suitable climatic conditions and geographical characteristics. Summers are long and warm, rainfall is in the optimal range and diversity of soils is a favourable prerequisite for growing a large variety of grape types. The wide range includes the classic Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot and, lately, winegrowers are keen to experiment successfully with more modern varieties, such as Syrah, Malbec, Viognier. The most attractive sorts that bring wine tourist from all over the world to Bulgaria are the typical traditional Bulgarian wines: Mavrud, Gamza, Red Muskat, Pamid, Dimiat, Rubin and the legendary Melnik wine.
Quality wine from Bulgarian producers can be bought all over the world but we highly recommend to degustate them in the local wineries that keep the atmosphere of traditional Bulgarian hospitality. You can visit regional vineyards where you can learn about the process of wine production, while at the same time enjoying picturesque nature under the caressing sun rays which give Bulgarian wine its unique qualities.
Wine Regions in Bulgaria
In 1960, by the decree of the Council of Ministers, Bulgaria was divided into five wine regions.
Danubian Plain (North Bulgarian region)
Thanks to the favourable climatic conditions, characterized by a temperate continental climate with hot summers and an abundance of sunny days, the North Bulgarian region is becoming one of the largest regions for wine production in Bulgaria. It covers the central and western part of the Danube plain, the south bank of the Danube river and its adjacent areas. In this region, you can visit the famous wineries of Suhindol, Ruse and Svishtov. The production includes dry white wines, sparkling wines produced using classic technology and quality red wines, which are characterized by rich fruit aroma and fresh taste. Common varieties are Muscat Ottonel, Gamza, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, Aligote, Pamid and others. Near the town of Pleven, in Kaylaka park, is located the only Wine Museum in Bulgaria. There you will learn more about the history of viticulture and wine production in Bulgarian lands, the subtleties of wine degustation, and you can taste different types of wine. The museum hosts around 7,000 exhibits – mature wines and vessels for wine storage and production from different epochs. The oldest wine in the museum is almost 100 years old.
Black Sea (East Bulgarian region)
The East Bulgarian region encompasses the Black Sea coastal lands, Dobrudzha and Ludogorie. Located here are wineries of Burgas, Varna, Targovishte and Shumen, which are recognized all over the world. Around 30% of all Bulgarian vineyards and 53% of white grape varieties are located in this region. Long and mild autumns provide favourable conditions for the accumulation of enough sugar in the grapes from which the finest of white medium-dry wines are produced. Among the best-known quality, dry and medium-dry wines from the East Bulgarian region are Dimiat, Reisling, Ugni blanc, Muscat Ottonel, Traminer, Sauvignon blanc. They are characterized by their crisp taste and fruity aroma. You can visit the oldest but still preserved wine cellar in Bulgaria, located in the ancient royal town of Euxinograd (8 km north of Varna). The cellar dates back to the year 1891.
Rose Valley (Sub-Balkan region)
This region spreads to the south of the Balkan mountain range. Here the main cultivated varieties are Muscatel, Riesling, Rkatsiteli, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The region’s primary production is dry and medium dry white wines. The biggest wineries are located in Karlovo, Slavianci, Sliven and Sungurlare. Wines from the Rose Valley have a typical fruit aroma and a fresh and gentle taste.
Thracian Lowland (South Bulgarian region)
This region covers the central part of the lowland and part of Sakar Mountain. The climate here is temperate continental with mild, rainy winters and warm, dry summers. Thracian Lowland, drained by the Maritsa River and protected from the north wind by the Balkan Mountains, has the perfect conditions for growing and producing rich, dense red wines. This region is famous for its cultivation of red wine grape varieties. Among them are Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Muscatel and Pamid. Mavrud is regarded as one of the most highly esteemed local wines. It possesses a unique flavour that combines the taste of spices, herbs and forest fruits. Mavrud vineyards are mainly found around Asenovgrad and Perushtitsa. Other important cellars are in the towns of Brestovica, Liubimec, Peshtera, Stara Zagora and Haskovo.
Struma River Valley (Southwest Bulgarian region)
This region is located in the southwest part of the country, along the valley of the Struma River. This is the warmest and the most specific viticulture region in Bulgaria. The climate here has Mediterranean characteristics: it is dry with year-round high temperatures. This hilly, poor soil terrain is suitable for growing only red wine grape varieties. The wines of the region are Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and others. In general, the red wines from the Southwest Bulgarian region have a distinct southern сhаracter: saturated colour, intense aroma, high density; they are high in tannin and have good ageing potential. The regional wine grape variety Shiroka Melnishka Loza (Broadleafed Melnik vine) has been emblematic for this region since ancient times. Its spicy oaked taste is often compared to the characteristics of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, with its similar profile of spice and intensity. This particular Bulgarian wine was apparently the favourite wine of the former British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill. Notable producers of Shiroka Melnishka Loza wine are the Damianitza and Logodaj wineries. Other bigger wineries are located in Blagoevgrad, Petrich and Sandanski.
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.
Connect with Kylie on LinkedIn