One of the IWINETC (International Wine Tourism Conference) speakers and wine judge, Jochen Erler, has visited Bulgaria several times and attended one of the most important wine event in Bulgaria, the annual wine show organized in Sofia by the magazine DiVino, Here is his report on the Potential of Bulgaria´s wine industry.
During the time of the Iron Curtain, among the wine producing countries of the Soviet-ruled COMECON bloc, Bulgaria offered the best mass-produced dry table wine at a very low price. It was a Cabernet Sauvignon that would sell nowadays in a UK supermarket for about 4.99 £. The fall of the Iron Curtain, the privatization of the huge State-owned wineries and the creation of new wine enterprises has lead in these former COMECON countries to a considerable increase in quality and diversity of the wines on offer.
Hungary (IWINETC 2018) with its world-famous Tokay and its Bullblood brand was able to conquer in its export not only an important share of the entry-level market, but also a small share of the premium market. Romania has not been far behind, mainly thanks to the influx of foreign capital into the wine industry and to good marketing.
Bulgaria in contrast has been slow in catching up with this development. However, over the past few years, great progress has finally been made in the improvement of Bulgarian wine, demonstrating the high potential of Bulgaria’s wine industry: to compete in quality with their international rivals, and in particular to become the leader with regard to the diversity of indigenous grape varieties on offer.
One of the most exciting traditional local grapes is Gamza alias Kadarka in Hungary, alias Kallmet in Albania. It is a grape requiring a lot of work in the vineyard and has been uprooted under the communists. In Hungary the replanting of Kadarka has resulted in a considerable improvement of the quality of Sczekzard’s Bullblood. In Bulgaria, however, no such renaissance of the grape has yet taken place, and only in top restaurants one can find Borowiza’s Gamza.
Bulgaria’s wine growers developed and planted instead two new varieties: Rubin, a cross of Nebbiolo and Syrah, and Ruen, a cross of Cab.Sauv. and Melnishka, an almost extinct Bulgarian grape. These two new crossings express themselves best when bottled as varietals. They are impressive in bouquet and flavours, they make wines of perfect balance and harmony, with soft tannins, easy acessibility and good structure to be kept some time in bottle.
Other great grapes, grown in the South West in the Thracian Lowland are Broad Leaved Melnik and (Early) Melnik 55, a crossing made in the 70s of the traditional Melnik and Valdiguie, an old French variety. The wine made from the new grape has all the same qualities of the old variety, but softer tannins than the traditional one.
Another excellent local variety, also grown in the region of Thrace is Mavrud, a low yielding and late ripening grape producing powerful tannic red wines that are aged in barrique. Mavrud wines are reminiscent of Mourvedre.
There are a handful of local white grape varieties which in general do not reach the high standards of the red wines.
Also impressive is the high quality of wines made from a wide range of international red varieties. First the Bordeaux varietals and blends, some of them are of top quality – but these one can find all over the world. Then a high number of well made Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc. There is at least one producer for each of these two varieties who makes a wine of top quality.
A few producers offer Gruener Veltliner, Gewuerztraminer, Malbec, Alicante Bouschet, Marcelan, Mourvedre and Tamyanka (Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains) at high quality standards. Bulgaria’s various micro-climates and soils seem to permit the successful planting of almost all the leading grapes of the world.
International Wine Tourism Conference (IWINETC) 2024 Plovdiv, Bulgaria
The 15th annual edition of the International Wine Tourism Conference (IWINETC) will take place in Plovdiv 9 & 10 April and within the conference programme there will be a session titled Wines of Bulgaria Grand Tasting which will allow conference delegates to Immerse themselves in a sensorial journey through distinct regions, diverse grape varieties, and exquisite blends. Delve into the rich tapestry of Bulgaria’s winemaking heritage, uncovering the nuances that make each region unique. Delegates will discover not just the wines but the enchanting landscapes and immersive experiences each winery offers for wine tourism. So if able do Join the event as Ncoletta Dicova and Dimitar Dimov and uncork the stories behind every bottle, inviting delegates to savour the diversity and possibilities within Bulgaria’s vibrant wine culture.
About the Author
After some years in academia and many years in the international civil service Jochen Erler retired to pursue his true love of wines, walking and writing. He has spent much of his time leading wine walking groups throughout Europe, between wine journalism and attending professional tastings. Since more than 30 years he has been a freelance wine writer, wine consultant and member of jury at wine contests, among them for 20 years at the International Wine & Spirit Competition in the UK and 15 years at the Austrian Wine Challenge. As a member of the Cruise Lecturer Association he became a speaker on cruise ships giving presentations about the history of wine and the countries visited. Innsbruck in Austria has been his home for the last 10 years. He has spoken at IWINETC on topics based on his long experience of being a wine tour guide and has attended press trips connected to the IWINETC event.