Bulgaria is known for a great many things, such as…. well, it’s not wine travel. But should it be? If you asked us a week ago we might’ve raised a skeptical eyebrow but a piece by Jessica Simpson for Intrepid Travel has us second-guessing our premature assumptions. As it turns out, Bulgarian wine is not only interesting, it comes with a sense of place and history that we often only associate with more widely renowned regions.
In this country, on the cusp of a wine tourism break-through, visitors are offered an immersion into the modern heart of a historic culture. At Starata Izba as well as each winery and vineyard visited, we met winemakers, heard their stories, and witnessed their passion for process and product. The sense of engagement provided understanding on a level not always afforded along the world’s more established and touristic wine routes.
Whereas you may have to reserve months in advance for access to wineries in Burgundy and Bordeaux and still end up being denied, Bulgaria doesn’t thrive on the same sense of exclusivity. There is an openness, a willingness – nay eagerness – to share and that makes each visit all the more special.
There is plenty of the past on display, too:
It’s impossible to appreciate Bulgaria’s wine present without considering the past. Many historians believe grape cultivation took root in this area over 5,000 years ago and credit the ancient elixir’s creation to Thracian tribes who worshiped Zagreus, also known as Dionysus, the god of wine. Zina Sorensen, co-founder of Bulgaria Wine Tours says that rich heritage is a thread connecting ancestors with contemporary producers. “The Thracians were winemaking masters and introduced a wine culture that still lives on in modern Bulgaria,” Sorensen says.
As for native grapes? Bulgaria has those too:
While wineries throughout the country produce international grape varieties such as Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir with elegance, it is Bulgaria’s native grapes such as Mavrud that command the spotlight. The country boasts 44 registered native grape varieties (22 white and 22 red,) including Melnik, Dimyat, Mavrud and Rubin.
Perhaps it’s time to visit these outlying areas and reconsider what we believe to be the top wine regions – or at least stretch our definition of what can be an incredible wine-tasting experience. Is Bulgaria the new Bordeaux? Not likely, but it may just be an incredible locale all on its own.