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Bulgaria- History and Trade

Communism saw its wines grow on the export market. Largest Cabernet Sauvignon supplier to Britain, second largest exporter in the world by 1996. Political and infrastructure collapse led to a rapid decline and rapid quality and price drop. Recently foreign investment and winemakers are making a slow increase in quality. Viticulture dominated by small holders while production is mainly large co-operatives. White wine quality improving recently due to international winemaker intervention. also improving the primary fruit character of reds, creating a more modern style. Still struggling to sell wine above the lowest price points on export market. Small number of high quality new vineyards and boutique wineries are stimulating competition. Ranges of quality wine being released with the UK market in mind.


Bulgaria- Wine Laws

Wine Act 1976, classifications under a number of categories:

Standard Wines- Basic level, still, light wine for domestic market.

Special Wines- Includes sparkling, fortified and fruit wines
High Quality wines without geographical origin- Unspecified region, large brands

High quality wines with declared geographical origin (DGO)- States region on the label. Variety may also be stated. Quality level not stated. For example label may say Russe Welschriesling, Russe being the producing region.

Controliran- Equivalent to Appellation Control in France. Specified varieties grown in specified areas. Labels state variety and region. Wine must pass a tasting panel. The quality level, Controliran, will be stated on the label.

Reserve- DGO and Controliran wine aged for a minimum time in oak. Large old oak often used where oak chips will be used to impart oak characters, some producers using new oak barrels. Controliran and DGO often share a common geographical description; different legal status will be based on individual vineyards and varieties grown there.


Bulgaria- Regions

In mid 2000's EU re-classified the regions of Bulgaria as follows: Danubian Plain (including Black Sea Region) and Thracian Lowlands (including Struma Valley).


Black Sea Regions- Bulgaria

Entire coastline, up to the River Danube. Climate moderated by the sea, white wine production most important, with Chardonnay the main grape. Controliran Chardonnay and Gewürztraminer produced in the hilly region of Shumen. Controliran Chardonnay also produced near Varna on the coast.
Mountains reduce maritime influence inland, where production predominately red.


Danube Plain- Bulgaria

Northern slopes of Balkan Mountains and the great Danube plain. Continental climate with hot summers. Svischthov, on the Danube, Suhindol, Russe and Pavlikeni are important producers of Cab Sauv. Suhindol important in Bulgarian wine history as it was the first co-operative winery to be built and the first privatised after the break down of communism.


Struma Valley Region- Bulgaria

South-west of Bulgaria, near to the Greek border. Strums Valley extends the Mediterranean climate inland. Large volume production of mainly Rkatsiteli but red more important for export. Local speciality is Melnik, a full bodied, high tannin red that benefits from barrel ageing. Limited quantity now produced. Cab Sauv also grown.


Thracian Valley Region- Bulgaria

Accounts for a third of the countries vineyards. Continental climate, but cooled by mountain breezes. Noted for quality red production. Divided in to 2 subregions:

East Thracian Valley Region- Valley plus hilly region of Sakar. Merlot production dominant. Also grown are Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Aligote, Misket, Muscat- Ottonel and Pamid.

West Thracian Valley Region- Valley of the Maritsa River. Largest production of the regions. Controliran wine from Mavrud produced at Assenovgrad. Cabernet Sauvignon produced near Plovdiv and Oriachivitza.


Sub- Balkan Region- Bulgaria

Southern foot of the Balkan Mountain Range. Deep valleys produce unique micro climates. White wines from different grapes are local speciality.



Ancient and distinctive south west georgian grape variety notable for the colour and acidity it can bring to a blend. It is Georgia’s signature and most-planted red wine grape. As a varietal wine, it is capable, not to say demanding, of long bottle ageing. The flesh of this dark-skinned grape is deep pink and it produces wines that command attention if not always devotion. It ripens late, is relatively productive, and is quite well adapted to cold winters, but not so well that the Russian Potapenko viticultural research institute has been discouraged from producing a Saperavi Severny, a hybrid of severny and Saperavi which was released in 1947 and incorporates not just Saperavi’s vinifera genes, but also those of the cold-hardy vitis amurensis.

Traditional Saperavi is planted throughout almost all of the wine regions of the former Soviet republics. It is an important variety in russia, ukraine, moldova, bulgaria, armenia, and azerbaijan, as well as in its native georgia although in cooler areas the acidity may be too marked for any purpose other than blending, despite its relatively high sugar levels. It was also used extensively for vine breeding at magarach, the Crimean wine research centre.



Distinctively bulgarian cross of Nebbiolo and Syrah developed around 1944. It ripens in mid September and has 50% more anthocyanins than Cabernet Sauvignon, although interest is waning since the wines seem to age too fast.


Mikhail Gorbachev

Last President of the Soviet Union (1985–91) and significant in the history of wine because of his 1985–8 national campaign against alcohol abuse. Measures were energetically directed not just against vodka consumption but also against the production and importation of wine. The immediate domestic effect was that the total vineyard area in the Soviet Union (which until the fall of communism included such wine-producing republics as moldova, ukraine, the crimea, uzbekistan, russia, azerbaijan, georgia and, producing very much less wine, armenia, kyrgyzstan, tajikistan, kazakhstan, and turkmenistan) fell by a third between 1980 and 1990 to the 1960 level of just over 1 million ha/2,471,000 acres. In 1990, the Soviet Union still accounted for 12% of the world’s total area of vineyard and 5% of the wine produced. By 1996, according to oiv statistics, those same countries accounted for 11% of the world’s vineyard but only 3% of the wine produced.

The effects of Gorbachev’s anti-alcohol campaign were equally dramatic in countries from which the Soviet Union had been importing huge quantities of wine; see for example, bulgaria, romania, hungary, georgia, and cyprus. These countries suddenly had to find new customers for an important proportion of their annual grape harvest—customers who would certainly be more demanding than their Soviet predecessors—or simply abandon vines and wine production to a significant degree.

Wine produced within the old Soviet Union, on the other hand, was viewed by some of the newly independent republics as a potential earner of hard currency, by others as useful barter. As individuals struggled for economic survival in the new free market economies, the markets were flooded with alcohol substitutes, cheap vodkas, brandies, and wines from central and western Europe. For more detail, see under the names of individual republics.



Name for at least three different perfumed white wine grapes in bulgaria. By far the most important is the old, pink-skinned Misket Cherven which makes soft, grapey, dry wines in the south of the country. Misket Varnenski is a Dimiat x Riesling cross developed for the eastern Varna province, while Misket Vrachanski is a more aromatic but even rarer cross.



Sometimes spelt Dimiat, bulgaria’s widely planted indigenous white grape variety whose total area had declined to 6,000 ha/15,000 acres by 2009. It is grown mainly in the east and south of Bulgaria, where it is regarded as a producer of perfumed everyday whites of varying levels of sweetness but usefully dependable quality. The vines yield copper-coloured grapes in great quantity. The wines should be consumed young and cool. Dimyat is probably related to gouais blanc and is a parent of cabernet severny and others.



Bulgaria’s most widely planted and least interesting indigenous grape variety producing rather thin, early-maturing red wines with few distinguishing marks other than a certain sweetness. It does not play a major role in bottles bound for export. It is also planted quite extensively, on 2,852 ha in 2013 as Roşioarǎ, in Romania.



Eastern European late ripening red wine grape of uncertain origin. As Gamza, it is most widely planted in Bulgaria where it is considered indigenous. Some Albanians stake a claim to it, called Kallmet there. And it is also said to be native to western Romania where it is known as Cadarča. bulgaria’s 3,000 ha/7,500 acres of Gamza are planted mainly in the north, where it can produce wines of interest from long growing seasons if yields are restricted. In Hungary the variety grew on a total of only just over 500 ha/1,250 acres and has been substantially replaced by the viticulturally sturdier kékfrankos, and by portugieser in Villány. It is still cultivated on the Great Plain and in the Szekszárd wine region just across the Danube to the west but its tendency to grey rot and its habit of ripening riskily late limit it to certain favoured sites. The vine is also naturally highly productive and needs careful control in order to produce truly concentrated wines, ideally trained as bush vines. Fully ripened Szekszárdi Kadarka can be a fine, soft, full-bodied wine worthy of ageing but is produced in minuscule quantities. Kadarka is too often over-produced and picked when still low in colour and flavour.

Because of its—largely historic—fame, this is a variety which is often included in any large nursery collection of vine varieties.



Indigenous Balkan grape variety most closely associated with bulgaria, capable of producing intense, tannic wine if allowed to ripen fully. Grown on about 1,700 ha/4,220 acres in central southern Bulgaria in 2009 and a speciality of Assenovgrad near Plovdiv, it is small berried, low yielding and has a long vegetative period. The robust wine produced responds well to oak ageing, although it tends to age rather faster than Bulgaria’s other noble indigenous vine melnik.



powerful ancient late-ripening bulgarian red grape variety that is grown on 1,580 ha/3,902 acres in 2013 exclusively in the Struma Valley around the historic town of Mělnik close to the Greek border in what was Thrace. It may therefore have been cultivated here for many centuries and its wines certainly taste more Greek in their extract, tannin, and alcohol than typical of modern Bulgaria. Its full name is Shiroka Melnishka Losa, or ‘broad-leaved vine of Melnik’, and its berries are notably small with thick, blue skins. Some wines have the aroma of tobacco leaves, another local crop. Oak ageing and several years bring out a warmth and style not unlike a nebbiolo. This is probably the Bulgarian wine with the greatest longevity, but see also mavrud. An early ripening clone, Ranna Melnishka Losa, yields wines with rounder fruit and softer tannins.


Rotofermenter, or Rotary Fermenter

A horizontal fermentation vessel arranged so that the contents can be mixed mechanically either by rotating the vessel, or by rotating an inner shaft fitted with vanes in a stationary vessel. Designed to eliminate the need for punching down or pumping over, this equipment speeds the maceration phase of red winemaking. Some European wine producers, notably in Burgundy, have invested in them, as have a number of new world winemakers. Like most mechanical systems that promote skin–juice contact, they are expensive and require extensive and robust framing structures to mount and hold the horizontal tank. Rotofermenters are usually controlled by computers, with cycles of rotation chosen by the winemaker. They are sometimes referred to as roll-fermenters.