Bulgarian wine grape varieties – popular and lesser-known

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Do you know any typical Bulgarian wine grape varieties? Have you tried some?

Bulgarian wine is a lesser-known wine universe. Although it is sometimes absent from the major world wine guides, wine making in Bulgaria is millenia-old tradition. Wine was a sacred drink for ancient Thracians and people keep growing vines on this land today. Nowadays the viticulture scene in Bulgaria is a mix of major world-known varieties, indigenous grapes, locally created hybrids and some experiments. In this article I will tell you about the traditional local wine grape varieties in Bulgaria and what you should look for in case you want to taste a wine from typical local grape variety.

Some of the varieties in this list are indigenous, others are locally created hybrids, and others can also be found in other Balkan countries but are definitely a long-existing part of Bulgarian viticulture, too.

In the world of red wine grape varieties in Bulgaria

Mavrud

Mavrud is grape with a long history and surrounded by various stories. It is probably the most popular Bulgarian grape variety, both in Bulgaria and abroad. It is grown mostly in southern Bulgaria and sometimes along the Black sea coast. The most traditional terroir for Mavrud is around Asenovgrad and Plovdiv and you can hear legends about the Asenograd’s Mavrud. However, in the recent years you can find wonderful Mavrud wines in many other regions in southern Bulgaria, for example the Struma Valley. Mavrud is grown mainly in the south because it is not very cold-resistant.

Mavrud Reserve 2019 by Villa Bassarea
Mavrud Reserve 2019 by Villa Bassarea

The main perception of Mavrud is of a very heavy and strong wine with a lot of oak. But the truth is that you can find stunning different Mavrud wines. The most traditional versions have full body, they are intensive and long-aged with complex aromas. But in the recent years we have tried very different Mavrud wines, too. There is white Mavrud, for example. We have also tasted very innovative Mavrud wines with aromatic light and elegant body, coming from Pazardzhik region, which we loved. The Struma Valley Mavrud, grown near Melnik, is a whole universe. And if you ask the Bulgarians about Mavrud wines, you will hear various answers. Some adore it, other do not like it but still keep tasting. We are somewhere in the middle, but every time we open a new bottle of Mavrud, we feel like experimenting.

Mavrud wines have a typical aroma of black fruits, which we easily distinguish. It is really recognizable, no matter the technology and style. Do not be surprised if you see all styles of wines from Mavrud – white, rose, red, with or without oak and even dessert wines.


Mavrud wines to taske


Rubin

While exploring one of the most typical Bulgarian wine grape varieties, we recall the great enthusiasm in the industry in the 20th century. Several decades ago were created so many various new grape varieties. Some of them are based on typical indigenous grapes, others are hybrids between world-known varieties.

Rubin by Haralambievi vineyards
Rubin by Haralambievi vineyards
Rubin Reserve 2018 from Yalovo Winery
Rubin Reserve 2018 from Yalovo Winery

Rubin is one of these works, created in the late 1940s in the Institute of Viticulture and Enology in Pleven. The parents of this grape are Syrah and Nebbiolo. The grapes ripen around mid-September, with good resistance to disease. The wines have intensive deep ruby colour, tastes and aromas of black and red fruits. Oak ageing suits wonderfully the wines from Rubin variety, which have great ageing potential. Rubin is mostly grown in Southern Bulgaria but there are plantation in the Danube plain, too.

Wonderful Bulgarian rose wine from Rubin
Wonderful Bulgarian rose wine from Rubin

Rubin wines to taste:


Broad Leaved Melnik / Shiroka Melnik

The Melnik grape varieties are among our favourites. They are a family of grape varieties grown along the Struma Valley and mostly near the towns of Sandanski and Melnik. Broad Leaved Melnik, a.k.a. Shiroka Melnik, is an indigenous grape variety grown only in this small area of Bulgaria. All attempts for plantations outside the Struma Valley have been unsuccessful. It is a very interesting variety with huge leaves, which give its name. It ripens late – usually in Mid-October, but has poor resistance to cold and it is always a challenge to ripen well.

Maria and the Broad-leaved Melnik (Shiroka Melnik))
Maria and the Broad-leaved Melnik (Shiroka Melnik) in the vineyards of Zlaten Rozhen

Broad Leaved Melnik has wonderful ageing potential and has only two main disadvantages: it ripens late and does not give much colour. This is the reason why in the 20th century were created many hybrids based on the Broad Leaved Melnik. Some of them are popular today, others are almost forgotten. They are all known as Melnik varieties.

Broad Leaved Melnik at Villa Melnik vineyards. This is the traditional method of growing Broad Leaved Melnik
Broad Leaved Melnik at Villa Melnik vineyards. This is the traditional method of growing Broad Leaved Melnik
Broad Leaved Melnik at Villa Melnik vineyard
Vines at Villa Melnik, Bulgarian winery

Wines from Broad Leaved Melnik to try:

  • Broad Leaved Melnik from Villa Melnik – Bergule, Aplauz and Rare Varieties series

The “children” of Broad Leaved Melnik – Melnik 55 and others

The Broad Leaved Melnik has always been very demanding to grow. Bulgarian scientists have created several hybrids based on it which are easier and more successful to grow. Maybe the most popular one is Melnik 55 (a.k.a. Early Melnik). It is a hybrid between Broad Leaved Melnik and several French varieties (Durif, Jurançon, Valdiguié and Cabernet Sauvignon). It ripens earlier but still has the typical aromas and character of the Melnik wines.

There are a few more varieties based on Shiroka Melnik – like Melnik Jubilee 1300 and Melnik 82. It is common to use the name Melnik for all of the hybrids based on Broad Leaved Melnik. Also, the various Melnik varieties are often mixed in blends.

Melnik 55 grapes on the vineyards of Rupel Winery
Melnik 55 grapes on the vineyards of Rupel Winery
Rupel winery vineyards. Thak you, Rupel, for placing signs on the rows
Rupel winery vineyards. Thak you, Rupel, for placing signs on the rows

Wines to try from Melnik 55:

Melnik 55 is probably the most popular among the Melnik varieties. Every winery around Melnik and the Struma Valley will offer you wines from this variety. Our best advise is to go for a trip in the area and try the different wines, it is worth. Among our favourite wine cellars in the area are Villa Melnik, Zlaten Rozhen, Rupel. Here are some wine ideas:


Melnik Jubilee 1300

This grape variety is a hybrid between Broad Leaved Melnik and the Georgian variety Saperavi. It was created in Sandanski in 1963. In 1981 it was dedicated to the 1300th anniversary of the creation of Bulgaria, such named Melnik Jubilee 1300.

Villa Melnik Rare Varieties Melnik Jubilee 1300
Villa Melnik Rare Varieties Melnik Jubilee 1300

The Saperavi grapes are known for their deep colour and high ageing potential. The hybrid with Broad Leaved Melnik was selected because it ripens earlier and gives strong colours. The wines have deep colour and intensive aromas and taste.

Wines to taste:

  • Villa Melnik Rare Varieties: Melnik Jubilee 1300

Melnishki rubin / Ruen

The only common things between grape varieties Rubin and Melnishki rubin are the word “rubin” and the fact that both are hybrids created in Bulgaria. However, they are very different grape varieties.

Melnishki rubin was created in the 1970s in Pleven. It is as a hybrid from the indigenous Broad Leaved Melnik (Shiroka Melnik) and Cabernet Sauvignon. Ruen is an almost identical variety, a hybrid with the same parents but created in Plovdiv. Both are grown mostly in the Struma Valley in Southwest Bulgaria.

Wines to taste:


Pamid – the table wine

Once Pamid was the daily wine of Bulgarians. Pale red, light, easy to drink – winderful for every table. Pamid is a relatively easy to grow grape with high yields. This is why it was one of the most popular wine grapes to grow in Bulgaria for centuries. Nowadays its popularity is in decline and varietal wines from Pamid are a rarity. But they still can be found around.

Rose from Pamid grape 2019 Villa Bassarea
Rose from Pamid grape 2019 Villa Bassarea

Pamid is one of the oldest local grape varieties in Bulgaria, cultivated since the times of the Thracians. You can also find it in other Balkan countries under various names. It is relatively resistant to both cold and drought. The vines give high yields and ripen in the first half of September.

Pamid is known to give light pale-coloured wines, good for immediate consumption but without ageing potential. So, Pamid is great for rose wines or young wines but is not the variety for thick, deep and long-aged wines. So, Pamid is often added to blends, sometimes even without mentioning. However, we are always curious to discover the real character of the grapes, especially when it comes to traditional Bulgarian grape varieties. And luckily, we found wines from Pamid.


Wines to taste:


Gamza

Gamza is probably one of the varieties we should begin with, although it is not only a Bulgarian grape variety. It is also grown in other Balkan countries under various names. In Serbia and Romania, for example, you could find a very similar variety known as Kadarka. However, Gamza is one of the signature varieties in Northwest Bulgaria. This is why we add it to this list.

Gamza is late-ripening variety, around late September, with thin skin. Wines from Gamza are light-bodied with light tannins.

Tasting Gomotartzi Gamza from Bononia Estate
Tasting Gomotartzi Gamza from Bononia Estate

Wines from Gamza are imminent to the Northwest of Bulgaria and very similar in character to this region. Wild, beautiful, joyful and light, but still leaving memorable pictures and feelings. Gamza is traditional for Northwest Bulgaria.Our first encounters with Gamza were with the bottles of Bononia Estate, near Vidin.


Wines to taste

  • Gamza Gomotartzi from Bononia Estate
  • GAMZA Bononia Estate

Evmolpia

Evmolpia is a hybrid between Mavrud and Merlot, created in Bulgaria. It is a relatively new variety, also called Thracian Mavrud. It was officially registered in 1991. The grapes ripe in September, the vines give high yields and are resistant to cold. From this grape are produced high-quality red wines.

The attractive colour of Evmolpia Rose 2019 from Tsarev Brod winery
The attractive colour of Evmolpia Rose 2019 from Tsarev Brod winery

Wines to taste

  • Rose from Evmolpia, Tsarev Brod, Bulgaria

White grape varieties from Bulgaria

Dimyat

Dimyat is probably the most popular one among the white local grape varieties. it is an old variety and its origins are unclear. According to some theories, it is related to Gouais Blanc which is also ancestor to other grape varieties in Europe. Dimyat is popular in Eastern Bulgaria and along the Black Sea coast.

The wines from Dimyat have delicate aromas. You can also find Orange wines from Dimyat. One of our favourites is the Dimyat Orange wine from Maryan Winery.


Wines to taste


Orange wine Barrel Fermented by Maryan winery, Bulgaria - 2016
Orange wine Barrel Fermented by Maryan – 2016

Tamianka (not entirely Bulgarian)

We have a crush on this aromatic grape variety and never miss a chance to taste Tamianka wines. Actually, there are debates about what Tamianka actually is. It is pretty close to the French Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains and other Muscat varieties. But Tamianka is also a variety with a long history in some parts of Bulgaria so we count it as one of the typical local varieties.

Tamianka 2019 from Villa Bassarea
Tamianka 2019 from Villa Bassarea

Tamianka grapes ripen in early September and then raisinise. Because of the sugar concentration, it is also a popular variety for high-quality semi-dry and sweet wines. But there are also amazing dry wines from Tamianka, incredibly aromatic. Sometimes we try to pair them with proper light food but we often choose to enjoy them without food, especially in the summer months.


Wines from Tamianka to try:


Sandanski Misket

Sandanski Misket is a hybrid between Broad Leaved Melnik and Tamianka. It gives aromatic wines with scents of citrus and linden, with a rather medium body.


Wines to taste:

Aplauz Sandanski Misket from Villa Melnik
Aplauz Sandanski Misket from Villa Melnik

Keratsuda

Keratsuda is an indigenous Bulgarian variety from the far southwest (Struma Valley). The plantations are tiny and few wine cellars produce varietal wines from Keratsuda. Some wineries use it in blends. Keratsuda is late-ripening with high yields. Resistant to drought.


Wines to taste

  • Bergule Keratsuda from Villa Melnik

Gergana

This variety was created in the 1980s. It is a hybrid between Muscat Ottonel and Dimyat. The plantations are tiny but in the recent years some boutique wineries try to revive it and we are waiting with curiosity to see how this will go.


Wines to taste:

  • Gergana from Tsarev Brod winery

Maria and I opened a ottle of Gergana in one very nice restaurant in Lovech, Bulgaria
Maria and I opened a bottle of Gergana in one very nice restaurant in Lovech, Bulgaria

Kokorko

Kokorko is another interesting local grape variety, almost extinct. We had the chance to try wine from Kokorko grapes at Yalovo Winery. This is probably one of the rarest wines we have tasted. It was pale, almost transparent, with white gold colour. Aromas of white flowers, fresh summer fruits (peaches and apricots), a small sweet not, maybe like roasted apples.

Maria tasting Kokorko 2019 from Yalovo winery, Bulgaria
Maria tasting Kokorko 2019 from Yalovo winery, Bulgaria

We had only heard about Kokorko until we visited Yalovo Winery. But their winemaker Dimitar told us that some time ago he accidentally found several vines with Kokorko amongst a Misket vineyard and he now plans to plant a new vineyard with Kokorko.

At the end

Although our knowledge of vinegrowing is based mostly on curiousity and own research rather than any professional experience, we did our best to make this compilation of the most characteristic grape varieties for Bulgaria, a wine-producing country with centuries-old traditions. Of course, in Bulgaria you will also find wonderful vineyards with international varieties like Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and others. But here we wanted to show that besides the titans, you can also find unique indigenous and local varieties that are worth tasting. And your best chance is a tour through the wine cellars of Bulgaria, where you will not only taste great wines but make new friends, too.

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