7 unique Bulgarian wine varieties you must taste

7 unique Bulgarian wine varieties you must taste

Did you know that Bulgaria was the second largest producer of wine in the world in the 1980s? Today, the country may not be producing wine on such a massive scale, but its thousand-year-old winemaking traditions continue to deliver high-quality and affordable Bulgarian wine.

Indeed, vine growing and winemaking have been part of Bulgarian culture since time immemorial. Thousands of years ago in what is today Bulgaria, the ancient Thracians were consuming wine from elaborate gold vessels in the shape of animals and mythical creatures. And who wouldn’t grow wine in Bulgaria – its sunlit hills, fertile soils and geographic latitude (equivalent to central Italy or southern France to the west) provide the perfect vine growing conditions practically all over the country.

Wine is among the most popular drinks in Bulgaria, along with rakia and beer. The country is divided into five separate winemaking regions, each of those offering specific local wines. From the spicy Mavrud of the central south to the fresh Gamza of the northwest, I present you 7 unique Bulgarian wine varieties you totally must taste!

1. The dark horse: Mavrud

Mavrud’s name comes from the Greek word for black and you can definitely see why in this wine’s deep colour. Used to make a dark ruby-coloured and soft-tasting wine, Mavrud (Мавруд) grapes are almost exclusively grown in a small area just north of the charming Rhodope Mountains. More specifically, this sturdy variety is associated with the town of Asenovgrad and to a lesser extent with Perushtitsa.

Mavrud grapes are typically small in size, low on yield and ripen late – the harvest is in late October. All these factors result in a spicy and fruity varietal with high tannins, appreciated for its high quality, remarkable maturing potential and local character.

2. Flavour of the Mediterranean: Broad-Leaved Melnik

The scenic region of Melnik produces well-aging reds

The scenic region of Melnik produces well-aging reds. Photo credit: Dupnitsa.net, Wikipedia.

Planted in the southwestern-most and warmest corner of Bulgaria, in the distinct Mediterranean valley of the Struma River, the Broad-Leaved Melnik Vine (Широка мелнишка лоза, Shiroka melnishka loza) bears all the signs of an age-worthy southern red grape variety. Varietals are often named just Melnik, referring to the picturesque smallest town in Bulgaria famous for its winemaking tradition.

According to a very popular story, Melnik wine was Winston Churchill’s favourite – it is even claimed that Churchill had 500 litres of this wine delivered to him annually! Whether this is true or not, it is certain that wine from the late-ripening Broad-Leaved Melnik grapes has a captivating taste much like that of Châteauneuf-du-Pape of southeastern France, often with tobacco and leather hints.

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10 Bulgarian drinks you must try

10 Bulgarian drinks you must try

Bulgaria has a refreshing tradition of natural beverages, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic. Many Bulgarian drinks are mixed together to create curious cocktails while others, like the classic rakia, are sipped pure. With summer slowly approaching and the weather getting sunnier and warmer by the day, here’s a list of 10 typically Bulgarian drinks to quench the thirst when you visit the country… and enrich your cultural experience of the Balkans!

1. The fruity queen of spirits: rakia (ракия)

The fruity queen of spirits: rakia (ракия)

The fruity queen of spirits: rakia (ракия)

A personal favourite and the most popular spirit among the South Slavic peoples, rakia is a fruit brandy that can be made out of practically any kind of fermented fruit. This legendary beverage is customarily made in home distilleries (called казан kazan). In Bulgaria, the most popular variety is grape rakia, though plum, apple, apricot, peach, cherry, quince are all appreciated and traditional for some regions like Troyan and the western parts of the country. The rose rakia of Kazanlak is another local variety that stands out.

Order a rakia with a shopska salad for the quintessential Bulgarian appetizer. And pay attention to the measures – a small drink in Bulgaria is 50ml while a big drink amounts to a whooping 100ml! Commercially-made rakia has an alcohol content of about 40% and the home-made spirit is even stronger, so a big drink is already a serious undertaking…

2. A healthy chilled yoghurt specialty: ayran (айран)

A healthy chilled yoghurt specialty: ayran (айран)

A healthy chilled yoghurt specialty: ayran (айран)

Bulgarian yoghurt is celebrated worldwide, and within the country it is enjoyed both in its thick and in its liquid form. Mix an equal amount of water with some quality Bulgarian whole-milk yoghurt, stir it and add salt to taste and you get ayran (or ayryan) – served chilled, the ultimate refreshing milk drink for the hot Balkan summers.

Ayran, though in a thicker variety and often with added herbs, is also popular throughout Turkey and the Middle East.

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7 Bulgarian food classics you cannot afford to miss

Bulgarian food is tasty, fresh and hearty. Bulgaria is famous for its quality vegetables and dairy products and its variety of mild spices. Pork and chicken are the most common forms of meat, though seafood, fish and veal dishes are also popular and lamb has a special traditional place in Bulgarian cooking.

While many of the staples of Bulgarian cuisine you would also find in Turkey, Greece or Serbia, in Bulgaria each of those has its own local flavour to set it apart from the Balkan neighbours’ version. From hearty salads through delicious pastries to grilled meat classics, here’s 7 Bulgarian dishes you absolutely must try during your stay in the country!

1. Baked extravaganza: banitsa (баница)

Baked extravaganza: banitsa (баница)

Baked extravaganza: banitsa (баница)

This piece of greasy pastry deliciousness can be purchased in bakeries all over the country. Its standard variety includes a filling of feta-like white cheese (сирене, sirene), though varieties filled with onions, cabbage, spinach, mushrooms or pumpkin can also be found. For your sweet tooth, you can also try banitsa with apples and walnuts. Banitsa in any of its forms is an inseparable part of a traditional Bulgarian breakfast. Combine it with the thick fermented wheat drink boza for a quintessential Bulgarian experience.

Holiday tip: careful when chewing your piece of banitsa at Christmas or New Year’s Eve! On those dates, banitsa is filled with lucky paper charms which are sometimes easy to chew through. The luckiest piece will contain the coin which means you’ll enjoy a very successful year ahead of you.

  • Standard price: 1-1.50 BGN (0.50-0.75 €)

2. King of the grill: kebapche (кебапче)

King of the grill: kebapche

King of the grill: kebapche

The Bulgarian cousin of former Yugoslavia’s famous ćevapčići and Romanian mititei, a kebapche is the perfect side dish to a glass of cold Bulgarian beer on a summer day. Though Bulgarians may argue about that, whether the beer is a Kamenitza or a Zagorka makes no big difference. The important part is that the kebapcheta are at least three and include some kind of sides, usually French fries with grated sirene cheese on top, to make the classic “three kebapcheta with sides” (тройка кебапчета с гарнитура, troyka kebapcheta s garnitura).

The dish itself is an elongated piece of grilled minced meat, comparable in shape and size, though not in contents, to a hot dog. As with the smaller ćevapčići that you can taste in Serbia, the meat is usually a mix of pork and beef, though it can be solely pork just as well. A beef version exists, but is uncommon and will normally be labeled as such. Typically, spices like black pepper and cumin will be added to the meat, for a mildly spicy taste.

  • Standard price: 1-2 BGN (0.50-1 €)

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