Rise of the Bulgarian Bubbles

17th March 2020


Bulgaria is well known for its red wines – often powerful, jammy and delicious. International varietals Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc are most often associated with winemaking in this Balkan Republic – although 44 native grapes are grown in the country, both for table and for wine.

The fall of the Soviet Union allowed individual growers in Bulgaria to vinify their own grapes again. During the Cold War, vineyards sent their harvests to be processed in vast, state-owned factories, which churned out cheap, strong red blends. Independence has encouraged diversification amongst winemakers. More white, biodynamic, natural and sparkling wines are appearing – with the region’s indigenous varietals enjoying a renaissance.

Broadleafed Melnik is an ancient Bulgarian red grape variety. It only grows in the south west of the country – a hot region with a short growing season. Logodaj winery, located in the Struma Valley, is embracing Bulgarian varietals. They use Broadleafed Melnik grown in their vineyard located in the Struma valley to make delicious, traditional method sparkling white and rosé. Logodaj’s Satin Brut is a pale gold, multi-layered and complex wine, with gentle mousse, dry crisp palate and hints of green apples on the finish. Hand-picked grapes are fermented in stainless steel tanks, then spend 24 months on lees.

Logodaj’s Satin rosé – also made from Broadleafed Melnik – is made much like its white sibling – with tank fermnetation followed by 24 months on lees. This creates a bone-dry, pale-ruby drink – also with a gentle mousse. It has wild cherry and strawberry notes and is crisp and refreshing.

Thracian Valley winemakers Radostin Milkov and Peter Georgiev are using the oldest method of sparkling winemaking to create an unusual sparkling red. Méthode ancestral, where the wine is partially fermented before continuing its fermentation in the bottle, is used for making Pétillant-Naturel or Pét-Nat wines.

Milkov and Georgiev use indigenous, red varietal Mavrud, from Novi Izvor region, to make an interesting Pét-Nat with a great name – Funky Mavrud Petnat 2017. After the grapes are hand-picked and hand-sorted, a wild fermentation takes place in small, temperature-controlled tanks. The wine is then aged for 4 months in the bottle, before disgorging.

Funky Mavrud Petnat has a beautiful light raspberry colour and is naturally low in alcohol (typically 11%). It has berry fruit and herbal aromas, good freshness and lovely fruit on the after palate. The pétillance can vary from bottle to bottle – but is generally lightly sparkling. It can be cellared for up to 14 months.

Villa Yustina Winery, named after Emperor Justinian, is also located in the great southern winemaking region of the Thracian Valley – a quick 30 minute drive from heritage city Plovdiv. The owners have recently planted some Dimyat -an indigenous white varietal – and are considering using it to make a sparkling white in the future. For now -they have a delicious blanc de blancs and rosé made by the Charmat method. The rosé is 100% Cabernet Franc grown on calcerous soil (unusual, as much of the Thracian valley is clay). The grapes are hand picked – a little early to keep sugar levels low. The second fermentation takes place in stainless steel tanks in “Charmat method” for 6 months on lees. This yields a beautiful rose-coloured drink with, intense bubbles, pleasant floral and cherry notes and good acidity.
Their blanc de blancs is 100% Chardonnay – also made in the Charmat method with six months on lees – creating a delightful golden colour with a fine, vigorous mousse. A well balanced drink with good acidity and refreshing notes of fresh apple. Both these Yustina sparkling wines are well made and are popular with Bulgarians and visitors alike.

It is great to see Bulgarian wineries being adventurous and stepping outside their familiar territory of reds. If you fancy a cellar door visit to try these delicious sparklers – the excellent Bulgaria Wine Tours a husband and wife team, with a deep knowledge and understanding of the wine industry, are highly recommended.

Written by Lucy Morgan

Lucy is a food, wine and travel writer. 

Featured photo credit: Villa Yustina

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