Wine of the Week 48 – it’s all change in Bulgaria

Back in my early days in wine, 30 odd years ago now, a big chunk of the cheaper wines available here in the UK were from Bulgaria. Every retailer stocked a decent range of wines from this, then, Communist Block country, as no one at the time could touch them for quality, low prices and value for money. Some of the wines were merely acceptable and cheap, while others were really very good indeed – I have very fond memories of the excellent 1978 Sakar Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon – Sakar is an appellation or PDO in the Thracian Valley in Bulagaria’s south east.

UK consumers seemed to love the wines and/or the value they represented and so we soaked up all the Bulgarian wine we could get.

After the fall of Communism though it all changed. The Bulgarian industry had lost its traditional big market, the Soviet Union, and the upshot was that the big nationalised wineries were privatised, the vineyards fell into decline – many were abandoned – and a downward spiral set in. Certainly Bulgarian wine totally disappeared from the UK market, so much so that most of my students have no idea that the country makes wine at all.

Bulgaria has a lot going for it wine-wise, a long history of winemaking, a (mainly) Mediterranean climate and a burgeoning tourist industry on its Black Sea coast and as a skiing destination in the mountains. So it makes perfect sense that Bulgarian wine is beginning to reemerge onto the market. Gone are the days of the huge cooperative cellars – most of them anyway – and the days when all that mattered was earning hard currency, so the wines were sold at low prices. Now it is the turn of the passionate boutique producer and I have to say that what I have tasted is very promising indeed.

The most exciting that I have tried was a Chardonnay from a promising, small boutique producer called the Rossidi Winery, which has their own vineyard in the Thracian village of Nikolaevo some 30 miles west of Sliven click here for a map of Bulgaria. I thought it was excellent and that it deserves a wider audience, so I made it my Wine of the Week.

Stephen Spurrier tasting Rossidi wines at Vagabond in Fulham, London.

Steven Spurrier tasting Rossidi wines at Vagabond Wines in Fulham, London. The Chardonnay is on the left, while their Gewürztraminer is in front of him.

Chardonnay-132012 Rossidi Egg Fermented Chardonnay
Nikolaevo Vineyard, PGI Thracian Valley
Rossidi Winery
Sliven, Bulgaria
Most of the wine is fermented in a combination of stainless steel tanks and concrete eggs – hence the name. 5% is fermented in old, large (400 litre) French oak barrels. Egg shaped fermenters are relatively new – the first one was made in 2001 – and very exciting. The shape means there are no dead corners where wines get trapped, instead the wine can flow around the curved walls of the vat, which means that everything is more uniform. It also helps with the lees stirring and can make the wine seem rounder and more textured, but without the oak characters we usually associate with such a wine.

The wine was a deep buttery golden colour, while the nose offers cream, butter and cardamom, hazelnuts and a light dash of caramel.
The palate is ripe, rich, round and creamy with succulent peachy fruit together with some lemon curd, glacé pineapple and enough acidity keeps it focussed and fresh. A generous, delicious and moreish style that goes perfectly with creamy risotto, rich fish dishes, including fish pie, and garlicky chicken – 88/100 points.

The first concrete egg I ever saw, at Domaine Carneros in the Napa Valley.

The first concrete egg I ever saw, at Domaine Carneros in the Napa Valley.

I also greatly enjoyed the rather rich and deliciously fruity Rossidi Pinot Noir.

Available in the UK for £12.99 a bottle from Zelas.

On the subject of Bulgarian wine, I recently also tasted the excellent 2011 Berulé Mavrud from the Villa Melnik winery, that is a lovely wine too and if it was available in the UK would also be a Wine of the Week.

So, if you remember Bulgarian wines from the past and want to see what they are like now, or just want to taste something new and exciting, then give this a go. It is very good quality indeed and shows that Bulgaria is really on the up.