There was a time when Bulgarian wine was known in the States, or at least known about. In 1986, specifically, the Chicago Tribune, in an article by Kristine N. Curry, called Bulgaria’s wines “top-notch”.
Then the Berlin Wall fell, and what had been one of the top producing countries in the world fell into depression, in many ways. Now, 25 years later, there have been nudges of re-entry for the past few years, with the force increasing as of recent.
On April 29 2015, a three-course trade lunch at Corkbuzz Wine Studio was held as part of the European Wine Treasures initiative to introduce New York-area wine professionals to the wines of a modernizing Bulgaria.
It is, for the average wine drinker, rare to encounter a Bulgarian wine United States; it is perhaps even more so to find those consciously aware of Bulgaria as a producing country.
Bulgaria has been producing wine for an estimated 7000-9000 years, back to when the country was home to the Thracian people, and Bacchus-Dionysos-Zagreus was the god of wine and merriment. Remnants of rituals involving wine are still being uncovered, and can be visited around the country; it turns that current grape-growing areas pattern those of the ancients.
In 1960, five wine-growing regions were denominated by the Council Of Ministers, and remain generally accepted to this day: the Danubian Plain in northern Bulgaria, the eastern Black Sea area, the Rose Valley to the south of the Balkan range, the Thracian Lowlands in southern Bul-garia and the Struma River Valley in the south-west.
This Balkan nation of less than 8 million people covers about 42,900 square miles and is about 31% lowlands, 41% plains and 28% mountains (and yes, skiing is very popular). It joined the European Union on January 1, 2007 (a New Year’s Eve of great flag-waving and cheering with wine—Bulgarian, of course—being drunk while listening to the president give his annual midnight speech in the main square of Sofia, the capital. A fun and memorable, evening, which is only to be expected there.)
Accompanying wine’s place in the country’s history are various wine-related holidays and traditions, including the all-important saying of “cheers” to each drinker whilst looking him or her in the eye before partaking, and a holiday dedicated to the patron saint of winegrowers and producers, Trifon Zarezan. All include much festive spirit and time spent eating and drinking and talking with one’s compatriots.
Such merriment more recently found its way to New York City, where 14 wines from seven estates were presented to a selection of regional wine buyers, restaurateurs, journalists, influencers and importers.
Their quality was impressive, and encouraging, in particular when taken with food, which was served family style. Pairings were done by Corkbuzz together with event commentators Mike DeSimone and Jeff Jenssen.
Course 1 of Warm Asparagus with Soft Boiled Egg, Brown Butter and Paprika Crumbs was matched with the Izba Karabunar Misket 2014, the Vinprom Peshtera Pixels Sauvignon Blanc and the Izba Karabunar Dimyat 2014.
The Olive Oil Braised Octopus with Olive Panisse, Piperade, Tahini Yogurt highlighted the depth of character of the Domaine Boyar DB Selection Traminer 2013 and the Chateau Burgozone Chardonnay Barrel Fermented 2012.
In Course 2, the Katarzyna Estate Contemplation Merlot & Malbec 2013 underscored the savory earthiness of a Beet Salad with Warm Goat Cheese, and the Chateau Burgozone Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 and the Domaine Boyar DB Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2012 stood up to a dish of Crispy Pork Belly with Red Lentils, Pickled Mushroom and Sunny-Side Up Egg.
Course 3 set Nettle Pappardelle with Spring Mushroom Ragu, Parmigiano Reggiano and Crispy Garlic against the vibrant Vinprom Peshtera Domaine Pestera Syrah and the Katarzyna Estate Encore Syrah 2013.
The Edoardo Miroglio Winery EM Pinot Noir Reserve 2011 and the Vinzavod Assenovgrad “A” Mavrud Reserve paired deliciously with a dish of Duck Breast with Celery Root, Spinach, Mustard and Currant Jus.
The rare-cooked Herb Crusted Lamb Chop with Cannellini Beans and Artichoke was made even better when accompanied by the Vinzavod Assenovgrad “A” Mavrud Reserve and the Vinzavod Assenovgrad “A” Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve.
Eduardo Miroglio Export Manager Sylvia Taskova, at the lunch with her importer, Christophe Sepulveda, owner and founder of Texavino, told Vino247 that her estate decided to start exporting to the States because it was a mature market and still growing.
“I saw a lot of potential,” she said, acknowledging that better distribution and more publicity—such as events like the lunch—would help inform of the existence and presence of Bulgaria wines in the US.
Ivanina Donneaux, Export Manager at Vinprom Peshtera, said to attendees that Peshtera’s young marketing team was behind its “cool, funky” labels. The winery also uses screwcaps on a number of its wines. “We’re reaching towards a new generation of wine drinkers,” she said.
Combine the solid quality and interest of native grapes with attractive retail prices, and the caché of having little-known wines on a restaurant wine list or on the shelves of a shop, and it would seem that Bulgaria is on its way to creating a niche for itself in the US.
The lunch was organised by Colangelo PR and sponsored in part by the European Union, European Wine Treasures, Greece and the Republic Of Bulgaria.