Wine: Bulgaria's Making a Comeback
Bulgarian wine has been in the doldrums since its 1970s heyday, but its new wave winemakers are looking to put the country back on the map.
By Fiona Beckett
Those of a certain age will remember the glory days of Bulgarian wine back in the 1970s, when it used to be practically everyone's basic red. The cabernets could even pass muster for bordeaux; or at least we kidded ourselves they could. So why do you rarely see them now?
Long story, but basically the likes of Australia and Chile muscled in on Bulgaria's territory, while its Russian market dried up. Many producers abandoned their vineyards , and few wanted to invest there. So seldom do Bulgarian wines cross my radar these days that I probably wouldn't have given the matter much thought had I not stumbled across one of the best-value sparkling wines I've drunk in an age – Edoardo Miroglio's Brut Zero – at the excellent Peckham Bazaar in south London just after Christmas.
Co-owner Donald Edwards put me in touch with his supplier, Bulgarian specialist Theatre of Wine, so I headed over to Greenwich to try some of their 20-odd other wines that recently featured in a sellout tasting They Came From Outer Thrace (love a wine merchant with a sense of humour).
In addition to the Brut Zero, which they stock for £16 (also available from Swig at £14.95; 12% abv), I'd recommend Miroglio's 2010 Soli Red (£9.30; 13.5% abv), a fresh-tasting, bordeaux-like blend of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and the local melnik, and the soft, plummy Zagreus St Dimitar Mavrud 2011 (£7.70; 13% abv) as reintroductions to what the country has to offer.
Or pick up a bottle of Zagreus's mature, plummy Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 (£8.50 Swig, £9.90 Theatre of Wine, £10.50 The Good Wine Shop; 13% abv), which harks back to Bulgaria's glory days, and its exotic Vinica 2010 (£14.40 Theatre of Wine, 14.5% abv), an amarone-style mavrud: pricey, but much cheaper than the real thing. The only wine of comparable quality I could find in a supermarket was Waitrose's Enira Bulgarian Red 2009 (£11.99 at 20 branches and online; 14.5% abv), another full-bodied bordeaux blend of merlot, petit verdot and cabernet.
So has cheap Bulgarian wine gone for good? Not entirely. Tesco lists the relatively light Reka Valley Bulgarian Merlot 2012 at £20.94 for a case of six online (that's £3.49 a bottle; 11.5% abv), which should appeal to any reader asking why there aren't more reds at lower abvs; the same store's Simply Merlot (£4.49; 12.5% abv) is worth a punt, too. But Bulgaria can do much better. Now that there are more Bulgarians over here to buy their wines, let's hope supermarkets give them a chance.