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The history of wine-making in the country of Bulgaria began at least 3000 years ago with the ancient Thracians. They traded what was then a dense, sweet wine from native grapes to the Greeks. During the Roman era, techniques improved and this was likely when white wines were introduced. In the 9th century, Bulgaria embraced the Christian religion as it spread through Europe. It is said that certain villages, such as Asenovgrad, were spared during the Crusades because of appreciation for the local wine. Wine trade spread throughout Europe during the 14th and 15th centuries. When the Ottomans occupied Europe, wine production in Bulgaria could mostly continue because of a loophole in Muslim law allowing sacramental wines. Wine continued to thrive until the end of the 19th century when the worldwide Phylloxera blight hit the country.
When replanting initiatives took shape, the Bulgarian Trade Minister invited French oenologist Pierre Viala to consult on the best suited grapes for replanting in the specific terroirs throughout Bulgaria. His suggestions for native varietals were the red Mavrud and Pamid in the south, and Gamza (Kadarka) in the north. Misket (Muscat) was planted as an attempt to produce a Bulgarian equivalent of Hungarian Tokaji. Gamay Noir and Syrah were also planted throughout the country. The Bulgarian Wine Institute was established in Pleven in 1902.
Wine cooperatives were on the rise by the 1920s and 30s. In the 20th century, European varietals were gaining global popularity and many producers saw the need to blend them with native grapes, or produce single varietal styles. During the the height of Communist rule in the 1960s and 70s, much of the wine export market were mass produced reds that gave Bulgarian wine a reputation for being mostly plonk. In 1989, with the fall of Communism, many of the wineries became privatized, with more focus on quality.
Bulgaria is divided into regions roughly by direction: North, South, East, Southwest, and Sub Balkan. The north is mostly continental with hot summers and cold winters. The south is warmer, with influences from the Black Sea and Mediterranean. Other parts are hilly and rugged, but with good soils and drainage conditions.
Grapes are a mix of local and international. For whites: Misket, Ottonel and Dimiat, which are produced along with Chardonnay, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, and Traminer. For reds: Gamza, Mavrud, Malnik, Red Misket, and Pamid, along with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, and Rkatzeteli.
Photo by Archer10 (Dennis) via Flickr/CC– Description from Amanda Schuster
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