Bulgaria might not be the first country you think of when it comes to wine. In fact, ask most Americans to locate Bulgaria on a blank map and they'll gesture generally at an area that starts at Germany and ends at the Pacific Ocean. This little nation sits at the crossroads of history, bordered by the Black Sea, Turkey, Greece, Serbia, Romania, and Macdedonia. It has witnessed every army, religion, and culture that has passed in any direction between Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. And it's one of the oldest wine regions in the world.
These wines come from the Thracian Valley in the south, part of the ancient province of Thrace which was home to such legendary figures as Orpheus and Spartacus. Over the centuries Thrace (and the rest of modern Bulgaria) was controlled by the Greeks, Byzantines, Persians, and a dozen other regimes. The Romans in particular valued this region for wine production and it remained a strong wine producer until the middle ages. Unfortunately, 500 years of Ottoman rule meant no wine until the 1870s, and then they had a few decades of wars before Communist takeover... Fortunately since the 1990s the wine industry has rebounded and we're able to try the products of Bulgarian vineyards.
While I've had some of the native grapes (Melnik and Mavrud), here we're going to look at three mainstream grapes aimed at the bargain sector of the American market. All three retail for $8 and are inscribed with Roman Empire motifs: the date, and the inclusion of Julius Caesar's quote "Veni, vidi, vici." The tagline on the back is amusing: "Since we haven't seen you in Bulgaria lately, we've brought you some of the finest local flavors." More information on these wines and others from Bulgaria can be found at BulgarianWine.com.
2008 Vini Sauvignon Blanc, 12.5% abv. Light grapefruit aroma, touch of lemon on the finish with a big, full body and a crowd-pleasing fruitiness. Very food friendly with fish or vegetable dishes.
2008 Vini Merlot, 13% abv. Classic cherry aromas with a hint of cedar and black tea. Plum and black cherry, soft start with a touch of tartness on the finish. Tannins sneak up on you with a mouth-drying feel on the finish. Like some other Mediterranean Merlots I've had it's a bit warmer than what you might expect from France, but consistent with California. With just fifteen minutes of breathing, it smooths out considerably and becomes a pleasant afternoon sipper.
2008 Vini Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% abv. Ripe plum aroma, with a touch of black pepper. Comparable in body and tannins with the Merlot, though with this one I'm craving more strongly flavored meats, like duck or lamb.