After a post-communism slump, Bulgarian wine is making its big UK comeback
Step aside Spain, Italy and South Africa. Bulgaria is racing to become the next big name in the UK wine market.
In wine bar and restaurant Vinoteca City, near Bank Station, wine retailers, sommeliers, importers and enthusiasts gathered for a tasting session of 20 wines from all over Bulgaria.
Designed to showcase the quality and variety of the country’s vineyards and wineries, the selection hoped to inspire a resurgence in the popularity of Bulgarian wine in the UK, following the collapse of their domestic industry during the fall of the Soviet Union.
Svet Manolev, the first Bulgarian to earn the title Master Sommelier, led several workshops throughout the day-long event, guiding visitors through millennia of the country’s wine-making history.
An open tasting session also gave guests a chance to sample the wines for themselves, with products from renowned wineries like Vinex Slavyantsi, Domaine Boyar and Rupel Winery on offer.
“There are so many different flavours, and some people here have been in the industry for some time, so they know what they’re talking about. But for someone like me, it’s like sensory overload,” said wine enthusiast Rikesh Mistry.
With most of the wines currently unavailable in the UK market, this was the first chance for many to sample the country’s offering,
“I always thought of Bulgarian wine as good but not great, Vinprom stuff. But this all shows real promise. No prices, though, so that element remains to be seen,” said Rupert Volheim, a qualified master of wine.
Vinprom was the Bulgarian state-owned winery behind most of the wine that made it to UK shores in the mid-to-late 20th century.
Known for resisting the typical Soviet winemaking practice of quantity-over-quality, it nevertheless collapsed soon after the fall of the Berlin Wall, along with the rest of the Bulgarian wine industry.
Faye Milburn, head of Westbury Communications’ Bulgarian wine campaign, explained that Bulgarian wine has had a “very turbulent past, where it’s gone through lots of communist control, and the state owned all the estates. When they finally privatised again, they didn’t have the funding to be able to keep going, they couldn’t produce what they were producing before at the high quantity the UK was drinking it at.”
Above all, the event sought to challenge the stigma around wine from countries not synonymous with the drink.
Georgian and Romanian wine has had a similar revival in recent years thanks to industry initiatives and support from organisations like Europe Shares, which regulates and promotes high-quality European food and drink.
These schemes saw Georgian wine exports to the UK increase 50% year-on-year between 2019 and 2021, with comparable succes stories coming from Romania.
“People just need to know a little bit more, they need to know what the varieties are, because if they can’t talk about wine confidently, it’s hard to sell it,” Faye said.
As for this event, she said that: “Everyone’s been very pleased with the quality of the wines, and also quite surprised at how much variety there is within one country, there’s many many producers, growers, so it depends on where and what you’re after really. From gastronomic, to general easy drinking. Always good bargain for your buck.”
Featured image by Bruno Cantuária on Pexels.