Bulgaria: An emerging wine and food travel destination

Written by Zina Sorensen

Wine has been made in Bulgaria for millennia. Over 5000 years of wine history tracing back to the Thracian era places Bulgaria among the oldest wine making countries in the world. After 45 years behind the iron curtain, Bulgarian wine is in a period of rebirth creating exceptional wines at great value. The wine regions are off-the-beaten-path and void of large tourist groups. The beauty of Bulgaria’s mountainous countryside is unspoiled and waiting to be discovered. Tap into the rich culinary legacy, the fascinating history, regional customs and age-old traditions through a wine, food and cultural immersion. Discover the unknown regions of Bulgaria one glass and bite at a time!

Salads, Soups, Sizzles and Surprises

Local delicacies, regional recipes, grandma’s cooking and a tantalizing mix of flavors from the east and the west are all knitted together in the unknown Bulgarian cuisine. If you have visited Greece, Turkey, the Middle East or other Balkan countries, a few recognizable dishes will appear on Bulgarian menus – perhaps with a little Bulgarian twist to them. What makes Bulgarian food unique is the emphasis on local raw ingredients. Seasonal vegetables, forest herbs, natural yoghurt and grilled meats are typical for the Bulgarian gastronomy. In the summer, a fresh shopska salad consisting of tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers, onion and white cheese known as sirene is a staple during any given meal. To quench your thirst and refresh yourself during the hot summers, a tarator – cold yoghurt soup – does just the trick. Bean soup hits the right spot in colder weather, while the famous Tripe soup is more of an acquired taste. Sizzling grilled meats served on traditional Bulgarian ceramic platters called a sach or steaming hot dishes in traditional ceramic clay pots called a gyuvetch are a must-try. Lytenitsa is a delicious Bulgarian relish that can best be described as a chutney or ketchup-like condiment made from tomatoes, peppers, onions, oil, carrots and other vegetables. Many Bulgarians will tell you that lyutenitsa reminds them of their childhood. Use this relish as a spread on bread or a dip for grilled meats. Even a short time in Bulgaria will make you realize that the country is obsessed with cheese. Platters with cheeses, dry-cured hams and salamis such as lukanka are popular appetizers and great paired with wine. Bulgarian food is rustic and hearty. Food just like how grandma cooks it is considered the best food. Even in a traditional Bulgarian restaurant, you will experience that Bulgarian food is unpretentious, delicious and generously portioned. Expect many dishes on the table at a Bulgarian meal as the custom is to share the food and share the experience.

The History of Bulgarian Wines

Bulgaria is one of the oldest wine producing areas in the world with evidence of wine production dating back to 4000 BCE. The Bulgarian lands were then inhabited by the Thracians – numerous tribes who worshipped wine as a divine drink. Thracian wine was even mentioned in Homer’s The Iliad as the finest wine in the known world. The wine making tradition in Bulgaria continued through the intervening centuries. The Bulgarian wine industry peaked in the 1970s when Bulgaria was one of the world’s largest exporters of wine and declined after the fall of communism in the 1990s. Following Bulgaria’s accession to the EU in 2007, the Bulgarian wine industry has experienced a revival and modernization with a number of small and medium-sized boutique wineries appearing on the Bulgarian wine map. High quality wines are now being produced in Bulgaria. The new wineries have adopted wine tourism and are the drivers of wine tourism development in Bulgaria. There are around 300 wine producers spread out over Bulgaria’s five wine regions. Each wine region in Bulgaria has its own unique customs, regional dishes and characteristic grape varieties. The Thracian Valley wine region in the south is the region with the highest concentration of wineries.

Local Grape Varieties

Bulgaria has perfect growing conditions for a number of unique native grapes that produce distinctive local wines. The most noteworthy local red grapes are Mavrud, Rubin, Broadleaved Melnik and Melnik 55. From the local white grapes, Dimyat, Tamianka and Red Misket are worth a try.

The Thracian Valley wine region is the perfect place to taste wine

You’ll have to visit Bulgaria to sample their wine and food. The largest wine region in Bulgaria is The Thracian Valley. Plovdiv is the gateway city into the region and was the European Capital of Culture in 2019. Spending time in Plovdiv is a great start to a trip as the ancient history of the city will leave an impression. The cultural capital of Bulgaria offers visitors a mix of history and culture, food and wine, old and modern. Meander around the shops, bars, restaurants, galleries, churches, parks, street murals and traditional architecture. Stop to admire the roman ruins that are not only impressively intact but are still part of daily life with frequent theatre and musical events being performed to the delight of locals and visitors. Get lost in the winding stone paved roads of the Old Town flanked by 19th and 20th century Bulgarian revival houses. The surrounding region is characterized by mountainous landscapes, picturesque vineyards, timeless villages, friendly locals, regional cuisine and local wines. Mavrud and Rubin are the reigning grapes of the region. Both producing delicious and unique red wines.

The region has the highest concentration of wineries. The vineyards are scattered around spiraling mountains and green valleys. The wine cellars are small and charming. Many of the tastings are paired with local appetizers such as cheese and dry-cured ham procured from the region. Stay at a wine hotel or traditional guesthouse and indulge in regional specialties that showcase the cheeses, meats and fresh produce that Bulgaria is known for. For upper-scale accommodation, stay in Plovdiv and use the town as a base for daily excursions to the surrounding wine country. Food, wine and local spirits are an integral part of Bulgaria’s identity. Exploring the wines and food is key to learning about the culture, history and traditions of Bulgaria. The wine regions of Bulgaria are largely undiscovered – making this the ideal time to visit! Discover Bulgaria’s unique gastronomy on a carefully curated trip and prepare to be amazed.

For a 7-day wine, food and culture tour to Bulgaria, please see our current tour in Bulgaria.