Growing Regions & Appellations
Since they joined the EU on January 1st, 2007, Bulgaria has also brought their appellation designations more in line with EU regulations.
As of 2007, Bulgaria has two recognized designations by the EU: PGI & PDO
Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) -The more generic form, with less strict regulations and restrictions on production. There are only two: PGI Danube Valley & PGI Thracian Lowlands.
Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) - The stricter, quality minded designations that reside within PGIs. Grape varieties, yields, and residual sugar content are regulated here. Equivalent of a French AOP.
However, The PGI system is controversial. These regions are so big they are practically meaningless in indicating any special regional characteristics.
Before joining the EU in 2007, Bulgaria was divided into five wine regions, and producers tend to prefer them. They are smaller, with more important climatic and geographic differences. These five regions are the Danube River Plains, the Black Sea Coast, The Thracian Valley, The Rose Valley, & The Struma Valley
The Danube River Plains
The Danube River Plains is one of the wine regions that makes up the official PGI Danubian Plains. The entire PGI spans from the border with Serbia all the way to the black sea - it's huge! This is why the PGI Danubian Plains is commonly talked about as two seperate wine regions, with the Danube River Plains as the western region and Black Sea Coast as the eastern region.
The climate of the area has hot summers and many sunny days a year, but it is so large that it is difficult to talk about signature wine styles or terroir factors...but in general terms, the area has a temperate continental climate with hot summers and very cold winters.
As a gigantic region, you can expect varied selection of grape varieties for still and sparkling wines. The Danube River Plains in the west is a warmer region where the native red grape varieties Pamid and Gamza (Kadarka) are widely planted, along with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The principal white varieties include Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Muscat Ottonel and Gewürztraminer.
Soils are rich and fertile due to much of the land being also forested. Loess is common. It's very widely planted with vineyards, but very little of it has left continental Europe.
The Black Sea Coast
The Black Sea Coast is Bulgaria's Eastern wine region. It's very commonly discussed as two different regions: The North Black Sea Coast (a part of the PGI Danubian Plains, and the South Black Sea Coast (Part of the PGI Thracian Lowlands).
Wine styles include Dimyat, Riesling, Muscat Ottonel, Ugni blanc, Sauvignon blanc, Traminer, and Gewürztraminer. Besides being known for the fresh and lively white wines, the Black Sea Coast region is especially famous as a European vacation destination.
The Thracian Valley
Another very large region, The Thracian Valley is fully within the PGI Thracian Lowlands, and contains a staggering amount of excellent wineries. It's considered to be the powerhouse wine region of the country, and many of the most respected and celebrated vineyards and wines come from this region.
All sorts of varietals do well here, and quite a bit are international grapes, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah. The little bits of limestone in the north end of the Thracian Valley near the Rose Valley have been successfully planted with Pinot Noir, and it makes for wines that combine the best elements of earthy and complex flavors like a great Burgundy, but with a density and fruit structure like the Pinots of New Zealand.
Hot summers and dry & mild winters as well as deep soils that have good water availability make this the top region for some incredible red wines.
The Rose Valley
The Rose Valley is surrounded by the mountains that protect the vineyards from extreme temperatures. The diversity of micro-regions and soils is fascinating, and the climate conditions in the region are considered to be the most suitable for cultivating high-quality vines. The Rose Valley is the birthplace of Red Misket, an aromatic varietal used for the production of white wines that rank among the finest white wines in Bulgaria. Other grape varieties include Chardonnay, Muscat, Traminer, Sauvignon Blanc, and reds such as Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.
This is one of the most spectacular places in the country when the rose fields are in bloom. Bulgaria produces up to 85% of the world's rose oil.
The climate is continental, with very hot and dry summers. The soils are typical forest soils, which tend to be fertile, however in the mountains there are some limestone and alluvial soils. The root-zone is moderately deep, with good nutrition and water availability.
This region being so close to the mountains is particularly good for white varieties, but a lot of successful varieties are planted all over, especially as many wineries continue to explore their local terroirs and find with determination which grapes perform best in each area.
The Struma Valley
The valley of the Struma river is in the ancient region of Macedonia, and neighbors the country of North Macedonia & Greece. There is a strong Mediterranean influence here due to the proximity to the Aegean sea which is a mere two hour drive from the border. The Struma Valley area is the region with high mountains and southern influence, with the highest average daily temperatures in Bulgaria because of its microclimate. This fact, combined with the diverse soil types, provides the ideal conditions for cultivating grapes.
The south end of the Struma Valley region is called Melnik, named for the local grape, but also refers to a town (affectionately called the smallest town in Bulgaria) as well as the general south part of Struma. Other successful varieties include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Marselan, Chardonnay, Sandanski Misket, Traminer, & Muscat Ottonel.
The high mountains and southern location make this one of the warmest regions in the country, whose rich and spicy Melnik wines are extremely popular all over Bulgaria. This is a hotspot for wine tourism as well since it's a 2 hour drive from the capital city of Sofia.