Bulgariana: Value-Driven Wines from the Thracian Valley

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 10-12-2013

bulgariana dudeRobert Hayk is a man on a mission: convincing Americans to give Bulgarian wines a try.

“It’s no longer that crap they used to sell to Russia by the millions,” Hayk said. “Bulgarians have so much passion and potential.” To prove it, Hayk kicked off a new project called Grapes & Barley. He coordinates with growers in Bulgaria’s Thracian Valley and international winemakers to craft inexpensive and accessible wines under the Bulgariana label.

I met with Hayk last week at the Blue Duck Tavern in Washington, DC. We shared stories of travels in Eastern Europe as we tasted Bulgariana’s wines, which were served alongside a menu prepared by Chef Sebastian Archambault.

My experience with Bulgarian wine is limited to a few bottles my father brought back from his European travels. I’ve had some solid Gewürztraminers and some heavily-oaked but delicious Thracian Valley Cabernets that, if served blind, might make an unsuspecting wine drinker shout: “Napa!” But few American consumers have made a connection between Bulgaria and good wine.

Hayk admits it’s not easy getting Americans hooked on Bulgarian wine. But Hayk, who comes from an Armenian family and grew up in Moscow, has some experience with bridging cultures. He’s fluent in five languages and has worked at U.S. embassies in Armenia and Sofia. His love of Bulgaria’s people, history, and wine is addictive.

To gain ground in the American market, Bulgariana aims for value-driven wines. All of Bulgariana’s wines carry suggested price tags of $15 or less. “My goal is to turn Bulgaria into the next Chile,” Hayk told me. The brand’s $10 Cabernet Sauvignon has sold well at Total Wine in Virginia, Calvert-Woodley in DC and a slew of stores in Montgomery County, Maryland, Hayk said. I asked Hayk if Bulgaria’s portfolio would someday feature a Mavrud, an indigenous Bulgarian grape that can produce some spicy and tannic wines. Hayk said he’d like to work more with Mavrud in the future but market research hasn’t turned up much interest in this relatively obscure red grape.

Overall, I have to say, it’s rare I find sub-$15 wines that have such character, those distinct little traits that tell the palate: “I come from somewhere special.” My notes on Bulgariana’s wines are below the fold.

2011 Bulgariana Thracian White Blend
Bulgaria, Thracian Valley

SRP: $10
Very floral on the nose, like pungent wildflowers and honeysuckle, blended together with yellow apple and pear. Crisp acid kicks off the medium-bodied palate. The green and yellow apple fruit is mixed with white pepper and sage notes. A mineral aspect on the finish. Surprisingly fresh and complex. An all stainless steel blend of 60% Chardonnay, 20% Sauvignon Blanc, 10% Riesling and 10% Gewürztraminer. (87 points)

bulgarina white2011 Bulgariana Sauvignon Blanc
Bulgaria, Thracian Valley

SRP: $11
The green and yellow apple aromas are matched with white pepper, green olive and potpourri. Juicy mango and pineapple fruit blends with honey and herbal tones on the palate. There’s a lot going on here for $11. (86 points)

2011 Bulgariana Cabernet Sauvignon
Bulgaria, Thracian Valley

SRP: $10
Aromas of bright berries and smoke. Juicy plum fruit mixes with tobacco and earth. No toast or cedar flavors in this stainless steel Cab. Medium tannins and acid provide enough structure. A near-term-drinker, but quite nice and crowd-pleasing. (85 points)

2008 Bulgariana Imperial Red Blend
Bulgaria, Thracian Valley

SRP: $14
On the nose, plums and currants, along with interesting notes of red pepper and cocoa powder. Juicy red fruit on the palate with firm tannins and a medium amount of acid. I also get some notes of toast, mocha and spice rub. Bold and rich, but balanced. A blend of 60% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% each of the Bulgarian varieties Mavrud and Rubin. (88 points)

2009 Bulgariana Cabernet Sauvignon & Syrah
Bulgaria, Thracian Valley

SRP: $14
Lots happening aromatically: black currants, plums, black pepper and a shot of olive brine. Juicy black currant and blackberry fruit, held together with grippy tannins and medium acid that combine to form a velvety texture. I really enjoy the herbal, pepper and olive accents. (90 points)

Comments (2)

  1. Great article, we’re always interested in new wines, especially the red blend utilizing the regional mavrud. Do any of these wines retail in California?

  2. James, on wine-searcher I’m only seeing these wines for sale in the DC-MD-VA area. Perhaps they’ll expand distribution at some point.