My discovery of Bulgarian wine and a new one you should try

Fine wine from the Thracian lowlands of Bulgaria. Bulgarian Fine Wine?Kidding? Bit weird? Bit risky? Not at all, really. Trust me.

I should know because it was me who ‘discovered’ Bulgarian wine back in the ‘70s. I brought in the first ever bottles. Big risk. Because back then, the place was genuinely weird.

Behind the scary Iron Curtain. Bulgarian Airlines flew me there in a converted bomber, still with perspex gun turrets. Sofia seemed populated solely by men in army uniforms. Wine was a State Monopoly and available only from one address; 5 Lavele Street. But – and the whole story is in my book (plug!) – we did finally end up with a cracking Cabernet that became overwhelmingly our top-selling wine for some years. In the book I list it as one of my 12 most important wine finds ever.

Bessa Valley vineyards
Today, the vineyards in the Bessa Valley, Bulgaria

I got to like the place and people as well though. I even took coach tours of customers round the Bulgarian vineyards and wineries – all in a bit of a pinko haze, because on top of every copious wine tasting came the hot plum brandy they just loved to finish us off with. In Plovdiv I have this memory that we ended up drinking with the Orthodox Archbishop. In full regalia. I swear we did.

Then it all ended, The Iron Curtains were flung open (good) but when everything was ‘privatised’ those vast state vineyards in Suhindol were abandoned and just disappeared (not so good). Bulgarian wine almost had to be re-invented from scratch, and on a smaller scale.

Stefan von Nieppberg was one of the first to rebuild an old estate near Plovdiv and I know him quite well. He’s very keen on this bold venture of his. Dapper chap, Stefan a David Niven lookalike. He owns three of
Saint- Émilion’s top estates. But also runs what I think of as our main rival estate in the Castillon hills of Bordeaux; Château D’Aiguille. Friendly rival; we pinch each other’s ideas and borrow each other’s equipment.

Count Stephan von Nieppberg
Count Stephan von Nieppberg’s Coline d’Enira 2014 is a Bulgarian Bordeaux with a twist

He has made us this Bulgarian Bordeaux using the same skills, same barrels, same grape varieties on the same sort of limestone ridge. Deep limestone … there’s a deep white quarry you pass as you arrive at the estate, plenty of limestone here.

And this is a district that has produced wine for 7,000 years … which is at least 5,000 years longer than Bordeaux. The estate has underground cellars cut into the limestone. All so familiar. The winery is immaculate. Actually neater and better equipped than most Saint-Émilion wine estates.

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I have to admit that there’s a big lick of Syrah in the blend so it’s not today’s Merlot/Cabernet Bordeaux but rather the nineteenth century claret with ‘Hermitage’ as Syrah used to be called. Syrah in Bulgaria gives a richness of red fruits and liquorice and very silky tannins.

The estate produces a pure Syrah in very limited amounts, which is the highest-ever scoring wine from Bulgaria. D’Enira is the only estate in Bulgaria with consistent 90+ Parker points.

Try Stephan’s wine for yourself

So … if you like good claret you MUST try this. It’s not a big beefy ‘new world’ style … not Rock ‘n’ Roll black red, but immaculate, classic, brick red claret. Well barrel and bottle aged. You can tell it’s well-made because it tastes just as good on day two and day three. Which indicates it will get better with age. It is already a considerably better wine than the Bulgarian Cabernet we sold by the boatload – quite literally – 40 years ago. Anyway, I’m delighted, Bulgaria is back! Finally.

Stefan, I would guess, isn’t yet making much money on his brave venture. We/you therefore have a bit of a steal at £9.99.

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About Laithwaites Wine

Laithwaite's began in 1969, when Tony Laithwaite took a job washing bottles in Bordeaux... and fell in love with real wine and the people who make it. When he borrowed a van to share these delicious wines with friends and neighbours at home, things went so well that boutique wineries were soon queuing to take part. Today we're the UK's No.1 home-delivery wine merchant, with over 1,500 wines to choose from... including red, white and rosé, plus Champagne and sparkling, beer and cider.

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