The Melnik of the Bulgarian’s wines !
What could be more natural than drinking wine in the country where the young Dionysus was brought up by the Nymphs Hyades? If the Greek god of vine and wine was born in present-day Pakistan, it is in ancient Thrace (large part of present Bulgaria) that it grows. His victory over the local king Lycurgus, who dared to snatch the vines, marked the beginning of his worship. Welcome to the Dionysian Fatherland !
And to arrive in one of the most renowned wine regions of the country, I advise you to cross the Massif du Pirin from Mount Vihren to the village that interests us: Melnik. There, its natural pyramids (photo in the front) will plunge you in this ancient history. Located in the south-west of Bulgaria, one can find cellars, which according to research, date from several millennia, such as those of Villa Melnik. For more than 250 years, the 30 ha of vineyards belong to the same family. But it is really with the current owner, Nikola Zikatanov, that Villa Melnik takes the path of quality. Besides, I would have a privileged visit with him. Sympathetic, smiling and curious, he is not stingy with questions and explanations.
Its approach is both modern and traditional. Modern by its desire to show that its terroir can compete with the best on international grape varieties. Established on an ancient lake with sandy and volcanic soil, this combination makes it possible to produce fine wines and take advantage of the continental heat of this region. Traditional in retaining indigenous grape varieties that have made Bulgaria a historical producer of wine. In the communist era, it was the fifth largest exporter in the world. With the collapse of the Soviet bloc, as in the case of Slovenia, privatizations have multiplied and quality has steadily increased. And the tasting will confirm it! There are 3 ranges: Family Tradition, Bergulé and Aplauz, in ascending order. It all starts with 3 blanks.
And I could not have dreamed better of it: Viognier! A wonderful blend with Chardonnay which gives a round, even fatty structure to the wine, on ripe apricot and peach fruits. At 5 € a bottle, it is a truck that I buy the harvest! But did it start too high? For the next two, his semi-dry Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier sur Lie disappoint: the sugar of the first hides its typicity and the butter of the second mask the fruits. Too bad … Anyway, white is not serious in Bulgaria, land of red. Moreover, a famous song asks: “white wine, why are not you red?”. So the Bergule 2014 Syrah / Viognier (small pinch in the heart for my region of Côte-Rôtie …) starts the dish of resistance. It is explosive in the nose, on the red fruit, a toasted note and then … disappointment in the mouth. But I was especially waiting for the local star: the Melnik. Only cultivated in the region, it is considered one of the oldest grape varieties in the world. Blended here in Pinot Noir, this Bergulé 2013 is very gourmand, can be easily drinked. At 5 €, it is the good value for money! But we must wait for the next bottle to realize the potential of this varietal: a Bergulé Reserve 2013 in 100% Melnik. It is THE nice surprise: velvety, on aromas of blackberries, finally caramelized / roasted. Great!
Satisfied, I was ready to leave. But Nikola seeing my attraction for the local, the typical, he wants to show me the extent of the Bulgarian wine history. He takes out a bottle, sits down with me and slips: “That’s the secret of Bulgaria.” Native grape quite rare (only 0.5ha on the 30ha of the domain), the ruen subjugated me. All in fig, chocolate, raised by plum and black cherry, it symbolizes this incredible world of wine: IMMEASURABLE ! And the story does not stop there, with the arrival of Mavrud, another Bulgarian emblematic vine! On a Bergule 2012, it is the Ruen, more pronounced. But the HEART STOPPER is him: Aplauz Melnik 55 2014. A little barbaric, but the Melnik 55 is neither more nor less the Melnik’s son. The toast begins to tickle your nostrils, then it becomes more animal, farmer with a note of hay to complete the barn! It’s my type of wine. Unfortunately, the Syrah and the Cabernet Sauvignon (Aplauz) which will follow will appear to me well paled next to the previous marvel. Which always leaves me thinking: why seek to enter the world fashion of Merlot and other Cabernet Sauvignon? Stay simple, stay yourself and it will work. Dionysus understood it.