The wine we enjoyed at the wine tasting on the Walking in Bulgaria tour was wine fit for a Prime Minister, Winston Churchill to be specific. An annual order for 500 litres of wine from the Melnik region was delivered to Churchill, and he managed to continue getting hold of it during WWII despite Bulgaria being allied to Nazi Germany.
Wine is grown across Bulgaria and was readily available throughout this tour – nearly every restaurant offered local wine ‘on draught’. One grape variety, the broadleaf red Shiroka Melnishka, only grows close to the city of Melnik. At only 208 inhabitants it is the smallest city in Eastern Europe.
After hiking in the morning from the monastery down through the very unusual landscape made of Melnik Pyramids we reached this small city. After lunch on the balcony of an old house there, we went up the old cobbled street and then along a windy path to the wine cellar in the hillside. This cave keeps the barrels of wine at the optimum temperature.
Sat in the cave we were provided with a platter of Bulgarian meats and cheeses to accompany the wine tasting. The cheery owner of the cellar smiled broadly as he extracted the wines from the big barrels into jugs for us. He explained the history of the cellar and the region and introduced each wine clearly.
The white wine was not popular with the group, but the reds were quite the opposite. We needed to order another jug of one variety. It was semi-dry and had a slight fizz to it. It was completely sulphite-free and if you bought a bottle of it, it would be corked right there and you’d have to drink it in 3 weeks. This wasn’t hard because as soon as I returned home I wanted to share the taste of Bulgaria with some close friends, telling them tales of the caves holding the wine that Churchill loved.