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Wine was grown and produced in this area in ancient times, when Thracian tribes living north and south of the Balkan mountains cultivated wild vines, and developed a strongly defined cult honouring the god Dionysus. During the time of the Roman empire, Thracian wine was a sought-after product, and was exported to Greece, Sicily, Asia Minor and Egypt. This store of ancient experiences was later taken over by the Slavs and Bulgarian tribes. Viticulture reached its high point in medieval times, thanks to the abbies with their extensive vineyards. The Bulgarian empire was conquered by the Turks in 1393, it remained udner Islamic rule for almost 500 years, until 1878. During this period, only table grapes were allowed to be produced. There was a ban on the consumption of wine, and this halted any development in the field of viticulture. Viticulture on a large scale was only resumed after the end of World War I, the revival came exclusively from small-scale individual grape growers working with indigenous varieties. After the end of World War II, the government introduced a system of agricultural collectives (similar to co-operatives, but with communal ownership of land), viticultural colleges were established, and European grape varieties were planted. In the 1960s, Bulgaria became an important wine-exporting country. Following the political changes, the state-run socialist wine-growing monopoly was disbanded in 1990, and most of the production units were privatised.
There are five major wine-growing regions, which are further divided into sub-regionsn. Quality wines beart he names of the sub-regions, districts or communes in which they were produced. Wines with controlled origin (Controliran) represent the highest level of quality. In the north lies the largest region, Dunavska Raunina (Danubian plains), accounting for 35% of the total vineyard area in Bulgaria. It is divided into two sub-regions, Pleven and Vidin. The Controliran wines are Lositza, Lyaskovetz, Novo Selo, Pavlikeni, Suhindol and Svischtov. The wines made from Cabernet Sauvignon and Gamza can be recommended. The Jolianka Na Struma (Struma valley) region lies in the southwest, and accounts for 6% of the total vineyard area. The only Controliran wine is Harsovo. The most famous wine is Shiroka Melniska Losa (Melnik). The Podbalkanski Raion (southern Balkan) region lies in central Bulgaria, and accounts for 7% of the total vineyard area. There is only one sub-region called Sliven. The Controliran wines are Karlovo, Rozova Dolina (rose valley), Slaviantzi and Sungurlare. The Thrakiiska Nizina (Thracia) region lies in the south, and accounts for 22% of the total vineyard area. It is divided into eight sub-regions: Cirpan, Dolinata na Maritza, Haskovo, Iambol, Pazardzik, Plovdiv, Stara Zagora and Strandja. The Controliran wines are Assenovgrad (known fort he dark, spicy red wines made from the Mavrud grape), Brestnik, Oriachovitza, Sakar and Stambolovo. In the east is the Tschernomorski Raion (Black Sea area) region, accounting for 30% of the total vineyard area. It is divided into four sub-regions: Burgas, Razgrad, Targovischte and Tolbuhin. The Controliran wines are Jujen Briag, Khan Krum, Kralevo, Novi Pazar, Preslav and Varna. With the assistance of Australian winemakers, particularly the white wines made from Chardonnay and Riesling in the Khan Krum area have attracted international attention.
The temperate continental climate is characterised by hot summers, a warm and dry autumn and cold winters, and is thus ideal for wine production. There is approximately an equal division between red and white varieties planted. The most widely planted grape variety is the white Rkatsiteli, other domestic indigenous grapes include Dimiat, Gamza (Kek Kadarka), Mavrud, Shiroka Melniska Losa (Melnik), Misket and Pamid. These are mainly used to produce varietal wines, bearing these same names. The most important international varieties are Aligoté, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, Merlot, Muskat-Ottonel, Pinot Noir, Riesling, Rizling (Welschriesling), Sauvignon Blanc, Tamyanka (Muscat Blanc) and Ugni Blanc (Trebbiano Toscano). Cabernet Sauvignon is the key premium variety in Bulgaria, together with Merlot it accounts for almost a third of the total vineyard area. Total of no less than 111.000 hectares of vineyards produced only 2,1 million hectolitres of wine in 2000. The reason for this is that the area figures include large quantities of table grapes, as well as grapes used for the production of spirits. In addition, vines are planted with wide spacing. Around half the production is exported.
Wine laws were first introduced in 1978, and updated in 2000. Wines are divided into twqo main quality levels, table wine (Trapezno Vino) and quality wine (Visokokacestveno). There are two classes of quality wines. The wines with a geographical description of origin (Vino ot Declariran Geografski Rayon) beart he names of sub-regions, districts of communes. Following the example of the French system of appellations, there is a top caregory of qualified wines with controlled origin (VGCNP = Vino s Garantirano i Controlirano Naimenovanie za Proizhod). There are currently around 30 Controliran regions, but this number is increasing rapidly. Each region has its own regulations with regard to grape varieties, vineyard procedures and cellar procedures. The alcohol, acid and residual sugar content are all checked, and the wines have to pass a sensory evaluation by a state panel before being released for sale. A new level, Reserve, was introduced in 1985, this is used for wines that have been matured in oak barrels, and have the potential for maturation. The best-known wineries resp. producers are Boyar (markets under the labels Blueridge, Boyar, Haskovo, Shumen and Rousse), Damianitza, Iambol, Lovico Suhindol, Pavlikeni, Peruschtitza, Pleven, Preslav, Slaviantsi, Stara Zagora, Sun Valley Winery, Svischtov, Targovishte, Vinimpex, Vinprom Peshtera and Vinprom Yambol.