Desislava Lyapova entreats us to consider the charms of this Bulgarian Black Sea resort. See this guide to all the entries in our travel writing competition that have been published so far.
To write about a place with passion, determination or feeling at all is to experience it all over again – the shivers on your body, the wind, the sea if present and, preferably, the sips of wine that you so eagerly gulp, if not taste, the wine that has become a memory integrated into the place itself, and the opposite.
To write about a place myself, it is inevitable that I will go back to the start, which has continued to give me more than the places that followed.
This is why I see intrinsic value in introducing you to a somewhat overlooked, sometimes empty, sometimes bustling town called Burgas – which has its own wine festival every July, wine spots by the sea, and vineyards within 10 miles. Most importantly, the town represents wine. It has the power to evoke the same (Rausch) feeling of truthfulness and openness with oneself – if you dare to follow closely.
This will be simply a guide, to Bulgarian wine and beyond, which you may or may not choose to read or replicate. It is a guide based on feelings, but also on a few years of experience in the wine industry in one way or another, and now professionally in the fine wine trade.
I will not delve into the history of Bulgarian wine for it’s complicated, heavy and often problematic. You do not go to a wine bar, or a wine region, for that. You might go for pleasure and knowledge which hopefully this will provide.
Wine Fest Burgas
My first encounter was its creation. Wine Fest Burgas takes place at Flora Expo Centre every July, when Bulgarian producers and importers exhibit, and generously pour you over 350 wines for the equivalent of a mere £3 a day. The consumer (and trade) event continues for three days but you may wish to experience it in one. When it comes to the location itself, the sea and the long sandy beach are right in front of you. But the whole venue transforms for the wine event and it is worth going backwards and forwards, circulating between the sea and the stalls. It feels communal, lively and serious about its wine. You can try the best of Bulgarian wine, its ‘modern’ face as enthusiastic professionals tend to note. It’s an attempt to separate it from a Soviet past that it did not own, and never wanted to have.
A success in its own right, it brings people together and re-establishes a culture, educates and evokes a weird sense of pride and belonging. A day, or two, or three filled with Misket, Mavrud, Melnik, Pamid, Rubin, Dimyat, Gamza and Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Franc, Merlot. It will cater to your taste because it is transforming the country’s wine industry with indescribable passion and energy, and not only using the land and the soil of its ancestors. Particular producer highlights include Bratanov, Edoardo Miroglio, Bessa Valley, Katarzyna, Orbelia Winery and Minkov Brothers.
To be traditional here is rare. Enoteca emerges as a particular favourite amongst newcomers as one can find a sufficient choice of French, Italian, Spanish, American, Australian etc wines at decent prices. The wine shop/bar hosts events dedicated to art and wine, where consumers can draw and paint over a couple of glasses of their tipple of choice.
Mezetto is another option in the centre of town, with a relaxed interior, a beer garden and tables outside on the main square. With an interesting choice of Bulgarian and foreign wines that can be enjoyed on their own or with food, it makes the perfect option for a chilled night out in town.
Upmarket restaurants by the sea worth visiting include the recently-launched, and highly instagrammable, Norma, and the romantic Neptune, all dressed in white. Both have extensive wine lists along with pairing suggestions which make them excellent dining spots.
If you are feeling a certain wave of hedonism, however – such as drinking very dry Bulgarian rosé with toes in the sand, salt in the hair, and occasional dive in the sea throughout any given summer night (the summer is long) – then any of the small, cute tavern-style beach restaurants along the coast would do the trick.
Vineyards by the sea (or nearby)
My favourite part of Burgas is its salty lakes enclosed by sunflower fields. Few know about them, fewer visit them. Not far from them, in fact less than 20 miles north along the coast, you will find wineries such as Santa Sarah, Domaine Boyar, Black Sea Gold and DiVes Estate. All are worth a visit. You can feel the maritime influence in the wine. Go further inland and visit Zelanos and Minkov Brothers. Get your personalised wine tasting and try the local varieties. Walk in the vineyards, in the wine cellars, in the surrounding countryside. The producers will welcome you and tell you their wine stories and journeys, which will, I hope, inspire you to start, or continue, your own.