Katia Iontcheva guides us to wine spots in Bulgaria’s capital. See this guide to all the entries in our travel writing competition that have been published so far.
For the past 20 years I have been very much involved in the wine business in Bulgaria and for the last seven I kept a close eye on all existing Bulgarian wineries, being one of the authors of a bilingual wine guide featuring all wines on the market, KA&TA Bulgarian wine. Sofia, being the biggest city and the main wine market in the country as well as the main destination for city tourism, has increased the number of places focussing on wine and especially Bulgarian wine – wine shops, bars, restaurants.
The Bulgarian capital is surrounded by mountains and there are no wineries within an hour’s drive. I could easily say that it is the country’s least suitable region for vine-growing and there are literally no wineries around. However, it does not mean that you cannot taste wines from any Bulgarian region and almost any producer sitting right in the heart of the city. The diversity of imported wines from all over the world is also very impressive for a wine-producing country – from New Zealand to California and from Chile to Georgia.
I believe that for a real wine lover coming to Bulgaria it would be an interesting and an eye-opening experience to taste and discover our indigenous varieties as well as see how some international varieties have developed here. So, I would suggest a few establishments that might give the best impressions of both – Bulgarian wine itself and the knowledge and charm of the people who present it. There follows a mix of shops, restaurants and bars that I find best suited to guide someone, whether novice or connoisseur, through the labyrinth of Bulgarian wines. The places listed below offer an excellent selection of wines and many of them are available by the glass.
Vino Orenda is situated on the edge of the city centre at 50A Makedonia Boulevard. It is the first shop that offers uniquely Bulgarian wines – over 300 of them – and very few craft beers. They specialise in small and upcoming wineries. You are most likely to meet the shop owner himself and he will gladly guide you through the cellar history as well as the characteristics of the local varieties. On weekends you might have a chance to attend masterclasses on indigenous varieties. Certain weeks are devoted to new or less-known small wineries. It is a cosy place and after a visit or two, the owner will know your taste and expectation.
Cosmos Restaurant, next to the Sofia Court House at 19 Lavele Street, offers a very spacious and welcoming atmosphere. Depending on your point of view, the food is gourmet with a Bulgarian twist or Bulgarian traditional with a gourmet twist. Wine is really their passion. The manager has been with the restaurant from the very beginning about five years ago and he tries to offer some of the best Bulgarian wines. He also makes his own blends in different wineries throughout the country and those wines are bottled for the restaurant, available only there and usually they present a style that is rare and unique. The best part of the experience is that each of these wines comes with its own special story. They also offer tasting set menus with magnificent food and wine pairings.
Wine and Co at 7 Angel Kanchev Street is in the heart of the city. The door sign says ‘bar + shop’ but when you enter the place it looks much more like a shop. However, you only see one floor with a big display of wine and spirits. In reality, there are two more floors – one underground and another one above (where the picture on the right was taken). They offer bar space and seating areas where they organise tastings each week. The variety of wines offered by the glass is huge and for those who prefer spirits they also offer a selection of brandies, whiskies etc.
Only a hundred feet away is another place that I cannot leave out of a wine lovers’ guide to Sofia. Niko’las at 3 Rayko Daskalov Square is a restaurant that offers an interesting mix of Asian and Bulgarian cuisine, accompanied by a good selection of wines from small producers. The place also boasts a nice garden that is a great option in the summer heat of the city centre.
There are very few places in Sofia that define themselves as wine bars and the only one that I will recommend is Grape Central at 45 Tsar Samuil Street in the small streets of central Sofia. It offers a wide range of wines and the food menu is concise. They organise wine events almost every week where wineries or importers present their new vintages and portfolios. It is an interesting place to visit again as you will be welcomed by one of the two owners. The only downside is that in August it is closed for vacation.
I also list a few other places that may be a good start to Bulgarian wines, although most of them are wine shops and with very little wine offered by the glass, usually one each of a white, rosé and red.
Barrique by Graphite (restaurant) 2 Tri Ushi Street
Balaban Wine (bar) 22 Krakra Street
Enjoywine 19 Tsar Ivan Shishman Street
Crafter 65 Knyaz Boris I Street
Coupage 42 Solunska Street
Tempus Vini Wine Point 81 Knyaz Boris I Street
There are also other wine shops/bars that try to do a lot to promote Bulgarian wine to Sofia residents and visitors alike, but I did my best to include those about which I have positive impressions for my wine guide. I am sure that the quality of this kind of wine establishment will continue to improve while their number grows, and an updated guide in a year or two will end up being much longer.