by Fred McMillin
for December 9, 1997

A Danube Dandy

Prologue: Bulgarian Highlights

  • With archaeological evidence of Neolithic [New Stone Age] wine production, Bulgaria lays claim to being the birthplace of winemaking. One of the sites was the modern town of Russe on the Danube, the country's fourth city.

  • At Russe, winemaking was upgraded by the Romans in the first century AD, where they built a castle named Sexaginta Prista ("sixty ships").

  • Twentieth Century—U.C.-Davis faculty provides further upgrading. Thus, much of the theory of modern winemaking in Bulgaria is of California origin.

    ---Sources: Hugh Johnson, Jancis Robinson, Don Philpott

The Rest of the Story: So how has Bulgarian winemaking turned out? Hugh Johnson says it's succeeded beyond all expectations. Bulgaria is "the world's second largest exporter of bottled wine, after France...the Merlot has fruit, vigour, balance—the robust qualities of good Bordeaux, if not its finesse."

The Russe district makes its share of that Merlot, something like 100,000 cases a year. Thanks to the Bargetto Winery, you can sample it for a mere $7. They've imported it under their Coastal Cellars label. If you enjoy red wines in this price range, you certainly want to try this one.

The Wine:
1995 Merlot, "Rousse Valley," Bulgaria
Coastal Cellars, Soquel, CA
Phone—(408) 475-2258

Postscript: Those Stone Age vintners probably made red wine, but it wasn't Merlot. That varietal arrived in Bulgaria only some 30 years ago.

About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College and is Northern California Editor for American Wine on the Web. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.

Read more articles by Fred McMillin in the eGGsf

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