Sir Winston Churchill, former British Prime Minister was said to be a huge fan of Bulgarian wine, specifically Melnik wine.
Legend holds that Winston Churchill declared Melnik wines to be his personal favorite, ordering 2 barrels (over 500 litres) each year for his personal consumption.
From Churchill, we can learn about the hidden little gem called Melnik.
Melnik is one of the five wine regions in Bulgaria. Located in the southwest region, in the Struma Valley, Melnik is one of the smallest endemic wine regions.
Broadleaf Melnik officially called Shiroka Melnishka, grows only in this specific area.
The resulting Bulgarian red wine is strong, dark, fruity and exotic and one that ages well in Bulgarian oak barrels.
Melnik wineries have been active in wine production for nearly 8,000 years.
Homer mentions wines from the area in bothThe Iliad and The Odyssey, and Melnik itself has been a major wine production center since 1346.
Wines from Melnik are held in high esteem. To experience the treasures from this corner of Bulgaria, here are 7 outstanding Melnik wineries you want to visit for amazing Bulgarian wines.
Discover Broadleaf Melnik and the different indigenous grapes from the region.
How to Get to Melnik, Bulgaria
Melnik and the Struma Valley region is Bulgaria’s warmest and sunniest region with time honored traditions in wine making.
Beyond the amazing wines, the area is picturesque with dramatic sand pyramid formations, ancient monasteries and the quaint town of Melnik itself.
To discover the wines of Melnik, we took a 3-day trip to the region. The area offers much to do and what we thought was enough time actually left us yearning for more.
Plan to savor your travels to Melnik. Enjoy comprehensive visits and wine tastings at each Melnik winery.
We started out with ambitious plans of visiting seven wineries. And in the end, we only made it to five.
Take your time and plan for just one or two Melnik winery visits each day. To make the most out of your stay, we recommend spending a few days in the region.
From Sofia to Melnik
If you are arriving into Bulgaria from Sofia, your best option to get to Melnik is to rent a car. At Sofia airport, there are several rental cars to choose from.
The drive from Sofia takes about 2.5 hours from the airport, driving on the freeway for most of the time.
You also have the possibility of taking the bus from Sofia to Melnik. However, there is no direct route and you will have to take two buses before reaching Melnik.
If you choose to take the bus, you will need to hire a taxi or find local transportation options to take you to the different Melnik wineries.
For the best car rental rates, we recommend checking RentalCars.com which aggregates the best deals across multiple providers.
From Bansko to Melnik
If your stay in Bulgaria includes a visit to Bansko, you can rent a car in Bansko and drive to Melnik. However, you have more car rental options in Sofia and the cars are in better conditions.
From Bansko, you also have the option of getting a car transferred to you in Bansko from Sofia for a minimum of 50€. This is an option to consider if you are heading to Sofia after your Melnik winery visits.
We were based in Bansko at the time, and rented a car for our Melnik winery visits. The drive from Bansko to Melnik is about 1.5 hours with most of the drive on the national road.
Similarly, there are buses from Bansko to Melnik. However, you will be challenged finding local transportation options between the Melnik wineries.
From Thessaloniki, Greece to Melnik Bulgaria
If you are visiting southwest Bulgaria, you may want to consider flying into Thessaloniki airport in Greece.
The drive from Thessaloniki to Melnik is only about 2 hours, which is closer than driving from Sofia. From Thessaloniki airport, you can rent a car and drive comfortably, mostly on highways.
Make sure that the rental car company provides the vignette that is mandatory to travel on Bulgaria highways.
Melnik Wine Routes – 7 Melnik Wineries To Visit
To guide your Melnik winery visits, you can pick up a Melnik Wine Map featuring wine cellars, wine bars, and cultural sites to visit.
The map is free and it presents wineries and wine cellars open to visitors, including their hours and contact information.
The Melnik Wine Map can be found at tourist information centers, wine shops and wine bars in Sofia, Plovdiv, Blagoevgrad, Sandanski, Petrich and Bansko.
The Melnik Wine Map was instrumental in helping us plan our 3-day Melnik winery trip.
1 – Sintica Winery: Where Melnik 55 Was Invented
The history of Sintica Winery runs deep, beyond the modern building you’ll see when you arrive.
Sintica Winery was started in 2007 by three individuals who saw great potential in the wine industry in the town of Sandanski.
The building replaces the defunct Complex Experimental Station that was established in the mid-20th century. As an Experimental Agricultural Center, unique grape hybrids were created here.
Early Melnik or Melnik 55, a hybrid crossing of Broadleaf Melnik and Valdiguie, a French grape varietal, was created here.
Other crossings like, Melnishki Rubin, Melnik Jubilee 1300, Melnik 82, Sandanski Misket and others were all created here.
After 1989 and with the effects of post-communism, the Experimental Wine Cellar stopped functioning.
With ambitious plans Sintica Winery opened in 2007, as a completely new and modern complex with a capacity for about 500 000 liters of wine.
The only thing preserved from the previous winery is a unique underground cellar for storing and aging wines at a constant natural temperature of 14 ºC (57.2 °F).
Villa Sintica & Wine Production at Sintica Winery
When you arrive at Sintica Winery, follow the signs for Villa Sintica, a luxury Tuscany inspired wine resort.
This resort, which opened in October 2018, works in close partnership with Sintica Winery. During our tour of the winery, which is just above the resort, we were surprised to learn that the vineyards were located 12 km away near Zornitza Family Estate winery.
Grapes for the white wines come from central Bulgaria as well as from the grape growing areas near the Black Sea. Only the grapes for the red wines come from the surrounding villages.
Modern equipment is used at each step of wine production. Harvesting is done by hand and depending on the varieties, wines age either in steel or oak barrels.
As we winding down our tour, we were amused to see a photo from the winery owner of Francois Hollande, ex-French President drinking a glass of Sintica Melnik 55.
Wine Tasting at Sintica Winery
Since Sintica Wineries was our last stop on way drive back to Bansko, we opted to forgo the wine tasting, to drive home safely.
Nonetheless, we did leave with a bottle of Sintica Explosion Melnik 55, which we later enjoyed.
We loved this wine accompanied with grilled meats. The notes of black cherry and plum and a velvety aftertaste were exceptional and this quickly became one of our favorite Melnik 55 wines.
Address: Sintica Winery, Sandanski Road E79, main city entrance
Hours: The winery is open everyday. Contact Sintica Winery for bookings here.
Tours and Tasting: Click here for more information about Sintica wines. Advanced reservations for tours and wine tastings are recommended.
Accomodations: The Tuscany-like setting at this luxurious wine hotel will tempt you to spend a couple of nights.
Villa Sintica offers a luxurious multifaceted Mediterranean experience.
From heritage wines at Sintica Winery, farm fresh flavors from local producers and a wellness spa to relax the body and uplift the spirit, this is a perfect getaway.
If you are traveling with children, Villa Sintica also has a children’s swimming pool, playgrounds and menus.
2 – Orbelus Winery: The First Bulgarian Organic Winery
Orbelus Winery is the first certified organic winery in Bulgaria. As you approach the winery, the striking half barrel shaped building against the backdrop of the Pirin Mountains is unmissable.
Located in the village of Kromidovo, not to far from Melnik town, the winery is located close to the Greek border in the valley of the River Struma.
The first vineyards were planted in 2006, with the idea of producing organic wines from the start. In 2009, the first grapes were harvested and the building, Orbelus cellar, opened its doors in 2014.
Orbelus Winery Tour
On our tour of the small and impressive winery, we learned about their focus on producing the best possible wines, with Melnik 55 at the heart of all their wines.
Orbelus Winery produces about 20 different varieties of mostly red wines. Some of the red varieties are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Mareselan, Mourvedre Rubin, Shiroka Melnishka Loza (Broadleaf Melnik) and more.
Their white grape varieties include Chardonnay, Viognier, Pinot Gris, Sandanski Misket and Assyrtiko (a Greek variety).
Visiting Orbelus Winery reminded us of our visit to Bodega Cecchin, an organic winery in Mendoza, Argentina. Just like in Mendoza, Orbelus uses only organic grapes and traditional fungicides. Their wines are heavily regulated and their focus is on great quality wines and not mass production.
While most of their wines are sold domestically, Orbelus also exports limited quantities to Northern Europe, Japan, USA and the U.K.
Wine Tasting at Orbelus Winery
From the tasting packages available, we each chose a tasting consisting of three wines, though we ended up tasting four wines.
The first wine was a white, Sandanski Misket, made from Bulgarian indigeneous grapes. Pale yellow in color, we liked the aromatic and fragrant notes in the wine
This was followed by a strong Rosé wine, a combination of Broadleaf Melnik and Syrah grapes.
We love red wines and the last two Orbelus wines we tasted did not disappoint. Orbelus Mitra wine, a blend of Grenache and Melnik grapes was fantastic.
While the Orbelus Prima 2015 wine knocked our socks off. This wine, a Gold Winner at a prestigious North Amerian wine festival was deep, complex and with a smooth finish.
A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Melnik 55, Merlot and Petit Verdot, this was the perfect end to the tasting.
Address: Orbelus Winery, Kromidovo Village, Bulgaria
Hours: Obelus Winery is opened for visits everyday of the week. From Monday – Friday, 10:00 am to 5:00 pm. Saturday and Sunday, 10:00 am to 3:00 pm.
Tours: Orbelus winery offers several types of tours. From simple tours of the winery, all the way to participation in harvesting of grapes.
Click here to see all the different tours and wine tastings available. Advance reservations recommended.
Pricing: Tour prices start at 3 BGN ( $1.70) for a tour of the winery and a glass of wine. We chose the tasting of 3 wines for 8 BGN ($4.53). The more involved wine tours and tastings accompanied with local snacks range from 33 BGN – 45 BGN ($18.68 -$25.48)
3 – Villa Melnik Winery: Boutique Winery Steeped in Tradition
Villa Melnik is a boutique winery located seven kilometers south of the town of Melnik.
At Villa Melnik winery, the driving philosophy is “quality over quantity”.
The owners have worked hard to preserve the indigeneous and local grapes from the region like the Broadleaf Melnik and Sandanski Misket.
With 50 hectares (123 acres) of vines, Villa Melnik makes 10 red wines and 6 white wines using both indigeneous and international grape varieties.
Some of the familiar grape varieties you’ll find are Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.
Although not an organic winery, we were pleased to learn that the harvest is done by hand and no pesticides are used to treat the vineyards.
It is worth visiting the property to admire the views of the vineyard and see the modern wine making process.
The most surprising is the visit of the sandy underground tunnels built to store the wine barrels and bottles.
According to Mariya, our tour guide, they provide the perfect temperatures and humidity for aging wine year-round.
The wines age in French and Canadian barrels as Bulgarian barrels are used specifically for Bulgarian wines.
Wine Tasting at Villa Melnik
Wine tasting is offered at the end of the tour in a large tasting room at the entrance of the winery.
Orange Wine from Villa Melnik was one of the most fascinating wines we experienced. This white wine, rooted in history is like an intense Sauvignon Blanc.
Other Villa Melnik wines made with traditional grapes like Melnik 55, Ruen, Melnik 1300 Jubilee were all wonderful expressions stemming from Broadleaf Melnik or Shiroka Melnishka grapes.
In addition to Villa Melnik’s commitment to producing high quality wines, they are also focused on raising the awareness and prestige of the local wines.
Address: Villa Melnik Winery, Harsovo Village, Bulgaria
Hours: Villa Melnik is open everyday from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm
Tours and tastings: Different wine tasting options are available. The most basic package is a tour of the winery and welcome drink for 3 BGN (approx. $1.71).
For an immersive experience, you can enjoy a tour of vineyard, six wine tastings and local treats, as well as a tour of winery for 30 BGN (approx. $16.91).
Click here to see more information about the Villa Melnik tours and tastings. Advanced reservations are recommended. Tours in English are available.
4 – Rupel Winery: Purity of Amazing Melnik Wines
Rupel Winery, a relatively young winery from 2015, is another one of the wineries making amazing wines in Melnik and the Struma Valley region.
The winery is named after the Rupel Gorge, a picturesque ravine, between the slopes of the Belasitsa, Pirin, Ograzhden and Maleshevo mountains.
Rupel Winery grows a wide variety of local and international grapes such as Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Melnik 55, Marselan, Pinot Noir, Tamianka, Viognier, Sandanski Misket, to name a few.
The approach to winemaking at Rupel is based on Purity. Their motto is Purity of the Varieties. Purity of the Production. Purity of the Spirit.
The importance of purity is evident throughout the entire process, from grape growing to the wines in the bottle.
On a tour of the wine facility and winemaking process, we were quite impressed with the modern technology and the investments the owners have made to produce the best wines possible.
Wine Tasting at Rupel Winery
The tasting room with exquisite views is worth visiting. Perched on the mountain right above the winemaking facility, soak in the mesmerizing views of the vineyards.
During our visit, we tasted a variety of Rupel Wines from their different lines. A tasty plate of banitsa and a platter of local cheeses and cured meats accompanied the tasting.
We enjoyed wines from local grapes like the white Sandanski Misket and Melnik 55 from two different lines.
Rupel Winery specialities like the Spancha Nebbiolo & Sangiovese was a delightful twist on these popular Italian varieties. And the playful Gramatik label and fine wines capped the experience.
Address: 2869 Dolno Spanchevo, Bulgaria
Hours: Rupel Winery is open for visits every day from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm. Click here to plan your visit in advance.
Tours & Tastings: Wine tastings are available at both the tasting room and also in the wine production facility. Simply book your tasting session and enjoy visiting the vineyards, touring the facility and enjoy wines and local delicacies with a view.
5 – Zornitza Family Estate and Winery: A Relais & Châteaux Experience
Zornitza Family Estate is a boutique winery and culinary hotel located 6km southwest of Melnik.
It is also the first Relais & Chateaux boutique hotel in Bulgaria, boasting a spa center, an eco-farm and a boutique winery.
While Zornitza Family Estates has an impressive collection of wines from around the world, they are also dedicated to producing their own wines.
The vineyards at Zornitza are relatively young with their first wines produced in 2016. Their production is limited with a sharp focus on the making of quality wines.
Syrah is the dominant grape, accompanied by 17 other local and classic red wine grape varieties.
Local and traditional grape varieties such as Broad-Leaved Melnik, Melnik 55 and Melnik Rubin are sourced from local producers.
In the Zornitza Family Estate cellar, they store more than 300 varieties of wines from around the world in addition to their own production.
They house a small lab, a fermentation room with steel tanks and cellar with several hundred bottles. The red wines from the property are aging in French oak barrels or in bottles.
Wine Tasting at Zornitza Family Estate and Winery
The wine tasting experience is offered in the elegant aEstivum Restaurant next door to the cellar.
During our visit, we sampled five Bulgarian red wine accompanied with a tasty plate of local delicacies.
All the wines were Zornitza Family Estate wines, including their flagship Fifty/Fifty wine.
The amazing range of flavors are the results of the creativity of the owner, who is highly involved in the wine making process.
Address: 2821 Zornitza Village, Melnik Area, Bulgaria
Hours: The winery is open everyday. Contact Zornitza for bookings here.
Tours and Tasting: Wine tastings are offered everyday between 12:00 pm and 5:30 pm for guests and non-guests as well.
Two different types of wine tastings are available each with a platter of homemade cheeses and cured meats. A tasting of 3 wines is 15 € ($16.55) and 5 wines for 26 € (28.69).
Click here to book your tasting in advance.
Accomodations: The beauty, nature and luxury, will seduce you to spend a couple of nights.
Zornitza Family Estate offers luxurious villas and hotel suites, a perfect retreat after touring the surrounding Melnik wineries.
There is also a gourmet restaurant featuring terroir cuisine with farm fresh produce. The mineral pools and exquisite spa facilities, will leave you feeling relaxed and reinvigorated.
Additional Wineries to Visit in Melnik
As noted previously, we failed at our overzealous plans of personally visiting the seven Melnik wineries. This was partly due to the fact that we spent hours on end at each winery getting a behind the scenes look at the wine producing process.
Furthermore, each wine tasting experience was in-depth and accompanied with local specialties to sample.
As we were on a mission to understand Bulgarian wines and the local grape varieties, we prioritized time spent with passionate owners over rushing to visit the other two Melnik wineries.
That said, here is a brief look at the other two Melnik wineries also worth discovering.
6 – Zlaten Rozhen Winery
Zlaten Rozhen Winery is a boutique Melnik winery located 12km from Melnik town and just a few kilometers past Villa Melnik Winery.
The 4,000 square meters property is built near the vineyards area with 80 hectares (200 acres) yielding an annual production of 150 tons.
Zlaten Rozhen Winery grows international grape varieties like Merlot, Cabernet and Syrah. The local varieties are Melnik 55, Melnik Ruby and the emblematic Broad Melnik Vine.
The wine tour takes visitors through the wine making process from the grape picking to the aging process in the cellars where the barrels and bottles are stored.
Address: Kapatovo Village, Petrich Municipality, 2872 Bulgaria
Hours: Zlaten Rozhen Winery is open everyday from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm
Tours and tasting: Wine tasting and tours are offered everyday. Click here to find out more information and book your Zlaten Rozhen Winery visit.
7 – Orbelia Winery
Orbelia Winery, unlike the other Melnik wineries is located about 35km from Melnik, at the foot of the Belasitsa Mountain.
The winery takes its name Orbelia from the ancient name of the mountain range which means “beautiful White Mountain”.
Opened in 2013, the philosophy of the winery is to produce high quality wines of traditional grape varieties.
Wines from different local varieties like Broad Leaf Melnik, Sandanski Misket and Kerzuda are produced. As well as international varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Franc and Muscat Ottonel.
Orbelia offers a unique program called do-it-yourself-wine whereby visitors can blend two wines together to make their own wines.
Address: Village Kolarovo, Petrich, Bulgaria
Hours: Orbelia Winery is open from Monday to Saturday from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm except on Saturday where the winery closes at 2:00 pm.
Tours and tasting: Orbelia Winery offers tours and tastings in English. There are two main tastings each accompanied with local Bulgarian specialties. The first package with three wines is priced at for 10 BGN ($ 5.50) and a second package with five wines at 16 BGN ($9).
Click here to see more information and book your Orbelia Winery tour and tasting.
Where to Eat in Melnik
The best place to eat in between your Melnik winery visits is in Melnik. This quaint town offers several restaurants featuring unique flavors, fresh ingredients and tasty Bulgarian dishes.
Mehana Aleksova Kashta
Mehana Aleksova Kashta was our favorite Melnik restaurant.
It was recommended to us by Melnik winery owners and described as the best traditional Bulgarian restaurant in Melnik.
The friendly staff and open-air seating with views overlooking the town makes it a great place to unwind.
The food is outstanding and made by a local chef using farm-fresh produce.
This is definitively a tasty place to savor exceptional Bulgarian flavors. The restaurant is open every day from 8:00 am to 12:00 midnight.
The traditional Bulgarian restaurants we tried are located on the main street. If you are feeling adventurous, visit Mehana Petra located in the upper part of the Melnik town.
The food is simple and tasty. Look for the local specialties like Tarator soup and Shopska salad.
The friendly owner is probably offer you a glass of wine to go with your meal. The restaurant is open everyday from 8:00 am to 11:00 pm.
Mehana Old Plane
Conveniently located at the entrance of Melink, you’ll find Mehana Old Plane at the bottom of the main street.
This traditional Bulgarian restaurant and hotel serves meals outside in their beautiful garden, shaded by old trees.
Serving local Bulgarian specialties and tasty grilled meats, we enjoyed the fresh flavors in between two Melnik winery visits. The restaurant is open everyday from 8:00 am to 11:00 pm.
Where to Stay: Hotels in Melnik Bulgaria
Melnik is one of the most fascinating towns in Bulgaria. It holds the distinction of being the smallest city in the world.
While in the area exploring the wines, book your stay at any one of the charming places listed below.
Zornitza Family Estate
In addition to offering wine tastings, Zornitza Family Estate is also a boutique hotel and the only Relais Chateaux in the area.
Zornitza Family Estate infuses luxury and nature in perfect harmony. With a deep reverence to Bulgarian traditions, this is the ideal place for a special occasion or indulgence, Bulgarian style.
Enjoy world-class accommodations and amenities, attentive staff, and delectable terroir cuisine.
Zornitza Family Estate not only produces wine but also fruits and vegetables, honey and soon to come, truffles.
This is the place to go to create unforgettable moments.
See more prices, read reviews or to find similar hotels check: Booking.com
Villa Sintica, Sandanski
When coming from Sofia, Sintica is the first winery you will pass by, located a few kilometers from the freeway leading to the Greece border.
Attached to the winery is Villa Sintica which offers 23 rooms and 3 luxurious apartments. There is also a spa center, an all year-round outdoor mineral pool and a fitness center.
The restaurant serves traditional Bulgarian and Mediterranean cuisine using produce from local farms as well as an impressive wine list.
With attentive staff, lavish decor and serene atmosphere, Villa Sintica offers the perfect stay for a leisure visit in style.
Standard double rooms start at $65 per night.
See more prices, read reviews or to find similar hotels check: Booking.com
This cozy hotel is located in the heart of Melnik, above the city center. From the terrace, you can enjoy sweeping views of the picturesque town and the nearby Melnik Sand Pyramids.
Hotel Melnik is designed in a Bulgarian renaissance style and offers all the modern amenities you would expect. Access high speed internet, spacious rooms, air conditioning and comfortable beds.
The restaurant offers traditional Bulgarian dishes and specialties and a wide selection of local and imported wines.
Double rooms start at about $40.00 per night.
See more prices, read reviews or to find similar hotels check: Booking.com
Hotel Rechen Rai, Melnik
Located right after the exit of Melnik is this gem nestled in nature. Enjoy the relaxing gentle stream that passes by the hotel and the beautiful views of the surrounding countryside.
Hotel Rechen Rai offers spacious apartment-like rooms with large sitting areas to spread out. Superior rooms feature a spa bath or hot tub, while regular rooms are equipped with a private shower.
If you are traveling with children, you will enjoy using the outdoor playground.
Enjoy tasty traditional Bulgarian dishes on the outdoor patio. And a wonderful breakfast buffet.
Double rooms start at about $30.00 per night.
See more prices, read reviews or to find similar hotels check: Booking.com
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Curious by nature, Rosemary loves exploring new flavors and connecting with locals. She shares her insights and culinary finds from her travels to inspire people to connect local through food.