Did you know Bulgaria makes really good wines?
The more time we spent in Melnik, one of Bulgaria’s famous wine regions, the more new wines we discovered and loved.
Rupel Winery, a relatively young winery from 2015, is one of the wineries making amazing wines in Melnik and the Struma Valley region.
On a visit to the winery, Anita and Pavel Gramatikov, the owners, shared their passion and told us fascinating stories behind the wines.
We spent a wonderful afternoon learning about Rupel Winery, wine making and sampling incredible Bulgarian wines.
Join us on a tour of Rupel Winery, “in a glass.”
Nazdrave! (or cheers in Bulgarian)
Rupel Winery – Boutique Winery
Rupel Winery, the name, says a lot about the vineyard. Situated in the most Southwestern part of Bulgaria, the vineyards are spread around the surrounding villages of Harsovo and Dolno Spanchevo.
The winery is named after the Rupel Gorge, a picturesque ravine, between the slopes of the Belasitsa, Pirin, Ograzhden and Maleshevo mountains.
Currently, the vines are spread out over 30 hectares (74 acres) and produce about 250 tons of grapes. This translates into 500,000 litres of wine or 300,000 bottles per year.
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.
Rupel Winery Winemaking – Purity of Process
Our visit to Rupel Winery started in a tour of the wine production process.
As Anita and Pavel walked us to the steel tanks where the wines are fermented, we were struck by the extreme cleanliness of the place.
The floors Anita told us are “covered with a special resin” which makes them easy to clean and maintain.
Further, Anita added, the “stainless steel tanks are also cleaned with recyclable products”.
We learned that their approach to wine-making is a direct reflection of the Rupel Winery Motto
Purity of the Varieties. Purity of the Production. Purity of the Spirit.
The importance of purity is found throughout the entire process, from grape growing to the wines in the bottle.
Modern Winemaking Bulgarian Production in Melnik
The impressive stainless steel tanks are used both for fermenting and storing the wines. The amount of time the wines stay in each of the tanks depends on the variety.
We were impressed by the modern technology at the winery.
Each of the steel tanks are connected to a sophisticated dial-system which allows for either cooling or warming of the temperatures.
Oak Barrels in the Cellars
From the fermentation area, we made our way down to the lower level where wines were aging in oak barrels and smaller stainless steel tanks.
Depending on the variety, wines stay in the barrels anywhere from six to ten months.
For the Bulgarian red wines, Rupel Winery uses American, Bulgarian, and French oak barrels for their wines.
At the time of our visit, the oak barrels were aging Merlot, Marselan and Melnik 55 wines.
Next to the oak barrels, were smaller stainless steel tanks filled with white wines.
Tamianka Wine Tasting From the Barrels
While in the cellars, Pavel had us try one of the wines directly from the barrel. We tried a special Bulgarian white wine called Tamianka.
From the Muscat family of grapes, we tasted a 2018 wine which was raw or unfiltered. While this white wine is typically drank cold, we enjoyed the aromatic notes and golden color.
Tamianka is a indigeneous grape that is making a renaissance in Bulgaria. During the communist era, it was mass produced and used for blending wines.
Today, Tamianka is showing up as fine wine and the Rupel Winery’s Tamianka wine, is an example of one.
Tasting Room in the Cellars
Towards one end of the cellars is a small tasting room where visitors can savor Rupel wines.
We stopped to admire a beautiful mural on the wall, depicting the location of the Rupel Gorge, amongst the mountains and nearby Greece.
This is a lovely and intimate space for wine tastings with a group of friends.
Bottling And Sulphite Free Wines
Our last stop on the Rupel Winery tour was to see the wine bottling station.
Just like the steel fermentation tanks, we were quite impressed with the modern machinery, which Pavel told us has the capacity of filling 1,000 bottles per hour.
The bottling machine has a washing segment, filling station and can close the wines with either cork or screw caps.
One of the unique aspects of Rupel Winery is that it is the only winery in the region with a nitrogen system. They make wines without any added sulphites.
Nitrogen, a natural gas contained in the air, is used in every step of wine production, as well as during bottling to remove oxidation.
This is done to maintain the wine’s freshness and another example of Rupel Winery’s motto in practice.
Rupel Chateau in The Tuscany of Bulgaria
After the tour of the wine production process, we rode with Anita and Pavel, about five minutes by car to the tasting room.
The tasting room is perched high on the mountains just above the winemaking facility.
Designed like a chateau, Anita tells us the house and landscapes are inspired by the Tuscany region in Italy.
Standing on the chateau property we looked out to mesmerizing views of the vineyards with the cool Aegean breeze blowing from neighboring Greece.
Rupel Winery Tasting Room
We took a quick tour of the tasting room, which we learned was built very close to where Pavel grew up.
The tasting room features information about Bulgarian red wines on the main level as well as in the library on the upper level.
The tasting room we learned from Anita is used for large groups, team building events, conferences and more.
Attached to the tasting room is a fully equipped professional kitchen that was currently under construction with plans to open later this year.
Anita’s vision for the kitchen is to provide home cooked lunch and dinner menus with wine tasting.
Throughout the year, she plans to host special events such as Greek evening with local food and wine, a Macedonian evening or a Bulgarian evening.
Traditional Bulgarian Food to Accompany the Wine Tasting
Hungry at this point in the day, we were grateful when Anita brought out homemade banitsa.
Banitsa (also spelled Banitza or Banica) is a traditional Bulgarian dish.
It is one of Bulgaria’s national symbols and a favorite breakfast or snack.
Banitsa is prepared with layers of sheets of dough stuffed with various fillings.
The most classic version and the one Anita made was stuffed with cheese and egg. The filling is made with Sirene, a Bulgarian white cheese, yogurt and eggs.
In addition to the tasty banitsa, was a cheese platter with local cheese and dried meats.
The local cheese, a yellow cow cheese known as kashkaval was mild and rustic. This is one of our favorite Bulgarian cheeses and it is sometimes referred to as the cheddar of the Balkans.
The slices of dried pork sausages, known as sudjuk (also spelled sujuk) added a spicy contrast to the mild cheese.
Bulgarian Wine Tasting at Rupel Winery
With the wonderful banitsa and cheese and pork appetizers, we were ready to sample the various Rupel wines.
After Pavel introduced the range of Rupel wines, we started off with the lighter wines and gradually made our way to the premium wines, aged in oak.
Rusali Black Rose
The first thing that surprised us about this wine was the name Black Rose. Indeed, looking at it the color was much deeper than a typical rose.
Interestingly, according to Anita, we learned that this wine was very popular with men.
We were musing that perhaps the darker color made it look less femimne.
The wine made with a combination of Marselan and Merlot grapes was elegantly fruity. Not sweet and light, but rich like a light red.
We took a bottle home with us and enjoyed it several days later where it was the perfect accompaniment to a salad and trout dinner.
Rupel Winery Spancha Wines
The Spancha Wines at Rupel Winery are their popular wines designed for younger wine drinkers. These are fruit forward wines which are meant to be for everyday consumption.
The name of the wine has special significance. We learned it is the old name for their village, Spancha, which was later called Dolno Spanchevo.
As the story goes, a Spanish nobleman built the village years ago. He apparently settled in the area because of the mineral water and warm climate and grew the first vineyards.
He built the first houses for his women and they would dance flamenco and drink wine every night.
The design of the label of the Spancha wines shows half of the helmet of this Spanish noble knight, as a reminder of the place of origin of this wine.
From the Spancha line of wines, we tasted three different red wines.
Spancha Melnik 55
Our tasting started out with the local wine of the region. Melnik is an indigeneous grape and it represents Melnik and the Struma River Valley.
Melnik 55 is a hybrid from the Bulgarian grape Melnik.
“We love Melnik 55 as it is the most traditional wine of our region” Anita remarked as she served the wine.
Rupel Winery makes two Melnik 55 wines. We started out with the one from the Spancha line and later tasted the award winning one from the Gramatik line of wines.
While this was not our first time having Melnik 55 wine, we enjoyed sipping on this wine with bites of cheese.
A soft wine with an attractive taste, we enjoyed this expression of Melnik 55.
Spancha Nebbiolo & Sangiovese
Rupel is the only winery in the region that makes a blend of these two varieties. Unlike in Italy, where these varieties are aged in oak, at Rupel Winery, the wines age in the bottles.
To best appreciate the flavors of this wine, Anita brought out some chocolate to pair the wine with. Chocolate and truffles she said, “go best with this wine”.
True to her word, we enjoyed the combination of chocolate and wine. By itself the wine was fresh and smooth. When paired with chocolate, everything just clicked.
Spancha Sangiovese – Italian Variety
This is a pleasant and easy to drink wine. We found it smooth and the kind of wine that can be enjoyed on any occasion.
In Italy, Pavel mused while sipping the wine, “Sangiovese is the most common grape.”
His goal for this wine at Rupel Winery, is to make a ubiquitous Bulgarian Sangiovese.
Gramatik Oak Aged Bulgarian Red Wines
We found the Gramatik line of wines from Rupel Winery exceptional. These wines are aged in barrels and the first vintage is from 2015.
The name, Anita told us has multiple meanings. At the most obvious level, the name is representative of Gramatika, their family name.
In addition, the name is also for the word “Grammar.” And as Anita put it, “we make grammer with our wines.” The striking label has words with the same letters, for instance, “G” for grapes, glass, gourmet or “R” for red, ruby or remember.
The idea is when you drink the wine and look at the bottle, you can read words connected with wine, wine tasting, etc.
From the Gramatik line of wines, we tried three different varieties.
Gramatik Melnik 55
We really enjoyed this second tasting of the region’s famous Melnik 55 wine.
For Pavel, this wine reminded him of his youth. He talked about the connection between the wine and the wood burning in his house.
Already fans of Melnik 55, we enjoyed the beautiful flavors of this wine. Well structured with flavors of berries, this is the kind of wine that pairs well with steak.
Proud and rightfully so, Anita told us the wine had won a gold medal earlier in the year.
Together with their colleagues at Orbelus winery, these were the only two wineries in the region to achieve the highest medals for the Melnik 55 wines.
Another award winning wine, this is a beautiful wine aged in oak barrels for ten months. The wine, we learned is a French grape variety that is a cross between Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache.
According to Pavel, French winemakers blend Marselan with other grape varieties for color, density and aromas.
At Rupel Winery, the wine is a 100% stand alone varietal entirely from Marselan grapes.
We liked this wine and the dark ruby color. It has a dynamic nose with hints of berries. It is an easy to drink wine that would pair well beef.
Gramatik Cabernet Sauvignon – 100%
With 93 points from American Wine Awards, this was one of Rosemary’s favorite wines. Aged for 11 months in oak barrels, we enjoyed the rich and full bodied flavors of this wine.
While sipping on this wine, Anita told us that most Bulgarian don’t drink Cabernet Sauvignon.
They prefer blends with Merlot. Apparently, Merlot does better with the local market, and for that reason, Rupel Winery tends to export this Cabernet.
A classy Cabernet, this is one wine to look for at home or on your travels to Bulgaria.
Philosoph Reserve – Top Bulgarian Red Wine
Even after tasting so many wines, the wonderful flavors of the Philosoph Reserve wines could not escape us. This is the most exclusive wine at the winery.
Philosoph Reserve is a blend of four varieties – Melnik 55, Merlot, Marselan and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Each variety first ages in its own barrel. Later, the varieties are blended in different proportions.
Once blended, the wines are aged in oak barrels for 18 months and after that, for 20 months in the bottle. Only a limited number of bottles are produced each year, about 2000.
Another one of our favorite wines, this one is multi-layered with notes of cherries and chocolates.
A wine with a velvet touch and a smooth finish. It’s no surprise when we learned that this is one of the top 10 wines in Bulgaria.
Discovering Bulgarian wines from the Melnik and Struma Valley region has been a surprising and delightful experience. Bulgarian wines are making a renaissance, in part driven by the passionate owners and wine makers.
Anita and Pavel’s energy and enthusiasm for wine was contagious. Their approach with “purity” to the entire wine production process is remarkable. Their investments in modern technology with the goal of producing the best wines was impressive.
Rupel Chateau, built with plans to create wine and culinary experiences further reinforces their commitment to fine wines, paired with exceptional traditional cuisine.
As Bulgaria works to regains its status as a world producer of exceptional wines, the wineries in Melnik and the Struma Valley region are collaborating to do their part.
As Anita put it….
“Our dream is to export more wines everywhere in the world. To bring more visitors to the region, to sell directly from the wineries. Our dream is to be famous and to make the Melnik Region and the Struma Valley famous and known worldwide.”
– Anita Gramatikova
Hotels in Melnik – Where to Stay
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 Melnik wineries, book your stay at any one of the charming places listed below.
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.
The hotel 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 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
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
Zornitza Family Estate
This boutique hotel is the only Relais & Chateaux luxury hotel in the area. The Estate infuses luxury and nature in perfect harmony.
Zornitza Family Estate also produces wine, honey and soon truffles. You can enjoy fine dining at the aEstivum restaurant which features terroir cuisine from produce and livestock raised on the Estate.
With a deep reverence to Bulgarian traditions and nature, this is the ideal place for a special occasion or indulgence, Bulgarian style.
Read our full review: Zornitza Family Estate – Best Luxury Hotel in Melnik
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Special thanks to Anita and Pavel Gramatikov for having us at Rupel Winery. All views and opinions expressed are our own. Full bellies and happy taste buds too!
Rosemary, ex-marketing and advertising strategist, is a digital nomad and content creator at Authentic Food Quest. Since 2015, with her partner, Claire, they travel the world in search of the best local food experiences. Their mission is to help you enjoy the best local specialties on your travels or via recipes in your home kitchen. Favorite country for food: Peru. Favorite local dish: Bacalhau. Favorite way to keep fit: Running. Rosemary is the chief content writer and strategist on Authentic Food Quest. She is also co-author of Authentic Food Quest Argentina and Authentic Food Quest Peru, available on Amazon.