I’ve been to wine regions all over the world–Australia’s Barossa Valley, Canada’s Okanagan, Argentina’s Cafayate, etc–but the strangest, perhaps a more accurate word would be saddest, was Bulgaria’s Melnik.
Melnik is now said to be Bulgaria’s smallest town, but in the 19th and early 20th century it was a thriving European wine capital. When Ruth and were there in May, 2015, one sign described its wine rather strangely. “…a dark red shine with a rich taste, complimented by sweet harshness…its taste also has hints of cherry, black Forest Fruits, black pepper, tobacco, and leather.” It goes on to note that Melnik’s wine making process is almost sacred. Let me just say that its time of sacredness has passed.
Lonely Planet says, ”’blood red Melnik, the unique local varietal..is sold in plastic jugs on the dirt streets”. At one time, however, 20,000 mostly Greek people lived here and made wine that was carried by donkeys down to Thessaloniki for export all across Europe. The sign I mentioned above that complimented its sweet harshness mentioned that Bulgarian khans, Venetian doges, French dukes, Austrian counts, and English lords doted on Melnik wine. We visited the well-preserved home of a rich wine merchant and it was noted in the guest area that “The room has hosted the Vienna philharmonic orchestra more than once.”
But much of the town burned in the 1912-13 Balkan War and it has never recovered. The population today is about 100 and the buildings tend to be either ruins or restaurants promoting Melnik wines.
There are 3 things of interest: Melnik is in a fairly pretty area and surrounded by pyramidal mountains, the wine merchant’s Ottoman-style home is rather interesting and said to be the most authentically preserved house in Bulgaria, and the town’s style of architecture is unique. Structures made of rocks embedded in what looked like dried white clay reminded me of Dalmatian dogs.
Go for the scenery and local color, not the wine.