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)

Melnik is located in the Southwestern part of Bulgaria

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.

Claire and Rosemary at Rupel Winery

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.

Sparkling clean floors at Rupel Winery

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.

Impressive steel tanks at Rupel Winery

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.


Wine aging in the barrels at Rupel Winery

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.

Pavel serving Tamianka wine as Anita holds the glasses

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.

Intimate tasting room in the wine production area at Rupel Winery

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.

High performance wine bottling machine

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.

Mesmerizing views of the vineyards at Rupel Winery

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.

Beautiful display of Rupel Wines in the tasting room

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.

Anita with her homemade banitsa

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.

A fluffy slice of banitsa

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.

Anita Serving Banitza at Rupel Winery in Melnik Bulgaria by Authentic Food QuestAnita with her homemade banitsa

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.

Banitza at Rupel Winery in Melnik Bulgaria by Authentic Food QuestA fluffy slice of banitsa

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.

Platter of traditional Bulgarian appetizers

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.

The range of Rupel wines

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.

Surprising and tasty Black Rosé wine

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.

Melnik 55, the traditional wine from the region

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.

The range of Spancha Wines – Notice the helmet of the Spanish noble

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.


Pavel presenting the Gramatik Melnik 55 wine

Gramatik Marselan 

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.

Gramatik line of wines with their intriguing label

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.

The exclusive Philosoph Wine from Rupel Winery

In Summary

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

Rosemary and Claire cheering with Tamianka wine at Rupel Winery cellars

A source of information: www.authenticfoodquest.com