Bulgarian Wines in the US - Hillary Amber Rill

Amber arrived in New York in 2013 armed with a passion for culture, travel, food and storytelling, and determined to explore her interest in wine. She found the study of wine to be an organic extension of her love of travel and culture, and has worked two harvests, with Carl Ehrhard in Rüdesheim, Germany, in 2014 and Brooks Wines in Amity, Oregon in 2017.

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In 2017, she earned her Diploma in Wine & Spirits through the Wine and Spirit Education Trust, as well as passing the Certified Sommelier exam with the Court of Master Sommeliers. She currently works closely with Laura Maniec MS, and the sommelier team at Corkbuzz Wine Studio in Union Square. As Assistant Beverage Director, Amber is in charge of staff education, teaches wine classes for Corkbuzz consumers and participates in curating the wine list. She has traveled in winegrowing regions in Germany, France, Georgia, and the U.S and since May this year Bulgaria as well.

In addition to her passion teaching about wine as a cultural product, she spends much of her time at her favorite New York yoga studio and telling stories from her travels in 40 countries.

Let’s hear her impressions on Bulgaria and our wines! 

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1) How did Bulgaria and its wines get on your radar?

My first real exposure to the wines was when I worked in a small, education focused wine shop on the Upper East Side of NYC. We had a few examples of Bulgarian wines, and I was surprised by the quality of a Mavrud we had.

2) What makes Bulgaria a unique wine producing region in your experience? Which wines strike you as something you had never tasted before?

I’m captivated by the resilience and willingness to experiment and adapt from the winemakers. It’s unique in how old world and new world varieties, technique, and winemaking are united. The Melnik varieties were totally new to me, and I found the Rubin crossing of Nebbiolo and Syrah to be totally unique and well represented.

3) Tell us about your experience with the country's indigenous varietals?

I was impressed with the freshness and entrepreneurial spirit the indigenous varieties were being made with; pet nats, skin contact whites from Dimyat, Misket, and others, and fermentation in concrete eggs.

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4) Bulgaria is known for producing great Cabernet sauvignon and Merlot. Were there any other international varietals that grabbed your attention?

I feel comfortable saying that for most of our group, Cabernet Franc was the winner. The diversity of expressions told us a lot about the direction of vinification in Bulgaria, and I was impressed by the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir of the Danubian Plains as well.

5) What was the biggest surprise you encountered in Bulgaria?

Flowers everywhere! It was a wonderful time to be there, with everything in bloom. I was astonished at how distinct the different regions were from each other, in terms of climate and culture.

6) What kind of wines would you be looking to see coming from Bulgaria in the next years?

My opinion is that consumers will become more interested in the indigenous varieties and styles of the region, fitting more with the stylistic pendulum already swinging towards fresher, brighter, and more food friendly wines.

7) What are your expectations/predictions for the region’s development in the next several years?

Winemakers will continue to experiment with winemaking, casting aside the “one size fits all” mantra of production. I expect to see trials with amphorae, and a focus on site specificity and terroir. Ideally, the wine community will really see the incredible value these wines offer in quality, and use them in both retail and dining experiences to exceed guest expectations.

8) What is your “to go” Bulgarian wine for this summer?

If it ever comes to the States,  Georgiev/Milkov Funky Mavrud Pet Nat! Fresh, juicy with red currant, cherries, and blood orange notes.

9) What is your advice for anyone who is curious to try Bulgarian wines?

Throw a Bulgarian wines dinner party! Have everyone bring a bottle, put out a great spread of Bulgarian cheeses, banitsa, fresh tomatoes and cucumbers, börek, grilled meats, and taste and compare the wines with good company!

10) How do you summarize Bulgaria to those who ask about your travels? 

There is something for everyone here! It is a country of exceptional value, and there will continue to be so much to discover.

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