I was told Orbelus Winery is a different and stunning place. Still, I wasn’t prepared for the striking view of the barrel-shaped building against the backdrop of Pirin Mountain. Pictures can’t do Orbelus justice. Mine included.
The drive from Sofia with a visit to Rila Monastery was easy and pleasant. By the time we reached Orbelus Winery in the beautiful village of Kromidovo near Melnik, we were pleasantly tired and ready to relax with a glass of wine. Or five.
We were greeted by one of the owners - Blagoy - and passed in the expert hands of one of the staff who showed us around the facility. It was a very hot day and she thoughtfully kept the facilities tour brief and to the point. She knew we were there for the main attraction - the wines themselves. And for that part, we were joined by Blagoy’s wife, Galia, whose gentle smile and loving tales of the years of building Orbelus made the wine tasting so much richer.
Orbelus is a certified organic winery and the first one to earn this status in Bulgaria. But that’s not the most important feature that makes it so distinct. There’s obvious love of wine and quiet pride in the hard work that has gone into creating Orbelus. Not surprisingly, the wines, created by this labor, are sophisticated and intriguing.
We start with the Orbelus Paril rose and it’s restrained, almost shy at first, but it quickly develops into a well rounded fruitiness with gentle smokey hints.
We move to Hrumki, which translates as Whims. It is made of 100% Sandanski Misket - one of the region’s indigenous varietals - and it is indeed a whimsical white with a greenish straw color and a flowery, almost herbal nose.
We try Orbelus Mitra - a mix of another indigenous regional grape, Broadleaved Melnik and Grenache Noir - and I just love that the wine is named after the hardworking woman who takes care of the vineyards. It’s dark purple and thick with a tight body that reveals plums and cinnamon.
Next is an Orbelus Prima - a blend of yet another indigenous sort, Early Melnik, with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot ,and Petit Verdot. It’s a beautiful dark violet red with chocolate and blackcurrant aromas and an elegant but potent body with berries and spices. And the striking design of the label has a cool story, too - it is a stylized version of pafti - the intricate buckles of the belts women wore as part of their traditional dress back in the old days.
Just when I can’t imagine being any more impressed, Blagoy opens a 2015 Single Barrel Mourvedre and Galia tells us the story of a very bad year. 2014, the year when terrible rains and hail ravished all crops, is still talked about all over Bulgaria with anguish and fear. That year, Mother Nature wiped out 75% of Orbelus’ grapes. But what the crew made out of the remaining 25% is nothing short of a marvel. The flavor is nuanced with layers of sour cherries, blackcurrants and pepper. It’s like nothing else I’ve tried before - a rare and memorable find. A few bottles are now safely stored in Boston, awaiting to crown a Christmas celebration in a few months.
As I was finishing my work on this piece, I learned that during the French President Emmanuel Macron's visit to Bulgaria this week, the two first ladies - Brigitte Macron and Desislava Radeva - were served Orbelus Orelek, a blend of Chardonnay and Viognier. A distignuished choice that can beautifully represent the face of the new Bulgarian wine industry - watch out, France!