Red wine grape variety, typical of Southwest Bulgaria, near the Greek border and named after one of the smallest towns in Bulgaria – Melnik. The Bulgarian name for the variety means “broad leaf vine”, describing the characteristic wide-width of the leaf. The cluster size is medium-large (10-17 cm), semi-compact, with two or more wings. The berries are small (15-16 mm) with thick, tough blue-black skin when fully ripe.
Characteristics of the vine include a late ripening, which may start in the second half of October. The variety is not frost-resistant, thus requiring a long and warm vegetation period. To modify these characteristics, the original variety was crossed with more early-ripening hybrids. Together with the original variety they are collectively called Melnik.
The wines tend to have notes of strawberries, white cherries and stone pits. Through the vinification process and aging, the flavor develops and can be complemented or dominated by the aroma of tobacco, dry mint, and black pepper, depending on the production technique and the terroir. The wine color is clear ruby-red to dark crimson.
Historically, Melnik wines became famous for inspiring a harmonic combination of ruby-red depth, fine aroma, sweet astringency and dense texture. In the Middle Ages Melnik wine became famous and was exported to the Mediterranean ports and other European cities.
The city of Melnik had a mostly ethnic Greek population from 13th – 19th century. In medieval times it was a place where Byzantine noblemen were sent into exile from Constantinople. But after the Balkan wars and WWI, the town was nearly demolished together with the wine cellars and the aging wines. Another blow to the vineyards was the Phylloxera plague in 1911. The vine survived after grafting it to an American rootstock.
Since 2012, a local Melnik wine festival has been celebrated at the beginning of February when Bulgarians honor the Day of St. Tryphon, the patron of gardeners, winemakers and protector of vineyards.