To read about the fascinating history of Bulgarian wine, check out Bulgaria - Part 1: Three-Thousand Years of Wine History. To learn about the grapes, wine regions and Bulgarian wine's place in the market, read Part 2: The Current State of Bulgarian Wine.
Rakia is fruit brandy from the Slavic nations in the Balkans, usually served on the rocks in small glasses. There's evidence that it was invented by the Bulgarians in the 11th century, which completely destroys previous guestimates of when alcohol distillation was even discovered! If you'd like to learn about the history of Bulgarian rakia and how it's made, find out in Part 3: Invincibility of Rakia.
Even though I'm a Certified Specialist of Spirits, I'm not all that into spirits. I can tell you about the history, production and laws of the different kinds of spirits but there are things that are out of my realm. Simple example: I know what separates an Islay Scotch from a Speyside Scotch. But would I be able to tell you the difference between two specific Speysides like Glenfiddich 12 year and Glenlivet 12 year? No way. Sure, every once in awhile you'll see me pick up a bottle of liquor and enjoy it. But my CSS was earned solely on intense book study in the name of education. I'm a wine stalker first and foremost, and a simpleton beer enjoyer second.
So I'm not one to really judge a rakia, for kinda that reason but moreso because it's not a widespread thing here in States. Availability and popularity of rakia is nonexistant. But I've got three bottles of Bulgarian rakia in front of me, all grappa from the Muscat grape. I'm gonna give you a rundown of each one and tell you what I think. All three can be purchased on BulgarianWine.comBISERNA MUSKATOVA RAKIA
Biserna is by Domaine Boyar, a winery that I reviewed plenty of wines from last year. It's made in small batches from Muscat, Dimyat, and Ugni-Blanc. It's clear in color. The nose is floral and has chalky candy, like Pez or Smarties or even flavored Tums. In the mouth it's light, clean, and fruity. A combo of citrus and berries in a way that reminds me of Fruity Pebbles. It finishes fruity and with alcohol burn in the mouth but none in the throat or belly. I dig it.
Right now, at the time of this review, it's marked down from $30 to $25. Buy it here: http://www.wineglobe.com/vwm-mamodo50-so.html
PESHTERSKA OTLEZHALA RAKIA
This is a premium grappa matured in oak. That's all I really know about it. It's apple juice in color. The nose has peanut shell, vanilla and dried orange. It's got a bigger body than the Biserna. Super smooth in mouthfeel and it leaves a silky coating on your teeth. For flavor it's actually pretty similar to whiskey (I said similar, not exactly) so this is the rakia for whiskey drinkers out of the three. It leaves a little fire in your belly, like whiskey, so acid reflux beware.
Right now, at the time of this review, it'll run ya $28. Buy it here: http://www.wineglobe.com/peshterska-special-rakia.html
|IS THIS FROM THE|
Made in the Karnobat region from Muscat, Dimyat, Pearl and Pamid. It's aged in 230-liter oak barrels for a year. It comes with a little note wrapped up like a scroll attached to its neck. I have no idea what it says right now but I may be able to translate it after a few more drinks of this stuff.
It's a light amber in color. This one is more bright and acidic and herbal than the others. I swear I might say it was a mellow gin if I was blindfolded and had to guess just from the smell. It's citrusy and piney and botanical in aroma. It's none of those things on the palate. Full bodied, very smooth and well rounded in mouthfeel with flavors of vanilla, brown sugar, and applesauce.
It's clearly better quality rakia than the other two. Right now, at the time of this review, it goes for the price of $33 for a bottle and $90 for three bottles. Buy it here: http://www.wineglobe.com/jvs-blg100-so.html
AND MY FAVORITE IS...
Maybe it's my Americaness but I personally liked Biserna the best. It's light and fruity, very enjoyable on the rocks, and I could see myself having a glass on a regular basis. I think the other two are an acquired taste. That's not to say I didn't like them but they have a certain quality to them that's just... strange to me. There is a characteristic I can't describe that's just different about these grape brandies from other grape brandies. I need to do more "research". But, like I said, the Kehlibar clearly had the best quality.
I love trying new things so it was a great experience to have Bulgarian rakia. These rakias influenced me to pick up a bottle of Serbian plum rakia recently and I friggin loved it! If you want to try something different and get some Bulgarian rakia, check them out at BulgarianWine.com.