We ended our trip in style thanks to a visit to the wonderful Zelanos winery, an inspirational and awesome all-woman enterprise in Slavyantzi, a small village near the Valley of the Roses, where much of Bulgaria's famous rose oil is made.
Svetla Roshleva - winemaker at Zelanos Winery
Set in rolling vineyards with tremendous views, the winery building is ultra-modern and impressive, all glass windows and angles, super-slick and very cool. We were shown around by winemaker Svetla Roshleva and owner Reni Slavova, and after trying some fresh wines in cask we went up to their lovely but bizarre tasting room, which was almost its own self-contained apartment! Complete with cosy fireplace and a display cabinet of novelty mugs, in the centre of the room there was a long glass table which matched the glass walls showing off views of the vineyard all around.
The wines were some of my favourite from the entire trip. Among them, we discovered a lovely local misket, which was a grape used to make a fresh, anyday drinking white. We ended on a more premium range of chardonnay and pinot noir called 'Z'. The chardonnay… OH MY! It was one of the most exquisitely clever uses of oak I've tried in a long while – there was just enough presence without being overly oaky, and a really lovely texture and depth added. We couldn't help it – we stopped spitting the wine and just sat and enjoyed the glassful. The pinot, even for a girl who doesn't much like pinot noir, was really silky and sophisticated too.
During the tasting both Reni and Svetla were strangely quiet, unlike most other hosts who had talked us through each wine, but they explained they just wanted us to taste at our own pace. They did ask Mitko 'are we doing this right?' at one point, which I thought was lovely, showing how unpretentious they are, with their focus purely on making delicious wines rather than fancy marketing spiel. They didn't need any of that anyway - they were right to let the wine speak for itself!
Laura Vickers at Zelanos Winery in Bulgaria
Then they urged us to pour a glass of our favourite (we all went for the chardonnay, unsurprisingly!) and go and sit out on their beautiful terrace, where we chatted and took loads of photos, making good use of the lovely view behind us. Spirits were high, and it was a really special moment. By the time we left for our final drive back to Sofia (before flying home the next morning), the sun was setting, and I think the entire bottle of chardonnay was gone…
Where to go next?