Interview With Hillary Zio
Hillary Zio is a not merely a wine enthusiast, although she certainly is one of the most inspiring wine lovers I've ever met. She is a a Certified Sommelier with the Court of Master Sommeliers, a wine consultant, author and educator. You can see a much longer list of her accomplishments and order her book here. Hillary has visited Bulgaria twice and tasted hundreds of wines, while she explored all significant wine regions and inspiring wineries. She wrote two articles on Bulgaria as well as co-wrote the material for Wine Folly's first Bulgarian intro. She is an Instagram influencer in the wine and travel segments with fascinating posts daily.
Hillary is one of the most trustworthy sources in the US when it comes to Bulgarian wines and a critical part of the mission "Bulgarian wines in USA." Let's hear about her lasting impressions.
1. How did Bulgaria and its wines get on your radar?
I was introduced to them by Marin Atanassov on social media in 2016. Prior to that, I hadn’t tasted any Bulgarian wines to my knowledge.
2) What makes Bulgaria a unique wine producing region in your experience? Which wines strike you as something you had never tasted before?
I think that Bulgarian wine is very unique because of the long history. I have also noticed that so many wineries are staying true to their roots and making wine the same way their grandparents did and those before them. I met several winemakers who are very passionate about showcasing the terroir and decide to make wine in a natural or non-interventionalist way. I really respect that.
I had never tasted anything like Merlot from Bulgaria. In fact, I didn’t know how much I liked the grape until my first visit to Bulgaria. For me, there is a rich, plum-like nose with herbs and spices on the palate. I find Bulgarian Merlot to be very complex.
3) Tell us about your experience with the country's indigenous varietals?
There are several indigenous varietals that I found interesting. Vrachanski Misket is a rare grape and shows white pepper, violet, and clay notes, reminding me a bit of Gruner Veltliner. I was also very fond of Rubin, a high tannin red grape with stewed fruit and espresso on the nose. This grape is very big and powerful, which is why I personally preferred it in a blend.
4) Bulgaria is known for producing great Cabernet sauvignon and Merlot. Were there any other international varietals that grabbed your attention?
I thought that several wines produced from Chardonnay, Riesling and Cabernet Franc were very enjoyable and varietally correct. I didn’t think that any Chardonnay I tasted was too-heavily oaked, they were very well-balanced.
5) What was the biggest surprise you encountered in Bulgaria?
I was most surprised by the land. Outside the larger cities, Bulgaria is very green! At times it felt like Colorado or even Upstate New York, but with more vineyards of course. It was cool to see all of the small vines growing outside peoples’ homes. Everyone is very proud of their vines and homemade wine.
6. What kind of wines would you be looking to see coming from Bulgaria in the next years?
I expect to see more naturally produced wines, more rose, orange wine and light reds. I am curious how Gamay or Valdiguie would do in cooler climates, in the long run.
7) What are your expectations/predictions for the region’s development in the next several years?
I expect the regions of Bulgaria to gain extreme popularity in the USA, especially in larger cities like New York, Chicago, and DC. Once wine enthusiasts decide to try Bulgarian, they will be pleasantly surprised by the versatility and it will spiral out from there.
8) What is your “go to” Bulgarian wine for this summer?
I love Villa Melnik’s 2017 rose. It’s clean and refreshingly high in acidity with notes of strawberry, rosemary, lime zest and cherry skin. I could drink it at the beach all day long.
9) What is your advice for anyone who is curious to try Bulgarian wines?
I highly advise anyone to try Bulgarian wines. Whether you like white, pink, red or sparkling, there is something for everyone. Also, the regions vary in terms of climate and soil types, with a little direction and education, you can find your ideal wine.
10) What is one story about Bulgaria that you have recently shared with others?
I told a close friend how much I loved the towns we visited. Plovdiv is especially beautiful with cobblestone streets and cafes everywhere. I could definitely live there.