CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- As a young boy in Bulgaria, Desislav Baklarov dreamed of seeing the world. He left home at 19 for a brief military stint, then climbed aboard a cruise ship where he worked for six years. He did indeed see the world.
Today he fulfills another dream at The Wine Valley, a wine, tapas and craft beer bar in Teays Valley that he opened in July with his partner Galina McDowell. He serves fine and interesting wines in a comfortable space that encourages a lingering enjoyment.
"This is a completely new environment and style for the area. It's a way to enjoy wine in your free time. We are sending a loud message. Slow down. We'll show you how to do it. Don't rush the wine," he explains.
"If you don't have time to enjoy it the right way, come back when you do."
The intimate space seats 44 people in comfortable couches and armchairs bistro tables and chairs along the side and a stools lining a stretch of bar. It's a quiet oasis tucked in the midst of the stores in Liberty Square shopping area.
"There are three important elements to enjoying wine. You have to have the right atmosphere, good company and great wine," he said.
A wine list of more than 250 wines includes vintages from all over the world, not surprising from Baklarov and the palate he developed in his extensive travels. "You won't find any wines that are sold at Kroger or Wal-Mart," he said.
Experienced wine drinkers and those who are just developing an interest in wine should find something to their taste.
He and McDowell serve wine flights as a way for patrons to sample a variety of wine and develop their palate. Ten different flights, each featuring three (3-ounce) pours of wines of similar varieties, are priced between $9 and $20, most around $10.
The French Connection, naturally features French wines. Gimme Some Sugar includes two Moscato and one Riesling. The West Coast features wines from California, Washington and Oregon.
While some people know exactly what they'd like, Baklarov guides others who want some advice. He first asks if they prefer red or white, sweet or dry, then makes recommendations. Most newbie wine drinkers prefer sweet wines.
"That is natural. It's usually the first step and an easy way to start," said Baklarov, who has a particular passion for red wines. "He tries to convert everyone," McDowell said. The conversion process takes time, he said, as most people move from sweet wines, to mostly white before they appreciate more complex reds such as Pinot noir, cabernets, merlots and zinfandels.
Although Baklarov's appreciation of wines has deepened through the years, his taste started simply enough at the small vineyards both sets of grandparents owned in Bulgaria. They made rose wines for the family's consumption only, not for sale.
He remembers leisurely Sunday lunches with the large extended family gathered on the patio to dine under the grapevine-covered arbors. "Wine was always part of our life," he said. "I even remember crushing the grapes."
Baklarov arrived in West Virginia in 2005, when he enrolled as a financial/international business major at Marshall University. He worked his way through school tending bar at Mardi Gras Casino and Resort and continued to work there until he opened The Wine Valley.
Patrons may order wines by the glass, flights or bottles to drink in The Wine Valley, but may not purchase more than one bottle of wine to take home. Most bottles are priced between $16 and $50. State regulations limit customers to carrying out one bottle of opened wine and one sealed bottle, because The Wine Valley is classified as a restaurant, not a retail establishment.