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Contemporary Serbian Wine Scene

Written on 13-01-2013 by Dusan Jelic, winesofbalkans.com

Serbia produces a very good quality white & red wines!

Contemporary Serbian Wine Scene

My emotional terroir is strongly connected with Pelješac peninsula or more precisely Dingač and Postup renditions of Plavac Mali. I started enjoying that wine even before I was legally allowed to do so, however, my father made sure that it was done in moderation. It started as a Sunday lunch affair with a half glass and it slowly grew as the time passed by.

Since those humble beginnings I went on the road of discovering wines of the Balkan region, as well as of the Old & New World. My time in South Africa helped me understand the beauty of the old-world practices and technical innovations and ambitions of new world vignerons. After I returned from Cape Town I founded a marketing agency Wines of Balkans (August 2012). I am trying to follow the spectacular wine scene of our region. Let me talk about the Serbian wine scene including some of the best producers at the moment. You can follow my vinous adventures here: www.winesofbalkans.com

Introduction

Serbian Wine History in Brief

Serbia has a long history both in trade and consumption of wine. The Roman Emperor Domitian (69-96 AD) enacted a law granting a monopoly to the Italian peninsula vineyard, allowing only quality grapes suitable for winemaking. That monopoly lasted until the reign of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius Probus (Born 232 AD in Sirmium that is a present-day Sremska Mitrovica) who initiated the growing of grape vines on the slopes of Alma Monsa (what is today Fruška Gora) so the origins of wine production in Serbia are associated with his name. In order to honour this Roman Emperor, Kovačević Winery named their red Bordeaux blend ‘Aurelius’.

An authentic Serbian winemaking started with the birth of the state in VIII and XIX century and developed markedly during the Nemanjić Dynasty (XI to XIV century). Wine was an important thing in medieval Serbia: it was used during negotiations, making treaties, swearing of an oath and somehow represented a reminder of the laws, customs and tradition of the time. When the Ottomans were finally defeated in XIX century, winemaking again became one of the most important agricultural activities. Serbia even exported wines to France and quickly reached a significant share of their wine market in the last decade of XIX century. Wine production in Srem province has a long tradition, so the people of Karlovac became known for the quality of their wine. The families that, for instance, produced the famed Bermet and Ausbruch wines, re-started private production some twenty years ago, and nowadays use the authentic family recipes for wine-making.

The modern rulers of Serbia also took a keen interest in wine and they assisted re-emergence of wine trade in modern times. King Petar I and his son Aleksandar Karađorđević planted tens of hectares of vineyards around the highlands of Oplenac in the central Serbia and constructed wine cellars for the production of top quality wines. After many decades off decay, thanks to Aleksandrović Winery and other notable wine producers, this region is again becoming a home of the world-class wines.

9 winemaking regions in Serbia

Most of the vineyards are situated along the rivers:  South, West and Greater Morava in the central Serbia and Sava, Danube and Tisa in the Vojvodina province. There are 9 regions in Serbia: Timok; Nišava - South-Morava; West Morava; Šumadija - Greater-Morava; Pocerje; Srem (and Fruška Gora vineyards); Banat; Subotica-Horgoš and Kosovo region.

Best red wines are produced from the following varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Gamay Black, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Vranac, Prokupac (or Rskavac), while the best white wines are made from: Italian Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Muscat, Gewürztraminer, Bagrina, Rhine Riesling, Žilavka and Tamjanika.

Top Indigenous varieties: Prokupac (red) and Tamjanika (white)

Every winemaking country is eager to showcase wines produced from its autochthones grapes. It is a part of culture and tradition and therefore very important. In the similar way in which Croatia proudly offers Plavac Mali from Dalmatia, Malvazija and Teran from Istria and Graševina from Slavonia as the indigenous varieties, Serbia is revitalizing Prokupac and Tamjanika. The best region for these two varieties is Župa Aleksandrovac in the south. Prokupac is often dubbed as a ‘King of Župa’. The enormous potential of this region is due to clay and limestone soil and continental climate. Clay soils are composed of various minerals with variable amount of water trapped in the mineral structure and they are perfectly feeding the vines with all necessary ingredients.

The most important Hungarian wine magazine Vince described Prokupac in its October 2012 edition as follows: ‘Prokupac is often planted on sandy or pebbly soil in order to subdue its high yield and high vigour, and since it’s a late ripening variety, the best results are obtained if planted on sun-drenched southern slopes. In a glass, Prokupac is easily recognized owing to its distinct vibrant tannins, and wineries from Župa region have skillfully grasped how to avoid bitter and astringent tannic impression. Thus, tannin structure of Prokupac wine allows for excellent ageing potential, so this wine will show all its splendour, fruity character and aromas of plum, blackberry, and dark cherry accompanied with softened tannins after 5 to 6 years of ageing. ‘

Top producers of Prokupac are: Ivanović, Vino Budimir, Rajković, Spasić and others who are rapidly improving quality of Prokupac wines.

Tamjanika is a variety of Muscat Blanc a Petit Grains grown in Serbia and Macedonia (where it is called Temjanika). It is named after the incense (‘tamjan’ in Serbian) as its intensive scents resemble incense. Serbian style of Tamjanika understood a production of a dry wine as opposed to almost all other countries using Muscat grapes almost exclusively for making sweet wines. Spasić Selekcija (Selection) is a top example of this wine with good acids, aromas of elderberries and some citruses, gently underlined with a fabulous touch of honey and extremely refreshing, especially during the summer time. There are a few attempts to blend Tamjanika with other top quality white varieties and most prominent so far was Vino Budimir Winery with Bela Triada (‘White Trinity’) where Tamjanika is accompanied with Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. I feel that Tamjanika has a great future both as a varietal wine and also as a part of ‘Tamjanika-led’ white blends.

In some regions Serbian wine culture requires wine to be always present at a lunch or dinner table. In this way winemaking and culinary traditions merged and evolved together over the years. The best matches for Prokupac is, of course, locally made food, such as roasted lamb and pork as well as 'sarma' where grape or cabbage leaves are rolled around the filling made from minced meat and rice. Tamjanika requires lighter food and the best matches are light white meat, vegetable and fruit salads as well as medium and light-bodied cheeses.

The Serbian Wine Renaissance

In the past two decades, a huge number of local winemakers started using the latest technological advances both in viticulture and winemaking. As a result the quality of wine increased dramatically and Serbian wines are again on the main stage. It is important to mention that younger generations feel more connected to wine and wine culture and consequently wine consumption in general is increasing in Serbia. We hope these processes will continue in the future. A few wine entrepreneurs enormously contributed and should be rightfully credited for their work: Božidar Aleksandrović, Miodrag Mija Radovanović, Mire Kovačević and Aleksandar Rašković.

Aleksandrović Winery is located in Vinča village in Topola municipality and the area is sometimes poetically referred to as ‘Serbian Tuscany’. Aleksandrović Winery started producing wines in 1991 clearly restoring the ancient winemaking tradition. With a help of the royal cellar master Živan Tadić, who immigrated to Canada after WW2, and found the notes describing the blend composition and other winemaking intricacies related to ‘Trijumf’ wine, which was then resurrected with a roaring success, bringing fame to the Aleksandrović Winery.

Mr. Miodrag Mija Radovanović is a king of Serbian Cabernet Sauvignon. His cellar named modestly Mali Podrum Radovanović (Small Cellar Radovanović) produced a top of the range Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve. With ultimate fruit and freshness, extraordinary acids and subtle kiss of oak this wine already gained very strong following. He also produced an extraordinary Chardonnay Selection as well as superb Rose wines. Pretty soon we may expect Prokupac that he planted a few years ago and maybe one day we may see on the shelves Super-Serbian blend of Prokupac and Cabernet Sauvignon or some other French variety.

Kovačević Winery has 10 hectares of vineyards on slopes of Fruška Gora in the Srem district. The winery was built in 2001 and the initial production was 10,000 bottles a year. In 2009 production was 350,000 bottles and a sparkling wine produced by using Méthode Champenoise was introduced. At present, Kovačević Winery produces more than 500,000 bottles and has 7 labels: Sparkling wine, Rhine Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Rosseto (dry rose wine), Aurelius Barrique (red blend) and Bermet (special aromatized wines). Their success was an inspirational act which shook the Serbian wine scene profoundly. Kovačević became synonym for Chardonnay and with a further development and attention paid to wine tourism by building a nice Wine House restaurant/accommodation facility just outside the city of Irig, they continue to play an essential role in the local wine industry.

Vino Budimir Winery is completed in 2006 for the capacity of producing 500,000 liters of wine. It has two sections: procession and safekeeping of wine and the cellar with oak barrels for gentle maturation of wines. They own 8 ha of vineyards and closely cooperate with a few suppliers of grapes. They pride themselves with the successful marriage of tradition and modern technologies. The backbone of their production are Prokupac and Tamjanika, then blends with local and international varieties as well as some really good renditions of Rhine Riesling, Merlot and other cultivars.  

Hungarian wine magazine Vince concluded in its October 2012 edition: ’A common feature of modern Serbian winemaking are still young vineyards, so we can expect that wines from Serbia will show all the richness of its terroir and splendour in the coming years, as these vineyards reach their maturity. Together with favourable climatic and geographic conditions, passionate dedication and efforts made by Serbian wine-makers already give exceptional indication of direction where Serbia is heading on in terms of wine. As a result, Serbia will no longer be famous only for its Šljivovica [Slivovitz or plum brandy] but also for wines with distinct character!’

We couldn’t agree more! Živeli! (Cheers!)