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Everything you Wanted to Know about Vranec/Vranac but Were Afraid to Ask

Written on 15-05-2017 by Ivana Simjanovska, Skopje, Macedonia

Ivana Simjanovska - a true winelover from Macedonia who is madly in love with Vranec variety

​How I fell in Love with Vranec or 'Everything you Wanted to Know about Vranec but Were Afraid to Ask'

 

I blame Pinot Noir for everything! It all started with this grape variety that won my heart and I, naive and inexperienced on wine matters at the time, thought it was going to be a love that will last forever. 

 

However, as a wine critic coming from a relatively unknown wine country, despite its long wine history, my international colleagues and international wine audience was more interested to learn about the indigenous grape varieties to Macedonia, which also happen to be the ones that strive best in this sunshine drenched country.
 

The way my wine career progressed & the international wine industry kept on looking for something else; the Vranec/Vranac was popping out in front of my eyes on so many occasions. I have never very much fancied rough Balkan wines, but this boisterous, difficult to tame, strong headed wine, was pushy, indocile, persistent, and it was so difficult to resist its charm.

 

The Vranec variety is the flag bearer in the country's quest for international recognition. Although widely spread all over the Balkans, especially Montenegro and Serbia, it is believed to have found its second home in Macedonia. The meaning of the word Vranec is a strong, black and powerful stallion. The word Vran also means raven, colored or black, which is why this red wine is also known as black wine in the country.

 

However, Vranec is not indigenous to Macedonia. In fact, it is indigenous to Montenegro. According to the book Wine Grapes 2012 by Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding and Dr. José Vouillamoz, Vranec is a cross of Tribidrag grape variety (a.k.a. Primitivo, Kratošija or Zinfandel) and another grape variety that remains unknown to date.

 

But how did this grape variety come to be in Macedonia? Vranec was introduced for the first time in 1950s, when professor Nastev planted vines of this grape variety in Skopje, at the vineyards at the Institute for Agriculture, to test its potential. After the test proved fruitful, it was recommended that the variety be planted in almost all wine districts in the country, at the expense of the local Prokupec/Prokupac and the indigenous Stanušina that were highly planted, especially in the Tikveš Wine District
 

Because the selection of vines in Macedonia is not always very consistent, different vineyards have been planted over a period of few decades, and there is a variation in the source of planting material and thus different clones of the variety. Besides this, also the conditions and exposition (sun exposure) can make a difference. Nowadays, there is an ongoing clone selection of this variety in Macedonia and Vranec remains to be the most planted red grape variety in the country.
 

The types of aroma in Vranec depend on the climate and the technology used. The Vranec variety is a variety abundant with possibilities to get wines of different styles, from fruity aroma of black fruits, to full and extractive wines with soft tannins and complex mineral and fruity aromas.
 

The variety has got exuberant grapevine, middle-sized clusters and dark blue berries with colored skin enriched by coloring substances. It ripens in the second half of September.

 

Vranec is a grape variety that gives high quality, medium to full-bodied wines, quite harmonious in taste, with high coloration and rich in extract. Wines obtained from Vranec grapes originating from the Tikveš Wine District (especially near the towns of Negotino and Kavadarci) contain more sugars and lower acids due to the high temperature sums, and the ones obtained from grapes from the Skopje Wine District contain less sugars and higher acids due to lower temperature sums.
 

The Vranec variety from the Skopje vineyards is characterized with higher acidity which adds to its color being more intensive and deep. The Vranec from the Tikveš and Veles Wine Districts on the other hand, has more sugar, is rich in phenols and the wine is more rounded (full bodied).

 

Diverse climate and soil conditions greatly affect the quality of the wine Vranec and its features. Vranec is a variety that requires warm and dry climate, with fairly distributed rainfalls over the year. It does not stand low temperatures and easily suffers from freezing. When the temperatures in summer are too high, they adversely affect the vegetation of Vranec and may stop the maturing process. It is sensitive to diseases. Vranec demands light, drainy and warm soil.

 

More humid and rainy conditions, and colder temperatures associated with higher altitudes, produce more fresh and fruity flavors and aromas, associated with cherries and dark forest fruits etc; while more arid and warm conditions give the end wine more caramelized, spicy and jam aromas and flavors.

 

Once the veraison takes place, the acids start to transform and rapid growth of the sugar levels follows, which also influences the rise of the pH levels. It is essential in this period for these parameters to be closely followed, because in the warm climate of the Macedonian wine regions, the heat influences are significant and large transformations can happen overnight, and it is very easy to miss the requested sugar/acidity balance.
 

Vranec variety has very big polyphenolic characteristics. Measurements made by the Agricultural Institute in Skopje, comparing it to Cabernet Sauvignon, say that an average Vranec cluster has 20-40 percent more phenolic compounds! More common is to have Vranec with darker colors, black fruit aromas and less color gradation then with lighter colors and red fruits. But this is if the Vranec is allowed to be fully matured both in sugar/acid levels as in color levels especially measured by its seed.

 

When young, Vranec wines have an intense dark red color with violet hue, aromas of forest fruits, plums, black currant and often hints of tobacco. The wines display firm tannin structure, remarkable crispy acidity and flavors of dark red berry fruits. With a year or two of ageing, the purple turns to a darker ruby color and the nose develops a more complex aroma of ripe forest fruits, chocolate, cocoa, liquorices and sometimes even dry figs. The tannins become tamed and softer and the wine develops a longer and smoother finish.

 

Due to its intense coloration, it is often used for blending with other grape varieties, most often with Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, to enhance the color of the wines - this is also the most common blend of this grape variety you will find in Macedonia. As it gives full-bodied wine, it is often used to give body in blended wines.

 

Today, almost all of the wineries in the country produce wine from this grape variety. As producers experiment both in the vineyards and the cellar, and recent plantings of vines start to yield complexity, a range of styles is evident.

 

You have to know, wines are like people and it is important to find your matching character, as wines tend to have their own. It is not that I do not enjoy tasting various and discovering different grape varieties, I do a lot. It’s just that the more I look around, the more I come to the same conclusion - it’s an ongoing passionate love affair I have with Vranec!