You are sitting in a wine bar with a couple of friends, thinking of what new wine to try and one of them suggests a bottle of Prokupac. Proku what? Most wine drinkers have never heard of this popular Serbian grape variety nor of Vranac, Blatina, Rebula, Teran, etc. for that matter. Even though relatively small, all ex-Yu grape-growing regions (all in all, six of them) have a unique ability to spark up your wanderlust and put you on the first plane to the south-eastern part of Europe.
Think about minerality. Think about freshness. Think about elegance. These are all traits that mark Slovenian wines from prominent sub-regions such as Goriška Brda, Steyer, Kras and Prekmurje which are the homeland of fantastic wines from Rebula, Sauvignonasse, Furmint, Refošk. Styles vary drastically. “Brda” produce long-lasting wines from the indigenous Rebula, Bordeaux blends perfectly mirroring the terroir, and even orange wines promoting the meticulous biodynamic practices. Steyer Slovenia extends from Gornja Radgona in the North, Ljutomer and Ormož in the East to Kozjansko and Celje in the South and West. Ormož can, without doubt, be praised for one of the most beautiful vineyards in Europe, which are highly respected for breeding Riesling, Furmint, Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc. If you have a sweet tooth on the other hand, be sure to check out the region of Prekmurje which offers dessert wines of high quality mainly produced from Welschriesling.
Another landlocked wine country, Serbia, has been producing wines for over 1000 years, but has had many ups and downs through its history. It was well-known in the Yugoslavia era for producing enormous amounts of bottles for both the local and international market, but due to the socialist regime, couldn’t be too proud of the quality. After claiming independence, Serbia raised the quality bar with the help of several family-owned boutique wineries from Vojvodina and the Morava region. The oldest indigenous grapes are considered to be Prokupac and Tamjanika, followed by Smederevka and Banat Riesling. Today, one of the biggest attractions for foreign investors (but local as well, such as Novak Đoković and Predrag Drobnjak) is without a doubt the Oplenac region where King Petar and Karađorđević themselves planted the finest grapevines from all of Europe on 30 acres of land. This area is now considered to be Serbian Tuscany with producers such as Aleksandrović and Kraljevski Podrumi picking up speed on the route to global acknowledgment.
Bosnia & Herzegovina
Bosnia & Herzegovina is a country that is distinguished for its diverse history, culture and, of course, wine regions. Many like to call it the meeting place of East and West, but at the same time have no clue that great wines are produced in three areas – Trebinje, Mostar and Banja Luka. For many years, winemakers here have had trouble escaping the plain “red-wine, white-wine” image, growing exclusively two or three grape varieties and producing lower quality wines. With the start of the modern era and market demand, a large number of producers and viticulturists were sent to countries such as Germany, the US, Australia and New Zealand to carve their expertise. When they came back to their homeland, putting this into practice was an easy task because the local wine scene was slowly blooming and wine lovers on the rise were ready to try these hot-off-the-press styles. As a result, the heartland of indigenous grapes, Mostar, started making various styles of Blatina and Žilavka including fresh, aged, sur lie and biodynamic. Its southern neighbour Trebinje grew into a fine example of locally-adapted Vranac and classic grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay, which are today also the focus of the far north Banja Luka region.
If you like taking time off by the sea, drinking great wine and eating fabulous food, Croatia is definitely the place to be. The air is clear, the water clearer and the people so warm-hearted that nobody would blame you if you decided to leave everything and dwell here for the rest of your waking life. There are several regions covering the Adriatic coast (Istria and Dalmatia being the major ones), but a few stand out from the country’s inland territory as well (Zagorje, Slavonija, Podunavlje…). After receiving significant international recognition by famous Dalmatia-born producer Mike Grgich, Croatian grape varieties have been sought out by consumers throughout the world. Top-level varieties include Plavac Mali, Malvazija, Graševina, Pošip, Grk, Tribidrag (Zinfandel, Primitivo) and Vugava. The wine and tourism scenes in Croatia have drastically contributed to the promotion of these local varieties and today many are sold even outside of their birthplace.
Chateau Kamnik, Tikveš, Bovin, Popov…When hearing these grandiose names, your mouth starts to water instantly. With about 2300 hours of sunshine a year, Macedonian regions Pelagaonia-Polog, Vardar River Valley and Pchinja-Osogovo charm every wine lover out there. Grape varieties such as Vranec, Stanušina and Kratošija have already received international recognition with the help of major wine critics, competitions, masterclasses and, of course, their top-level quality. Either you’re in search of full-bodied fruit bombs or easy-drinking whites, there is no going wrong in this Mediterranean heaven. Selling wine for more than eight years, I have never seen so many life-changing experiences that people have gone through after sipping Macedonian gems such as Bela Voda, Kamnik’s Vranec Terroir, Imperator and other colossal signature names.
Famous for kayaking, mountain-climbing and rafting, this small Balkan country also ensures almost perfect natural conditions (high temperatures, cool sea breezes) for viticulture. Acclaimed for their opulent, but at the same time refreshing Vranac, Montenegro puts significant concentration on mass production. Only in the last five to six years have their winemakers turned to boutique production, trying to shift the image of quantity to that of quality. Beside this local grape, famous classic grapes are also found here, such as Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, so if you are a fan of the Rhone Valley or southern Italy, be sure to drop by the “Black Mountain” and indulge into guaranteed hedonism.
Written by Aleksandar Draganić.
I’m a WSET certified grape juice drinker, and yes, I’m that 1% of people that love their job. I drink wine, write about it, preach about it, even take pictures of it. Find me at @grapenomad