In the new Filling in the Blancs I’ve interviewed one out of my 10 life mentors. People always laugh at this, but I kid you not, I have a list stashed in my notebook of the ten people that influenced my perspectives on existence & business and shaped me to be the man I am today. I was introduced to some very early (hi, dad), while others arrived through different networking events and situations. Aleksandar Duković has always fascinated me and is simply one of those people that you just listen to and think “damn, this guy has HUSTLED”. He is:
- creator of Serbia’s first Wine Academy backed by an official WSET organization (Weinakademie Österreich)
- creator of Serbia’s first and most widely read wine magazine – Wine Style (with pride I say that I have worked here)
- first Serbian Weinakademiker (amongst only 10 in the Balkans)
- first person to create a Master of Wine seminar in Serbia (Frank Smulders, 2016 seminar in Belgrade) and a conference with Richard Smart (one of the world’s most influential viticultarists)
- creator of two epic wine festivals called Wine Style Salon and SuperWine (held annually in Belgrade & Porto Montenegro)
- creator of 5 annual regional wine conferences
The list goes on. But what I would highlight from everything I know about this glorious human being would, without a doubt, be his humbleness and unbearable lightness of being. You’ll probably agree with this by reading the text below.
If you could own a vineyard anywhere in the world, which special destination would you choose?
In terms of viticulture and winemaking combined, my choice would be Tokaj. I love challenges and it would really be interesting to see what I could do in a place with such a long tradition and a unique style of top-quality winemaking. Tokaji wines already have a specific theme – a specific way of production and style, as well as a strong terroir expression, but then again, every wine needs to receive an additional insignia. Many great names already exist there, so it would be challenging to try to find a place in that circle with something of my own.
You enjoy food like nobody else I’ve met. What’s the strangest food & wine pairing you’ve experienced?
My theory says that if you have a wine that you like a lot and food that you like a lot, then no combination is neither weird nor bad. After all, the point of matching food and wine is to experiment and discover new variations, using your personal taste to a permitted maximum. As a result, the most beautiful food and wine pairing I had was at home – sarma (a traditional Turkish-Serbian dish, minced and dried meat wrapped in sour cabbage) and a bottle of young Slovenian Pinot Noir that stylistically resembled Burgundy. Oh yes, it was perfect, though completely contrary to the books.
The love for Tokaj is obvious, but do you have any specific preferences on a winemaking style?
For me, the kings of white wines are German Rieslings, especially those off-dry ones from Mosel and Rheingau. I am delighted with the fantastic balance of sweetness and fresh acidity, the elegance and fineness, and the discreet charm they give. Try Johannishof Riesling 2008. You’ll get the picture. As far as red wines are concerned, Cabernet Sauvignon is invincible for me, notably the ones from Napa Valley – intense, packed with aromas, precise structure, plenty of freshness, displaying a perfect balance of strength and elegance. If we talk about relatively available wines, Heitz Cellar 2010 is a wine I will remember for a long time to come. Generally, I like wines that have something specific. I will easily remember even the worst samples, but if they had a catch, this will at least distinguish them from a sea of dull stuff.
What was your career’s “aha” moment?
At the beginning of my wine journalism career, I went to En Primeur in Bordeaux with two friends. There I saw a whole other dimension of the wine world. Among other things, I had the pleasure of spending several hours with Michel Rolland. That was the first big milestone. The second one happened when I was enrolled in WSET Level 3 at Weinakademie Österreich on the insistence of my friends Thomas and Feodora Curtius. On the first day I realized the importance of wine education and my perception of the business had changed completely. The perfect organization and professionalism of the Weinakademie triggered my later WSET Diploma studies and the establishment of the Serbian Wine Academy.
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned in this business so far?
You have to be a professional in any business, which does not only mean that you have to know how to do your job, but that you have to be an honest person. Yes, we live in merciless times, but boundaries must exist. Outsourcing is not quite a virtue, so I basically do not like to engage in self-marketing. I prefer my work to do the talking instead. Knowledge is also a key element. Education is the essence of everything and there is never enough of it. If you are aware of that, then you have a chance to be ahead constantly. The wine business is getting bigger by the second, so better to keep up than be sorry.
Prepared 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