Considering the Wines of Serbia
I first encountered Serbian wines two years ago at the Balkans International Wine Competition. My discovery was about more than some new, exciting wines; it was also about a renaissance of vineyards, varieties and heritage. Over the last fifteen years, as Serbia began gathering its wits after Yugoslavia’s crack-up, winemakers have been ratcheting up wine quality. They have invested in their vineyards and their wineries. It’s enough activity for the wine world to start paying attention.
Some Serbian winemakers started from absolute scratch, their holdings having been destroyed or too intensely scarred by war or neglect. Their dedication to their livelihood is indefatigable. This rallying spirit provoked Serbia’s Agriculture Ministry to begin revamping winemaking requirements and regional classifications. This is merited and needed. The wine laws were last revised in the 1970s, well before the fall of communism. That era prized quantity over quality and pumped wine out of enormous cooperatives in the name of the greater good.
Serbia lies at the heart of the former Yugoslavia. According to the Oxford Companion to Wine, it produced “one-third of all ex-Yugoslavian wine” as of 2002. And, the former Yugoslavia was an important producer in its communist hey-day of the 1970s. It ranked among the world’s top ten producing countries.
This may come as a surprise if you’re not familiar with this part of the world. Serbia has produced wine for well over a thousand years. In some Eastern Block countries, the legacy of winemaking even stretches back several thousand years. Today Serbia has about 70,000 hectares (172,975 acres) of vines. Private enterprises and small family operations have a serious presence. They cater to thirsty locals and export less 10% of their production. Most of those exports remain in the Balkans for now, but ambitious producers are making efforts to reach the world stage.
Most of Serbia’s vineyards sit snuggled into different valleys within a 250-mile radius of the capital of Belgrade. White varieties make up two-thirds of the vineyards and red, obviously, represent the remainder. The strong diversity in Serbian plantings includes the über-international varieties Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. However, I am most intrigued by the local ones. There are also great blends that combine both camps. Though more white is planted than red, Serbian winemaking talent shines brightest in reds.
The king of Serbian reds is undeniably Prokupac. It is grown everywhere here and has been for a long time - since the Middle Ages. Big on color, spice and acidity, it is bottled solo as well as in international blends.
Like Prokupac, Tamjanika is long-established. A member of the Muscat family, it may have migrated here from southern France. Fragrant and spicy, it stands head-and-shoulders above the more widely planted Smederevka.
Smederevka’s name comes from the town of Smederevo, located south of Belgrade. It’s neutral in character with pronounced alcohol and acidity, so it is often blended with other varieties possessing greater charm.
Here are my suggestions for Serbian wines that may be available in your area.
Cheers! Or as they say in Serbia, Ziveli!