The Stobi winery is located in the region of Tikveš, the main, central, wine-growing region of the Republic of Macedonia. The area the Republic comprises was referred to as Macedonia Secunda, or Salutaris, during Roman occupation of its lands in the first couple centuries BC. The peacock imagery found on the winery’s labels dates to the early Christian period, from mosaics uncovered in a Basilica dating to ca. 4th-5th C. AD.
The Stobi winery was once known more for its quantity of bulk-wine exports to the Soviet Union, but has more recently - following Macedonian independence in 1991 - been known for quality grapes and wine-making. It produces wines from indigenous grapes like Zilavka, which is widely planted in the region.
The Zilavka tastes of pear and lime, with great mineral and acid. Get it at Jet for 7.5/glass.
What do you know about wines from the Balkan Peninsula? Not much? Well, we didn’t know much about them until our last Global Vineyard Passport Series wine tasting, which featured wines from Croatia, Serbia, and the Republic of Macedonia. Now we know more, and these are definitely areas to watch!
It should come as no surprise that the lands that comprise the Peninsula have excellent wine-making potential. It lies between the Adriatic-, Ionian-, and Black- Seas, and borders the already-famous-for-their-wine countries of Italy, Austria, and Greece, as well as Hungary and Turkey, which should be famous for wine. Within the peninsula, Bulgaria and Romania have respectable wine-making reputations and, it seems, it may just be a matter of time and enduring political stability for the remainder.
The Peninsula certainly has the climate and geology to produce high-quality wines. Despite all of the surrounding seas, many parts are quite landlocked and are heavily influenced by numerous mountains. For instance the northern and central part of the Peninsula enjoy cold winters, warm summers, and plentiful rainfall; in other words, they have a continental climate. Wine production in the mountains and plains of Serbia and Macedonia are influenced by such climate. Further south and in the more coastal regions, the seas are more prominent as an influence; the summers are hot and dry while the winters are mild and rainy. Croatian wine production generally occurs in the Istria region where the Dalmatian Islands meet the Adriatic Sea, producing Mediterranean climate patterns.
The Balkans do, in fact, have a long history of wine production, but have an equally long tradition of geo-political annexation and uncertainty, not least of which was the establishment, border changes, incarnations of republic and kingdom, and eventual collapse in 1992 of Yugoslavia. As well, Soviet policies hindered independent wine-production. The effects of such major event are felt especially in those countries we are focusing on here: Croatia, Serbia, and Macedonia.
Croatia’s Istria region lies across the Adriatic from Venice, on a Peninsula of its own that is controlled by Croatia, Slovenia, and Italy. Its political history is complex, bellicose, and somewhat tragic, and the continual changing of national and ethnic hands has no doubt prevented the type of successful wine-production for which Italy’s Fruili-Venezia-Giulia is justly famous.
Serbia was long a major producer of wine on the Peninsula, until a devastating bought of phylloxera destroyed about 90% of its vineyards. Serbian production has since recovered, and is responsible for the majority of wine produced on the Peninsula.
The land-locked Republic of Macedonia has a history of wine production dating back to ca. 1000 BC, but its modern traditions really begin with its independence in 1991. Like other Balkan states, the focus here is on indigenous– not international- grapes like Prokupac and Vranec.
Malvazija Istarska, as the grape is known, is a green-skinned white grape. Dalmatian connections with the maritime-trade power Republic of Venice were the likely source of importation of this grape of Greek origin. However, Istrian Malvazija does not necessarily stem from the similar-sounding “Monemvasia”. We don’t know how old is Istrian Malvasija: early written documentation is found in association with the Zagreb wine exposition of 1891 - nearly a century after the demise of the Venetian Republic. Today, it is widely grown and is very popular.
This wine has clear floral notes with bit of nuttiness. There is also a touch of brine from the sea’s influence. It is clean in the mouth with a slightly fuller body than I expected. This is a nice, easy-drinking wine that really had no detractors, and proved to be the most popular wine among our tasters.
Milijan Jelic Morava, Serbia
The Milijan Jelic winery is the ONLY vineyard producing Tamuz Morava grape in the world. Its origins remain unknown, but its future looks bright as its first commercial production was honored, and it was named the “Champion of White Wines” at the 2006 Novi Sad Wine Fair.
This wine screams “spring” to me. The flavors are very, very, very green. It is a mouth filling wine with strong mineral and citrus notes, but also a slight astringence. There are sweeter, flowery notes, too, but the overall feel is bright and fresh. This wine has a strong character and, consequently, was loved by some and disliked by others.
Vino Budimir Tamjanika Zupska, Serbia
Tamjanika comes from the Slavic word for frankincense, Tamjan, an apt name for this grape whose wines are quite aromatic. It may be related to Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains, which is similarly shaped and also aromatic.
True to its name, this wine is extremely aromatic. Its floral, spicey nose is quite similar to that of gewurztraminer. Flavors are of stone fruits, several members of the citrus family, and ample mineral. It has a fair amount of acid and a great mouth feel. As the Morava, this characterful wine was both loved and hated.
Stobi Vranec, Macedonia
Vranec is an ancient, indigenous grape variety whose production is limited to the Balkan states of Montenegro, the Republic of Macedonia, and Serbia. Its ancient origins and regionally-specific terroir embody the modern spirit of wine production in the Balkans.
The wine is lighter-bodied and acidic, reminiscent of gamay. It has notes of “purple” fruits and some tart, red fruits. Nice mouth feel, acidic. Like gamay, it would be absolutely excellent with turkey, and may well be my new Thanksgiving wine. I love this wine, but it was only enjoyed by some of our tasters, who generally preferred the white wines (even Milton!).
Vino Budimir Sub Rosa, Serbia
Prokupac is a red grape that is widely planted on the Balkan Peninsula. However, it is commonly used to make brandy, due to its high sugar-levels. As seen here, it also makes a fine varietal.
This wine has a much fuller style than the Vranec, which was simply more austere. It is richer and fuller-bodied, with concentrated fruit and spice. Goldie likened it to a Cabernet Sauvignon, which is fitting. After the Malvazija, this was the next favorite among our tasters.