Today’s blog post is inspired by my oldest brother. Nikola is a fine wine importer and distributor in the NY and NJ area. (Shameless advertising: see his company site here.) He was born in Belgrade in 1966 and raised mostly in Spain and Portugal, acquiring a love for fine cuisine and wine through our parents and the Mediterranean culture. Nikola hasn’t been back to Serbia in some 20 years and although he still has that incredibly obstinate Serbian attitude (understatement), I know he’s lost touch with the Serbian culture and history. I’m pretty sure he’s always thought that our parents picked up most of what they passed on to him on their many travels throughout Europe and the rest of the world. Wrong. I’m not much of a connoisseur when it comes to fine wine, but I was raised by the same parents and in the same countries, so I’m going to do my best to provide you with some information on the Serbian wine industry and its history.
As in most of Europe, the wine industry in Serbia is over 1000 years old. It was first introduced sometime in the 9th century, around the same time that Belgrade got its name. With the coming of the Serbian monarchy, the Nemanjić dynasty in particular (from the 11th to the late 14th century), the vine growing culture expanded at stupendous rates along with other agricultural industries.
The Prokupac sort, used mostly to produce a dark rose, is considered to be the oldest of the local varieties and is noted for its high sugar levels and the high levels of alcohol it can produce. The second oldest local sort would be the Tamjanika, a Muscat sort that originated in Southern France in the Middle Ages but has been grown in Serbia for over half a century. The dark purple fruit of the vine is known for both its heavy, sweet smell, that can be sensed from hundreds of meters away, and the rich, fruity white wines that it yields. There is also the very elusive red wine made from the Tamjanika sort. The “Black Tamjanika” is a rare, smooth wine of particularly harmonized and strong taste. A real treat should you come across it. This happened to be the favorite wine of the late leader of the former Yugoslavia, Tito himself, and it is recommended in small doses.
Other sorts raised in Serbia today include the the Belgrade Seedless, Sauvignon, Italian Riesling (Rhine) , Cabernet, Chardonnay, White and Red Burgundy, Hamburg Muscat, Afus Ali, Vranac, Krstač, Smederevka, and Dinka. Serbia is also home to a rare Muscat sort, the Crocant (Muskat Krokan). The Muscat Crocant is used to make a fine dessert wine by the same name and can only be found on Pearl Island (Biserno Ostrvo) on the Tisza River in the Vojvodina region.
Some of the wine producing sub-regions in Serbia are the South Morava, Srem, Pocerina-Podgora, Subotica-Peščara, Timok, West Morava and Šumadija-Great Morava regions. Serbia is not currently well known for producing too many world class wines but with a few large and established producers and new up-and-coming small, family owned vineyards, the industry is once again growing in both quantity and quality. Today there are some 70,000 hectares of vineyards in Serbia, producing about 390,000 metric tons of grapes per annum.
Again, I’m not a world class connoisseur but here are just a couple of my favorites:
Terra Lazarica by Rubin (Kruševac) is regarded as one of the finest brands of wine Serbia has to offer at this moment and they do make a mean, exquisitely dry Chardonnay that perfectly compliments my home-made Chicken Cacciatore (add a salad and you’re good to go).
I’m not too big on red wines but I can never resist a few glasses of Ždrepčeva Krv (Foal’s Blood). Foal’s Blood is a high quality dark, thick, semi sweet red wine from the Potisko region and, I’m telling you, this stuff goes well with anything. The perfect companion for a full 3 to 4 course meal, it will even compliment that lovely chocolate mousse for dessert. As a matter of fact, this very wine was among those served at Prince Charles’ wedding reception. Hey, if it’s good enough for the Windsors…
Today is my above mentioned brother’s birthday. Nikola, I raise my glass of Foal’s Blood to you, your health and your family in the city of your birth, your history, your ancestors. I would love to get a bottle of this stuff to you but, taking into consideration U.S. Customs laws, I’m afraid you’re going to have to make a long overdue trip down this way to get a taste of this. In fact, that goes for all of you. Nazdravlje*!
*”Nazdravlje” is “Cheers” in Serbian, the literal meaning being “To [our] health”.