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Wine Vision by Open Balkan provided wine enthusiasts and professionals alike with a unique opportunity to explore native varieties from Albania, North Macedonia, Serbia, and elsewhere.

By Ian Bancroft

The largest wine fair in the Western Balkans, Wine Vision, has just ended in Belgrade. Organised as part of the Open Balkan initiative – spearheaded by the governments of Albania, North Macedonia, and Serbia – the event brought together over three hundred producers.  

The fair showcased not only the wines of the OpenBalkan proponents but those of the wider region, including Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, and Kosovo.  

A comprehensive series of masterclasses offered expert insights into a host of indigenous varieties, including Prokupac, Tamjanika, Grašac, and Kadarka. At the fair itself, one could taste grapes such as Plovdina, Kallmet, Stanušina, and Black Tamjanika. It truly was a rich and unprecedented offering.   

The tale of Vranec – or Vranac, as it is more commonly known elsewhere in the region – was told with great vigour by Zvonko Herceg, providing an intriguing opportunity to compare the differences between young and aged Vranec. 

The former boasts a bright purple hue, with aromas of strawberry jam, forest fruit, and berry; with a firm tannic structure. The latter are more intense dark ruby, with chocolate, cinnamon, black fruits, herbs, and oak; with tannins that are full and yet subtle, with a long-lasting finish. 

The tasting also showed the potential for use in blends with other varieties, typically though not necessarily of an international nature, like Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot.  

Some of the highlights of the tasting – which focused solely on North Macedonia, by far and away the leading producer in the region with some 10,800 hectares dedicated to Vranec – included: 

  1. Venec Disan Winery Orle Vranac 2019 – 18 months in 100% new French oak barrels and 12 months ageing in the bottle. Plum, blackberry, and vanilla, with a tannic backbone.
  2. Chateau Kamnik Terroir Vranec Grand Reserve 2012 – 22 months in 80% new American and 20% new French oak barrels. A complex wine, with spice and dark berries. Intense, with a long finish. 
  3. Bovin Winery Vranec A’gupka 2015 – 18 months in oak barrels. Balance and concentration, with mature tannins and express black fruit. 
  4. Tikveš Winery Domaine Bela Voda Cuvee Rouge 2019 – 70% Vranec and 30% Plavec, aged for 15 months in new French oak.

Caroline Gilby Master of Wine, regarded as one of the leading experts on wines from the region, delivered a masterclass on the best Serbia has to offer. It featured a wealth of autochthonous varieties, including:  

  1. Deurić Severna Morava 2020 – aromatic white wine with noticeable body and acidity from one of Serbia’s up-and-coming vineyards. 
  2. Vinum Grašac 26a 2019 – barrel-fermented Grašac from a producer which is demonstrating the grape’s full potential.
  3. Doja Breg Prokupac 2017 – widely regarded as one of the best Prokupac’s on the market, with a complexity and body that make it a stand-out wine.  
  4. Ivanović No. ½ 2018 – a cuvee of Prokupac (50%), Cabernet Sauvignon (25%) and Merlot (25%), which has received deserved recognition as one of the best red wines in the region.  

Native varieties were also well represented in the Open Balkan Wine Trophy, which awarded nine trophies in various individual categories. 

  1. Tikveš Barovo Red 2019 – from Tikveš’ signature range, a blend of Kratošija (65%) and Vranac (35%), aged for twelve months in French oak.  
  2. Fruškogorski vinogradi Tri Sunca Traminac Late Harvest 2016 – a wine produced in only specific years due to the specific climatic conditions required.  
  3. Verkat Grašac beli 4.0 2021 – the epitome of Grašac beli and its undoubted potential to produce wines with superb acidity and complexity. 
  4. Despotika Nemir Rose 2021 – a refined blend of Prokupac and Cabernet Sauvignon, demonstrating the former’s versatility for rose production.  

Wine Vision by Open Balkan is expected to become a mainstay of the wine scene in the Western Balkans. Telling the stories of the region’s indigenous varieties adds to the uniqueness of the event, providing wine merchants and experts alike with an opportunity to explore the diversity of offerings. Whilst international sorts allow winemakers from the region to demonstrate their prowess, it is native grapes that offer the most compelling stories for consumers beyond the Western Balkans.

Ian Bancroft is a writer based in the Balkans.

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