Home / Red Variety / Prokupac / On the evolution of Serbia’s wine scene


This is the text of a presentation I gave at the 2023 Food Talk Conference in Belgrade on the evolution of the wine scene in Serbia, in particular the role of native varieties such as Prokupac and Tamjanika.

When I first came to Belgrade some twenty years ago, it was mostly beer and rakija, if I remember well. Wines recommended to me were always imported – from France or Italy, or Macedonia or Montenegro. Any Serbian wine I was offered was from international sorts – Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay.

Over the last 15 years, this has changed completely. Nearly every restaurant in Belgrade has a wine list with Serbian wines. There are wine fairs and tastings almost every week. And the story is very much about native varieties.

Prokupac was my first introduction to what Serbia had to offer. In 2011, I wrote an article for Wine Spectator about Vinarija Ivanovic from Aleksandrovac in Zupa. Gaga told me that his return to the family business was motivated in part by his father’s “almost mystical bond to the vineyard – a feeling that it is an integral part of the family tradition and a root that must never be cut away.”

Sadly Gaga is no longer with us – but the vineyard is in the capable hands of his son, Ivan, and daughter, Nadežda. The family heritage lives on.

The subsequent development of Prokupac is nothing short of remarkable. I celebrated 14th October – Prokupac Day – in Hotel Metropol, tasting the variety of styles that have emerged in the past 10 years. There were fresh and aged, cuvees and 100% Prokupac. There was even Prokupac made in the Amarone style – the grapes left to dry and concentrate. There are not only new producers, but new stories – a new identity.

Central to the Serbian wine story are domestic varieties – Grašac, Tamjanika, Kadarka, Morava, Smederevka. Winemakers are exploring the potential of each. New techniques and technologies mean that even grapes with a once poor reputation – like Malvazija – can find fame and fortune.

In terms of the future, consumers clearly want a story to accompany their wine – a novelty of a different grape from an unknown place. Serbia needs more people to create stories about these wines – their origins and unique attributes.

But it is more than that. Tastes are also changing. When I was in Georgia this year, people spoke about how the style of wines they had been making for thousands of years were now popular in the bars of Stockholm or Copenhagen. Tastes had changed such that their wines were now in demand – they don’t do anything different. So the question is how to influence and shape tastes, and not simply react, especially through an emphasis on food and wine pairings.

It is, however, not only a question of style but also of environmental considerations. People want organic, natural, and even biodynamic – whatever that may mean – wines. Serbia had demonstrated a lot of potential in this area. Oskar Maurer has put Serbian wine on the lists of various Michelin-starred restaurants.

The challenge is how to harness the traditional whilst being prepared for the contemporary. I wrote recently about Philippe Cambie – a French winemaking giant in the physical and metaphorical sense – and Tikveš from North Macedonia.

After privatisation, they wanted to renovate everything, including these large concrete tanks which had been used for decades. Philippe persuaded them not to – ‘we use these in the Southern Rhone’, he emphasised, to soften tannins and add complexity.

What made Philippe unique was not just what he brought from the outside, but how he helped Tikveš appreciate what they already possessed. And this is what Serbia needs to continue to do.

Ian Bancroft is a writer based in the Balkans. He is the author of a novel, ‘LUKA‘, and ‘Dragon’s teeth – tales from north Kosovo‘. 

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