Just as domestic cuisine can speak volumes about Macedonian culture, the tradition of wine production has even more to say. It would be impossible to even consider that you can enjoy the full scope of the Macedonian experience without having a taste of Macedonian wine. Exposing you to a sensory overload of another kind, Macedonian wineries might well be the biggest reason for visiting.
Set in quaintly archaic scenery – behind which abundance of sunshine, Mediterranean and continental breezes predominate- wine grapes on these lands thrive throughout the centuries. With a line of tradition stretching back even before roman times, it is deeply carved in culture. Taking part in rituals, art, and all sorts of social affairs, wine is more of a cultural symbol that merely a drink.
And though wine aficionados are initially overwhelmed by Macedonian wines, taste alone sits only at the tip of the proverbial iceberg. The rest is hidden in Macedonian countryside, where eco-tourism finally starts to make some efforts. Vibrant and scenic wineries, some dating back more than a century, give you a clue of the reason behind the incredibly refined taste.
Macedonian wine production
Back in the day when Macedonia was part of Yugoslavia, it was the major producer of wine, accounting for nearly two-thirds of Yugoslavian wine production. Fast-forward twenty five years later and you have still massive amount of production for such a small country. It goes without saying that Macedonian wines win in comparison with many others when the quality-price ratio is being taken in consideration. But it is not only about the numbers…
Albeit covering a lot of territory- divided into three main regions (most important of which is Povardarie)- the quality of Macedonian wine production depends heavily on something else- private wineries, equipped with sophisticated technology and highly educated enologists, working hard to take a place in a very competitive market. While past experience suggests lack of marketing, and advertising Macedonian wines through mostly paying lip service- efforts are finally being made to familiarize world markets with what Macedonia has to offer. You really don’t have to take my word for it- have a taste…
Located mostly in the Povardarie region (following the river Vardar), visiting Macedonian wineries is a perfect excuse to have your first glass even before noon.
Tikves, the biggest winery on the whole of the Balkans, is located in Macedonia. And this is not a mere coincidence. Yugoslavian Kingdom, back in the day, even before WWII, had its royal winery located here as well. Favoring Macedonian grapes, it was hard not to spread the word far and wide. A story goes- one that previous generations may remember better- that during the Second World War an officer (not going to say a German) came to the Royal winery after word about Macedonian wine reached his ear.
Determined to have a taste, he started shooting at the oak barrels. Soon humiliated by the fact that these barrels endured the gunshots, he finally had a taste, but like everybody else, drinking from the plug. Staying witness to the event, you can still see the bullets within the surface of the barrels.
And though Tikves, Bovin, Grgov, Dudin and Stobi are definitely places you need to include in your tour, the one stop you cannot miss is Popova Kula.
Jordan Trajkov, a former investment banker with an M.B.A., modeled Popova Kula after the vineyards he saw in California’s wine country. He went out of his way to offer visitors a unique experience, and a tourist package that is hard to refuse.
Macedonian wine varieties
In recent years we are witnessing a through-and-through renaissance in production of quality wines from numerous private wineries. European grapevine is imported, and with the help of highly educated enologists, careful mixing of different grape varieties takes place as well. The wine offer- as far as memory serves- has never been broader.
Gourmets have much to enjoy, for there are barrique wines, further refined by aging within oak barrels for various amount of time. A novelty within the palette though, are desert wines, most notable of which is the distinguished aromatic Muskat of Imako (Stip).
So far private wineries are all taking effort to enrich the offer, by embracing the concept of sustainable eco-tourism. Degustation of wines, in the company of highly educated enologists, while residing within the wineries. Whatever else might be said, this is the way to truly enjoy Macedonian wines.
Wrapping this article up, albeit aware of the risk of being biased towards certain varieties, there are a couple of suggestions you would want to take from an older, let us say more experienced friend.
The highlight goes to indigenous wine varieties, typical for this region- say Vranec and Kratosija from reds, and Zilavka and Temjanika from whites- definitely what distinguishes Macedonian wine, and something that cannot be found elsewhere, no matter how far you go looking.
“T’ga za Jug”, another one you ought to try, is probably still among the most popular and most sold wines on the territory of former Yugoslavia. It can hardly be matched by any other when the category of price/quality is being taken in consideration. As the Macedonian wine aficionado will often say, reading poetry goes better when holding your second glass.
Barrique varieties of the Vranec, on the other hand, are a must for true connoisseurs, especially those from Bovin and Kamnik wineries. Bela Voda (White water), a new site from Tikves, by paradox gives the name to another red variety, maybe one that is among the most promising.
Adding to the list, you have the unique and fierce Balkan combination of Vranec and Kratoshija- Barovo- a wine that does the best job depicting the taste and character of people from the region.
The list goes on, as it includes wines from Dudin, Sopot, Stobi, Skovin and much more. A story without end, the choice of Macedonian wines finally comes down to personal preference, depending on the occasion, season, and the food it comes along with. Going a step further, I would only recommend the good company of friends, and you can start exploring the Macedonian culture through the taste of Macedonian wines.
Here is to the most unique of taste and experience, Cheers!