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Wines of Macedonia, the doppelgänger from the Balkans

This week was the trade tasting for wines from Macedonia. Not wines from Macedonia in Greece but from the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) or Republic of Macedonia as it is officially called. If the country, confusingly, shares its name and a border with a Greek region, its wines could not be more different. In the Republic of Macedonia you will not encounter, as you do in northern Greece, Xinomavro, Negoska or Assyrtiko. Instead, the grape varieties are mainly a mix of classic French and local ones. These include Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Merlot for the international grape varieties and Vranec, Temjanika, Zilavka, Kratoshija, Plavac Mali for the local varieties.

Located in the Balkans, the country does not touch a sea. It is enclosed by Albania on the west, Kosovo and Serbia on the north, Bulgaria on the east and Greece on the south. Its capital is Skopje. The country is fairly mountainous and is cut across from north-west to south-east by the valley of the Vardar river. The Vardar river originates in Vrutok, not far from Albania and Kosovo, flows through Skopje, winds itself down the country, before entering Greek Macedonia (where it is known as Axios) and throwing itself in the Aegean sea, west of Thessaloniki. This valley is an important throughway from Greece to Serbia and Macedonia’s main motorway runs along it. The climate is mediterranean and continental. In the summer temperatures can reach up to 45°C during the days with not much rain. Winters are moderately cold.

There is an ancient tradition of winemaking in Macedonia. With a total surface area of 25’713 km², the country has 25’000 hectares of vines, which is not inconsequential. By comparison there are 15’500 ha in Alsace and approximatively 46’000 ha in Austria. Annual wine production was 125 million litres in 2014 with most of it being red. This represents 3-4% of world production. The majority of wine is exported and is an important source of revenue for Macedonia.

The biggest wine producer in Macedonia is Tikves (Tikvesh) Winery located in the fertile plain of the Vardar river in Kavadarci. Tikvesh takes its name from the nearby lake and surrounding region. According to Wines of Macedonia, the winery owns 1’000 ha of vines and works with external grape growers on an additional 3’000 hectares of vines. Annual production is 12 million bottles but the winery has a capacity of up to 30 million bottles. Their representative tells me that this year’s harvest, which is practically finished, is set to yield 25 million kilos of fruit. Tikves is working with the French consultant Philippe Cambie.

Tikves Winery, Republic of Macedonia

Tikves Winery, Republic of Macedonia

Tikves Winery, Rkaciteli Special Selection 2014, 13% abv.
Rkaciteli is an ancient Georgian grape variety. It is found across the ex-Soviet states. It is the most planted variety in Georgia and Ukraine and also significantly in Bulgaria, which is just across the border from Macedonia.
26’000 bottles produced (2’166 cases)

Tasting note: Floral, grapey, peachy, apricot-like on the nose.  Hints of peach, quince, grapes and apple-skins on the palate, light in body with a dry finish. 

Tikves Winery, Vranec Special Selection 2013, 14% abv.
The winery’s intention with this bottling is to produce a wine that is inexpensive and that displays the true identity of the grape variety. The wine has therefore not touched oak. The grapes are sourced from a couple of vineyards. The grape variety is Vranec (pronounced Vrahnets). The name means “black stallion”. It is now the most important red grape variety in Macedonia but is thought to have originated from Montenegro. DNA research has revealed that it is related to Tribidrag otherwise known as Primitivo or Zinfandel.
120’000 bottles produced (10’000 cases)

Tasting note: Reddish purple in colour, dusty, dense dark and red fruit yet fresh and delicately focused with supple tannins and a dry finish.

Tikves Winery, Barovo red 2012, 14.5% abv.
This wine belong’s to the winery’s top range. It is a blend of Kratoshija and Vranek.
The grapes come from a single vineyard, in mountainous terrain, 600 meters above sea level. The wine has been aged in new (40%) and one vintage old (60%) oak casks from France, one of the coopers being Seguin Moreau from Cognac.
Kratoshija is a grape variety that originated in Croatia in central Dalmatia where it is known as Tribidrag. In Montenegro it goes under the name of Kratoshija, in southern Italy Primitivo and in California Zinfandel. It is related to Vranek, but the latter has bigger berries, more tannins and more acidity.
36’000 bottles produced (3’000 cases)

Tasting note: Intense purple black in colour, smooth, powerful, dense and succulent with plums, ripe dark fruit and supple tannins.

Château Kamnik, or Kamnik Winery is located in the Vardar River Valley in proximity to the capital, Skopje. It harvests 23 ha of vines, out of which 13 ha are self-owned.

Kamnik Winery, Republic of Macedonia

Kamnik Winery, Republic of Macedonia

Château Kamnik, Temjanika 2014, 13.5% abv.
This white wine is made from the Temjanika grape variety. It is a common varietal in Macedonia and in other countries in the region. It is another name for the old Mediterranean variety, Muscat, that probably originated in Greece or Italy.

Tasting note: Light rose petal and orange blossom, a little bitterness, quite a bit of body, a warm finish with a little toastiness.

Château Kamnik, Montepulciano 2013, 14.2% abv.
The chosen grape variety is here the high yielding and dark coloured Italian Montepulciano.

Tasting note: Sweet candy nose, loukoum, red cherry. Smoky, meaty, dry with plums, cherries and coffee. Textured and heady.

Château Kamnik, Terroir Vranec Grand Reserva 2012, 16.2% abv.
A pure Vranec varietal wine, it spent 25 months in French and American oak.

Tasting note: Very dark in colour, a deep dense texture, tannic, with ripe dark fruit, plums, and sweet vanilla. Somewhat overpowering.

Stobi Winery is quite a big sized operation that was established in 2009. It owns and cultivates 600 hectares of vines in the Tikvesh region of Macedonia. It produces 4.5 million litres of bottled wine (figures from Wines of Macedonia). Their winemaking is traditional but their winery has state of the art equipment. It is located in Gradsko, close to the ancient city of Stobi. Strategically built at the juncture of the Crna and the Vardar rivers, on fertile terrain, Stobi was in the Antiquity the main town of the Kingdom of Paeonia before becoming the capital of the Roman province Macedonia Secunda. With its many ruins and artefacts from different civilisations, it is today considered the most important archeological site in Macedonia.

Stobi Winery, Zilavka 2014, 11.5% abv.
Zilavka is an indigenous white grape variety from Bosnia and Herzegovina. It had become nearly extinct. Two or three wineries have adopted it in Macedonia and are bringing it back to life. The grape might be related to the Italian Prosecco variety.
Annual production: 130’000 litres

Tasting note: Fresh, floral, citrusy, Muscat-like notes, very pretty, light in body, dry and refreshing and slightly unusual.

Stobi Winery, Chardonnay 2014, 13% abv.
Made in stainless steel.
200’000 bottles produced

Tasting note:a classic style cool unoaked Chardonnay. Quite a lean body with lots of refreshing notes of green apple, lemon and stone fruit.

Stobi Winery, Vranec 2014, 13% abv.
Made 100% from the Vranec grape variety. Manual harvest.  Temperature controlled fermentation and ageing of part of the wine for 9-11 months in different sized oak barrels.
Annual production: 210’000 litres

Tasting note: Dark purple with very coloured legs. Dense texture, soft spicy intense dark fruit, brambly, earthy, mushrooms and a dry finish.

Stobi Winery, Vranec Veritas 2011, 14.5%
Vranec Veritas was made from low yielding vines (1 cluster per shoot). Manual harvest with sorting at the vineyard. Temperature controlled fermentation. Wine aged for 2 years in Slavonian oak barrels of different sizes (225 litres and up).
Annual production: 30’000 litres

Tasting note: Dark coloured. Brambly, super concentrated, soft juicy moorish dark fruit, with an earthy, dry, savoury finish and gentle tannins.

To find out more visit:

  • Wines of Macedonia (www.winesofmacedonia.mk)
  • Exploring Macedonia (www.exploringmacedonia.com)
  • Archeological site at Stobi (www.stobi.mk)

To source Macedonian wine world-wide:

To check availability of Macedonian wine in Sweden:

Featured image: Mosaic floor decorated with a peacock in the baptistery of the Episcopal Basilica, Stobi (7359173306) from Wikimedia Commons

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