I’m beginning my culinary travel through the Serbian culture with something special. There is a beautiful Serb Orthodox monastery in Republika Sprska, in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Tvrdoš was grounded in 15th century, although the monastery we can see now was rebuilt in 1924, after it had been destroyed in the Turkish-Venetian war in the 17th century. It was temporarily a seat of the Eparchy of Zahumlje, Herzegovina and the Littoral as the original seat with the cathedral in Mostar was destroyed in 1992. After the cruelties of the recent war, monks returned to their old winemaking traditions, taking care of the old vineyards and planting some new ones.
Their Vranac is aged for 24 months in old oak barrels, which rest in a 15th century cellar. As a traditional product it is not barbarically filtrated and preserves its natural sediment. While you can read on the monastery’s website that this wine contains 13,5% alcohol, on my bottle I found information about 14,5%. For me this is a truly authentic wine, which tells you the whole story of its origin as soon as you put the nose into your glass. The coolness and humidity of the monastery walls, the notes of maraška cherry ripening here and there around the monastic complex, the enchanting aroma of porcini mushrooms and various berries from the regional forests – you will find them all in this wine black as the habits of the Orthodox monks.
The result is one of the most celebrated wines among the Serbs, even though many of them cannot afford it as its price in Belgrade amounts to around 12€, which is a lot regarding local wages. Still, its fame is big, people are proud of it as a national product and I can understand them because it’s like the true soul of Serbia: strong, vivid, passionate and fatalist, and also mystically religious, as the Orthodox Church seems to be for the Westerners.
To say more about the variety itself: Vranac in Serbian or Vranec in Macedonian is an autochthonous variety from Montenegro, which spread around whole southwestern Balkan, particularly in Herzegovina. The name means also a black horse, but both are derived from the word ‘vran’, which signifies ‘black’ or ‘raven’. We could play a lot with the meaning and origin of the name. Vranac berries are intensely colored and wine obtained from them is frequently as ‘black’ as French Cahors wines from Malbec berries. In South Slavic languages red wine is usually called black wine (crno vino), and last but not least Vranac is supposed to come from Montenegro (in Serbian: Crna Gora), that is, from the Black Mountain.
Although very intensive in color, its flavor is usually modest and may confront us with some bitter notes. For his reason, some winemakers tend to ‘enrich’ it with some other varieties. This is however not the case for the product of the Tvrdoš Monastery, which is pure Vranac wine, and still of a fascinating richness and deepness.