Bermet – a wine specialty from Serbia

Bermet belongs to the family of aromatized wines, which gain their particular flavor through added herbs and spices. This practice is probably as old as the wine itself and was often applied to hide imperfections of the product, as cream is used in the kitchen. By the way, the latter is a reason why many Italian chefs ban cream from their culinary creations. In modern times, we don’t use herbs and spices to hide bad taste of wine anymore. Now we have soda, which is able to cover any imperfection in taste, also consumer’s taste.  Probably the best-known example of aromatized wine is Vermouth, but there are also Barolo Chinato, Retsina, or… Bermet.

The wine is produced in the area around the town of Sremski Karlovci, which is surprisingly small in comparison to the role it played in the history of the region. It was here, where the treaty between the Ottoman Empire and the Holy League was signed in 1699, changing the balance of power in this part of Europe for the next two centuries. It was also here where the revival of Serbian culture started – the Metropolitans of the Serb Orthodox Church resided in the town and founded several important institutions. And I can add with a clear conscience ‘etcetera, etcetera’.

Sremski Karlovci is situated in Vojvodina, a northern, autonomic province of Serbia with a preserved ethnic mosaic, inherited from the Austro-Hungarian Empire. To be even more precise, it is in Fruška Gora, a small hilly area, whose big part is a national park. There are also many old monasteries, and wine traditions which we can trace into the antiquity, when the Roman Emperor – Marcus Aurelius Probus, who was born in the region in Sirmium (today’s Sremska Mitrovica), planted the first vines on the mild slopes of Fruška Gora, then Alma Mons (fertile mountain). In the 15th century, the local wines were exported to Poland. And in the 18th century, Friedrich Wilhelm von Taube, a German traveller, was writing enchanted about the quality of the local wine and lamenting over insufficient exports of that delicacy.

Bermet is just one of the specialties here. There is the magnificent Ausbruch too, about which I’m going to write in the future. Sure is that the sweet aromatized wine, which can be either white or red, became popular a long time ago. It is said that already the Empress Maria Theresa knew to appreciate it. I imagine her in the winterish, humid Vienna with a glass of Bermet to warm the soul tired by politics, in which she unfortunately was successful. Some sources in Serbia claim that Bermet was served on Titanic, and generally known to the elites of 19th-century USA. This I was not able to check in any American sources.

In Serbia, people enjoy it as both aperitif and digestive and serve it at a relatively high temperature of 18-20°C. This is quite unusual for a sweet wine, containing between 16 and 18% of alcohol. There is no single recipe for this wine as every family has its own combination of herbs and spices used for maceration. The exact list of ingredients and the proportions are kept secret. Among them one can usually expect, for instance, dried figs, licorice, raisins, anise, nutmeg, wormwood, horseradish, vanilla, lemons, oranges, carob, mustard seeds, cinnamon, gorse, mint, and clove. The final product is fortified, for example with rakija.

I had good experiences with Bermets made by the wineries Kiš and Kovačević, but you will probably need to try several of them in order to find your favorite one… Although, why choosing and not liking all of them?… Cheers!

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