Wine Jam in Belgrade – wine culture for the young, and not only

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Saturday. I’d just returned from one of the best and most picturesque wine regions of Serbia – Župa, which is situated in the south of the country. Even though it drizzled over there every so often, I have seen few regions of similar beauty. Župa is exactly what one would call a cultural landscape – a unique combination of nature and human works, united and in balance. But having reached Belgrade, I got surprised too. While it’s snowing in some parts of Europe and you can hear that it’s the coldest May since several decades, I was welcomed by sun and around 20 degrees. On the streets of Belgrade there were streams but not of rain, rather cheerful people were flowing in all possible directions, celebrating this weekend the “Days of Joy” (“Dani Radosti”). How much temperament can be found in the Serbian people! Every bigger square resounded with drum music. Little kids were shaking their small butts in their aerobic-like style. Smiling parents were not hesitant to join them. I saw a group of laughing old ladies protesting against genetically modified food and proudly waving some “NO GMO” banners. In front of the “House of Syndicate” (“Dom sindikata”) there was a small flower fair. And although there are hundreds of coffee shops in the center, you could barely find a free place.

photo 3-2This city is alive, oh, and how! There is nothing of this European decadence we can sometimes read about in relation to the countries of the European Union. Serbia is waiting for the time to put its buds and blossom with all this Balkan temperament that dozes in its people.

And on this day, there was also a wine event in a fancy club “Krug” in Sava Mala, a district close to the river, full of discos, cafes and young creative people. It was called “Wine Jam – Wine Culture Festival”. The organizers were aiming at promoting wine culture among the younger, which are usually associated with beer and cocktails. Of course, the event was not limited to any age group, but the target was reached and for first time in my life I wasn’t among the youngest ones visiting a wine fair.

Like in a disco, we all got a stamp on our wrists, which allowed us to go out and return as many times as we liked. There were no people in business suits, rather fancy but comfortable outfits dominated. You probably know situations in which only good and better wines are served and there is nothing you might despise for its low quality. There were some of the best Serbian producers presenting their creations, but also several stands with foreign wines. Here some of the wines, which I found interesting…

“Uroboros”, Istrian Malvasia, and “Terra Mare”, Teran, from Trapan, Istria, Croatia

The producer, Bruno Trapan, works first of all with Istrian indigenous grape varieties: Teran (red) and Malvasia (white). Malvasia gives charming white wines, in this case with a rich floral and fruity bouquet, with some honey and herbal notes. To my satisfaction, the wood underlined the elegance of the fruit, instead of suffocating it. The interesting fact about this wine is that the fermentation takes place in acacia barrique barrels – an old Istrian tradition. The exotic name of this wine – “Uroboros” – comes from a mythical dragon or snake eating its own tail, and creating this way a circle. This symbolizes eternal return, constant renewal and continuity. Not less fascinating was the red “Terra Mare”, which is 85% Teran, 10% Merlot and 5% Syrah. It has soft tannins and enchants with its chocolate and coffee notes.

“Mina” Rose, from Stemina, Župa, Serbia

This rose is made from Pinot Noir grapes. Accordingly we may expect fresh strawberry and cherry aroma. It might be one of the nicest roses in Serbia. The real strength of this wine is its structure: although fresh and fruity, it is full-bodied, harmonic, round and even kind of opulent in mouth. Now think of my description at the very beginning of this post and you will know why I had to enjoy this wine 🙂

“Filigran”, Black Tamjanika, from Bukovo Monastery, Negotinska Krajina, Serbia

This is a story that must be told in some other and definitely longer post. Black Tamjanika is one of Serbian autochthonous grape varieties and there are just a few small producers in the Negotinska Krajina, who could provide you with this rare wine. One of them is the Bukovo monastery, tracing its traditions back to the 13th century. Its Black Tamjanika is a fragrant semi-dry wine, with 14,5% of alcohol, and in smart 0,5 bottles, in which usually sweet wines are sold. It’s rich in extract, low in acidity, with an intense aroma of different berries; but what struck me at most was rather something “green”, like tomato stalks and herbs, maybe some hint of basil. It was a unique combination I have never found in wines from any other grape variety.

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“Vranac”, from Antić, Orahovac, Kosovo

Foreigners usually know only one about Kosovo: There was a war there! But this corner of the earth has also rich history, which is not least connected to the beverage we are all interested in. The area around the town of Orahovac in Kosovo takes pride in very old winemaking traditions. The town itself was mentioned first time in 1348 in the charter of the Serbian Emperor, Dušan the Mighty. In 1405, it was given to the monastery of Hilandar, on Mount Athos, providing it, among others, with wine. The Serbian family of Antić tamed the mighty and wild Vranac, offering a suitable company to all heavy Balkan meals, especially with lamb meat.

“Paco y Lola”, Albariño, from Bodega Rosalia de Castro, Rías Baixas, Spain

True, I visited the Wine Jam mostly because of Serbian wines, but I can’t help: I love whites from Rías Baixas. There are few European regions specialized in white wine, which I love so much that I almost lose the ability of critical thinking. The joy of green apple, citrus fruits, some Mediterranean herbs and that fresh, humid wind of the Galician coast – all this invades your senses when your nose starts to explore the glass. There is integrity in this wine: what the smell promises, the taste will give!

Imperator, Srem, Serbia

I haven’t mentioned any particular wine on purpose. You will find an exceptional elegance in all wines from the “Imperator” winery. This is a new producer from Sremska Mitrovica, the ancient Syrmium. Since the city gave the Roman Empire several augusti, the owner decided to name his biodynamic wines after them. There is Valerius (Rhine Riesling), Gratianus (Traminac), Quintillus (Merlot and Malbec), Decius (Pinot Noir), Constantius (Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc), and Maximianus (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Malbec), which is at the moment one of the best-selling reds in Serbia.

Aleksić, Vranje, Serbia

This is a similar case to the former one. A new and very promising winery, which offers nothing but good wines 🙂 Critics used earlier to describe some wines as masculine or feminine. Aleksić wines – and here comes the very interesting aspect – are extremely feminine. The winery is owned and led by three charming sisters, supported by a female technologist, and a female consultant. This is rather rare in the wine business. Aleksić sisters use to start their story about wine talking about another woman – their mother, who came from Dalmatia and spread love for wine in the family. Just to mention some of their creations: White Tamjanika “Žuti Cvet” (yellow flower) is all about flowers, citrus fruits, herbs and spices – incense, basil, cinnamon; “Arno” is a 100% Sauvignon Blanc – herbal, fruity, and very elegant despite the high temperatures in the region; and there are also two Chardonnays “Bonaca” – one of which is oaked.

I could continue forever – there is no doubt about it 🙂 That’s why let me just name some other noteworthy wines presented on the Wine Jam, without claiming completeness: the field blend of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc from an old vineyard of Rajković Brothers; Cabernet Sauvignon “Kremen” from the Matalj winery, which you may know from my post about Bagrina, and one of the best reds from Serbian autochthonous Prokupac grapes – “Tri Morave” from the TEMET winery.

This was the first Wine Jam in Belgrade and I consider is a successful one. We might expect that the event will grow in size and popularity in the following years. Maybe you can even think about a May trip to Serbia next time? 🙂

Rajnski Rizling 2006 by Podrum Radovanović, Šumadija, Serbia

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Mr. Radovanović is one of Serbia’s best red wine producers. His Cabs are famous… and splendid in their character. But this post is about his Riesling.

Unlike in the Northern Europe, we have a magnificent weather now in Serbia. These days, the grass is cut in blooming parks of Belgrade. There is the smell of robinia, lilac, and mock-orange in the air. Colors are intense, kids run around happy, while bees keep busy. The spring showers make city smell of herbal infusion.

So, basically I’ve just described the wine 🙂 Radovanović Riesling smells of freshly cut grass, robinia honey, plus there is something spicy… white pepper? There are citrus fruits, but also herbal notes to be enjoyed, much like in Piedmont’s whites… Erbaluce? The wine is tingling on the tongue, acidic and spicy.

Bagrina – Danube Valley wine secrets

This is a very old Balkan variety, which was grown in Serbia, Bulgaria and Romania. Barely known even to consumers of these countries, it may sometimes hide under further names like Braghina, Crvena dinka or Turska ružica. The name might have been derived from ‘bagrem’, a Serbian name for robinia (Robinia pseudoacacia). The seductive sweet smell of its flowers may allegedly be found also in the wine.

There is little information on this variety and I will be thankful to anyone who can provide me with any materials and data. Sure is that Bagrina has been almost forgotten and lost, surviving probably only in few old vineyards of Negotinska krajina in the eastern part of Serbia. In that region, there are also several further autochthonous varieties being slowly rediscovered, after some decades of Sleeping-Beauty-like fate on the sandy slopes of Danube Valley.

In case of Bagrina, we owe much of the rediscovery to Nikola Mladenović Matalj. To my knowledge, he is the only producer experimenting with this variety at the moment. His first varietals from the rosy grapes of Bagrina are still not available in the market, but let’s make this post a foretaste which enhances the joy of waiting for new personalities in the global wine family.

Before it was abandoned for the international varieties, Bagrina had enjoyed a reputation of producing grapes for quality wine. However, like many Balkan autochthonous varieties (e.g., Crna Tamjanika, Žilavka), it has female flowers and needs to be planted in mixed vineyards. Grapes have a light rosy or copper color, similar to Pinot Grigio. Accordingly, they allow for two styles of wine: white or darker, almost orange one. The last color predominated earlier, before the variety was abandoned. Indeed I met an old lady who produces wine since more than half a century, mother of a wine-producer from Rajac, Radomir Pavlović, and she couldn’t hide her surprise by the almost completely white color of modern Bagrina from the Matalj winery.

Apart from female flower, the variety shows further characteristics that are problematic: it’s susceptible to low temperatures and provides quite an irregular yield. This is why Bagrina is rather a regional specialty, expressing local terroir, than a candidate for mass production. Still, considering significant temperature extremes in this area, especially hot summers, its grapes have both good pH and high acidity. This is a genial combination of nature and culture, expressed in centuries of adaptation of the variety to the local conditions, supported by accumulated human knowledge.

Here are some of my impressions on the first drops of this exciting old new wine…

What was really astonishing in the very first moment, it’s almost white, resembling diluted pear juice. Pear is also one of the main notes of its aroma. Then there is something spicy too, bringing to mind some of my mom’s specialties, for example bogracz. That’s why drinking Matalj’s Bagrina I had to think of allspice and bay leaf. Still, I agree with the description from Serbian online wine magazine vino.rs: there is something floral too: elder and robinia. I wouldn’t exclude the taste of litchi either.

The slightly sweetish note, which becomes soon spicy, makes me think again of allspice. Alcohol is noticeable. The wine has definitely ‘il suo perché’. I’m excited, not least by the fact that this is my first Bagrina and who knows if there is any other one in some Serbian cellar. So I was drinking it with my eyes widely open, thinking of the potential of this variety in Mr. Mladenović’s hands. Keep an eye on this young and talented producer!