Exploring Balkan Wines

As a part of our companion series for Wine Wednesday our Sommelier John Aranza, is writing companion pieces to give you an overview of the region we are exploring and what we taste. Read on for an exploration of Balkan Wines, and join us this month for Wine Wednesdays!

Today we are going to skip across the Adriatic to the Balkans. Formerly Yugoslavia, this area had been cloistered from the rest of the world of wine export for some time until the late 1990’s. It was then with the independence of Croatia, Slovenia, Montengro that these long standing wine producing arease were able to bring their wares west.

The Balkans refer to the range of mountains that extend inland across these Eastern European lands. It is just now being made aware that wine has been made here for centuries with the same intensity & warmth that many familiar producers display in France and Italy. Today we are going to talk about three characters in this play that have often been snubbed by the Oscar’s, but deserve a nod for their continued, expressive roles in the Balkan wine community.

The First, is from Ilocki Podrumi. A combined effort of Cabernet Sauvignon & an Austrian/Hungarian descendant called Blaufrankisch. BF is a late ripening, tannin-realized red grape. Expressive on its own, and possibly explosive with CS, but this invocation is soft in the hands of one of Croatia’s oldest producers. In the glass it is Burgundian, in a sense, with its soft balance & red fruit delivery. Perhaps this is why IP wines were served at the 1953 coronation of Queen Elizabeth II

Next we travel to Montenegro. Off the shores of Lake Skadar, which borders Albania & Montenegro claiming the largest lake in the Balkan Peninsula. From the cool, Mediterranean climate comes Vranac (translated black stallion) from producer Monte Cheval. Firm in tannins, this fruit-forward workhorse dates back to Roman plantings. This medium bodied red can be found throughout the region and further inland in Serbia as well. Familiar to residents of the Balkans, this is the favorite son served usually fresh from the producer in local Konoba’s! Red meat and game are a perfect match for the dark-horse of grapes!

Lastly we travel a bit inland, completely land-locked to the Mostar region and the limestone plateau’s of Citluk in Herzegovina. Zilavka is the grape, and aromatic is the name. Tropical fruit, and hints of grass dominate this white. Reminiscent of Pinot-Gris in its earthy tones, it pulls from its stony roots…literally…and delivers a wine that has been schooled in the cool mountain evenings and bathed in its sunny afternoons.

Having family roots in Croatia I appreciate the education these wines deliver at the table. A history of a people & terroir that is just now being realized by discerning palates that have been denied these pleasures for far too long. Enjoy all, join us for dinner one evening and raise a glass. It’s an affordable trip to a magic place.