Think of the Balkans, and its flourishing wine scene isn’t immediately what comes to mind.
But throughout its turbulent recent history, there has remained one certainty: the robust Balkan vineyards, which are some of the oldest in the world.
Far from the world stage and usurped by the more romantic bins of France, Italy and Spain, wine aficionados might be surprised to hear that the land here is uniquely fertile, with a wine history dating from the Ottoman Empire.
Under Yugoslav rule, wine was measured by quantity rather than quality but now an artisan community is thriving in Macedonia, Albania and Serbia. They’re far from the mass-market offerings of Bulgaria and Romania we see in London — and, in general, very cheap. Here’s where to find the best.
One of the best Serbian wines is prokupac. The sweet, red grape, first recorded here in the Middle Ages, is often served as a dark rosé.
The “new” wine scene is still growing but centuries of tradition are leading a sharp new focus on innovation, making Serbia’s wineries some of the region’s most exciting. Zupa, half a day from Belgrade, is the region to aim for.
Near Krusevac is the idyllic Ivanovic Winery. Running for 98 years, it focuses on prokupac, with its deeply complex and robust sweetness, though cabernet and merlot are also popular, and owner Dragoslav Ivanovic swears by a dark, ruby-coloured blend of the three grapes, with complex fruity tones of blackberry, ripe plum and blueberry, plus a spicy green pepper and clove kick.
The vineyard is open daily; expect Dragoslav to speak passionately about how bizarre it is that this wine has never found fame outside of its homeland. A very good bottle should only set you back about £8.
Macedonia may be small (just shy of 10,000 square miles) but its vineyards pack a punch. In wine region Tikves,
50 miles south of the capital, Skopje, Stobi offers a range of tours, making it a good bet for the time-pushed. Visits end with a tasting paired with traditional Macedonian cuisine.
Tikves is more touristy, with its firelit tasting room for sipping gutsy, award-winning prokupac and vranec. The relaxed tour takes you past barrels containing the award-winning Alexandria Cuvée adored by locals, and Domaine Lepovo pinot noir.
Albania is famous for its vineyards, layered over gently rolling hills at an altitude of up to 1,000 metres. As in Macedonia, conditions here produce viticultural diversity — merlot, cabernet, pinot noir, riesling and sangiovese are abundant in this rich soil.
The Zadrima region’s clash of ecosystems — it’s where the Albanian Alps meet the Adriatic — makes for uniquely fertile land producing Mediterranean-style wine. Kallmet, named after the full-bodied, sweet local kallmet grape, produces award-winning red and whites including its “prestige” selection from 30-year-old vines. Arberi and Zadrima have other high-quality examples of native wineries in the area. Expect only locals at these seriously undercover gems.
Wizz Air flies from Luton to Belgrade from £37 one way, and Ryanair flies from Stansted to Podgorica (in Montenegro but close to Zadrima) from £13, so it’s easiest to fly into one and out of the other. Car hire costs around £130 per week. Hotels are around the £30-60 mark — Hotel Saradis in Krusevac has doubles from £43, B&B, and Hotel Frojd near Kallmet has doubles from £44, B&B.