Last week at Winebow‘s annual Vintner’s Harvest the room was filled with amazing wines from around the world. From the Hudson valley to Australia, amazing grapes were presented and paired with bites from Olli Salumeria, Tom Cat Bakery, and Central Bakery of Hackensack NJ. You can’t help but want to taste most everything. Of course, as professionals we must slim down our list and stick to it or we will never make it through everything before the show is over. As it always turns out, my list expanded once I arrived. The good news is Irving Farm Coffee was served all day so I could bounce back with an espresso after each time I almost got drunk.
In the midst of this enormous portfolio of wines of the world I was most taken with and interested in a new offering from Winebow, The Balkan Wine Project. Until this day I had never tasted a wine from the Balkans and here I was presented with a comprehensive tour of Serbia, Croatia and Macedonia. I was floored. The wines are hearty, structured with great acidity, spice on the nose and full body.
Marko Babsek is the one responsible for this great offering. Marko was born and raised in Belgrade, Serbia and still has family residing there. After years of working with Winebow, Marko is able to bring a piece of home to the United States.
Marko’s connection to the land and his familiarity with the regions and extensive knowledge of the wines give the Balkan Wine Project a great depth. Marko was kind enough to take the time to speak with me about the project.
F+B: How did this project come about?
Marko: We have been working with and importing esoteric and interesting wines for years especially with the help of Athenee Importers, which until now, have been primarily Greek. We really wanted to take some special wines that are currently relegated to the “ethnic” market and bring them into the mainstream and promote them as unique and valid.
F+B: How do wines from this region compare with wines from other parts of the world?
Marko: Some of the similarities include a lot of high acid reds, really food friendly wines. The Balkan’s are a wealth for food and amazing cuisine that has also not caught on yet. The wine is made to go with food. Some of the main differences are that most of the grapes used from our offerings are exclusively grown in these countries. For example: Zilavka (Zhi-luv-ka) white grape, from Macedonia as well as Slovenia and Bosnia. Fermented in stainless steel and ends up with a greenish hue with great clarity, fresh fruit. Or the Vranec (Vra-Netz), indigenous to Macedonia with a dark ruby color, earthy sour cherry aromas and a thick body. These wines don’t taste like other wines because they can only be found in the Balkans.
Some of the other indigenous varietals do resemble other wines and are reminiscent of their flavor profiles. Examples of these would be: Tamyanika from Serbia, which is basically a clone of Muscat, an ancient wine. This comes out extremely dry with no residual sugar but characteristics of tropical fruit and white peach sweetness. This wine has extraordinary fragrance; even in the vineyard you can smell it from a distance. Then there is the Portuguiser from the Vojvodina (Voi-vo-di-na) region of Serbia. This is a village wine really. It is like a Gamay with its strong fruit: strawberries, blackberries and current. Perfect with spicy sausage, and savory cheeses.
F+B: Where can we get these wines?
Marko: Winebow is importing these wines so you can get them through Winebow distributors or any of the amazing restaurants we work with that carry these on their menu. There is a listing of our distributors on our website here:
F+B: What are the plans for the future of the Balkan Wine Project?
Marko: To continue to grow the program. Currently we have wines from Serbia, Croatia, Macedonia but we plan to expand to include: Montenegro, Albania, Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Bulgaria. We are working with young producers and only brining in wines that are indigenous to the area or that are produced with a traditional method to their countries. We are in relationships with these producers to help them develop a flavor profile that will highlight the strengths of these wonderful varietals and helping to preserve the heirloom grapes and tradition of these growing regions.
This is a great project and I am personally excited continue to taste and become more familiar with wines from the Balkans and watch the portfolio grow.