A Macedonian legacy of winemaking goes back to the 13th Century BC, and today the southeast European nation’s industry is witnessing a rebirth. On our first night in the country’s capital, Skopje, we were lucky to be taken under the wing of Ivana Simjanovska, one of the country’s foremost wine experts, as we attended a wine tasting and lecture at the sleek MKC Club & Restaurant. Our tour was organized and hosted by good-natured Ljupco, who works for a small tourism company called Macedonia Experience. Ivana is the company’s wine tourism specialist.
Though the wine specialists lectured in Macedonian and the slides were written in the Cyrillic alphabet (lending authentic, exotic elements to the event), we greatly enjoyed trying a flight of six wines, and mingling with winemakers, wine enthusiasts and foodies. To our delight, wine expert Ivana also infused us with a wealth of information about the country’s up and coming wine industry.
Ivana explained that after the Republic of Macedonia separated from the former Yugoslavia in 1990, wineries started to become privatized. Though ownership changed, other details largely remained unchanged.
“All the wineries kept making wine in bulk,” said Ivana. “There were large quantities being produced, at a low quality with even lower prices. But the potential was so much greater…”
Ivana went on to explain the fundamental components of winemaking: grape quality, equipment quality and winemaker expertise. Though winemakers can acquire knowledge and sophisticated equipment, grape quality, however, is dependent on climactic conditions and the grape’s environment or terroir.
“These latter conditions are just right in Macedonia,” Ivana explained, “and therefore growers produce high-quality grapes. Today, the leading Macedonian wineries no longer produce bulk wine. More than 90% of the wine is bottled. As a result, wine tourism is bringing more and more wine lovers and tourists to the country. These visitors like to explore the Macedonian wines and compare them to other well-known regions in the world. To their surprise, Macedonia produces high-quality wines.”
Next, Ivana went on to describe Macedonia’s unique growing climate. “The intense aroma of Macedonian wines is a result of the richness of its terroir with carbonates and minerals, combined with the influence of the Mediterranean and continental climates with warm summer days and cooler nights. There are also many microclimate locations spread all over the country’s wine regions. The 270 sun-drenched days per year contribute to the lengthy ripening process of the grapes that concentrates the grapes’ sugars and acids, ensuring rich colors and complex aromas. These combined elements bring about the Macedonian wines’ unique flavors.”
“All the international grape varietals have found their happy home in Macedonia. In addition, the Balkan grape variety, the Vranec, has found its home in the country better than anywhere else. Vranec, which translates to ‘black stallion’ in Macedonian, produces a powerful red wine, characterized by a bright purple color and a nose full of red berries, fruit jam, and much tannin. After a few years of aging, especially if barrel aged, it develops a much more complex aroma with hints of cinnamon, black fruits, cocoa, dark chocolate, and a longer, smoother finish. This grape varietal, perfectly domesticated in Macedonia, is becoming the country’s trademark in the wine world.”
Our flight of wines was as follows:
Благодарам / Many thanks to Macedonia Experience for hosting us at this fun and informative wine-tasting event. The wine was wonderful, and we learned so much about Macedonia’s ever-growing wine industry and the country’s culture. We wish our wine aficionado friends could have also been there to share in the evening!
These words, experiences, images, and opinions are entirely my own. Video footage is courtesy of my husband, Shawn.
*In this piece, I simply use the name Macedonia to refer to the country also known as the Republic of Macedonia or FYROM (Former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia), depending upon one’s perspective. Some controversy exists between Greece and Macedonia relative to what the latter nation should be called. To add further confusion, a Kingdom of Macedonia existed in ancient times, which encompassed territories from present-day Greece, Bulgaria and Macedonia. Today, there is also a region in northern Greece called Macedonia.
Photography & text © by Tricia A. Mitchell. All Rights Reserved.