Mingling Over Macedonian Wines: A Wine Tasting & Lecture in Skopje

North Macedonia’s legacy of winemaking goes back to the 13th Century BCE, 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.

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Though the wine specialists lectured in North Macedonian and the slides were written in the Cyrillic alphabet (lending authentic 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.

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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…”

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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.

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“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.”

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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.”

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“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.”

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Flight of Wine:

A Video of This Experience:

Where in the World?

Disclosure & Thanks:

Macedonia Experience hosted us for this wine-tasting event.

Благодарам / Many thanks Ivana & Ljupco for guiding us through this informative and fun evening. 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!

Photography & text © Tricia A. Mitchell. All Rights Reserved. Video footage is courtesy of my husband, Shawn.

Published by Tricia A. Mitchell

Tricia A. Mitchell is a freelance writer and photographer. Born in Europe but raised in the United States, she has lived in Valletta, Malta; Heidelberg, Germany; and Split, Croatia. An avid globetrotter who has visited more than 65 countries, she has a penchant for off-season travel. Tricia has learned that travel’s greatest gift is not sightseeing, rather it is the interactions with people. Some of her most memorable experiences have been sharing a bottle of champagne with distant French cousins in Lorraine, learning how to milk goats in a sleepy Bulgarian village, and ringing in the Vietnamese New Year with a Hanoi family. She welcomes any opportunity to practice French and German, and she loves delving into a place’s history and artisanal food scene. A former education administrator and training specialist, Tricia has a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a master’s degree in international relations. She and her husband, Shawn, married in the ruins of a snowy German castle. They’ve been known to escape winter by basing themselves in coastal Croatia or Southeast Asia. Her writing has appeared in Fodor’s Travel, Frommer’s, and International Living.

26 thoughts on “Mingling Over Macedonian Wines: A Wine Tasting & Lecture in Skopje

    1. Wine is quickly developing into one of our favorite niches, Anita. :) It’s particularly fun learning about an up and coming wine-growing region such as Macedonia. How is your spring (almost summer) coming along?

  1. Sorry, Tricia, but I kind of got stuck at your first line. 13th century BC!

    Anyway, I feel bad for you and your husband that you’re having to suffer through such miserable journeys. Even so, your photos are terrific, as always…

    1. Sid, I can relate. :) Sometimes it can be daunting thinking back that far!

      We pinch ourselves almost everyday, realizing how lucky we are – not only to be seeing such amazing sites, but also to be mingling with some special people in many corners of the globe. Hope you’re well, and just about enjoying summer!

  2. Great description, I’ve never seen wine from Macedonia in any of the stores I frequent, but perhaps I’m not looking hard enough. But I do like your photos too – they have such a warm glow that I can imagine it must have been a fun night!

    1. Jen, nice to hear from you! I suspect you’re eagerly awaiting the departure for your trip to Europe?

      It was a nice evening, the perfect escape from a chilly, rainy night in a big city! Regarding the lack of Macedonian wines in American stores, I’m wondering if the Macedonian wineries haven’t been able to cut through the red tape to export their product?

      1. We are very excited to leave in one week from today!

        If they’ve managed to export at all, I imagine there are probably some specialty wine importers that might have it, but the stores in Pennyslvania I go to are fairly small and tend to cater to the popular wines. I can’t even get much wine from the Finger Lakes region (fantastic rieslings) and that’s only a 4 hour drive from here! I had to stock up on our recent trip to Ithaca :)

      2. We are spending a couple days in Amsterdam and one day in Brussels, followed by Paris, Venice, Warsaw, Krakow, Wroclaw, Cologne, and then we fly out of Dusseldorf. Whirlwind tour of Europe, but I’m glad we’ll get to see so much on my first time there!

        I’m pretty sure my diet will consist of beer or wine (depending on the country) and croissants, pasta, or pierogies (also depending on the country). Yumm :)

      3. Jen, your first time – how exciting! Over the years, I’ve explored most of those spots (except Warsaw) and enjoyed each one. We went to Krakow and Wroclaw in the midst of winter, so must return when the flowers are in bloom and the risk of developing popsicle extremities is less.

        As for all the culinary treats, you’ll probably be doing so much exploring on foot, the calories won’t matter. :)

  3. Uh, Chateau Kamnik signature Merlot, (Silver label) is a beast, i also liked the Ten Barrels Syrah and Cab…..Merlot is awaiting in my cellar, this years birthday wine winner :-D

    Good stuff Tricia ;-)

    1. Srđan, so nice to hear from you! We would love to try the Chateau Kamnik again. By that time of the evening, we’d been enjoying the tasting and conversation for a while, and weren’t able to give the ‘beast’ the sole attention it deserved. :)

      We’re so happy to see that the Art of Wine is thriving. On a cold night like we’re experiencing in Germany now, we’d love to curl up with a cozy blanket and enjoy a bit of the Vinoleto. That was definitely the ‘crowd pleaser.’ :)

  4. A perfect tour! Great photos and information. We will probably never have Macedonian wine here in our little town of Alaska, but I will definitely look for it when I visit cities.
    I also liked the info about the name “Macedonia”

    1. Marilyn, we were surprised that we hadn’t heard of the name controversy until we started planning our trip to Macedonia. Travel certainly teaches! :)

      Jen in NY also mentioned that it’d probably be hard for her to get the wine in upstate NY. I’m wondering if a lot of the Macedonian winemakers are encountering red tape when it comes to importing it abroad?

      Thanks as always for stopping by! :)

  5. That must have been a wonderful experience. I love tasting wine with people that are very knowledgeable.

    When you go to tastings do you swallow or spit? For me it depends on whether or not I’m driving.

    1. Gerard, do you do organized tastings, or informal ones with friends?

      Regarding your second question, I both swallow and pour out excess wine during tastings (perhaps more of the latter once a tasting gets going – otherwise I’d be swinging from the rafters). We’ve been largely relying on public transportation during our travels through the Balkans (or going on organized tours) so we’ve been lucky to be able to enjoy the tastings, without needing to have a designated driver. :)

      Are you a red or white fan?

      1. I used to do a lot of tastings with friends. We would each chip in and buy wine to taste. The first tasting was Beaujolais. Later we also did zinfandel, chardonnay and champagne. It was a lot of fun.

        I like both red and white but my preference is for dry red wines.

      2. Gerard, that sounds like such a great excuse to get together! I’m hoping that once we get settled back into a community, that we’ll be able to start planning similar evenings with friends. Have you visited some of the wine-growing regions in North America or Europe? I can’t recall if you have a connection to France or to Québec… :)

      3. I visited some wineries in California back in the 1970s. I also visited some of the wineries on Long Island (New York State).

        I have a connection to France.

        Those wine tastings I did were with a homebrewing club I belonged to. We would chip in for the wine. One person would do the buying. We would all bring food too. We would taste the wine one bottle at a time and discuss it. It was fun!

      4. Gerard, I’ve heard others say how much they enjoyed exploring Napa long before it became a popular destination. I’m guessing it was quieter when you visited there in the 1970s.

        What part of France do you have a connection to? It’s long been a dream of mine to live there. I studied French in high school, and my family hosted an exchange student from Savoie. For now, regular visits keep my appetite quite sated. :)

      5. It’s nice to have special people in such beautiful places. The Loire Valley is a place that we hope to explore more, having spent a few days there in 2010. There are so many chateaux to see, and though we thought we’d experience ‘chateaux fatigue’ by the time our sojourn was over, we loved the diversity of the four we chose to visit.

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