This is a perfect example of reason #3* to drink wine: to travel (be transported). Who doesn’t want to try a wine from Macedonia? Ok, it wasn’t the best glass I’ve ever had, but it held its ground against an array of plates (escargot, rabbit spaetzle, and cumin lamb ribs) offering good acidity, balanced fruit, thick tannins…but that’s not what was interesting to me. I just closed my eyes, swilled my glass and imagined Macedonia: hot, dry heat, spices, black, red, yellow, Alexander the Great and his magnificent steed Bucephalus, iron, gold, sweat, fire. Regardless if my wine-swilling fantasy had any truth or not, it really got me to connect with this wine.
Where is Macedonia? Hidden between Albania, Greece, Bulgaria, Serbia and Kosovo. Yes, it’s completely landlocked but has a river and shares 2 lakes with Albania, one of which I believe to be pictured below:
Actually, the country as a whole appears to be much more lush than I previously imagined. The climate varies- there’s even snow in the high mountains near the lakes. Of course, things may have changed since 330 BC, when it may very well have been desert.
- Povardarie, in the valley of river Vardar, mostly around the towns of Negotino and Kavadarci. It is the most important region both in terms of quantity and wine quality.
- Pcinja–Osogovo, to the east on the border with Bulgaria.
- Pelagonija–Polog, around Lake Ohrid, to the west on the border with Albania.
Red is the most commonly produced in the following varietals, most of which are international: Vranec (which I had), Cabernet Sauvignon, Kratosija, and Merlot. Apparently, the best and most popular grape with Macedonians is Stanušina Crna, of Macedonian origin capable of producing very high quality wine but basically unknown internationally.
So, when and how was wine introduced? The earliest grape seeds have been dated to the Neolithic period, somewhere around 4000 BC. From Maron, the first to “discover” the art of wine-making and the one to offer 10 amphorae of wine to Homer’s Ulysses (who later uses it to intoxicate the Cyclops), to Aristotle’s personal vineyard at Thasos, followed by an in-depth inscription of rules and regulations regarding the cultivation, sale and exportation of wine, it is clear that Macedonia has been a wine country for a long, long time. Even during the fall of the Roman empire, while Greece and the rest of Western Europe saw a great decline in wine production, the Byzantine era is said to be one of the most fruitful (pardon the pun) for Macedonia. However, much later during the phylloxera epidemic in 1898, their vineyards virtually disintegrated and have never fully recovered, even with the transplantation of French, Bulgarian, and other European vines.