My dear Cousin Charles,
Here goes the first year since I arrived in this remote country on the Balkans … I miss my beloved ones and I often wish I could exchange at least a few words in French with someone when I wake up to the warmth of sunlight that lands through the window on my face in the morning. My Uroš, the King of Serbia, is trying to alleviate my nostalgia for the castle where I grew up, the hill and a forest where I used to roam and play jovially as a child whilst watching the birds and other game…
A long horse back journey separates me from my homeland. Uroš is trying to ease my days in the new environment and reduce alienation. Serbia is a beautiful country… clear mountain streams and mountains resembling Savoy, endless vineyards resembling Bordeaux, the sun resembling Provence…
I miss the sweet, haunting fragrance of lilac. My Uroš has brought seedlings of lilac that would make Serbia smell like France. I have planted them in the valley of the Ibar River. This will be my fragrant French garden. So, while travelling to the town of Trebinje, I can rest my eyes while looking onto azure colour of the Ibar and violet cloak of lilacs that cover the surrounding hills.
I miss the wines from Bordeaux. There are wines from Serbia too. Some fine wines indeed. Every autumn, vineyards belonging to Uroš echo with songs of grape pickers who harvest Prokupac and Kadarka. The hills around Trebinje are lined with endless vineyards of Vranac. These are local grape varieties which are used to make wine. My Uroš often drinks wine with his courtiers. Let him do so… My soul is at peace then – namely, drinking water here is often polluted, so he is less likely to develop some infectious disease when drinking wine.
I notice that local wines here differ from those in Bordeaux. I remember that in France, my maid always served me and my sisters Bordeaux wines made from Carmenere, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and other varieties whose name I no longer remember. For me, it was simply ‘wine from Bordeaux’. These are wines with rather masculine traits, firmer structure. When young, I’m a bit plagued by their tannic harshness. If someone were to read my letter in 500-600 years’ time, I am sure he/she would have a completely different impression about the wines from Bordeaux. A briliant future is awaiting this region. People live there with wine and for wine. Already in 4th century AD, Ausonius described Bordeaux as ” his country famed by Bacchus.”
I think the aromas and flavors of wine from France that I still keep vivid in my memory would match nicely with food served at Uroš’s court. Here I tasted stuffed prunes for the first time. The maidservants from the dining room told me that prunes should be soaked in warm water to soften slightly. When drained and dried, pull out the stones and fill each prune with walnuts and goat cheese. Then a piece of bacon should be wrapped around plums and grilled.
Also, my Uroš loves when the maidservants prepare beef steak upon his return from long journeys. Meat is marinated in brine here. Then it gets dried whilst garlic and olive oil are rubbed in. Salt is rather expensive here and brought by merchants from Albania. Marinated meat should be grilled first, then served with sauce made from red wine, honey, mushrooms, currants and blackberries.
I hope there will be some opportunity to see you until spring arrives. When the weather improves, I’m planning to visit nearby countries and especially to pay a visit to the city of Dubrovnik. I was told that there’s a big community of our Catholic brothers there.
Farewell, my dear cousin.
Don’t forget to mention in your prayers your Helene, the Queen of Serbia.
Helene d’Anjou, the French noblewoman who married the Serbian king Stefan Uroš I Nemanjić in the 13th century and became the Queen of Serbia, might have written a letter like this one to her relatives in France with an intention to depict her new lifestyle in medieval Serbia.
Wine scene in Serbia and Bordeaux looks quite different nowadays. In the centuries that followed, new grape varieties found their place in the vineyards both in Bordeaux and in Serbia (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, etc.), some varieties have almost disappeared from these regions (Kadarka, Malbec …), technology has progressed. But on this occasion, we propose that you explore magical impressions of the past by tasting one wine from Serbia and one wine from Bordeaux which are available nowadays. These wines will take you on a journey through time and help you imagine those days when Helene d’Anjou arrived from France in Serbia. At the same time, these wines will adequately complement the richness of flavours and aromas of medieval Serbian dishes that Helene d’Anjou mentions in her letter.
Cuvee Carmenere 2011 – Chateau Recougne (Bordeaux, France) – Brother and sister, Marc and Elodie Milhade who own a winery near Libourne, planted 2 hectares of Carmenere in the year 2000 in order to revive this ancient variety in Bordeaux. Wines made from Carmenere are produced only in exceptional years. Carmenere from Chateau Recougne is characterized by somewhat lighter body than you would expect (compared to Chilean Carmenere ). The wine is soft and fruity, the emphasis is on the red forest fruit accompanied with distinctive spicy notes of pepper. It leaves beautiful smooth trail in the mouth, caressing the palate. Tannins are ripe, further aging will give them filigree fine-grained smoothness. Pyrazine tones leave unripe traces in the finish.
Sub Rosa 2009 – Budimir Winery (Župa, Serbia) – (varietal composition: Prokupac 60%, Cabernet Sauvignon 40%) Budimir Winery from Serbia has built a reputation of a guardian who aims to position Prokupac from Župa wine region as an authentic Serbian variety. We can notice a major change in the wine style if we compare this vintage with Sub Rosa from the year 2007. The wine from the 2009 vintage is predominantly fruity, with plentiful aromas of red and black forest fruit, discreet elegant floral notes of violet. Strikingly fewer earthy tones than in wine from the 2007 vintage, which are compensated with a pleasant touch of Serbian oak. Wine in a glass still exudes youthfulness, so it will take at least 5-7 years to reach its peak.