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NATURAL WINES OF SERBIA – PART 1

NATURAL WINES OF SERBIA – PART 1

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Wine Spectator’s Matt Kramer predicts that natural wine will no longer exist in 20 years’ time… The reason for this lies in its becoming mainstream. It will be quite normal for winemakers to make wines that go more in line with what we consider today “natural”. What will change during these 20 years is that these same wines will be to a greater extent universally well-made and technologically correct than it is the case nowadays, when a certain number of wines are made according to ”hit-and-miss naturalism”. He believes that this change has already begun and that the number of natural wine producers will continue to increase.

In Serbia, a group of winemakers have emerged over the last few years who embraced enthusiastically principles of natural wines (regardless of the difficulty to define natural wines), so if we talk about Fruška Gora winemaking, we will inevitably tackle the issue of biodynamic wines, organic, natural, orange wines, etc… Of course, both natural and climatic conditions are well suited to such an approach in the vineyard and winery. I dare say that these winemakers go ahead of their time, because natural wines still haven’t been appreciated in the local market to the same extent as they are in the western world.

If we talk about Serbian natural wines, the star and pioneer winemaker is Oskar Maurer, certainly the most famous Serbian winemaker outside the borders of Serbia. A conversation with Oskar does not reveal that you are communicating with a winemaker who is supported and promoted by Isabelle Legeron MW, promoter of natural wines and organizer of the RAW Natural Wine Festival in London and Berlin. Other winemakers would boast with great pride about their wines listed in 12 Michelin starred restaurants abroad, while Oskar modestly remarks that due to limited wine production he cannot always respond to all queries from abroad…

I was delighted to get an opportunity to visit Oskar Maurer’s winery. The road leads to the north of Serbia, almost at the very border with Hungary, to a village called Hajdukovo. We pass through a peaceful village in Vojvodina (North Serbia), intersected with spacious broad streets, then we cross railroad tracks and reach a beautiful house and a wine cellar on the outskirts where Oskar and his family live. Oskar Maurer’s vineyards are prevailingly located in Fruška Gora, Srem wine region (60%) whilst the rest (40%) is classified as Subotica wine region. Djordje Bikicki, another winemaker from Fruška Gora inspired by Oskar Maurer’s natural wines who follows the same path with Oskar’s generous help and mentoring, has joined us for the wine tasting.

BIKICKI WINERY (Banoštor, Fruška Gora, Srem)

Bikicki Winery is using grapes from a vineyard covering 26 hectares in Fruška Gora. This young winery entered the market in the beginning of 2017. Wines are produced under the supervision of Oskar Maurer.

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Nadia Pinot Rose 2016 – This is the first rosé from Bikicki Winery released on the market. Quite appealing onion skin colour, with light pomegranate ruby shades. 2/3 of wine underwent short maceration, 1/3 long. Consequently, the wine lingers somewhere halfway between Provencal style of rosé and modern bright fruit-forward rosés: it is characterized by a slightly fuller body, more extract, more alcohol. The vineyard is located in the village of Banoštor, at an altitude of 230 meters, facing the Danube. The soil in the vineyard at this plot contains sedimentary rocks and sediment (dolomite, gravel, serpentine, fossil remains) formed by weathering and erosion of upper layers of soil. Vineyards were planted in the period 2010-2012. The nose shows clean aromas, hibiscus flower, cherry, strawberry, earthy tones combined with herbal hints, linden tea. In the mouth, medium-bodied wine, pleasant acidity. I find it appealing that the wine doesn’t leave a linear impression in the mouth, it opens up in layers and leads to a beautiful rounded finish.

SO-15 Sauvignon Blanc 2015 – If you expect a Sauvignon Blanc wine to show prevailingly herbal aromas, tomato leaves, green pepper, asparagus, grass (typical features of this variety which may result in Sauvignon’s uniformity and simplicity), you will be surprised when you taste this Sauvignon Blanc with wild yeast and 2-week-long fermentation on skins. The nose is dominated by aromas of tropical fruit, mango, passion fruit, citrus, grapefruit. In the mouth, the wine leaves a rich, lavish impression with intense notes of lychee, tropical fruit, tangerine, linden tea…

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CU – 2016 Pinot Grigio – Ramato style in Serbia still hasn’t gained popularity that has been enjoying on developed wine markets for several years already. Macerated for 6 days (4 days cold soak and then 2 days maceration at 15 ° C). 70% of the wine aged for 3 months in new Hungarian oak barrique. Impressive lush nose, aromas of orange skin, spicy ginger notes, jasmine flower, cherry, forest strawberry, well-integrated wood. In the mouth, the wine contains more extract than classic Pinot Grigio in Serbia that we are accustomed to. This explains the winemaker’s intention to escape from fresh, reductive, fruit-forward style, hence use of oak as well.

Traminac (Gewürztraminer) 2016 – I tasted the tank sample, the wine is scheduled for market release in the summer. Harvest was done in the first half of September. Fermentation for almost 3 weeks at 19°C. The nose still closed, another racking remains to be done. Showing varietal typicity on the nose, aromas of tropical fruit, lychee, rose petals comeplemented with refreshing citrus note. Fresh impression in the mouth.

Pinotte Pinot Noir 2014 – Varietal features on the nose, aromas of cherry, fresh strawberries, mushrooms. In the mouth, the wine leaves warm impression, distinct fruitiness, flavours of cherry, strawberry, raspberry, nicely integrated wood. Medium-long finish still dominated by fruitiness.

Black Tamjanika 2015 – Bikicki Winery is responsible for spread of Black Tamjanika grape variety on the territory of Fruška Gora, since this variety has been limited so far exclusively to Negotinska Krajina (East Serbia). Difficulties in working with this grape both in the vineyard and the cellar are well-known. However, a different approach to this variety is reflected in a completely different character of wine from Bikicki Winery. A very demanding harvest because 1/3 of the grapes were dehydrated at the beginning of September, 1/3 of the grapes reached optimum maturity and 1/3 of the grapes were paler shade, still unripe (which contributed to wine’s vibrant acidity). Maceration lasted for 14 days. Barrel sample (used oak barrel). The resulting wine shows more extract, fuller body. In the mouth, earthy flavours, mushrooms, forest floor blanket varietal muscat tones. Meanwhile, beautiful acidity adds to wine’s youthful fresh profile, which together combines into an interesting, somewhat unexpected contrast. A medium-long finish with a trace of mild bitterness.

Black Tamjanika 2016 – The color of wine poured in glasses already resembles the usual coloration of wines made from Black Tamjanika, transparent ruby-red color, a seductive muscat aromas in the nose, rose petals, floral, joyful wine. Medium bodied wine. Maceration for 6 days. In the mouth, flavours of strawberries, raspberries, rose water flavoured Turkish delight prevail.

Pinot Noir 2015 – Pinot Noir aged in barrel (50% new French barrique, 50% used 10-year-old barrique). Atypical Pinot Noir, much more robust than you would expect. The nose shows maturity, dominated by aromas of leather, coffee, black chocolate, pleasant spicy tones. It will take a little longer to integrate aromas originating from barrel aging. Medium-bodied wine, the palate shows fruit-forward appeal, overripe sour cherries, ripe plums.

Makana Traminac Late Harvest 2013 – This wine is definitely my favorite which shows all potential of Fruška Gora which is still not fully exploited if we talk about Srem wine region. Excellent balance of sweetness and acidity. Rich impression of dried fruits, dried apricots, dried pears, honey, propolis, refreshing citrus notes, peeled orange skin. Wine in a limited release of 700 bottles.

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Bikicki Winery made a great break-through in a short period of time. I had the opportunity to taste their first wines before they came to market (among them were  wines from the year 2014), and their wine portfolio also featured wines with technological flaws, some volatile acidity, etc. The wines that I now have in front of me are a notch above the earlier vintage and winemaker’s work is more precise.

Speaking about natural wines, consumers should embrace that there could be significant fluctuations in wines depending on year. Simply, every harvest is unique and the winemaker has fewer options to intervene than in conventional winemaking. To put it bluntly, natural wines don’t hide what the vineyard and the year yield. The whole philosophy is to reflect nature, climate, terroir, man’s work in the vineyard and the year in wines. Of course, bottomline is to preserve technological correctness of wine without unwanted flaws.