Grape varieties / 12/14/2020 / 324
"Adorned with high acidity, even in warm years, able to develop aromas ranging from simple citrus notes to ripe yellow fruit and honey. Some wine experts show snobbish dislike by describing it as "uninteresting" but the best examples are far from it. Some winemakers keep it in new oak, but generally this is not the best solution for this variety. Although this wine rarely attains exceptional quality, price can be relatively high because of the region's reputation. "
This description could easily be attributed to Smederevka wines (with the exception of the section that refers to "relatively high prices because of the region's reputation"). However, this description refer to wines made from Cortese, also known as Gavi di Gavi (Piedmont, Italy), a wine that has a great reputation in the wine market of South Eastern Europe. Therefore, we can rightly ask whether the time has come for Smederevka to acquire the same status and thus promote this local grape from the Balkans.
DNA studies have shown that parents of Smederevka are Gouais Blanc and a table grape originating from Moldova which is known in Serbia as "Bele Kozije Sise" (White Goat Udders) due to elongated shape of berries. In the Balkans, Gouais Blanc is known as Belina. This variety is known as "Europe's great promiscuous grape" because a number of grape varieties that we know today descended from it. Interestingly, Chardonnay and Smederevka have a common parent - Gouais Blanc or, as we call it, Belina. In the past, Belina and Smederevka were, as a rule, planted together in the vineyards of Central Serbia and were called "krupna belina" (large-berried Belina) and "sitna belina" (small-berried Belina).
Tracking grape varieties through historical documents can be rather difficult because the names of varieties are often cited wrongly. In determining grape varieties, people relied on previous experience whilst knowledge about grapes was commonly transmitted by word of mouth. For that reason, it doesn't come as a surprise that Smederevka in early written documents was hidden under the names Belina or White Plovdina, although we know nowadays that these are different grape varieties.
Our historian A. Fotić, an expert on Ottoman history of the Balkans, reports that the first mentioning of Smederevka in professional ampelographic documents was in 1855 when the Austrian ampelographer Franz Trummer published his Systematic Classification where he wrote that "Weisser Szemendrianer" (in German: White Smederevka) was grape variety widely present in the Hungarian Empire (which is logical because North Serbia in those days was occupied by the Austria-Hungarian Empire). Already in 1876, another ampelographer Hermann Goethe stated in his book Ampelographisches Wörterbuch that Smederevka is a widespread white variety found in Hungary and Serbia. In countries of former Yugoslavia, this variety is well known as Smederevka. However, Smederevka can also be found under the following synonyms: Laška Belina, Dimjat (Bulgaria), Radoviška Plovdina. In the Balkans, it is also known as Semendria, Zoumiatico (in northern Greece), zoumiat (in Turkey).
It is officially accepted that Smederevka / Dimjat is a Bulgarian variety, primarily based on the fact that Dimjat is the second most common white grape variety in Bulgarian vineyards. However, based on available historical sources, it is more appropriate to regard Smederevka as a Balkan variety (especially taking into account the fact that political borders in the Balkans are constantly moving). It is worth mentioning that there is a theory in Bulgaria that crusaders brought Dimjat to Thrace from the Nile Valley (Egypt). Knowing the pathways by which the winemaking culture spread across the Mediterranean, this theory seems rather unlikely (despite its being rather romantic and convenient for marketing exploitation).
Small winemakers from the vicinity of Smederevo still nurture the tradition of producing wine from Smederevka for domestic needs, from grapes picked from small vineyards aged 35-40. Unfortunately, such wines are still flawed to a large extent. Significant investments in wine cellar technology, equipment and hygiene are needed to raise quality of those wines. The reputation of Smederevka wines on the local market is also affected by cheap, industrial wines made from this variety, which have been stocking supermarket shelves for decades, so consumers generally do not perceive Smederevka as a serious wine. However, until only two decades ago, Istrian Malvasia was in a similar situation, while today it is considered a promising variety from which excellently positioned and preferred wines with strong impact of Istrian terroir are produced.
It can be said that Dragan Vasić, the owner of the winery Podrum Janko, is a pioneer in the attempts to return Smederevka to the wine scene of Serbia. For years, his Smederevka has been the most expressive example of fresh light varietal Smederevka. The turning point was in 2008 when Smederevka from 2007 vintage from Janko Cellar won the award for the best white wine made from autochthonous variety at the Grand Wine Tasting organized by the national association of sommeliers SERSA.
Dragan Vasić Janko shared with us his firsthand experience in working with Smederevka. Smederevka is often the last grape variety in the vineyards to be harvested, since it is a late ripening variety. He frankly adds that it sometimes seems that they don't devote enough attention to Smederevka during the harvest because they try to pick it as fast as possible and thus bring harvest to a close.
Smederevka is a high yielding variety, so it should be planted on less fertile soils. Some books specify that grape must contains up to 20% of sugar, however in reality the sugar content often gets higher. In some parts of Bulgaria, Dimjat could also be used for production of naturally sweet wines. Smederevka shows poor resistance to frost, its buds freeze already at -14 degrees Celsius, so winemakers should take this into account when selecting terroir
In the beginning, Dragan had a long-term contract for grapes originating from 30-year-old vineyards located on Drugovac hill near Smederevo. In the meantime, he also planted Smederevka on a plot in front of the winery and on the plot called Zlatno brdo (Golden Hill), where the vineyards owned by Smederevo Vinegrowers' Cooperative once stood and grapes from there were used for production of their premium Smederevka wine labelled "Golden Hill".
As early as in 1874, M. Savić, our most prominent Serbian oenologist and agronomist, head of the Ministry of Economy and yearslong president of the Serbian Agricultural Society, noticed while visiting Orašac the quality of Belina Smederevska (or simply called Smederevka) in local vineyards if the yield is reduced:
"The predominant grape varieties are Kameničanka and some Začinak, although Mr. M. T. planted Belina Smederevska long ago and it thrives very well. The only thing I have noticed is that local Smederevka has poor vine growth and small leaves this year. Therefore, I am inclined to think that Smederevka doesn't thrive on arid positions such as Orašac hill; but even if there are fewer grapes in quantity, they will not be lacking in quality. "
He also left a testimony about the presence of Smederevka in Serbian vineyards:
"It is common in the vineyards of Smederevo, with exception of Katansko Brdo (Katansko Hill), as well as in the rest of Serbia, but only to a limited extent, although efforts are being made to spread it, both in Požarevac and in Šumadija on Orašac Hill and Risovača."
According to the research of the Center for Viticulture and Winemaking (CEVVIN), Smederevka variety is today on the 12th place in terms of its presence in commercial vineyards in Serbia. To be precise, there are157 hectares of Smederevka vineyards in Serbia.
If we speak about Smederevka, then we must also mention Godominka, a grape variety created in the experimental vineyards of Radmilovac, with the aim of improving varietal features of Smederevka. It was created by self-pollination of Smederevka, so the vine and leaf shape are very similar to Smederevka. However, the clusters and berries of Godominka are smaller, and it ripens earlier than Smederevka, so it is less susceptible to Botrytis bunch rot. The aromatic profile of Godominka is more complex than that of Smederevka, with presence of delicate floral-muscat tone.
As far as wine styles are concerned, Smederevka shows fresh, easy-drinking and crispy wines with an aromatic profile dominated by citrus notes, herbal tones and white stone fruit. The finish sparks some spiceness, very often hints of vanilla. Since it generally has very good acidity, it is also used in blends to improve freshness. In Bulgaria, winemakers are increasingly experimenting with aging Smederevka in oak and acacia barrels, whilst the first orange Smederevka wines have appeared on the market as well. It also shows good results as a basis for sparkling wine production.
In any case, Smederevka still hasn't shown its full potential if we talk about styles. At the same time, it is an important element of our wine identity that must be preserved. Creative winemakers are working hard with Smederevka nowadays to improve its reputation and bring it closer to Cortese from Gavi.
This article was originally published in the Serbian wine magazine Vino & Fino
Awarded wine writer, wine critic and contributor to selected wine magazines. WSET3-certified author and editor-in-chief of www.vinopedia.rs. Member of Vojvodina Sommelier Association. Juror in national and international wine competitions. Lecturing about wines of Serbia and the Balkans. Local partner of Wine Mosaic organization. Co-founder of International Prokupac Day.
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