Wine:Thirty Flight has dabbled in the lesser known winemaking regions (Lebanon, Turkey) of the eastern Mediterranean, but we've not yet introduced you to the Balkans. Greek wines are perhaps the best known, with their rather astringent reds and their Retsina (pardon the Wikipedia link). We recently sampled bottles from Macedonia, Slovenia, and Croatia courtesy of the Balkan Wine Project and our friend Louis at the Vineyard wine shop in McLean, VA. There's much to learn about this quite worthwhile wine!
There's great history wrapped in a wine region that most of us know very little about. Wines from the Balkan Wine Project do a nice job summarizing a touch of that history alongside varietal information and basic tasting notes on the back of each label. Let's not fail to mention, also, how affordable these wines are. Balkans and otherwise, there's great value to be had buying wine off the beaten path (thinking of you, dear Moldovan white Cab Sauv that we so fondly remember).
2015 Stobi Žilavka (Macedonia)
A single varietal white wine, the Žilavka grape is indigenous to Macedonia, produced here by the winery named for the ancient (and only partially excavated) city of Stobi. Grown in Tikves, a wine region in the central part of the country, the Žilavka is is a hot climate / deep roots kind of wine. It's aged in stainless steel, and was quite striking at the front of the palate giving us notes of citrus and an all-color medley of bright bell peppers. It's a steal at $11.99 retail.
2014 Dveri-Pax Yanez (Slovenia)
There's really interesting history wrapped up in the Dveri-Pax Winery. Billing itself as "a modern winery where wine is produced since 1139", the winery was in fact established by monks in the twelfth century. Its location within the borders of the Austrian Empire in what is now northern Slovenia was far more favorable to wine production through the centuries than what would have been if located to the south in the Ottoman Empire. This particular white wine is a blend of 40% Furmint, 40% Pinot Gris, and 20% Riesling fermented in stainless steel. A somewhat grassy nose gives way to a smooth mouthfeel and a little bit of spice throughout. It's a fresh pairing to a variety of starches and fish.
2013 Stobi Vranec (Macedonia)
Back to Stobi and Macedonia for their take on this common Balkan red grape, the 100% Vranec indigenous varietal. The recommendation from our expert was to drink this with wild boar stew and polenta (very specific if we do say). We think it would be a splendid partner for venison! Dark and earthy, there are some flavor characteristics that might remind you of a Syrah. It's worth noting that sometime while tasting this particular wine, it came up in conversation that these wines sell particularly well in Brooklyn...
2013 Trapan Terra Mare (Croatia)
The star (and by far most expensive at $37 per bottle) of the lineup, Trapan is a dark and inky red made from 100% Teran grapes native to Croatia. Produced in Istria -- that upside down triangle peninsula that extends due south into the northernmost part of the Adriatic Sea -- this wine gets some wine bona fides because actually comes from a place that was once part of Italy. That historical tidbit is a good reminder that changing borders over centuries can sometimes mean that a good wine from a country you'd least expect could have just as easily come from a country whose wine you already know well. Nice color, as I said, Trapan has great legs in the glass. It's dark, thick, and smoky, with very well defined cranberry on the palate.