Serbia is a country in the south-east of Europe, geographically the largest of the former Yugoslav states and still the most productive in wine terms.
Like the Republic of Macedonia, its southern neighbor, Serbia is landlocked. It has no fewer than eight international borders, or potentially nine, depending on whether Kosovo is treated as independent. It lies between the northern latitudes of 41 and 47 degrees, placing it comfortably within the 'Wine Belt' – the latitudes within which quality viniculture is deemed practicable. In Western Europe this location corresponds to the area bounded by France's Loire valley in the north and Spain's Duero (home to Rueda and Ribera del Duero) in the south. In terms of topography, the land is quite varied, rising from 200ft to 7055ft (600m to 2150m) across the country. The greatest contrast is between Vojvodina province in the north, which lies entirely within the Central European Pannonian Plain, and the southernmost Carpathian Mountains in the east.
© M.Candir / Matalj Winery
The Serbian wine regions are not as clearly defined as those in countries with more developed wine industries. Roughly speaking, the country's key viticultural areas follow the path of the Velika Morava river as it approaches its confluence with the Danube, 120km north of its origin at Stalac in central Serbia. The Velika Morava is not to be confused with the longer Morava river that rises in Moravia (the region of the Czech Republic to which it gives its name) and flows into the Danube just west of Bratislava, western Slovakia.
The most planted wine grape here is Smederevka, a local variety known for producing large quantities of unremarkable white wine. To increase the potential interest of the final wine, Smederevka is often blended with Laski Riesling (Welschriesling). Regular Riesling (Rhine Riesling) and Sauvignon Blanc are among the more interesting white wines produced in Serbia, while the reds are based on the native Prokupac, grown alongside increasing quantities of French 'international' varieties such as Pinot Noir, Gamay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. In the Prokupac heartland, to the south of the Serbian capital, Belgrade, the variety is thought by some to be Syrah by another name. DNA analysis has yet to confirm this, but there are unquestionable organoleptic similarities between Prokupac wine and Syrah wine.
Serbian wine is not often seen on international markets, although there is no question that it has the potential for high-quality viniculture. The over-riding factor in this is the political and cultural unrest that has been so persistent in this region for centuries. War and instability do little to encourage winemaking; not only do they make vineyards appear as risky, long-term investments, they also dull the inspiration required to tend vines and turn their fruit into wine. Serbia's yet-unrealized vinicultural potential might be taken as a centuries-old manifestation of this fact, but we need only look to wartime France to see how even stalwart wine economies can be thrown into disarray by war.
Most wine literature focuses on the natural forces involved in wine: the climatological (temperature, sunshine hours, wind, rain), the geological (topography, aspect, soil composition) and the biological (vine characteristics, varietal qualities), but very little examines man's relationship with wine and the vine at its most basic level. Without stability and creative freedom, wine production rarely progresses beyond the limits of necessity. This is borne out by the disparity between the ancient and modern winemaking activities in Serbia, and all across the Balkan states. When a workable solution is found for the political situation in this region, Serbia may well emerge as one of Europe's great wine regions. The website Vinopedia is devoted to that future hope.