Back to Serbia… four years later

Back to Serbia … four years later

By Julia Scavo DipWSET


Some history


The town of Vinča (near Belgrade) is supposed to be the cradle of Serbian wine, as grape remains and amphorae from the Neolithic were found here. Later, Sirmium (Sremska Mitrovica) was one of the four capitals of the Roman Empire and the birthplace of Prince Probus who ordered plantings in the Fruška Gora region, putting an end to the Domitian Prohibition.


The zenith of the Serbian viticulture is considered to start with the Nemanja Dynasty (XIIth century) and particularly flourish under Dušan the Might’s reign (XIVth century).


Wine industry was then slow to develop due to many crisis ( Ottoman rule, Phylloxera, Communism era when Yugoslavia used to be the world´s 5th exporter of bulk wine…).



Serbia claims 56343 ha, but real figures are closer to 25.000 ha.


More than 400 independent wineries share the market, but there are still five big producers built on the ruins of ex-communist colossus that rule the production. Family winemaking and grey wine market for domestic consumption are still a sad but true reality, so is domestic distillation, in a country where one of the most prominent beverages is still the Rakija spirit.




The Serbian wine and spirits law has been harmonized with the EC legislation. Thus, the Serbian designations correspond to the European PGIs and PDOs and use the following denominations and acronyms:

PGI = Geografska Indikacija (GI) – green seal

PDO = Kontrolirano poreklo i Kvalitet (KPK) – red seal

and Kontrolirano i Garantovano Poreklo i Kvalitet (KGKP) – violet seal

The PDOs are used for 2% of the wines only.


There are three distinct regions in Serbia all benefiting from the GI/ PGI status and being further divided into 22 Vina (KPK) and 77 Vinogorija (KGPK).


Monasteries that used to contribute to the development of the Serbian Viticulture during the Middle Ages are still involved in the production, with 60 of them actively crafting and commercializing wine.



Eminently continental, Serbian climate is moderated by the mountains that block some cold influences from the North- East and by the river Danube and its tributaries: Velika Morava, Timok etc.


Grape varieties

Serbia is home to a wealth of indigenous grape varieties together with a rich Austro-Hungarian heritage. By the 1999/2000 new international varieties were trendy and are still used on a large scale, but the country is rediscovering its native grapes as well as those many crossed varieties mainly created at the institutes of Belgrade and Novi Sad.


Main White grapes

Graševina (Riesling Italico);



Smederevka ( related to Gouais);

Župljanka = Procupac x Pinot Noir;



Muscat Krokan (Muscat Petits grains x Chasselas)



Main Red grapes

Cabernet Sauvignon;

Prokupac flagship variety also known as Rskavac, Kamenicarka, Kameniceanka… The international Prokupac day is now celebrated every 14th of October




Crna Tamjanika;


Other grapes

Neoplanta = Smederevka x Red Traminer;

Sila = Kövidenka x Chardonnay;

Bagrina (pink);

Začinak (red teinturier) ;

Bačka (red);

Probus = Kadaraka x Cabernet Sauvignon;

Negotinka = Začinac x Pinot Noir;



I will now focus on the most important wine production areas of Serbia which are:




Fruška Gora;







  1. Wines from sand – Palič


With sandy terrains from the prehistoric Pannonian Sea that helped it overcome Phylloxera, Subotica – Horgoš region is one of the most important vine- growing areas in Serbia with over 2000 years of tradition, along the border with Hungary. It consists of 3 sub- regions: Ridica, Palic and Horgoš, with Palič being the most important and famous. Viticulture then extended after phylloxera south from Subotica to the regions of Bačka and Telečka.


This land of sands also contains clay, chernozem, steppe soil, with rather flat or rolling hilly character and no barrier to the polar air from the north, which makes it of an eminently continental climate.


Čoka Cellar, Wow Winery, Palič Cellar huge producers still dwell in the area with newcomers following up or famous top producers like Vinarija Zvonko Bogdan ( eastern bank of lake Palič). Almost 450 households now own vineyards and the region is coming back on the Serbian winemaking stage.




The Austro- Hungarian heritage is represented by grapes like Kadarka, Ezerjo, Kövidinka complemented by international grapes like elsewhere in Serbia and the Balkans. The domestic Muscat Krokan (Biserno Ostrovo) and Župljanka crossings rarely bring a local taste. The region used to have a red wine blend specialty evoking the Bikavérs from Hungary: « Colt’s blood » – Zdrepceva Krv ( Vranac, Merlot, Cabernets, Muscat Hambourg, Gamay, Frankovka)


  1. Sea of Vineyards – Vršac wine route


Since Dacian and Roman times until Austro- Hungarian domination, the two Banat regions ( Banat and Southern Banat) have offered common vine growing traditions to Serbia and Romania, on the further most westward slopes of the Carpathians. Vršacki Vinogradi cooperative used to spread over 1700 ha out of the total 2100 ha of the Južni Banat on typical somonitza soil, cambisols, alluvial lands and sand. Vršac used to be the most productive region of the Austro- Hungarian Empire and one of the highly productive of whole Europe before Phylloxera. It is also here that the first vines were grafted in 1882. This is how it eventually earned its nickname as a “sea of vineyards”.




Reds are rare here and the international whites such as Muscat Ottonel, Italian Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc testify of the Austro- Hungarian past. The almost extinct “Banatski Riezling” blend of Italian Riesling, Smederevka, Župljanka, Kreaca used to combine the local colour with these influences.


  1. In the reflection of the Danube – Fruška Gora


Srem is one of the oldest and most significant regions for Serbian wine history. It is here that historians situate the planting of the first vines by Marcus Aurelius Probus (276- 282) who put an end to the Domitian prohibition and signed the birth act of Serbia as viticulture country. Nowadays, Fruška Gora is one of the most dynamic regions of Serbia, home of important wine producers with several cellars dedicated to organic, biodynamic, or orange wines.


Vineyards are situated on the slopes of the Fruška Hills, oriented towards the Danube where grapes ripen earlier due to the strong reflection of the river´s mirror. Home of more than 60 producers this is the only sub- region of Srem with vines covering slopes from 90 to 270 m on the southern exposures, between the valleys of Danube´s tributaries with some spots on the numerous plateaus.



Aromatic whites offer the local colour. This is the very region of the Graševina and maybe its birthplace. Župljanka, Sila, Neoplanta and other crossings were created at the Novi Sad institute here.

The local Bermet Vermouth (aromatized with 20 local herbs) benefits from a GI recognition. Legend has it that it was served on the wine list of Titanic, but no historic evidence was truly found.


  1. Golden Hills – Smederevo


Back to Prince Probus ‘ times, the Zlatni Berg, Golden hill is one of the five sub- regions of the Belgrade region. The Serbian capital is one of the few in Europe with vineyards on its territory. Vines are situated between the Danube and the Velika Morava ( the Great Morava confluence of the Južna and Zapadna Morava) with moderating influences from these rivers. Somonitza silt, loess, cambic soils are the main types in the region.




Smederevka grape is supposed to come from this region (as a possible offspring of Gouais). It dwells here together with international varieties, next to Prokupac and curiously complemented by some Gamay, that came here in the aftermath of Phylloxera.


  1. Royal Wines – Oplenac


We are here in the Sumadija area, known from the Middle Ages for its royal past, between Mt. Venčac and Mt. Kosmaj as parts of the old mountainous mass of the Internal Dinarides. Topola municipality is the most important part with the largest vine surface.

The region follows the Morava River together with several tributaries with altitudes approaching 1000m in some parts. Climate fluctuations due to the topography are moderated by the numerous river flows. Bordeaux blends and Cabernets are specific to the area, while Prokupac is often blended with French varieties brought here by order of King Aleksander Karadordević. He also ordered the construction of the royal cellars in Oplenac in 1931 with 45 meters long and 15 meters wide galleries. It is here that his famous cellar master Živan Tadić first crafted the “Trijumf” blend in 1932 using the original composition of  Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Blanc, and Riesling, the same that is still in use nowadays.


  1. The Rajac Pimnce – Negotin Wine Route


Along the Danube River, on the Romanian and Bulgarian borders the Negotinska Kraijna region is a treasure of Serbian viticulture since Roman times It is also one of the most important regions of Serbia stretching on the administrative territories of Negotin and Kladovo. Roglijevo- Rajac is one of the 5 sub- regions of the area.


Dramatically continental, between the mountains that create a shade to westwards milder influences, it still getting its influences from the Danube and the Timok rivers, and their confluence while the exposures are mostly eastern on the slopes of Miroč, Veliki Gerben and Deli Jovan Mountains. Due to the proximity to these mountains’ altitudes vine can climb up to 400 meters, but the region also hosts the lowest points in Serbia at 28m , next to the Danube and Timok confluence.


Alluvial, lake sediments, eruptive and some limestones spice up the sandy, still phylloxera free soil. These sands are blown by the numerous prevailing winds and snow is a very common phenomenon here.


Rajac Pimnce is a unique complex of 270 wine cellars carved into the stone, dating since the mid-1800s and up to the 1930s.  The complex has been proposed on the list of the UNESCO World Heritage. Tourists who flock here can taste and buy traditional homemade wine.




This definitely is a land of red wines. Začinack tinctorial offers deep coloured reds even when used as few as 10% in a blend. Prokupac and Vranac bring a real signature. There are some whites too: Bagrina aromatic wines from this pink skinned grape or Smederevka, without forgetting international grapes varieties too.


  1. Roman Treasure – Knjaževac


Along the upper basin of the Timok river and its tributaries, the Knjaževac region comprises four other subregions on an area neighbouring 1000 ha. With altitudes varying from 220 to 400 m this zone offers a moderate continental climate combined with volcanic rocks, limestones covered by vertisols and cambisols. Pinot Noir, Prokupac for reds, Italian Riesling and Smederevka for whites are the true values of the region. This is also the easternmost region where the Mediterranean grape variety Vranec is grown.



  1. Grapevine Capital – Župa Wine route


Although the vine growing seems to date back as far as 3000 years, the first historical evidence of the wine production come from the time of the Grand Župan Stefan Nemanja and founder of Medieval Serbia. The name Župa, of the most prominent sub- region of this area comes from the Župan title, a ruler who used to dwell upon an administrative zone, a shire of a group of villages, as it was the case here under Stefan Nemanja.

Climate is ruled by the confluence of the basins of the threes Morava rivers: The great ( Velka), the West (Zapadna) and South (Južna) Moravas. Slopes are south facing, ranging from 200 to 350 m. The mountains offer thermal shift between day and night and bring refreshing currents through the valleys. The region has distinctive Mediterranean influences and winters are mild with temperature rarely reaching – 10 C


The Župa is situated in the western (Zapadna Morava) on carbonate soils, with some typical somonitza presence.

Tamajanika and Prokupac (Rskavac) shine here along with international grape varieties.


  1. Vinarija Doja is situated in the South of Serbia, in the Toplica area owning 50 ha and including the largest surface of Prokupac owned: 12-15 ha as well as 12 ha of the aromatic Tamjanika.

Tamjanika 2021 Somehow more citrusy than a Romanian Tămâioasa, it has a tangy character of tangerine peel, white blossoms, while soft almost off- dryish with gentle acidity and zesty phenolics wrapped with texture and yet preserving a fresh crisp.

Prokupac Rosé 2021 displays a delicate nose with notes of strawberry, raspberry, and peony scents. It is dry, light, and gentle with moderately high acidity and fresh feel. Its juicy core is imbued with spices and wild herbs, its texture is lean, and the finish is lively and lingers with grapefruit peel and aromatics.

Prokupac 2019 (9 months in barrel) with some herbal notes recalling a slightly pyrazine character and some oak derived smoke, its fruit expresses wild cherries, some strawberries, and floral scents like freshly cut roses evoking Cabernet Franc. Vivacious and dry with firm tannins it is digest, spicy and offers herbal aromatics together with blossomy notes on the finish.

Reserva Prokupac (2 years in barrel) shows oak derived toast, notes of cherries, blueberries, and nice floral- herbal hints that intermingle with some savoury meaty notes. Dry, ripe with lively acidity it is lean, silky with a nice tannic grip offering moderate to elevated tannins that feel sappy while the finish is juicy. Oak is not overwhelming and adds layers of texture to a digest, mid- bodied elegant wine.

  1. Virtus Winery is located in Malava, 100 km southwards from Belgrade. This 27.5 ha winery was founded by the end of 2010. The only indigenous grape variety cultivated is Prokupac. Virtus Winery also cultivates Marselan for a pulpy, generous wine combining fleshy fruit, digest acidity and rounded tannins.

Prokupac 2018 is red fruit- oriented with red berries compote and herbal, laurel notes. The fruit development mingles with earthy tones, spices like nutmeg and liquorice on a relatively tertiary, earthy background evoking beetroot and gentian. Rich attack with fleshy core, the acidity is ripe and concentrated with refreshing cherry character . The cocoa- like tannins with dusty texture offer a mid- structured wine with elegant, layered mouthfeel and typical red fruit aromas complimented by herbs and spices.

  1. Despotika Winery is situated in the Smederevska Palanka in the northern part of Šumadija region, once coverend with dense forests. The name Šumadija actually comes from Šuma which means forest. Despotika is a young winery combining local grapes and French varieties.

Prokupac “Zmajeviti” 2020 feels earthy with notes of spices and roots, sour cherry with juicy and fresh character while the palate is ripe, with vivid acid structure, moderate tannins and lots of red fruit intermingled with spiciness.

Morava 2020 is surprisingly discreet for this complex crossing comprising Gewürztraminer in its parentage. Apple, pear, peach, some blossoms, and almonds. Dry, supple, with gentle acidity of a moderate level the wine feels digest, with its medium alcohol and mild pomaceous fruit while holding on the zesty phenolics to refresh the finish.

Orange Wine Morava 2020 (3 months on the skins and 9 months in barrique) This was one of my “coups de coeur” Its nose expresses that typical rose petals that arrive through skin contact with peaches, litchi and all the exotic character of the Morava grape. The palate is dry with pretty elevated acidity enhanced by the fine tannins. Oak derived spices, zests, ginger some tangerine peel complement the floral notes while the wine is clean and digest with a juicy finish bursting with blood orange notes.

The estate also produces a Late Harvest Morava 2020 which feels musky, and exotic packed up with honey and blossomy notes, while rather balanced on the palate.

  1. Spasic Wine house is situated in the Tre Morave area, in the Župa zone. As for the indigenous varieties, they propose a Tamjanika 2021 with blossomy nose, litchees, balsamic scents and basil with laurel, incense and tangerine zests. Dry lean and rather fresh for this grape, despite the rich alcohol its medium acidity gives a moderately high feel while enhanced by the zesty phenolics. Citrus peel finish and juicy fruity after- taste with rose petal notes.

They also propose a Bordeaux blend with a local touch from the Prokupac among others

  1. Temet – the name of the winery comes from Temetum which in Latin used to design a strong wine… Temet crafts indigenous grapes under the Tri Morave brand while the Ergo line focuses on international varieties, some blended with a domestic touch. The winery is situated in the Tre Morave region as the name of the range suggests.

Their limited-edition sparkling wine is a true success. Traditional method combining equal proportions of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir with part of the base wine in Serbian oak, this bubbly has a clean reductive style, with leesy character, vertical palate lined with fine bubbles and packed with dense texture, while the vivid acidity together with the oak- derive structure offer a true backbone. Minimalist labelling and innovative packaging.

  1. Zvonko Bogdan brings us in the northern- most part of Serbia, on the eastern bank of the Lake Palić, in a sea of vines, near the town of Subotica which also gives the name of this region. The winery boasts with its impressive Secession style building which is typical for the architecture of the area.

It all started in 2008 reviving the long- lost tradition of the Palic wines combining it with state- of- the – art French technology. With 62 hectares on the Subotica- Horgos sands, the winery spreads its vines on three sectors: Palić, Ludaš and Radić, each with a different micro- climate and style. The decision was to use international grapes together with the Frankovka – symbol of the Austro- Hungarian heritage. The labels are colourful and some express the passion of the owner for music, as he is a famous Serbian singer. The range is clear and balanced among the styles, up to the top wines under the Icon Campana brand.

  1. Matalj Vinarija is a winery with a character of its own, experimenting with different local grapes in the Negotinska Krajina. They are among the few to craft the rare Crna Tamjanika as a sweet wine, along with the flagship Prokupac, also blended with the obscure tinctorial Začinak.

Beside very good international grapes interpretation, the Bukovski blend of 70% Prokupac and 30% Začinak has lots of personalities and this 2019 perfectly takes after the Začinak character with deep colour, peppery nose, with lots of spices, deep and juicy red fruit. Its palate is structured by the acidity and the elevated, rather firm tannins, while the flashy core bursts with cherries, spices, and medicinal plants.

  1. Vino Budimir is one of the stellar estates of Serbia, a family-owned winery located in one of the oldest winemaking regions of the Balkans. Grandfather Budimir Zdravković already owned 70 ha of vines among which century old Tamjanika and Prokupac that are the focus of their wine story. Long fermentations, minimal interventions, use of old oak are part of their philosophy that they proudly continue and push that to the pinnacle. All the wines age at the estate before being released on the market with an important vintage shift compared to other wineries.


Projekt IKS 2016 is based upon 40% Prokupac blended with Bordeaux varieties (30% /30% Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot) it is floral, juicy with notes of cherries and herbal overtones. The acidity is fresh, and the tannic structure is elegant with a long spicy finish.


09 is the same blend but in magnum only, 2009 vintage with lively evolutive potpourri notes, juiciness, and velvety attack while still fresh, balanced with the polished tannins. Long, lingering with tobacco, cedar, herbal scents and blossomy overtones.


Lila is the iconic line, with Prokupac sourced from the centenary vine of the grandfather. The first vintage was 2009 while the currant vintage is the 2013 now. Floral with potpourri notes, laurel and garrigue it brings up layers of cherry with a creamy touch. Moderately high acidity with lots of vibrancy thanks to the 300 m altitude, its elegant tannins are imprinted in the texture with a slightly firm touch while the fruits burst with spiciness on the long sappy finish.


  1. Vinarija Aleksandrović is situated in Šumadija, 80 km south of Belgrade in the cradle of the Serbian Wine – the village called Vinča. Milos Aleksandrović was the founder of the Vinča cooperative in 1903. The history of the new winery is written since 2000 when the new cellar was built together with all state- of- the art technical facilities. Multi award winner they own 75 ha and craft 300000 bottles. The most treasured wine is the Trijumf produced in accordance with the original recipe from 1932. This composition was created by the Royal cellar master Zivan Tadic the famous winemaker of Karadordević.

This Trijumf is still made of 85% Sauvignon Blanc, 10% Pinot Blanc and a 5% Riesling and takes a lot after the Sauvignon Blanc character.

Aleksandrović also owns 2 ha of Prokupac crafting 8000 bottles of a Pinot Noir- style wine.

Prokupac 2018 (12 months in French oak barrel for 80% with medium toast and the rest of 20% in Slavonian oak followed by 6 months in bottle). Fresh nose, with red fruit character and meaty aromas complemented by pepper, spices, notes of dried tomato and a touch of toast. Dry elegant, juicy, and silky, the wine has moderately high and refreshing, salivating acidity with light but present tannins that bring a nice firm bite to the long crunchy and almost blossomy, herbal finish.

  1. Vinarija Aleksić – wine made by female hands. Since its foundation in 2006 Vinarija Aleksic is the story of three sisters crafting 13 labels each year in Vranjie, the south of Serbia. Medal awarded wines from the region that is the most sun- kissed in the country, blessed with the highest sunshine rate. Its production situates it in the top 10 wineries of the country, combining traditions with edge- technology facilities and for almost half million bottles of both indigenous and international varieties wines.
  2. Imperator Winery is the first Biodynamic certified winery in Serbia. It was founded in 2011 in the famous Fruška Gora region and pays tribute to the great Roman emperors born in Serbia throughout its Imperator Cuvées: Decius, Maximianus, Quintillus, Claudius, Valerius, Flavius, Gratianus and Constantius. Their award winning wines are crafeted with the following grape varieties: Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Rhine Riesling, Traminac, Sauvignon White, Sila, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Pinot Noir, Prokupac, Cabernet Franc and Vranac, all hand- picked and processed with minimal interventions in the cellar.

Their Sila is stony, reductive, and citrusy with a crispy and supple palate, lined by refreshing crunch and stony salivation on the finish. They also propose a typical Grašac and a curiosity: Vranec 2019, the Macedonian flagship grape resinous and balsamic with red fruit complemented by spices and dry ripe palate with firm tannins, generous flesh, and long spicy finish.

  1. Braća Rajković is situated in Župa, with written evidence going back as far as 1834. The region is also one of the oldest in Serbia and the Balkans with traditions mentioned since the 12th century when king Stefan Nemanja gave the land in this region to the Studenića monastery for the purpose of vine growing. The Rajković winery is located in the village of Gornje Zleginje in Župa.

Their focus is on domestic grapes among which Rskavac, Prokupac, Vranac, Bojadiser and Začinak or even the rare Crna Tamjianika.

Their Prince Rskavac 2019 matures for 9 months in French and Serbian oak barrels to offer concentrated, spicy nose with rich and layered aromas. A dry and ripe wine with high and juicy acidity, moderately elevated tannins enveloped with a generous fleshy core and resiny spicy finish.

Amazing Bordeaux blend complemented by 15- 20% Prokupac and 10% Začinak that mark the wine with spices, colour and a true spine allowing it to stay youthful despite the 2016 vintage.

Grozdana Crna Tamjanika 2018 offered a superbly resinous nose with musky flavours, rich plumy taste and muscat- like rose petals, Damascus roses and oriental spices. Sweet with gentle acidity its palate is balanced by elevated and rather tight tannins with grippy mesh caught up by a long and aromatic finish. Multi- layered wine with velvety texture and lovely floral elements.

As a conclusion, my second trip to Belgrade allowed me to draw an even richer picture of the Serbian wines than four years ago. This wine exhibition organized by the SERSA Serbian Sommelier Association in collaboration with the Balkan Sommelier Challenge´s partners brought even more wineries on the stage than in 2018. This also reflects the country´s reality where the number of registered independent wine producers has gone up from around 300 to more than 400 these 4 years.

They seem focusing increasingly on the native varieties, while not neglecting the potential of the international grapes. There is also a trend in blending the two of them. This does not apply to Prokupac almost anymore. In 2018 most of the producers blended the flagship variety with some Merlot or other French grapes. Few used to propose 100% Prokupac, such as Temet or Vino Budimir. Now all the producers tended to precise they produce pure Prokupac and felt extremely proud about that.

The oak seems to temper its influence and becomes less overwhelming, especially when it comes to the local grapes where the producers want to highlight their typicity. Bordeaux Blends still work with new French barriques, but more and more wineries start mixing them with Serbian and Slavonian wood.

Red wines are still the true value of Serbia, while the whites are clean and easy- going. Some rosés and sparkling wines complete this landscape but stay shy.

The denominations still have few visibilities, 2% of the wines only benefit from the PDOs and producers seemed to be surprised I was inquiring upon the region, area, zone, or possible denomination.

I focused on local grapes through my tasting notes, and I feel that Prokupac truly plays its role as flagship variety, also thanks to its International Day on the 14th of October that helps it spread its reputation.

I would like to congratulate the Serbian Wine producers present at this small wine exhibition, as well as the SERSA Association for their efforts and commitment and look forward to finding some of these wines in the export market soon.