Exploring the wines of Serbia
“The perfect wine pairing for your main course of roast pork this evening would be Prokupac from the Župa sub-region of Serbia” is not a phrase that most, if any Canadian somms are saying these days. But I’m hoping this might someday change.
After exploring the wine regions of Serbia, one of the most exciting takeaways was the personal discovery of the indigenous red grape Prokupac, which is pronounced Pro-ku-patz with the “r” lightly rolled. While it was the country’s most planted red grape in the late 19th century, it sank out of favour and was uprooted for international varieties or planted on fertile flatlands and churned out as a dull red table blend or sweet rosé. But the world loves a comeback kid, and Prokupac is sitting in the corner of the ring with a towel draped around its shoulders, ready for a third round.
Like many grapes, one of its downfalls is that it can be very vigorous and over-productive — planting on fertile soils will give you lots of sugar but little else. It can also give green and astringent tannins when unripe. This tells us that plantings should stick to the warmer slopes and rockier soils of the foothills of central Serbia and avoid the more fertile flatlands of Vojvodina in the north. The two top regions for Prokupac in my opinion are Šumadija, which is about an hour south of Belgrade and encompasses Oplenac, and its hillier, often higher in elevation neighbour to the south, Morave, which contains the Župa Valley.
When planted in these areas, and with attention to yield restriction, vine age and pruning regime, Prokupac produces wines with complexity and grace. While never too deep in colour, the nose is layered with red and black fruit, oftentimes floral or herbal. A backbone of acidity is the benchmark of its structure and the best winemakers are avoiding too much oak. Prokupac is often vinified solo, which reminds me more of Cabernet Franc from the Loire, but will sometimes have other grapes blended in to give a wine more density and power.
Braća Rajković Prince Prokupac 2017, Župa Valley ($16)
This wine is 90% Prokupac, with the remainder being Merlot. Aromas abound with red cherry, wild-grown rosemary, lilac and subtle smokiness. Medium-bodied and very well balanced, though it finishes quite fresh. After a drive up into the hills to see the vineyard (12 ha total are owned by Rajković), I can see why: the site faces the late fall sun but the diurnal swing is quite pronounced, I’m told. Outstanding wines are made by these two brothers, which should be well received by wine lovers abroad.
Ivanovic Prokupac 2017, Župa Valley ($19)
Contains 15% Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, which adds a deeper hue in the glass. The aromas are led by both red and black cherries, savoury herbs, a light turned earthy note and a warmth of spice from Serbian oak. The palate is harmonious, with all things in their place. Showy and fleshier than some Prokupac, but still vibrant. This is from the western side of the Župa Valley near the city of Aleksandrovac.