Monthly Archives: June 2011

A New Frontier – Part 3

14 June 2011

In addition to the wines from Ivanović and Botunjac, which come from the Zapadna Morava region of Serbia, we tried two wines from the town of Vršac in Banat. This northeastern wine region (once the largest in Europe) has produced wine since at least the 15th Century, and likely much longer. Vineyards decorate the town’s 1804 coat of arms, as does a sword flinging a bleeding, severed head. Clearly this is a wine region to be reckoned with.


A New Frontier – Part 2

11 June 2011

After tasting two unique and delicious Serbian varieties, I was excited to see what some of this country’s most thoughtful winemakers could do with more well-known grapes. Could they hold their own on the international market?

The 2009 Botunjac “Rasplet” Reserve Riesling certainly could. It seemed hardly believable that this dry, character-rich wine came from the same variety that ends up in Schmitt Söhne. A very pale gold, this Riesling had a rather alcoholic nose of apples, and rich, musky-dusky flavors of pear with a touch of resin and a whisper of yeast. I have never visited Serbia, but I have to imagine the rich, dry and stylistically unusual Rasplet to be very expressive of its terroir. It worked wonderfully with smoky, slightly spicy Serbian sremska sausage.

The vintner, Kosta Botunjac, certainly takes great care making his wines. He comes from a family of dedicated winemakers; while in a German POW camp in 1942, his grandfather Dragomir managed to send a postcard home with instructions for making the Pinot Noir. (more…)

A New Frontier – Part 1

9 June 2011

Since the 2007 Jović Vranac currently stands as the highest-rated wine on this (newish) blog, I was delighted when the importer, Goran Sevic of Vino et Spiritus, invited me to taste more of his Serbian wine portfolio. It’s rare to find even one bottle of Serbian wine — wine regions like Banat, Timok and Zapadna Morava don’t leap readily to the tongue — let alone have the opportunity to taste several all together. Fortunately the food poisoning I’d experienced the day before the tasting abated, and I paid Mr. Sevic a visit.

We couldn’t be expected to taste all this wine on an empty stomach, a most hospitable Mr. Sevic declared, and he produced a beautiful board of Serbian sremska sausage, Serbian pancetta, Italian sausage, Jarlsberg cheese and slices of baguette. Unsure how my almost entirely empty stomach would respond, I started with a bit of baguette. Reassured by my gastric non-reaction, I sampled the first wine.

We started with a 2009 Ivanović Tamianika from Zapadna Morava in southern Serbia. My research yielded little about this Serbian variety (more commonly spelled “Tamjanika”), other than that it’s a relative of Muscat. Mr. Sevic, and the wine’s label, for that matter, confirmed this fact. Wikipedia asserts it came from southern France to Serbia 500 years ago, but it cites no source for this information.

A blog I found notes that some people find it smells like incense, and indeed, tamjan is the Serbian word for incense, according Google Translate.

I didn’t detect incense in the nose of the pale yellow Tamianika (actually a blend of 85% Tamianika and 15% Riesling); I got a wonderful whiff of ripe pineapple and wet stone. Flavors of apple transformed into something spicy. Incense? Perhaps, but to me the spiciness tasted almost like ginger. The Tamianika finished with some bracing minerals, completing a wonderful ride.

The Ivanović winery had stagnated under communism, but vintner Dragoslav Ivanović found his grandfather’s old winemaking notes and rejuvenated the family business, creating small-batch, organic wines sourced from nine tiny vineyards in Zapadna Morava, each under an acre. (The wines are not certified organic, incidentally, because Mr. Ivanović would “rather buy his wife a new dress than pay for certification,” according to Mr. Sevic.) Mr. Ivanović’s care clearly shows; his expressive Tamianika tasted delicious.

We tasted another wine produced by Ivanović, the 2008 Prokupac, a blend of 85% Prokupac, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Merlot sourced from just 5.6 acres in the same area. This chewy, tannic, dark red wine featured a heady nose of leather and brandied cherries, and flavors of red meat, tobacco and ripe raspberries. It tasted even bigger when paired with the smoky Serbian sremska sausage. Prokupac clearly warranted some additional investigation.

Wine Searcher offers precious little about the Prokupac grape, and Wikipedia and the Oxford Companion to Wine (via Wine Pros) offer little more. Vino et Spiritus writes that Prokupac is an indigenous Serbian variety, which, according to Wikipedia, dates back to the Middle Ages. Though almost entirely unknown outside its homeland, I hope we’ll see more of this variety on the market in years to come.

Up Next: What Serbia can do with Riesling, Blaufränkisch, Vranac and the ever-fickle Pinot Noir.


2009 Ivanović Tamianika: An aromatic, complex delight with flavors of apple, ginger and stone. Chill, and remove from the refrigerator 5-10 minutes before serving.

Grade: A-

2008 Ivanović Prokupac: A chewy, hearty, meaty red, tasty with smoked sausage and surely also with steak or pork. Chill in the refrigerator about 10 minutes before serving.

Grade: B

Find It: The wines of Vino et Spiritus imports can be found for sale at City Fresh, Adriatic Café Restaurant, Theater Café, Beograd Café, Boem Restaurant and Zupa Restaurant.

The Second-Most Aristocratic Sangria

6 June 2011

Sangria my not be the oddest thing I’ve discussed on this blog, but it’s undeniably unusual to find really high-quality sangria. Indeed, “high-quality sangria” may seem like an oxymoron to those accustomed to flabby, sugared-up red wine swirled with some mealy apples and orange peel. But sangria can be a wonderful and even complex drink, worth making with care.

Vincent Astor made perhaps the most infamously high-quality sangria in history. According to Eric Felten, writing for the Wall Street Journal in 2007, “Astor was known to astonish waiters by asking for a bottle of Dom Perignon, a bottle of 1947 La Tâche (one of the great vintages of that fine Burgundy) and then instructing them to mix the wines together with cucumbers and plenty of fruit to make the most aristocratic of Sangrias.”

Fortunately for those of us without seven-figure salaries, it’s not necessary to purchase a bottle of La Tâche to make delicious sangria. What is necessary is a fruity, robust wine you would enjoy drinking on its own. If it’s not able to stand on its own in a glass, it won’t support the weight of a punch bowl.

I chose a 2010 Venta Morales Tempranillo from the D.O. of La Mancha in Spain. La Mancha, stretching from just south of Madrid to the foothills of the Sierra Morena north of Cordoba, is the world’s largest contiguous wine growing region. Relatively undistinguished white wines dominate La Mancha, with only about 1/5 of its area devoted to reds. The Venta Morales, according to the label, comes from vineyards near the village of Villanueva, “…handcrafted in small batches to insure the highest quality possible.”

On sale at Whole Foods for $6.29 a bottle — and that’s before a 20% case discount was factored in — the Venta Morales seemed worth a risk. With plums on the nose, this deep magenta Tempranillo offered surprising tannins, a medium body and flavors of raspberry jam with a touch of oak. Paired with a hearty Pappa al Pomodoro (Tuscan tomato/bread soup), the wine developed distinct notes of spicy white pepper. Dry, tannic and fruity, it seemed just right for making sangria.

A Google search yields a multitude of sangria recipes, and there are easily as many non-digitized versions in cocktail books of varying wisdom. My Mr. Boston Official Bartender’s and Party Guide, for example, recommends adding “Other fruits as desired (bananas, strawberries, etc.).” As much as I enjoy an unusual cocktail from time to time, I draw the line at mixing bananas and wine.

I prefer a modification of Eric Felten’s recipe, restrained to citrus fruits and peaches:

2 bottles robust red wine (chilled)

2 white peaches

1 red- or pink-skinned apple

1 green-skinned apple

3 oranges

3 lemons

1/2 cup triple sec or other orange liqueur

1/2 cup brandy

1/4 to 1/2 cup sugar (to taste)

A few drops of lychee liqueur or rose water (to taste)

Slice one orange and one lemon into rounds, and gently macerate with the sugar in a large bowl, keeping the flesh relatively intact. Squeeze in the juice of the remaining oranges and lemons. Dice the white peaches and the apples and add them to the bowl. Add the triple sec, brandy and a few drops of lychee liquor or rose water (adding a floral touch to the nose), stir, cover, and refrigerate for three or more hours.

Combine all the ingredients in a punch bowl, floating the orange and lemon rounds on top. To keep cool, drop in a single large chunk of ice, rather than many small cubes. One large ice chunk, about the size of a fist, dilutes the sangria more slowly than faster-melting cubes.

A tannic Tempranillo should keep things grounded, the citrus adds sweetness and texture, and the peaches and lychee/rose water provide some floral notes at the top. It’s a delightful drink, and I think Vincent Astor himself might have enjoyed it.


2010 Venta Morales Tempranillo: Fruity, some tannins, a bit spicy and very inexpensive — perfect for sangria.

Grade: B

Find It: I purchased this wine at Whole Foods Market Evanston South for a little over $5 per bottle, but $7 seems to be a more representative price.

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