The New York-based Winebow Inc. has long had a reputation as one of the nation's key importers of high-quality Italian wines (among others). Recognizing the potential in vineyard properties in some of the countries east of Italy, across the Adriatic, that used to be part of Yugoslavia, Winebow has launched what they call The Balkan Wine Project. This is an initiative to bring in wines from — for now — six different producers in Croatia (the newest member of the European Community, as of July 1), Serbia, and Montenegro.
I tasted three of these recently, and while they are priced a little more aggressively than I'd like in comparison to wine of equivalent quality and character from Italy, I enjoyed them all.
Bruno Trapan Istria Pontenta Malvazija 2011 ($20). Croatia produces excellent white wines, including those made from two different types of malvazija (known elsewhere in the wine world as malvasia): that from the vicinity of the historic walled city of Dubrovnik, in southern coastal Croatia, and the kind represented here, from the triangular-shaped Istrian peninsula in the north. I prefer the Dubrovnik variety, for its liveliness and mineral tang, but Trapan's Istrian malvazija is very pleasant, fresh and herbaceous, reasonably dense on the palate, and lusciously fruity.
Margus Margi Riesling 2008, Vino Budimir ($23). Budimir, in Serbia, is an ancient winery in Balkan terms, dating back more than a century, and this riesling is a beautifully made wine, unusually tart but with otherwise in perfect balance, with plenty of fruit. Wines made from the riesling grape are often said to have a hint of gasoline in the nose (this is not considered a fault); in this case, I'd say the aroma is more like that of peppery olive oil.
Milijan Jelić Morava 2011 ($24). The rare morava grape is the offspring of riesling and one or more indigenous Serbian varieties. The wine is pale in color, with a nose that suggests a bouquet of fresh herbs macerated in muscat and a grapey flavor with a crisp, clean edge.
Though it's not a part of the Winebow initiative, another wine from a corner of the ex-Yugoslavia also came my way recently:
Plantaže Sasso Negro 2010 ($14). This one is made in the mountainous Montenegro, a well-crafted 60/40 blend of vranac, the region's main red wine variety, and syrah. The wine is inky dark, tannic, dense, and spicy, with a faint overripe character. Good barbecue wine.