What unites small, relatively obscure Balkan nations such as Macedonia, Slovenia and Croatia? All of them have significant wine cultures and derive some of their annual gross domestic product (GDP) from wine exports.
Take a walk into the average wine store in the United States, and you’ll see aisles of vintages from places like Australia, France, Spain and Italy. You may or may not see a large number of wines from near the former Yugoslavia and around the Balkan region of Europe. But the output is there, and Balkan vintners are finding a global audience.
“Macedonia makes pretty good wines. … Greece makes some of the best wines in the world,” Barney Lehrer, a professional wine aficionado, told Balkan Business Wire. Lehrer also cited Slovenia as a major wine exporter in the Balkan community.
“They’re getting more modernized,” Lehrer said of some regional wine makers. “They’re getting investments … they’re trying to export.”
Mentioning an anecdotal case of a Balkan telecom magnate investing in wine making there, Lehrer said there are big opportunities to help local producers expand their audiences.
And, he said, while getting on US store shelves helps, each market has its own demographics in terms of exports. For example, he said Macedonia’s biggest market is Germany, a populous country where the average citizen enjoys a good bottle.
Intra-European markets may also be favorable due to the familiarity of residents with wine cultures across the continent. In the US, Lehrer said, many consumers won’t really be familiar with Balkan brands.
“If they see there’s a wine from (some Balkan country), they’re going to be scratching their heads,” Lehrer said.
In terms of larger commercial production and export, Lehrer said Greece stands out, partly because of European Union backing and the country’s international reputation for Mediterranean food and drink cultures.
A range of websites dedicated to Balkan wines show off some of the top names across the region, from the heavy red vranac of Montenegro to a Greek assyrtiko described by Punch magazine as “brisk and lemony” in its best forms.