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North Macedonia

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The wines of North Macedonia

A bit of history

North Macedonian wines are appearing on shelves internationally with a few big names dominating the scene. There are however some hidden gems to explore when visiting North Macedonia.

As with many countries in the Balkans, wine bars can often focus more on international brands and wines, so read on for some recommendations on what to look out for and how to discover the local wines from indigenous N Macedonian / Balkan grapes.

North Macedonian Wine Overview

  • 24,700 hectares of vines and 15,000 grape growing families and wine producers.
  • 143 official wineries (in 2023) producing over 90M litres (of which most is exported).
  • 3 Wine regions: Eastern, Western and Central (along the Vardar River that divides the the country into East & West).
  • 80% of wineries (30% of all wines production) are found in the Tikves region (Central).
  • 2 grapes: Vranec and Smederevka account for 65% of total grapes grown.
  • Around 14 wineries account for 50% of total production and 90% of exports (most of this as bulk wine).

Although most wines are grown / produced in the Tikves region (which can be visited as an easy day trip from Skopje), there are a number of wineries in / around Skopje that can be easily and affordably reached by taxi.

History & key dates

400-300 B.C. : Winemaking is believed to have taken place in N Macedonia (from archaeological finds) – Alexander the Great era.
168 BC – 395 AD : Romans continue the fun.
700-1300s : Winemaking tradition is continued and flourishes under the Orthodox Christian church.
1300s-1913 : Ottoman rule limiting winemaking to household production (however some Christian communities continued to produce wine).
1945-1990s : focus on quantity – N Macedonia accounted for 2/3 of Yugoslavian wine production.
1991 : independence after the breakup of Yugoslavia and the focus shifts to quality for both domestic and exported wines.
2020 : during covid the government supported 43 small family wineries to become officially registered increasing the total number of wineries in 2023 to 143, expected to increase to over 200 in 2024.

Fun Facts:

  • Ancient Macedonians had a god of the wine named “Dionis“. A large number of terracotta statues of Dionis from the 1st century BC can be found in the archeological site Stobi.
  • Alexander the Great is rumoured to have had a special servant called “wine pourer”, with the sole task of serving “the Great” with this beverage.
  • Plovdina, a regional red grape variety (aka Slankamenka Red) is mainly used for white table wines, however there are 2 producers making a single varietal rosé – a fun challenge to seek these out when in N Macedonia.
  • Vran” in Old Slovac means “black” and Vranec refers to a black stallion. Vranec wine is very dark, almost black, and powerful like a stallion.
  • Kamnik Winery has a shooting range on the grounds. Tasting advised after visiting the shooting range!

The Grapes of North Macedonia

The only indigenous grape to North Macedonia is Stanušina, which has previously been at risk of extinction due to the trend towards better known international grapes.
There are 423 Ha of Stanušina accounting for just 1.5% of the total grapes grown.
Being drought and pest resistant it may have a brighter future in N Macedonian winemaking

Other grapes grown in N Macedonia that are indigenous to the Balkan region are (in order of most common to rarest):
White: Smederevka (aka Dimyat), Temjanica (Muscat), Župljanika, Žilavka, Teran
Red: Vranec, Kratošija (aka Zinfandel/Primitivo), Prokupac, Plovdina

Smederevka (aka Dimyat / Plovdina in Bulgaria) – originally from Serbia, Smederevka is used for everyday dry whites & rakija. Considered a “spritz wine” (ie mix it with carbonated water), there have been efforts to increase the quality over the last 10-15 years.

Temjanika (Muscat Blanc à Petit Grains) – dry aromatic / floral whites.

Zilavka (Herzegovina origin) – often used in full bodied whites.

Vranec / Vranac – an off-spring of Zinfandel from Montenegro, it can also be found in Serbia, Kosovo, Herzegovina and Croatia.
N Macedonia has the biggest area in the world (11,000 ha vs 3,600 ha in Montenegro).
N Macedonian Vranec can be powerful (up to 17% alcohol!) although some producers are experimenting with fresher, lower alcohol versions.

Kratošija – (aka Primitivo / Zinfandel) is originally from Montenegro (not Croatia apparently).

Stanušina – N Macedonia’s only indigenous variety. Pre-phylloxera this was the main grape grown in Tikves. A durable grape used for light reds with lower alcohol and higher acid.

Zupjanka – A Serbian grape made from crossing Prokupec & Pinot Noir – used for fresh red wines.

The Styles

  • Dry, refreshing white wines (tamjanica).
  • Med-Full bodied reds from Vranac, reaching up to 17% in some cases!
  • International grapes made in a variety of styles (Viognier, Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah).
  • Outliers (orange wines, amphora wines, high altitude wines, Plovdina single varietal wines).

The Producers

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The main producers accounting for 50% of total production are :
Tikves (40M), Rigo Impeks (20M), Imako (12M), Movino (8M), Ezimit (8M), STOBI (5M), Dalvina (5M), Bovin (1M)

The number in brackets relate to the number of bottles produced annually.
Further information on these wines can be found on the excellent Wines of Macedonia website (link at end of page).

Tikveš Winery is the largest and oldest (est. 1885) winery in SE Europe and has one of the highest single vineyards in the Balkans (Domaine Barovo at 700m).
Since being purchased M6 investment group in 2003 it has led the drive for quality and invested heavily (€40M) in improving the local infrastructure and sustainability.

Select “boutique” wineries in N Macedonia:

Chateau Kamnik
Kamnik bb Skopje – map
www.chateaukamnik.com

  • They produced their first wine in 2003 for their restaurant. It was so successful that they planted vines in 2004 and started selling their wines in 2008 starting with “10 Barrels” Cab Sauv
  • They now employ 10 full time staff and produce 300,000 bottles/year.
  • With 15ha of vineyards in Skopje (+ 22ha in Veles), they also have a restaurant, hotel and shooting range!
  • Well known visitors sign the barrels which are later displayed on the walls (look out for John Malkovich’s – hint – it’s on one of the barrels on the left row).

Brzanov
ul 1 br. 4 MK, Trubarevo 1047 – map
https://brzanov.mk

  • Boutique winery founded by winemaker Antonio Brzanov in 2004 producing fewer than 15,000 bottles / year.
  • The first officially registered winery in N Macedonia.
  • Minimal intervention in the winery with only time, temperature and gravity used.
  • Striking labels from a local artist (image above).
  • The main focus and pride is in the range of Vranec (12 different bottles) which frequently win international awards (and apparently discourage other regional producers in participating).

Monastery Winery
MK, Ohrid 6000 – map
www.monasterywinery.com

  • Founded in 2019 by the Priest (right) and electronic engineer turned winemaker Stefan Kočovski (left).
  • A micro-producer of only 10,000 bottles/ year including natural wines and an experimental high-altitude, low alcohol natural Vranec (I do hope he decides to bottle and sell this).
  • An easy day drip from Ohrid, or worth visiting before arriving in Ohrid.

The events

World Vranec Day festival in early October that started in 2019

24 Hours in Skopje

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Morning

Coffee at “The Dude“, then forget wine and check out Skopje Fortress, the Old Bazaar and National gallery “Čifte Amam“ – an art gallery housed in a former Turkish Bath (Hammam).

restaurant

Lunch

Kamnik Hunters Lodge for lunch – ask to taste a selection of their wines (for groups of 6 or more, you can organise a private tasting in the winery next door).

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Afternoon

boutique Brzanov Winery is 5-10 mins away and focuses on different expressions of Vranec (as well as some off-piste orange wines).

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Evening

Wine Berry to explore the local grapes, styles and smaller producers (you could even visit at 11:00 before lunch at Kamnik to get a feel for N Macedonian wines).

Take the next day to visit some of the wineries you have discovered at Wine Berry

12 Hours in Ohrid

No trip to N Macedonia can omit Ohrid (featured image at the top of this page). While there wouldn’t be enough to fill a full day of wine tasting, there are some clear stand-out venues for wine, and a visit to Monastery Winery is highly recommended

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Morning

Visit St Cyril and the nearby castle. Perhaps even a swim in the lake.
Coffee at Fruit Box – the best coffee option in town according to Wine Fogg and the Aussie/Macedonian customer who recommended it.

restaurant

Lunch

Monastery Winery for lunch, wine tasting & cellar visit.

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Evening

Aperitif at Wine Bar Mal Svt Klement (check it’s open) before dinner at Kameo.

Restaurants, Wine bars & Wine Shops (non exhaustive):

Wine bars & Wine Shops

Restaurants

Skopje:

Wine Berry

32-36 Mitropolit Teodosij Gologanov, Skopje – map
wineberry.mk

Bar Fly

83 Orce Nikolov, Skopje – map
instagram.com/barflyskopje
While the selection by the glass isn’t as vast as Wine Berry, they have a few options and a large selection by the bottle.

Wine Bar Mal Svt Klement

8 Metodi Patche, Ohrid – map
vilamalsvetikliment.com
Unfortunately closed when Wine Fogg visited, however this wine bar is reported to serve their own wines, and a variety of other N Macedonian wines by the glass and came highly recommended by a local producer.
Open in peak tourist season. Make sure to check in advance if they are open during your visit.

Patche Wine Shop

60 Car Samoil, Ohrid – map
patchewine.com
One of the few venues in N Macedonia to be non smoking inside
Excellent selection of wines by the bottle to drink in or take away. Wines by the glass are limited to the large producers.

restaurants
Oeno

160 Boulevard Ilinden 160, Skopje – map

restaurant
Forza

12a Лондонска, Skopje – map

restaurant
El Cabron

63A Franklin Ruzvelt, Skopje – map

restaurant
Four

Str. 1732 No. 4 Skopje – map

restaurant
Kaneo

43 Kocho Racin, Ohrid
kaneorestaurant.com/

Tucked away in Keneo fishing village at the base of St John’s Church (main photo of this article), Kaneo is off the main Ohrid tourist trail, and the best restaurant in town.
A variety of local boutique wines are served by the glass – a rarity in Ohrid

Ohrid:

Wine Bar Mal Svt Klement

8 Metodi Patche, Ohrid – map
vilamalsvetikliment.com
Unfortunately closed when Wine Fogg visited, however this wine bar is reported to serve their own wines, and a variety of other N Macedonian wines by the glass and came highly recommended by a local producer.
Open in peak tourist season. Make sure to check in advance if they are open during your visit.

Patche Wine Shop

60 Car Samoil, Ohrid – map
patchewine.com
One of the few venues in N Macedonia to be non smoking inside
Excellent selection of wines by the bottle to drink in or take away. Wines by the glass are limited to the large producers.

restaurant
Kaneo

43 Kocho Racin, Ohrid
kaneorestaurant.com/

Tucked away in Keneo fishing village at the base of St John’s Church (main photo of this article), Kaneo is off the main Ohrid tourist trail, and the best restaurant in town.
A variety of local boutique wines are served by the glass – a rarity in Ohrid

Featured Wine Bar – Wine Berry

Jadranka Klaric (in photo) worked for several large local wineries before setting up a local wine bar. While the focus is on local wines, she also stocks a selection of imported wines.

Reach out in advance via Instagram and check she’s around before visiting as she can guide you through a range of local wines to introduce you to the grapes, styles and producers.

Links & Resources

winesofmacedonia.mk
A great overview of N Macedonian grapes, wines and wineries

http://winesofmacedonia.mk/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/Wines_of_Macedonia-Brochure.pdf
An overview of the Macedonian wine industry and grapes.

www.vinorandum.com/country/north-macedonia
A great site with further information on the wine regions and individual wineries.

ivanasimjanovska.com
The website of N Macedonian sommelier, wine write and contributor to Vinorandum website (above) with further information on local wines, grapes, producers and venues.