Wine geeks – unite! The following is a little guide to Serbian wine making, vineyards, wineries, and of course – wine!
Serbia is a great representative of winemaking in the Balkan region, with specific terroirs and a mild and comfortable climate, lending themselves to the successful cultivation of both indigenous and international varietals.
These are complemented by a very traditional and often unique approach to winemaking itself, resulting in some wonderful Serbian wines you simply must experience if you’re visiting!
A Brief History of Serbian Wine
The history of Serbian wine begins before the Serbian people inhabited the territory currently known as Serbia.
As far back as the 5th century BC, Greeks brought vines and winemaking to the geographical region that is Serbia currently, whereas up to then, the peoples living here were drinking drinks made of fermented grains, something like beer.
Various amphorae (clay vessels used for winemaking) were also found during excavations of archeological sites around Serbia, their markings signaling that wine was brought here, mostly from Thassos, an island in Greece.
In the 1st century AD, the Roman emperor Domitian established a monopoly on wine, thanks to which no Roman province other than Italy, where he had personal vineyards, was allowed to produce wine – the future territory of Serbia being among them.
This legislation was finally removed in the 3rd century AD by Marcus Aurelius Probus, born in Sirmium, a Roman city on the territory of today’s Serbia. He planted the first vine on the slopes of Mons Aureus in Fruška Gora, which is regarded as the beginning of winemaking in Serbia.
Marcus Aurelius Probus also started vineyards in various Serbian territories and a varietal named Probus was engineered in Serbia in his honor in more recent times. (Editor’s note: There’s also a very tasty winery in Sremski Karlovci dedicated to him, included on this wonderful day trip from Belgrade which I did last year)
When the Serbian people migrated to the region of the Balkan peninsula in the 6th century AD, they didn’t bring with them a culture of wine, but under the process of Christianization spearheaded by the Byzantine Empire, the Serbian people soon accepted wine along with Christianity, as wine has always played a central role in Christianity.
In the 12th century, when the Nemanjić dynasty came to power in Serbia, winemaking gained much more significance. At this time, wine was mostly being produced by monasteries, which would often receive vineyards as a gift from the ruling classes, including the Nemanjić family.
In the 14th century, one of the most influential Serbian rulers, Tsar Dušan the Great, published the first written legislation in the country in the form of Dušanov Zapisnik, and this text contained, amongst other things, the first laws reminiscent of today’s geographical protection of wines in Serbia. All medieval Serbian rulers were very attentive to Serbian vineyards which laid the foundation for winemaking today.
Wine production was brought to a stop by the Ottoman Empire’s conquering of Serbia in the 14th century, since Islam prohibits alcohol consumption.
At this time, the Ottoman Empire tried hard to destroy Serbian vineyards, even going as far as recruiting special militant forces whose sole purpose was the destruction of vineyards. As Serbs moved north in an attempt to escape the Ottoman Empire, they moved with them the wine production from the central and southern regions of Serbia where it was once most prominent.
There are records suggesting Serbian government officials would bring barrels of bermet and ausburh (two special Serbian wine varietals) with them to the Austrian court to curry favor with the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Around 1880, the Serbian vineyards were struck down by Phylloxera, a virus which attacked many European wine regions, but the vineyards were rehabilitated in the following years.
Despite all of the hardships Serbian vineyards have endured, they persist even today.
Indigenous Serbian wine varietals
About half a million tons of wine grapes are produced annually and in 2004, a total of 1.5 million liters of wine were produced. Currently, there are around 700 different wines being produced in Serbia.
Although there are several indigenous Serbian varietals, which will be listed down below, it’s important to note some history: these species were grown, alongside international ones, from the beginning of winemaking history in Serbia up to around the 1960s, when old vineyards were torn down in order to make room for growing large amounts of international varietals.
At this point, wines from Yugoslavia weren’t exactly known for their quality. At the beginning of the 21st century, old ways of winemaking were revived in Serbia, with small wineries bringing back indigenous species and reinstating the quality of Serbian wines. Most of these varietals are several hundred years old. Listed below are confirmed Serbian indigenous wine grapes:
– Prokupac – Rumored to be the favorite wine of Tsar Lazar (one of Serbia’s most influential monarchs), this Serbian varietal produces a medium-bodied red wine high in tannins, with medium alcoholic content and notes of cherries, red fruits, and even roses. Serbian Prokupac historically been used to produce rosé, but it also makes for a fine red wine.
– Vranac – this is a red wine that contains high levels of acidity and tannins, which is tamed by aging the wine in oak barrels. Younger wines made from this varietal have a lovely purple color, but with aging they turn ruby red. The notes in this wine are cinnamon, chocolate, licorice, flowers, dark fruit, herbs, and oak.
– Tamjanika (also written Tamnjanika)– Okay, so Tamjanika might not be completely indigenous. It’s a local clone of a White Muscat, but it’s been grown on Serbian terrain for so long, we’ve kind of adopted it, plus the wines made from this varietal differ significantly from wines made from Muscat.
The wines produced are dry whites, with notes of muscat, fruits and flowers, perfume notes, herbs, grapefruit, tangerine, and orange peel. There’s even a bubbly version! There are also red grape versions of Tamjanika, but the white takes the cake (and I don’t only say that because white Tamjanika is my personal favorite Serbian wine… Okay maybe I do!)
– Smederevka – This varietal is described by some as the most underrated wine in Serbia. It’s a light white, high in acidity and alcohol, with tasting notes of tropical and stone fruits, underlined by a zesty citrus note.
– Krstač – Krst means cross, and the shape of this grape is reminiscent of a cross, which is where it gets its name. This wine is a dry white, light golden in color with a green hue. Tasting notes include ripe peaches and pears. It’s light and fresh, with a nice acidic tang to it. Yum! This varietal is also widely grown in Montenegro.
– Dinka – Also known as Gewürztraminer or simply Traminer in different regions where it’s grown, like Hungary and Germany, this varietal is obviously not strictly a Serbian native grape. There are white wines as well as rosés, and the wine is full-bodied, with notes of rose, ginger, honey and orange peel, complementing grapefruit, lychee and peach fruit.
– Special note: Bermet – Bermet isn’t a varietal but rather a specially made wine. Its base can be either a red or white wine and different vintners use different kinds of wine. It gets its specific aroma by maceration with over 20 different herbs and spices.
The actual recipe is completely secret, held only by a couple of vintners from the Fruška Gora region (one of Serbia’s main winemaking regions). (Editor’s Note: We met one on this Fruska Gora winery tour and tried her bermet – it was lovely!)
According to some documents, it was served in the Viennese court (and used as a means of bribery, as mentioned above), and also the Titanic! I think the thought of all of that Bermet sinking hurts more than Jack and Rose’s love story. Anyway, its home is in Sremski Karlovci, although you can get your hands on a bottle in most places in Serbia.
Best Serbian Wineries
There are several distinguished wine regions in Serbia, and the northern parts of the country are quite well known for their wine production.
There are a total of nine scenic and absolutely delicious wine routes and those are (north to south): Palić, Fruška Gora, Vršac, Smederevo, Negotin, Oplenac, Knjaževac, Župa, and Niš/Kragujevac. Just some of the best wineries in Serbia are:
– Aleksandrović – Located in the Vinča region in Šumadija (known for its wine production dating back many centuries), this winery, run by third generation vintners from the Aleksandrović family, has been around for over 100 years. The winery itself won the category of best winery in Serbia for 2018, their Regent Reserve blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon was crowned best Serbian red in 2018, and the Trijumf Noir bubbly won its category in the same year.
– Zvonko Bogdan – Located on the banks of Lake Palić, this relatively young winery, founded in 2008 and built in the style of the Secession, is constantly on the lists of best wines and wineries in Serbia. Mixing the amazing potential of the Palić region and modern French winemaking technology, it’s no wonder that Zvonko Bogdan wines are highly decorated with multiple awards, from the region and beyond. One of the best wines coming from these cellars is the Cuvee No. 1.
– Kovačević – Over 100 years old, this winery, located in Irig on the mild slopes of Fruška Gora – one of the best wine regions in Serbia – combines the old and new in its wines. The terroir of Fruška Gora is specific since it was an island in the Pannonian Sea millions of years ago, which left the terrain very fruitful and rich. Their Chardonnay is consistently winning the best white of Serbia.
– Temet Winery – Located in the fruitful Three Moravas wine region, which is bordered by the three Morava rivers in Serbia – West, South and Great Morava – this winery’s name is derived from the latin temetum meaning strong wine with character. If you’re looking to try one of the indigenous species, their Tri Morave white, crowned best in that category, blends the tamjanika varietal with two other varietals from the region and is, in strictly wine expert terms – awesome.
– Hilandar Winery – As I’ve mentioned above, Serbian wine tradition is closely tied to Christianity and monasteries, and many monastery wineries persist to this day. The monastery of Hilandar is one of the most historically significant places in Serbia, and the Nemanjić dynasty mentioned above was closely tied to it. Hilandar’s wine production dates back to 1198!
There are several vineyards in the monastery’s possession, some of which serve to make wine for the monks’ consumption. The wines coming from Savino Polje (named in honor of Saint Sava, an incredibly important figure in Serbian history coming from the Nemanjić dynasty) are all premium quality, while the others are quite good, although they may not be quite as distinguished.
Some other worthwhile wineries in Serbia include Doja, Mačkov Podrum, Erdevik (their Roza Nostra rose won best in that category two years in a row), Bikicki and wines from the Župa region (which has one of the oldest traditions) like the Minić winery.
Wine Bars in Belgrade
Okay, after all of that studying it’s time for the fun part – getting drunk! I mean, tasting all of that wine!
You can, of course, opt for a wine route, but if you’re staying in Belgrade the great thing is all of those wines are available to you in these awesome Belgrade wine bars I’ll recommend, and they come equipped with experts that will help you find something to suit your palette:
– Cveće zla
– Podrum Wine Art
– Wine Lab
– Vinoteka Savamala Bar and Shop
– Pampour Bar
– Vino Grad
Some of my favorite Serbian wines
I’ve listed some of the best wines from Serbia according to experts above, but I thought I would also let you know about my favorites, which happen to be a little bit better suited to a student’s budget (if you know what I mean).
You can find most of these in better-equipped supermarkets all over like Maxi, Idea, and Mercator, and you’ll be happy to know that there’s a very wide range of Serbian wines around and below the 10 euro mark available.
- Portogizer – Mačkov podrum Winery (about 5 euro),
- 8 tamburaša – Zvonko Bogdan Winery (about 8 euro),
- Tri roze koze Rose – Erdevik Winery (about 8 euro),
- Enigma White or Rose – Doja Winery (about 4 euro),
- Tri Morave Tamjanika – Temet Winery (about 11 euro, or 20 for the bubbly version).
I hope this introduction to Serbian winemaking inspires you upon your next visit to drink your pants off – err, I mean, savor these lovely and unique wines!
5 Things You Shouldn’t Forget to Pack For Serbia
We have a full Serbia packing list, but in case you just want the quick version, here are a few essentials you shouldn’t forget to pack!
A good guidebook: While travel blogs are great, we still think a good guidebook is always handy. Lonely Planet Western Balkans is the main guidebook we recommend for Serbia, as it covers the country well plus others in the region.
Pacsafe Citysafe or Other Anti-Theft Bag: This is the bag both Stephanie and I use. It has a pouch with RFID technology so our credit cards can’t get scanned from afar, interlocking zippers to make it harder to pickpocket, and it’s roomy enough to be a perfect sightseeing day bag. If you’d rather bring something smaller, you can pack a money belt instead.
We feel quite safe in Belgrade, which is not overly touristic and full of pickpockets, but we wear it and suggest it all the same.
Grayl Water Filter: Being on the road means staying hydrated. If you want to avoid having to buy lots of single-use plastic water bottles, bring a reusable one with you.
If you’re concerned about drinking the local tap water (or you don’t love the taste) grab one with a reusable water filter built right in. While tap water in Serbia is drinkable in general, there may be small towns where it’s not recommended, so it can come in handy. I always ask a local about the tap water conditions and what they recommend.
Unlocked Cell Phone: Stephanie and I both have unlocked cell phones that we bought in Europe (She uses a Samsung and I use an iPhone). This allows up to get sim cards when we travel so that we always have the internet. We wrote a guide to picking up SIM cards in Serbia, as it’s really quite simple!
Being able to pick up a Serbian SIM card is a great way to stay in touch while on the road. If you don’t have an unlocked cell phone that can use a Serbian SIM card, you can buy a cheaper unlocked phone online and bring it with you!
Travel Insurance: We recommend it for everywhere we go! We suggest World Nomads and go into more detail about why at the end of the post.
Where to Stay in Belgrade
Here are our top recommendations for where to stay in Belgrade. If you’ll also be in Novi Sad, you can see our recommendations at the bottom of this post.
Budget: If you want a cozy feeling hostel, Hostel Home Sweet Home in the Savamala neighborhood of Belgrade is a fantastic choice. Its central location close to Knez Mihailova Street and other Belgrade must-sees makes staying here ultra-convenient. It’s sunny and open, with options for dorm rooms as well as affordable single and double rooms for travelers who want a little more privacy without paying a fortune. It’s one of the best-rated options in town, so we recommend you check out availability and book in advance here.
Mid-Range: If you want a more traditional accommodation option, we recommend the affordable four-star Zepter Hotel on Terazije, one of our favorite streets in all of Belgrade. It has all the amenities you’d expect from a 4-star hotel, like a gym room, in-room coffee machine, and a fantastic daily breakfast. Rooms sell out often, so check out availability and book in advance.
Luxury: We’d be remiss if we didn’t suggest the classic luxury option in Belgrade, Hotel Moskva– one of our favorite buildings in the city and a classic haunt of famous politicians, musicians, actors, and other celebrities who pass through Belgrade. It’s also surprisingly affordable for its caliber! With a renowned spa, delicious restaurant, and beautifully designed rooms, it’s one of our favorite places in Belgrade and the location is unbeatable. However, it’s almost always sold out, so be sure to check availability and book well in advance and hope you get lucky!
Still looking? Check out our full guide to Belgrade Hotels and Hostels.
More Serbia Travel Resources
If you only have one day, check out our Belgrade itinerary for 24 hours in the city.
We also have a Serbian souvenir guide if you want to do some shopping.
Headed to Serbia? Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
If you’re planning a trip to Serbia, it’s a good idea to travel with a valid travel insurance policy, so that you will be covered in case of an emergency. Travel insurance covers you in case of theft or an accident, which can save your trip if there’s an incident, cancellation, or trip interruption.
For travel insurance, I use World Nomads. I’ve been a happy customer of theirs for almost three years, and I’m happy to refer them to anyone I meet.
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Marija was born and raised in Belgrade, where she is currently living and attending medical school. She listens to way too many podcasts, adores all furry creatures, cozy afternoons snuggled up with a book, and spending time with friends over really good wine.