Part of the reason I am in Macedonia, is to interview people on whether they believe that Macedonian wine is about to make a bid for world domination.
We’re heading to the wine region tomorrow, after a failed day of getting quotes and drinking enough wine to really have formed an opinion of the grape. I tried last night, when I stopped by a cafe to have a dish of tomatoes (vegetarian food is scant in the Balkans). I ordered wine but was presented with a small bottle of dark brown beer. I redoubled my efforts at breakfast, but ended up with an espresso instead.
This afternoon, I drove to the small town of Naum, home to a patron saint of Maceconia and parked the car 100m from the border. We had just hiked up an incredibly steep sided mountain, and from the top had seen the snow crested mountains of the Macedonian-Albanian border. On top of the mountain the hill flowers were plentiful. Scattered blooms of purple and yellow carpeted the Alpine-enque, meadows, and in the distance the crowds rolled off Lake Prespa and Lake Ohrid to reveal their stony blue depths.
It was an incredible climb, but still, no wine.
We drove to the edge of Macedonia and clambered out of the car to hike towards the Albanian border. Was the wine any better on this side? After a quick stamp and a restrained laugh from two border agents who thought we had walked all the way from Skopje to Albania to try the wine (an easy possibility to misunderstand), we walked to the closest border town to try a glass of red. Again, only gin, or beer.
The beach was deserted and the cold seemed to roll in off the waves. Two children built sandcastles surrounded by litter. Albania’s lack of a bottle of drinkable plonk childishly turned me against the country.
And then, on the trip back from Albania to Ohrid in Macedonia, we spotted a supermarket. Inside were hundreds of bottles of wine made with the dry Vranec grape, supposedly Macedonia’s choicest wine to export. We stocked up and cracked open the 150 den (2 pound) bottle.
It was vinegary and dry at the same time. I had made the mistake of eating a square of dark chocolate while I drank the wine, which made it taste like red wine vinegar that you might add to a stew to give it depth of flavour. I’m drinking it because I like red wine, and after two days of trying to hunt down a glass of red, I feel like a man desperately searching for aqua vitae.
The premise of my articles on Macedonia are built on the basis that their red wine might provide the future of their economy. Who knows? It’s certainly drinkable and for some people, eminently so. But my humble opinion of the drink that used to flow across the whole of Yugoslavia is that it’s a tad sour and I might stick with the epically brown beer from here on in.