So, I've been on the road in Macedonia for the last twelve days, tasting fermenting Temjanika and dodging thunder storms. 2014 has not been for the faint hearted or panic prone. As in other areas of the Balkans, it's been an incredibly tough year for growers.
In the districts of Veles and Tikveš, the majority of producers got their white varieties in before the early September rains but the reds have been a different story. Rot is the big issue. Additional sprayings have been needed throughout the year, Bordeaux mix mainly against powdery and downy mildew, but torrential rains on the eve of harvest have drenched and damaged the fruit.
While oenologists nervously pace around their cellars, peaking out at the vast grey expanse above, Chardonnay, Temjanika, Sauvignon Blanc and Žilavka are undergoing fermentation. They shouldn't be too bad this year though. Brix levels were fairly normal as they went to press and tasting from the tank, the evolution of the varietals looks promising. Even the very first Viognier in the country, from young vineyards in Ovce Pole, is full of floral and stone fruit character.
Such sheltering from the elements presents an opportunity to taste last year's reds. Depending on the style, decisions on when to bottle and when enough oak is enough are being made. Vranec, the main red grape planted in Macedonia is starting to soften, it's sharper edges polished. It's a variety that is notoriously boisterous; acidity, colour and tannin are the hall marks of this somewhat confusing offspring of Primitivo. With time though, ripe berry, damson, plum, chocolate and coffee emerge to cult acclaim.
Experimentations with different types of oak have led to interesting comparisons. Macedonian oak (from Berovo) shows interesting aromatics of cinnamon and spice, although finding high quality cooperage can be a challenge. Consequently, the majority of producers are still weighing up the merits of either French or American oak - spice or vanilla. Results from Serbian and Bulgarian barrels will be equally exciting when there is enough to analyse.
It's too early to tell what will ultimately emerge from the 2014 vintage, but while the whites should be fresh and aromatic, it may well be a year for earlier ripening reds such as Pinot Noir, Merlot and Stanushina.