As Adam and I sat opposite one another, inhaling bite after delicious bite of our late lunch and savoring the expertly paired wine selection, it occurred to me that it had been hours since I last thought about work. That’s an uncommon occurrence for me; I started my own professional learning and performance company a few years ago, and combined with working on Road Unraveled’s mission to connect professional success to vacation time there are few moments that pass without me thinking about work, let alone a few hours. Still, tucked away in a beautiful wine cellar enjoying an amazing meal, work had shifted away from my focus. I wondered if there might be something magical about wine tasting in North Macedonia.
Our travels almost universally include a wine tasting day or two; over the years we have discovered that wine tasting is an excellent way to learn about people, culture, and history while enjoying a slower paced experience. Spending a day driving through lush vineyards and pairing beautiful views with world-class wine and food is a nice addition to just about every vacation! We found wine tasting in North Macedonia to be a perfect start to our journey through the Balkans.
If you are thinking about a trip to the region, here is what we loved about wine tasting in North Macedonia—and why it might be the perfect addition to your vacation itinerary!
Wine in North MacedoniaThere are more than 50,000 acres of vineyards in North Macedonia, a reflection of the deep-rooted history of wine production in the country. Winemaking dates back to as early as the 13th century BC, when wine production methods were very different than those employed today. Many ancient Macedonians incorporated elements like honey and olive oil into wine to sweeten and preserve them respectively, and they were stored underground as they aged. Throughout the Roman and Byzantine Empires, wine production was an important part of the culture and economy. Wine became prominent in religious ceremonies, particularly with regard to Christianity; however, during the Ottoman Empire, winemaking declined outside of the church as it was forbidden in the Islamic religion.
North Macedonia was a leading wine producer while part of Yugoslavia, responsible for approximately two-thirds of the wine produced within the country. 13 nationalized wineries led wine production, while numerous small, family-owned wineries contributed the grapes necessary to keep barrels full. Production levels declined dramatically after Yugoslavia’s breakup and North Macedonia’s declaration of independence in 1991. Still, wine tourism remains an area of growing interest, and the combination of increasing interest, exceptional grapes, and talented winemakers means wine tasting in North Macedonia is becoming a more exciting reason to visit with every year. Many Macedonian wineries still pay homage to Saint Trifun, the protector of vineyards and wineries; according to the Orthodox calendar, February 14th is Saint Trifun’s Day, and many wineries both begin their spring pruning and host celebrations to kick off the season.
► Try This: Vranac
When it comes to grapes, there may be no better place to start than Vranac. Vranac originated in Montenegro, but it grows very well in North Macedonia—so well, in fact, that it is the most commonly grown grape and is responsible for up to 80% of the wine produced in North Macedonia. Almost always a bright or deep purple, it’s a great wine to age because it becomes more complex by the year. While red wines tend to dominate most tasting menus, there are some great white wines as well: notably, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.
Should You Take a Wine Tour in North Macedonia?
As wine tourism continues to expand in North Macedonia, more and more wineries are opening their doors for wine tasting experiences and tours of the vineyards and production facilities. If you are thinking about incorporating a day of wine tasting in North Macedonia into your vacation itinerary, there are plenty of great wineries to consider—as well as the decision to rent a car and drive yourself or hire a tour guide for the day.
When it comes to wine tasting, especially in foreign countries, we always book a full-day wine tour. In addition to avoiding the need to rent (and, subsequently, park) a rental car, locate gas stations, and navigate unfamiliar roads, wine tours allow us to put the responsibility for selecting wineries that are a great representation of the country in the hands of a local professional. For our visit, we selected Skopje-based Wine Tours Macedonia, an incredible experience from start to finish. Martin served as our driver, guide, and ultimately new friend as he escorted us to three outstanding wineries. His partnership with each winery allowed us to sample some excellent food and wine, and his coordination before our wine tasting day ensured each winery was ready to welcome us and helped the entire day run seamlessly from our perspective. Just as important, having the opportunity to connect with Martin to share stories and hear about his experiences with wine and with travel made for an unforgettably fun day for all of us. That night, back at our hotel in Skopje talking about how much fun we had during our wine tasting in North Macedonia, we both agreed Martin and Wine Tours Macedonia created the perfect experience for us.
Wineries to Visit in North Macedonia
Not surprisingly, Martin took us to some of the best and most popular wineries in North Macedonia’s Tikves Wine Region. Each winery offered distinctive wines that reflected the masterful skills of their respective winemakers, and each of them are a terrific addition to any North Macedonia wine tasting itinerary. If you are thinking about wine tasting in North Macedonia, here are a few reasons to consider each of the wineries we visited!
► Stobi WineryNot far from the ancient site of Stobi, with roots that date back more than 2,000 years, Stobi Winery stands in contrast as the newest and the most modern winery in North Macedonia. With a deep commitment to quality and a goal of producing unique, exceptional wine, Stobi Winery achieves their mission with a varied collection of classic, traditional, premium, and elite wines available to taste and purchase. Our visit to the winery, and our experience of wine tasting in North Macedonia, started with a tour of the production area and the barrel room before bringing us back to the tasting area to try six wines. The winery itself is beautiful; walking through, it was easy to sense the balance between the region’s history and tradition with the modernization Stobi has brought to the winemaking process.
We started our tasting with the 2018 Rkaciteli, the grape we first discovered (and loved!) in Croatia during our first visit to the Balkans. Citrusy with a lovely, pale yellow color, it had a crisp and tart finish that you might expect from a young wine. We both loved the creamy, buttery Acacia, a 2017 wine aged in American oak that emerges with vanilla notes not unlike a Chardonnay—but without a heavily-oaked aftertaste. We also loved the Vranec Veritas, a deep, richly-colored red wine with heavy notes of red fruit. Our favorite, though, was the Vranec: with lots of cherry on the nose and palate, it also boasted a softness that made it balanced and easy to drink. Our wines were paired with delicious, creamy local cheese and prosciutto, a perfect snack to help bring out the flavors of each wine.
More Information: StobiWinery.mk
► Popova Kula WineryOur next stop on our day of wine tasting in North Macedonia took us to Popova Kula Winery, which has been producing wine for more than a decade. With a deep appreciation for the kind of globalization that has the potential to unite people from around the world, Popova Kula is also dedicated to celebrating Macedonia’s role and contributions through perfecting the traditional food and wine experience. With a focus on sustainability and using local ingredients to create world-class cuisine and wine, we were excited to have the chance to experience their philosophy by tasting some of the available selections.
After a tour of the winery, we settled into a corner table in a bright, open loft on the top floor of the winery for a few wines paired with some local dishes. Not surprisingly, the Vranec again emerged as our favorite. Full of cherry and blueberry notes, the wine was full-bodied and paired perfectly with each of the bites we tried during our tasting. We also enjoyed the Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve, another cherry-forward wine with notes of pepper and vanilla. We also found the Stanushina to be a truly great wine. The grape is only found in the Tikveshija region of Macedonia, making it a truly local grape in the way the Norton grape is unique to our home in Virginia. It’s a sweet, light wine that we also liked as a rosé. Just as memorable as the wines, the food we got to try was truly delicious. A huge plate of grilled vegetables, stuffed grape leaves, stuffed peppers, and baked beans were placed in front of us, and the incredible local flavors and quality of each bite made us wish we had skipped breakfast. Our experience at Popova Kula Winery was relaxing and delicious—a fantastic way to spend a day wine tasting in North Macedonia!
More Information: PopovaKula.com.mk
► Tikves WineryOur final stop while wine tasting in North Macedonia was Tikveš Winery. Tikveš Winery takes its name from the Tikvesh region in Macedonia, where in 1885 the country first began to produce and sell wine in an organized way. Starting with the purchase of the winery in 2003, Tikveš Winery now dedicates itself to producing world-class wine through growth and innovation. Noting that its location shares the same longitudinal lines as Italy’s Tuscany and California’s Napa Valley, it’s no surprise the wines available are terrific—a testament to the desired climate and the talented winemaker and production team.
We paused for quite a while at Tikveš to enjoy a tasting and a full meal. The wines we sampled reflected Tikveš’s commitment to quality. We started with the Alexandria, a semi-dry white with notes of honey and citrus fruit as well as a nice sweetness that lingered for a long time. We also tried the Alexandria rosé, a blend of Muscat, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Instead of the strawberry and red fruit notes I am used to identifying in a rosé, the Alexandria rosé tasted of summer fruits like peach, apricot, and melon. It emerged as an easy to drink and beautifully crafted wine. We also loved the Barovo, a red wine with soft tannins and a heavy taste of blackberries, as well as the Special Selection Vranec, which had notes of chocolate and spice overlaid with raspberries. The Vranec ended up earning a place in our checked luggage, as we brought a bottle home with us—it was too good to pass up! In addition to the wine, we also enjoyed a decadent, three-course meal that starred succulent pork belly and grilled vegetables as well as a crisp salad and a delicious, creamy berry-infused custard. It would be hard to think of a better ending to a day of wine tasting in North Macedonia!
More Information: Tikves.com.mk
Bonus Stop: StobiNot far from the vineyards in the Tikveš Wine Region, your wine tasting in North Macedonia itinerary should include a brief stop at Stobi. Close to the winery that shares its name, Stobi was an ancient town from the pre-Roman Empire. Today, excavation efforts have uncovered a remarkable amount of the town’s structure, including its main street and a number of buildings and other structures that open a window into a time from centuries ago. Upon arriving, we downloaded a free app that provided a narrated guide of the historic site. There are 23 different locations to learn about during a visit to Stobi, including the basilica and the House of Peristeria that was built in the 4th century and served as both a residential and commercial area.
Although you don’t need to spend more than 30 minutes at Stobi to appreciate its significance, a brief pause during your wine tasting adventure will remind you of just how historic the soil is—and how the grapes that contribute to the local wine grow from the same ground that has been traversed for many centuries.
Wine Tasting in North Macedonia: Where to Stay?
Our trip to North Macedonia took us to its capital, Skopje, and that is where we based our adventures. Although it is possible to stay in the wine country, which can be both convenient and an experience in itself, if you are planning to spend a single day wine tasting you may choose to base yourself in Skopje as well. There are lots of great places to stay, including the Holiday Inn Skopje, which we selected for our trip after finding it on Booking.com.
More Information: Booking.com/Hotel/Mk/Holiday-Inn-Skopje
If you are planning to visit Skopje, you may find a great hotel on Booking.com as well!
Enjoy Wine Tasting in North Macedonia!
We had a fantastic time exploring North Macedonia’s wine country with Martin and Wine Tours Macedonia. Learning about the wine production methods and history helped us develop a true appreciation for the wines we tried, and the wine was every bit as delicious as those we have tried on similar tours around the world. If you are a wine lover and want to try some great wine and local cuisine in a bit of an off-the-beaten-path location, don’t miss North Macedonia—or the chance to travel with Wine Tours Macedonia!
Our memories of sipping Vranec in the sun will undoubtedly inspire a future trip to explore more of the region—and we can’t wait to create some more memories on another vacation!
Are you interested in wine travel? Here are a few regions and specialities to consider for your next trip!
* From time to time, our travels are directly impacted by a service or company. In this case, we visited multiple locations in North Macedonia as part of a tour with Wine Tours Macedonia, and this post includes our candid review of our experience. We selected Wine Tours Macedonia based on our own research and travel needs; we were not offered and did not receive compensation of any kind from them or any other party in exchange for our review. Learn more about our travel philosophy here.