Château Vranac, a cheeky little Kosovan vintage

The year-old country is exporting its first bottles to the world’s most valuable wine market – Britain

By Rachel Shields

Just a year after Kosovo emerged from bitter inter-ethnic conflict to gain independence, the fledgling state is celebrating its first export of wine to the UK.

The launch highlights the growth in the UK of sales of previously unknown wines from Croatia, Bulgaria, Moldova and Uruguay. A report last month revealed that the UK is now the world’s most valuable wine market, worth £3.3bn in 2008, with wine-makers from around the world desperate to cash in on our growing love of the grape.

The Kosovan wine itself, Stonecastle Vranac Premium 2007, comes from the Rahoveci Valley, in the south-east of the country. It is made from one of the oldest grape varieties in the world, vranac, which is indigenous to the Balkan region. While the valley has the rolling hills and lush vines of Australia’s Hunter Valley and the Bordeaux wine region of France, the Rahoveci Valley does not enjoy the same reputation for wine-making. Nevertheless, sales in the UK are expected to increase quickly.

The first bottles go on sale in the UK in early March, after what its makers describe as “spectacular sales” across the rest of Europe. It will be sold, initially in supermarkets, for about £7.99 a bottle.

“The UK doesn’t have a history of wine-making, and we are pretty liberal about where our wine comes from,” said Guy Woodward, editor of Decanter wine magazine. “It is much easier these days for countries to break through. However, there are so many wines around now that it’s difficult to get new wines space on the shelf. I am not vouching for the quality of them, but there are more and more countries producing wine. Brazil and Uruguay have several big producers, and there are also more wines coming out of Eastern Europe, from places such as Croatia and Georgia.”

Wine has been made in Kosovo, which has a continental climate ideal for wine-growing, for more than 2,000 years, but only now does the troubled country seem set to make its mark on the global wine map. Under the control of the former Yugoslavia, Kosovan wines were sent to Belgrade.

“It is a full-bodied red which is soft in texture, similar to a Rhone valley red,” said Ken Mackay, wine buyer for Waitrose, which will stock Stonecastle Vranac. “It is not cheap cheap, but it is really good value. To make wine of this quality costs more, because there are low yields, but a greater concentration of flavour.”

The expert view: ‘There’s a nice bit of bite on the finish. It’s a good wine’

Richard Ehrlich, wine critic, gives his verdict:
As I tasted this intriguing wine over three and a half hours last Friday evening, the more I drank, the more I liked it. Vranac, the indigenous Balkan grape variety, is apparently related to primitivo, which spawned the Californian Zinfandel. This wine shares some of their bristling, brawny character. But its tannins are well integrated; the wine has good acidity, the alcohol is a tasteful 12.5 per cent, and after some lush red-berry fruit there’s a nice bit of bite on the finish. Perfect for grilled pork shoulder, which is what I ate with it midway through the deliberations.

I tasted the wine without knowing the price and guessed it was £5.99-£6.99. The official price is £7.99, the introductory price £5.99. At £5.99, I would buy six bottles to see how it develops. It’s not a curiosity; it’s a good wine.

The Independent