Tikveš Rkaciteli - $14.99 - Tikves is a region in central Macedonia--the Republic, not the larger region of Macedonia which encompasses the Republic and portions of northern Greece as well as parts of Albania and Serbia.
Wine has been produced there probably since antiquity, though in more recent history under Communist reign most wine was made at extremely high yields and farmed with chemicals--the easiest and cheapest method, though not usually the one to produce expressive or complex wine.
Tikveš Winery was founded in 1885, and saw the independence of the Balkans, two world warms and a cold one. They have always used the indigeneous grapes Rkaticeli, Kratosija, Vranec and Plavec, but it wasn't until the fall of communism and the independence of Macedonia in 1991 that the estate was privatized and vineyard and cellar practices were updated. Sustainable farming was introduced and the cellars were modernized with temperature-controlled tanks for fermentation, and French oak barrels for ageing. The ancient grape varietals were kept the same.
Rkaticeli originated in Georgia and is one of the oldest known grapes. In Georgia, clay vessels were found with seeds of Rkatsiteli grapes which date back to 3000 BC. It was extremely popular in the Soviet Union prior to President Gorbachev's vine pull scheme, making everything from light table wines to Sherry-esque fortified wines, and sweet dessert wines. It is a high-acid grape so often harvest is carried out late in the season, often October, to allow sugar levels to rise, which provides more alcohol in the fermentation to offset the wine's tartness. There are spicy, floral notes in this Rkaticeli from Tikveš Winery, which comes from 30-year-old vines planted in alluvial gravel. Fermentation and a brief period of ageing both occur in stainless steel, allowing the grape's fruit flavors to shine through.
Try it with a Mediterranean mezze spread of dips and flatbread, olives and cheeses, or kebabs with yogurt sauce. It would be delicious with fish also, prepared with herbs and spices like cumin and fennel seed.
Tikveš Vranec Special Selection - $14.99 - According to the importer European Cellars, Vranec is indigeneous to Macedonia, and is one of their principal red varieties. Other sources say it's from the sovereign state of Montenegro. Either way, it's thought to be a relative of Zinfandel, and is deeply colored with juicy berry flavors and a firm tannins, with high levels of concentration and acidity. Tikveš plants their Vranec 500 meters above sea level, and the cool temperatures at this altitude provide balance and freshness to this full flavored grape. It is aged for 12 months in French oak, which complements the dark fruit with flavors of vanilla and spice, and softens the tannin and acidity levels. Drink it with meat dishes like pork or lamb, maybe with a Macedonian twist--their cuisine is very diverse but heavily influenced by Greek and Turkish flavors. Their signature dish is called Tavče gravče, and consists of butter beans soaked, boiled, and braised with onion and dried red peppers in a clay pot until tender. Grill some lamb while the beans are braising and pour a glass of Vranec and enjoy these perfect spring evenings!