When the CMB team announced in the spring of 2023 that they would be dedicating a separate competition to the Vranac grape variety, I knew immediately that it was my place. Of course, I could only hope to be invited, as it's not a big wine competition with 20 judges in total, but thanks to luck and Zvonko Herceg, I was able to be there in North-Macedonia. We started the first day with a vranec/vranac masterclass to get in the mood for the wine competition.

Todorovic Opus 2019 (Serbia) I 93 points

Not as dark, almost black, as most vranac and the alcohol is more moderate (14%), while the nose is almost overwhelmed with black berry forest fruits, chocolate and some small grained black plums. Tasting it, then, lovely barrel spice, overwhelming fruitiness, especially blackberries, tiny plums and black cherries, zippy acidity, full bodied, the whole wine is alive and even brings others to life!

Grabovac Vranac Riserva 2019 (Croatia) I 94 points

Deep ruby colour with a purple rim. Nose of plum, blackcurrant, blackberry jam, hemp jam, plum jam. Full bodied, fresh and unbridled, with firm tannins and lively acidity. Rich palate with spicy, peppery black berry fruit, blackberry jam, a hint of leather and sweet almond sweetness. A little wild but nice and long, perhaps even better than the first Serbian wine as it feels much younger. I am impressed!

Labi Vranc Reserve 2017 (Kosovo) I 87 points

Deeper than medium ruby colour with bricky reflections. On the nose, red and black berry fruits, leather and leaf, tobacco. Vibrant acidity, medium body, the nose continues on the palate with a hint of damp wood. This reduces the elegance, with a slight bitterness, but remains undoubtedly drinkable.

The concept of the tasting and the masterclass host, Caroline Gilby MW, was to taste wines from all producing countries. The Macedonians lead the world in vranec/vranac production with 10 800 hectares, followed by Montenegro with 3600 hectares. The others, such as Bosnia and Herzegovina (480 hectares), Kosovo (478 hectares) and Serbia (120 hectares), are only in the "still in competition" category, but as the accompanying graph shows, this does not mean they cannot produce world-class wines from the variety.

Prica Monolog 2017 (Montenegro) I 89 points

Deep purple colour. Nose of blackberry jam, buttered toast, leather, a touch of animality and wildness, licorice, black cherry, violet. Big body, vibrant acidity, with a taste of rubber berry syrup, black berry fruit and marmalade, alongside firm tannins. The finish is medium, with a touch of tannins and marmalade.

Plantaze Stari Podrum Cuvée Terroir 2018 (Montenegro) I 94 points

Deep purple colour with a black core. Intense nose, lush and juicy with black berries, blueberries, blackberries, blackcurrants. Full bodied, vibrant acidity, round and silky, dense, exciting and wild, it will take you from one amazement to another. The nose is repetitive on the palate, the finish is long, with a hint of black pepper.

Venec Vranec 2021 (North-Macedonia) I 87 points

Deep ruby colour with a black core. Herbs and liquorice on the nose. Lots of liquorice. Accompanied by cranberry jam and violets. Big body, round acidity, silky tannins, high alcohol. Sweet spices on the palate, alongside a mixed jam of black berries. The finish is long. Good drinkability.

Recent DNA research on the grape variety has revealed that it is a cross between the Montenegrin Duljenga and the Kratosija / Primitivo / Tribidrag / Zinfandel / Crljenak Kastelanski. According to the literature, its primary aromas include blueberry jam and blackcurrant, overripe cherry and blackberry, violet, pomegranate and sage, but with ageing, aromas of plum, vanilla, chocolate, leather and tobacco can also emerge in the glass.

Bovin Vranec 2019 (North-Macedonia) I 88 points

Deeper than medium violet colour. Aroma of burnt rubber, tanned leather, herbs. Big body, brisk acidity, tight structure, lively, vibrant, with lots of blackberries and blackcurrants on the palate. Wonderful acidity, quite amazing for such maturity! The finish is fruity too, with a tiny mushroom. Rustic style, but very well made.

Tikves Barovo 2019 (North-Macedonia) I 93 points

Deep violet with a black core. On the nose, black pepper, lots of blackberries, cedar, balsamic vinegar, but to be fair, this wine is 65% Kratosia and only 35% Vranec. Big body, round acidity, silky tannins. On the palate, dried figs, dried dill, blackberry jam, chocolate, rum cherries. Deep and lush with a long finish.

Kamnik Terroir Vranec grand reserva 2018 (North-Macedonia) I 92 points

Deep purple colour. Sweet spices, vanilla, lots of chocolate, plum, pipe tobacco, blackberry jam and marmalade on the nose. In the mouth full bodied, round acidity, silky tannins, lots of fruit. Deep and complex, with increasingly beautiful acidity, dense structure, exciting fruitiness and a long finish with some coconut, thanks to the American oak in which it was aged.

Never a worse tune-up for a wine competition!