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It seems certain that Bagrina has been almost forgotten and lost, probably surviving in only a few old vineyards of Negotinska krajina in the eastern part of Serbia.

By Mariusz Rybak

Bagrina is a very old Balkan variety, which was grown in Serbia, Bulgaria and Romania. Barely known even to consumers of these countries, it may sometimes hide under other names, such as BraghinaCrvena dinka or Turska ružica. The name might have been derived from ‘bagrem’, a Serbian name for robinia (Robinia pseudoacacia, a genus of flowering plants). The seductive sweet smell of its flowers may allegedly be also found in the wine.

There is little information on this variety and I will be grateful to anyone who can provide me with any material and data. It seems certain that Bagrina has been almost forgotten and lost, surviving probably only in a few old vineyards of Negotinska krajina in the eastern part of Serbia. In that region, there are also several further autochthonous varieties being slowly rediscovered after some decades of Sleeping Beauty – like fate on the sandy slopes of Danube Valley.

In the case of Bagrina, we owe much of the rediscovery to Nikola Mladenović Matalj. To my knowledge, he is the only producer experimenting with this variety at present. His first varietals from the rosy grapes of Bagrina are still not available on the market, but let’s make this post a foretaste which enhances the joy of waiting for new personalities in the global wine family.

Before it was abandoned for international varieties, Bagrina enjoyed a reputation of producing grapes for quality wine. However, like many Balkan autochthonous varieties (e.g., Crna Tamjanika, Žilavka), it has female flowers and needs to be planted in mixed vineyards. The grapes have a light rosy or copper colour, similar to Pinot Grigio. Accordingly, they allow for two styles of wine: white or darker, almost orange. The last colour predominated earlier, before the variety was abandoned. Indeed, I met an old lady who produces wine for more than half a century, the mother of a wine-producer from Rajac, Radomir Pavlović, and she could not hide her surprise by the almost completely white colour of modern Bagrina from the Matalj winery.

Apart from the female flower, the variety shows further characteristics that are problematic: it is susceptible to low temperatures and provides quite an irregular yield. This is why Bagrina is rather a regional speciality, expressing the local terroir, rather than a candidate for mass production. Still, considering the significant temperature extremes in this area – especially the long, hot summers – its grapes have both good pH and high acidity. This is a genial combination of nature and culture, expressed in centuries of adaptation of the variety to the local conditions, supported by accumulated human knowledge.

Bagrina

Source – Matalj Vinarija

Here are some of my impressions on the first drops of this exciting old new wine.

What was really astonishing in the very first moment is that it is almost white, resembling diluted pear juice. Pear is also one of the main notes of its aroma. Then there is something spicy too, bringing to mind some of my mother’s specialities, for example, bogracz. That’s why drinking Matalj’s Bagrina I thought about allspice and bay leaf. Still, I agree with the description from Serbian on-line wine magazine vino.rs – there is something floral too, elder and robinia. I wouldn’t exclude the taste of litchi either.

The slightly sweetish note, which soon becomes spicy, makes me think again of allspice. Alcohol is noticeable. The wine has definitely ‘il suo perché’. I am excited, not least by the fact that this is my first Bagrina. And who knows if there is any other one in some Serbian cellar? So I was drinking it with my eyes widely open, thinking of the potential of this variety in Mr. Mladenović’s hands. Keep an eye on this young and talented producer!

Mariusz Rybak is currently researching Serbian wine culture and the notion of wine as a cultural good. His musings on such topics can be read on his blog, Kawa and Vino.

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