Bermet -- Excellence amongst Serbian wines

   SREMSKI KARLOVCI -- Go to Serbia, to Belgrade. Then take the road going North and after about 60 km, stop in a small pictoresque village called Sremski Karlovci. It is the northern province of Vojvodina. It is a place full of history, and one rare pearl of culture for Serbia, with the taste for tradition and the distinctive perfume of basswood. There, everything is self-explainatory: "Bermet" - the special wine; it is one of the first associations when talking about the city.

 And there is a reason for it: it is produced exclusively in that area by just a handful of manufacturers.   Bermet is one of those wines that deserve special attention, because of its extraordinary history. 

 For one thing, its name appeared on the wine list of the Titanic. Already popular and appreciated by wine experts around the world, the bill saved in the archives of the Academy of science's (Novi Sad) shows that already about 160 years ago Bermet was exported to the United States on a regular basis, both red and white.

 Furthermore, 500 years before the Titanic sunk, the empress Maria Teresa from Hapsburg was known to be very keen on Bermet. The legend has it that she was so fond for it that she reserved the citizens of Sremski Karlovci from the military obligation, allowing them to maintain the tradition of production of her beloved wine. Actually, Bermet was highly appreciated at the Royal Palace in Vienna, with a special regard to White Bermet, which was very popular among the aristocracy of the Austro-Hungarian empire, Paris and the whole France.

 However, the oldest origins of Bermet go back to 232 D.C., when Marco Aurelio Probo planted the first grapevines of the country on the hills of Fruska Gora, that is the city of Sremski Karlovci, and not accidentally, they are geographically alligned with some of the finest French viticultural regions.
 Today, the high quality, manual technique results in a limited production of only 15,000 to 20,000 bottles per year, made of grapes originating exclusively from the hills of Fruska Gora. The recipe of production is only known by few families that have belonged to the city for several generations.
 We have had the chance to talk to one of the families working in one of the eighteen wine cellars. Djordje Dragojlovic and his daughter Jasmina revealed to us part of the secret: "Bermet is made exclusively from grapes originating from the hills of F.G., which are then enhanced by twenty-four to twenty-six aromatic herb types as well as some dried fruit. For example, "Pelen" is a herb that is renowned for its appetite stimulation properties, great to enjoy local culinary specialities of Vojvodina." He proudly announced. Whilst this seems all very nice, the production behind it is a lot more "hard work".
  The traditional routine consists in manually laying in each wine barrel a row of fresh grapes, followed by one of selected herbs and one of dried fruit, and so on, until the barrel is slighly more than half full. Then some wine from the previous year is poured, as much as needed to fill the barrel. This mixture goes into fermentation, usually lasting from three to four days. According to the recipe, the final product reaches an alcoholic degree between 16 to 18°.   At this stage it happens to be as low as 12 or 13°, and so it is adjusted by adding just enough  50° pure grappa. The barrel remains closed for three months and then the mixture is poured into a manual machine that squeezes and filters the aromatic pulp, to then become the celebrated wine.
 Actually, the wine attracts much tourism and curiosity, guided tours, tasters and parties on harvest days are organized to promote its production and spread its well-earned fame. To top it all, there is now a museum of the history of Bermet in the house of a man who used to produce it at the end of the 18th century, Josef Mecingen.
 It has a dense and rich texture and a strong background taste of alcohol, perfect served at 18-20°. Its delicate sweet taste of walnut, chestnut and fruit aromas, are distinct, and it goes without saying how great it is served as a dessert wine. Whilst, it is so tempting that locals and connaisseurs around the world also drink it as an aperitivo.
 Bermet is registered as DOP, protected designation of origin among the Intellectual Property Office of the Republic of Serbia.
 (Translation: Margaux Phillips)