Dejan Živkoski, President of the Serbian Sommelier Association (SERSA):

The Best Wine Is One You Enjoy!

A sommelier is a waiter who knows wine well, but also the selection of food and all other drinks in their restaurant. They have a broad education, speak foreign languages, are cultured, polite and everything else that befits an excellent staff member who is at the service of the guest

The Serbian Sommelier Association (SERSA) was founded in 2003, at the beginning of the new wave of Serbian winemaking. SERSA developed side by side with today’s leading Serbian wineries. Today our wineries return from world evaluations with plenty of medals and awards, which was a very rare occurrence just a decade ago.

You head of the Serbian Sommelier Association – SERSA, which is known as an authority in the segment of Serbian winemaking. How would you describe the current state of the Serbian wine scene?
I am one of the founders of the Serbian Sommelier Association. And after holding almost all positions, two years ago I was elected president. My priority was to stabilise the Association financially and bring it as close as possible to the market, which knew little or virtually nothing about us. I also made a turnaround in relations with partners of the Association, which resulted in gaining support from the best and highest quality wineries in Serbia, but also rakija brandy producers. The facts that support this initiative is the fact that we received the right from the International Association of Sommeliers to organise this year’s General Assembly and the first competition of Sommeliers of the Balkans in 2018. I would not label us as an authority; it is better to say that we are professionals in our business. The Serbian wine scene is very good to excellent. Our market is open to all wines of the world, with very expensive wines sold, but also cheaper ones. So, we have wines for everyone’s budget and taste.

How popular a drink is wine in Serbia today and who are the main carriers of the advancement of the wine culture in our country?
We are recording an increase in all areas of wine production: the surface area of plantations, the number of wineries, new wine-themed establishments, wine lists, a growing army of wine lovers and, last but not least, we have growing interest in the training of sommeliers that we organise. All of this leads to the conclusion that wine is a very popular drink in Serbia. Supporting this statement is also the fact that the General Assembly of the International Association of Sommeliers was held recently in Belgrade, under the organization of the Serbian Sommelier Association. Among the 48 delegations from all over the world, there were also those who have followed the work of Serbian wineries in the last 12 years, as well as progress in the field of the quality and diversity of grape varieties, which certainly contributed to the good impression that they took away from Serbia.

Can parallels be drawn between Serbian and world wines, and what needs to change in Serbian winemaking in order for Serbia to get the place it deserves on the world wine map?
All of the world’s latest production and aging techniques are also present in Serbia. In this segment, we are not behind other regional, European and world producers. One area where we have to try a lot harder, with work and money, is on the local level, i.e. for 25 per cent of wine to be sold at the wineries themselves – “on the doorstep” and the same amount in local restaurants and retail outlets. This is the right direction in the development of wine tourism, which, to be honest, does not follow the level of development of wineries and the local wine scene. In this way we can reach the development of small businesses locally and employment. This is also a matter for local government headed by the state, in order for everyone to be involved, through the system, in the development of wine tourism.

Which five Serbian wines do you usually offer your guests who are not from Serbia?
At my restaurant “Steak & Wine Bar”, I first offer guests who are not from Serbia our sparkling wine as an aperitif and an excellent introduction to the meal. Tamjanika and Smederevka, among the whites, and Prokupac and Vranac among the reds, are obligatory options in the presenting of Serbian wine. I try, through tasting, to introduce them to our indigenous varieties and in that way bring them closer to the practical value in the upcoming meal. For guests who do not want to try something new I suggest known international varieties and the local versions of famous blends. All in all, foreign guests are very satisfied, and sometimes surprised, with the quality of Serbian wines.

We are recording an increase in all areas of wine production: the surface area of plantations, the number of wineries, new wine-themed establishments, wine lists, a growing army of wine lovers and, last but not least, we have growing interest in the training of sommeliers that we organise

 

How much we have matured as a wine market over the last ten years and what are the market advantages of Serbian wine?
The Serbian Sommelier Association was founded in 2003, at the very start of a new wave of Serbian winemaking. We grew up side by side with today’s leading Serbian wineries, followed their work, helped one another, and the wine market along with us. Today our wineries return from world evaluations with a bunch of medals and awards. That is now a daily occurrence, while just ten years ago international awards were an exception and a surprise to all those who have followed the process of the development of winemaking from the outside, but not for those of us who were there, on the front line. Our advantage in relation to representatives in the neighbourhood is obviously reflected in very open competition on the market. Examining restaurants’ wine lists shows that we have given a chance to the whole world, not just the region. On the other hand, it is very rare for our wines to appear on the tables of our neighbours. Of course, it is completely normal for everyone to root for their team and that is shown by the figures that support the fact that in Serbia local wine is most commonly consumed.

Do you consider that the future of Serbia winemaking lies in the cultivation of indigenous wine varieties and is that our chance for better positioning on the world market?
The future of Serbian wine is primarily in the hands of young winegrowers and technologists who create our wines. If we are already drinking fine wines, what are they preparing for us for just five to 10 years from now? Likewise, no less important are soil and climate, but also the note of spite for us to be the best. Indigenous varieties, yes, but also international varieties. The Serbian Sommelier Association has an opportunity to tour a large number of wineries throughout the year, with whom we have more than friendly relations, and to see from the inside the real picture of the potential of our winemaking. What we do not have, and what we need to create at this juncture, is an extremely serious agency for representing Serbian wines in the world, with a view to the examples of Austria, Portugal etc. This is the right road for increasing exports. Otherwise, with competition mounting quickly, we risk our cellars being filled with old stocks of wine.

SERBIAN SOMMELIER COMPETITION SPARKLING WINE 2015
SERBIAN SOMMELIER COMPETITION SPARKLING WINE 2015

People in Serbia increasingly enjoy sparkling wines, which winemakers follow with new labels. This is supported by the fact that by the end of this year four new domestic sparkling wine labels will appear on the Serbian market

Knowledge of wine is part of the general culture. How do you recognise good wine and how sufficient is it for us to know about wines to feel secure when ordering wine in a restaurant or pairing food and wine?
Wine that you enjoy is the best in the world! The combination of wine and food that you like is the best pairing that you can imagine. Ancient Rome teaches that there should be no argument about tastes. It is enough to know ourselves, our tastes, our desires and needs. A dose of courage is also required to try new tastes, new varieties of wine and food, and in that way allow your palate and senses of taste and smell to reveal new wine dimensions. If the restaurant has a sommelier, feel free to ask them for a recommendation. And if you have doubts in his choice, then you should request a small amount of wine to sample and only then make a decision. Today it is quite normal for those who until recently led fierce debates about sport to now debate wine with the same fervour.

Who actually are sommeliers and how does one become a sommelier in Serbia?
A sommelier is a waiter who knows wine well, but also the selection of food and all other drinks in their restaurant. They have a broad education, speak foreign languages, are cultured, polite and everything else that befits an excellent staff member who is at the service of the guest. The Serbian Sommelier Association conducts training for sommeliers divided into levels 1, 2 and 3. For those who do not want to engage professionally as sommeliers, we organise courses for wine lovers.

Is price a measure of the quality of wine?
No, it is not.

What are the current trends in winemaking; does Serbia keep pace with global wine trends and, if so, to what extent?
People in Serbia increasingly enjoy sparkling wines, which winemakers follow with new labels. This is supported by the fact that by the end of this year four new domestic sparkling wine labels will appear on the Serbian market.