Between Montenegro towards the north, along with Greece in the southern part, is Albania, the Mediterranean nation of Albania. Despite its lack of recognition in the international wine industry, Albania is one of the oldest wine-producing nations around the globe. It is believed that the production of wine in Albania started around the Bronze Age, around 3,000 years ago.
In the years since, a long time of Ottoman rule, as well as the two World Wars, and an oppressive communist regime that effectively separated Albania from the rest of the world up to the 1990s, the Albanian wine business began. At certain times during this time, when wine production dropped, the country’s output plummeted. A large portion of the wine made in the country under the communist regime was of high volume and low quality.
In the past 30 years since the downfall of the country’s dictatorship, Albania’s wine industry has been at the edge of gaining international recognition. Based on Dashamir Elezi, a sommelier and head of the Albanian Sommelier Association, Many of Albania’s winemakers have been studying winemaking in neighboring countries such as Italy, Greece, France, and Germany that have affected how wines are produced from indigenous and international grapes.
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Production is also increasing. From 2000-2016, wine production in Albania has increased by 250 percent. In 2022, Albania produced 3.03 million bottles of wine, 46.4 percent of which was exported, with the majority going to different European countries, per the Albanian Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. Exports into the United States have been sporadic and concentrated around Texas and Michigan. However, they are expected to rise over the next several years.
While Albania’s wine industry grows, some producers want to expand their reach through tourism. “The increase in tourism is a good sign, as tourists’ mentality is to consume locally and discover the local culture, especially food and wine,” says Ermira Cobo, the oldest child from Cobo, the Cobo family, the owners of Cobo Winery in Berat. Industry executives are also on a quest to help educate consumers on Albanian wine. “The most important thing is for people to understand that these are Mediterranean wines,” says Bujar Yuru Tukuli, who is one of the Albanian ambassadors to wine and the founder of Dita Vera, an Albanian wine importer located in Irving, Texas.
This is a momentous period for Albania that could define the standards for what Albanian wine will look like in the coming years. “The next 10, 15, 20 years are about finding the real gems [of terroir and native grape varieties], and those real gems will be determined by who has the best intuition, where the wine becomes the most expressive,” Tukuli said. Tukuli.
Key Wine Regions
Although Albania is a tiny country, it is home to various wine-growing conditions. “The beautiful thing about wines from Albania is that they should not be misunderstood,” Tukuli explains. “They’re 100 percent central Mediterranean wines when influenced by the Adriatic or Ionian seas, and they’re 100 percent continental wines if you’re on the border with Greece and Macedonia with influence from the Ohrid and Prespa natural lakes and the inner highlands.”
At present, Albania doesn’t have any specifically designated wine regions; however, Albania’s wine-producing regions can be classified into central, northern, and southern areas. But the parts aren’t defined as such, and some experts divide them differently.
In the northern region of Albania, which is mountainous, the elevations can exceed 1,000m in certain areas. Whenined with calm continental winds and well-drained mineral-rich soils, it results in high elevations t in wine with high acidity, typically derived using the grape Kallmet. The northeast region of Albania is moderately dry, which reduces the pressure of disease and eliminates the necessity of frequent spraying. Certain areas of the northeastern part of Albania have ungrafted vines, such as Cerruja, the white Cerruja, and the red Dibrak.
Çobo and other Albanian wineries are already looking forward to their country’s future prosperity in winemaking. Photo courtesy of Çobo Winery.
Central Albania, defined by hills that rise to heights of up to 450 meters, is renowned for its numerous soil types, including quartzite, clay, sandstone, and many more. A lot of sun exposure can cause the ripening of both whit black Shesh, which are remnant varieties of Shesh that grow in this region of the country.
Producers who are environmentally conscious in this region are utilizing the biodiversity of their vineyards to establish sustainable farming practices. “Since a good part of [this area is] planted with vineyards and olive trees, usually the residents also use [their land] for pastures for domestic animals and raising bees,” Elezi says. Elezi. “This has an extremely good effect on their enrichment with organic fertilizer and on the purity of the terrain and microclimate.”
In the southeastern part of Albania, the vineyards can grow to 800m, and they tend to be shielded from the strong winds from the west by mountains. Wineries such as Korca 2000 are cultivating their white wine. Debina is renowned for its firm acidity. To the west in central-southern Albania, close to the town of Berat in central-southern Albania, the white Pules grapes are used to make floral wines, and the brandy raki is a pomace. The delicious Vlosh is located southwest of Albania, close to Vlore, the capital city. Vlore.
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Key Native Grape Varieties
Certain producers in Albania, like Kantina Ilir, located in Elbasan, focus on international varieties such as Merlot, Chardonnay, and Gewurztraminer. However, many believe that the native grapes of Albania hold the most significant potential for the wine industry in the country. “The second-worst thing we did after communism was bringing in a lot of grape varieties from Italy and from France,” Tukuli says. Tukuli. “The most important and most exciting thing that pretty much all winemakers are agreeing on is the fact that they need to focus on native grape varieties.” There are currently more than 107 Vitis vinifera cultivars in the country. However, certain varieties are prevalent within Albanian vineyards.
Albania produces white and red Shesh, among the most extensively cultivated grapes. Red Shesh, or Shesh i Zi, is famous for its dark, ruby-colored wine with many tannins, which can be an excellent choice for aging. They typically have a fuller body with dark fruit notes like black and blueberry. White Shesh al, so-referred to as Shesh is Bardhe, generally has gold-colored hues and produces wines with citrus notes and white flowers in the aroma. Both white and red varieties are primarily grown in central and northern Albania. “When taking small yields, it can [produce] extremely good products,” says Irdi Lushi, who was awarded the distinction of being the best Albanian Sommelier of the year from the Association de la Sommellerie Internationale as well as The Albanian Sommelier Association.
Kallmet can be found in white and red varieties. However, the red type is more widespread. It is primarily found in the northwest part of America, where powerful winds can reduce the necessity for pesticides. The red variety is characterized by its acidity and smooth tannins, making these wines great options for aging in oak. Kallmet is also found within Hungary in Hungary, in Hungary, where it’s known as Kadarka, in addition to Bulgaria and Bulgaria, where it’s known as Gamza.
In the southwest region of Albania in Albania, the wine grape Vlosh is an especially significant variety. Tukuli likes to compare Vlosh with Italian Rossese (referred to as Tibouren within France) or Trepat of Catalunya. “The wines will not have a lot of color, but nonetheless, you’ll have this light ruby, garnet [color],” Tukuli explains. Tukuli. “The wines will be one of the lightest of Albania however they offer a great amount of intensity particularly due to the soils. It is the oldest region of Albania in which the soils are metamorphic oceanic rocks that date back up to Middle Jurassic.” Vlosh produces a tasty wine with notes of just-ripe wild Mediterranean red berries, black olives, and dried herbs. They are typically fresh and drinkable. “[These wines] are quite outstanding,” Tukuli adds.
Berat, one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in central-southern Albania, is also the home of Pules or Puls, a white wine. The white wine is appreciated for its scents reminiscent of white flowers, a lengthy final, and intense acidity. “The acidity can be a little overwhelming in the first year … but after one to two years, [Puls becomes] a very nice, balanced wine,” Lushi says. Lushi.