A Visit to Kantina Nurellari

Food and Drink Literature Travel

As a lover of all things Albanian and a particular lover of wine, I was excited to be able to attend a tasting session, and a tour of Kantina Nurellari.

Located 10k from Berat, otherwise called (by me) ‘The Kantina of Albania’, the Nurellari operations are centred around the small village of Fushe-Peshtan. Located on a small plain at the base of the surrounding mountains and hills, the village is the perfect place to cultivate grapes and olives, so that is exactly what the Nurellari family do.

Established in 1995, the kantina sits on the site of what was once a storage facility for food during the communist era. After communism fell, the Nurellari family, including the patriarch Fatsi, and son Levent, have made it their lifes work and passion to help the kantina realise its full potential.

“It is all done with passion- we are not about making thousands and thousands of bottles of wine- we want to make quality wine, not big quantities of wine,” Levent tells me when we meet.

Now all of the wine production is undertaken by the family itself, whilst up to 30 other staff are employed in the vineyards. Levent has been working, helping out, and learning the trade since the tender age of ten, and after completing his studies, he has dedicated his life and all his thirst for knowledge, to making the perfect bottles of wine.

“I am always learning, reading, watching, researching and finding out more and more so I can improve. Every bottle that is produced, I learn from it for the next year, to always keep improving, to experiment and always get better.” he explains with great enthusiasm.

The Nurellari grapes are grown over 4ha of land with another 30% of their total grape haul coming from local farmers who have a cooperation agreement regarding the quality of the grapes they grow, and the way that they are cultivated, harvested, and delivered.

Levent explains that it is a combination of fantastic climate, rich and fertile soil, the geographic location of the kantina, and the years of knowledge and experinence that they have acquired, that come togehter to create the unmistakeable Nurellari quality.

Nurellari wines are almost unsurpassed in their taste and quality, and whilst there are a few other kantinas that really stand out to me, I have to admit that this is one of my favourites. They are well known for their Pulsi Beratit (white wine), the Montemeca (red wine) and the Reserve (red wine) which to me, is something particularly special.

Whilst those may be the well known varieties, common on the wine lists of some of the countries finest restaurants, Levent let us have a taste of some other varieties of wine in the Nurellari repetoire.

One of my unexpected favourites of our visit was the Nurellari Roze- made from red wine grapes, it had the unmistakable tanins of a fine red wine, but with the cool clarity of a white. Its crisp flavour and palatable dryness was the total opposite of the headache inducing sweetness that I usually associated with rose wine. We then tried the Pulsi Beratit which was an avalanche of citrussy, crisp flavours, devoid of the aftertaste that white wine can sometimes leave. A truly refreshing wine, the quality and level of technical knowhow that has gone into its creation, was apparent from the first sip. Another suprise for me was the Holy Wine- a Levent creation, this wine is made from grapes that have been dried before hand. I am not usually a fan of sweet wine but this has an incredibly fruity, almost nutty, and very sherry-like taste to it. It is the sort of drink you would enjoy with fruit cake, nuts, or turkey sandwiches, left over from Christmas.

I purchased a bottle of each, along with a bottle of Arrabon Raki made from walnuts and dried forrest fruits.

But the Nurellari family have big plans for the future. Whilst of course, exporting their wine, helping to develop the Albanian wine industry, and solidifying their name as one of the leading kantina’s in the country, is all on the agenda, tourism is also a part of the plan. The family are working on turning a part of the kantina into a hotel, tasting area, and restaurant. The wine cellar here is already breathtakingly beautiful, with stone floors and walls, smooth arhitetcutre, barrels of wine, and walls that contain bottles of every kind of their wine, from every season, so that they can chronicle their history via the medium of wine. Now, with the additon of the hotel, they hope to attract more tourism to the area, as well as putting Albania more on the map when it comes to wine.

The hotel, whilst still not finished, is designed with the Nurellari flourish of quality and attention to detail. The reception desk is crafted from several deconstructed wine barrels, and a large spiral staircase rises up to the first floor. Here there is a bar and kitchen as well as a large restaraunt area with handcrafted wooden tables and breathtaking views across the countryside beyond. The bedrooms are spacious suites, much larger than your average hotel, with balconies and floor to ceiling windows that flood the space with light. The gardens below offer additional space for tourists to relax and enjoy their wine- manicured gardens, a friendly cat, and the peace of the surrounding countryside creates the perfect desintation for gastronomists, wine fans, agrotoursits, and those that are just curious about what Albania has to offer. This incredible set up, combined with the warm hospitality of the Nurellari family means that this new venture could provide an important blueprint for other such operations within the country.

I knew what to expect when I came here- dedication, passion, and quality, and as I left, feeling sightly tipsy and with many bags clinking with my bounty of bottles, I most certainly was not disapponted.

 

The hotel is scheduled to open for next summer, but to book a tasting and tour, or to find out more about Nurellari wine, you can contact Levant here or here.

 

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