Tomorrow is St Martin’s Day (11 November), the annual celebration of young wine turning into delicious drinkable wine. As a nation of wine lovers, no doubt several glasses will be consumed through-out Croatia!
So in celebration of St Martin’s day, here are a few wine facts with a Croatian angle. How many do you know?
The origins of wine
Wine has a a long history. The earliest evidence of wine production dates from 6000BC from sites in Georgia. The oldest known winery was found in Armenia dating from around 4100BC. Here a wine press, fermentation vats and cups were found, as well seeds. These seeds were from Vitis vinifera vinifera, a grape still used to make wine today.
The Greek colonists are behind the introduction of wine production in Croatia, particularly on the islands such as Hvar and Korcula during the 3rd century BC. Many traditional grape varieties still remain in Croatia. With an estimated 50,000 tonnes of wine produced yearly and over 40,000 wine producers in the country, viniculture is as strong as ever.
Zivjeli, prost, kippis, skål, cheers!
It’s a safe bet that when your host offers you a glass of wine and says “cheers”, they aren’t trying to poison you! But in times past, that was a true concern. In Ancient Greece the host would toast his guests and take the first sip of wine, to prove it was not poisoned. At the time of the Romans, people would chink glasses with a “cheers” and by doing so the wine would spill from one cup to the other. Just to make sure no one was trying to poison you!
And you know that thing when you’re supposed to keep eye contact with people when you bump glasses and gleefully shout cheers? Not only can it appear rude, but the Germans say, apparently it brings 7 years of bad sex. Let that be a warning!
The Croatian world for Cheers is Zivjeli which appropriately translates as life is good, to life.
The world’s biggest wine drinkers
A surprising winner, not Croatia which still makes it into the top 10, but the number one wine consuming country, is the Vatican City. OK so technically it’s a city-state but with 74 litres of wine being consumed per person per year, that place is drinking a lot of wine!
Croatia lies at number 6. As a country of wine makers, it’s no surprise that Croatians love their wine. Having wine with a meal is common and typically it is mixed with sparkling or still water. Just ask for a gemist (white wine & water mix) or bevanda (red wine & water mix) at a Croatian bar. The word for wine in Croatian is vino.
International wines vs. Indigenous grapes
No doubt when you scan the wine shelves in your local supermarket it will be dominated by the whites Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio and the reds Cabernet and Merlot. These are “international” varieties grown in many locations across the wine world. Indigenous varieties typically are those varieties found only in a particular area and have existed there from antiquity and are rarely found in the international market. 6000 grape varieties have been recorded, with the same number again believed to be unrecorded.
In Croatia there are over 130 indigenous grapes, which makes Croatia one of the countries with the most indigenous grape varieties. All being pretty unpronounceable! Varieties include Bogdanusa, Grk, Posip, Prc, Vugava, Grasevina and Plavac Mali.
The Zinfandel and Plavac Mali connection
You’ve probably heard of the American grape Zinfadel and you may have heard of the Italian grape Primitivo? But I’m guessing the incredibly difficult to pronounce Crljenak Kaštelanski is a new one to you? The latter is Croatian and through careful DNA research it’s been proven all three grapes are clones of the same variety. So what’s that to do with the most widely grown red grape in Croatia?
For a while it was believed Zinfadel and Plavac were the same grape, which we now know its not true. Zinfadel in fact is one parent of Plavac Mali (the other being a grape called Dobričić). This cool little video explains the relationship perfectly.
Through-out the late 19th century phylloxera (a root-eating louse) swept through the wine growing countries of Europe destroying vineyards in its path. For a while Croatia was unaffected and in an attempt to fill the demand, the country produced more wine and exported it. You can see evidence of this across hillsides where dry stone terraces (known as meje) were constructed. Vines were planted on the terraces to aid irrigation and to avoid them being washed down the hillside in heavy rains.
Inevitably phylloxera spread to Croatia and many winemakers left the country after they lost their livelihood, many heading to the USA, Chile, Argentina, Australia and New Zealand,
Today, in many parts of the world, vines are grafted onto the rootstock of a North American species that are resistant to phylloxera. Some vines were also immune or unreached by phylloxera, including Grk grown here on Korcula. The louse was unable to thrive in the sandy soil in which Grk grows.
What are tannins?
Tannins are compounds found naturally in the grape skin, seeds and stems, produced by the grape to deter caterpillars. It is tannins which create the dry sensation in your mouth when drinking wine. They are released when the grape is crushed. Then, depending on how long the juice stays in contact with the skin, seeds & stems after being pressed, the more or less tannins a wine will have. When making red wine, the juice is left a longer period with the grape skin as this is what imparts the colour. This also adds a depth of flavour and a greater complexity to the wine. Hence red wines have more tannin. Tannins are also antioxidants which aids the longevity of wine.
Plavac Mali red wine, which is grown across Croatia most extensively in Dalmatia, is high in tannins. It is also high in alcohol and very fruity with top quality wines found in the Peljesac vineyards of Dingac and Postup.
Wine is healthy!
It is found that the antioxidants found in wines, particularly red wine due to the release of tannins during the fermentation process, have anti-cancer properties. It is also proven that wine does not affect your waistline at all. In a recent study it was found that women who drank moderate amounts of alcohol carried less body fat than women who did not drink at all. So on medical advice; drink a glass or two of wine a day!
If you want to double those health benefits, come wine tasting with us on Korcula where we get our exercise in first during a walk or cycle to the vineyards. We are then fairly rewarded at the wineries with several “healthy” glasses of wine!
The dreaded hangover
Oh the un-delightful hangover symptoms! Dehydration is often cited as the main reason for the banging headache, over production of gastric acid kicks off that nauseous feeling and various build up of toxins multiplies both whilst adding an extra bout of tiredness.
Why do some people (me) suffer more with hangovers than others? Some studies suggest it’s age; the older you get the tougher the hangover gets. Science also tells us that the enzyme levels, which help the body deal with the alcohol, varies amongst people; the less or slower your body makes them, the more you’re going to suffer the following morning. Finally evidence highlights that it’s the type of alcohol that affects you – red wine is more likely to give you a hangover than white wine.
However the bottom line is that none of these theories are 100%, so we say happy hangover. Just make sure its Croatian wine that gives you it!
Oenophobia or Novinophobia
Oenophobia = the fear of wine
Novinophobia = the fear of running out of wine
Now based upon 0% research I have done, I would say the greater part of the Croatian population would be more novinophobic than oenophobic!
Want to get your hands on some delicious Croatian wine? Of course coming to Croatia and visiting the wineries direct is the best way. If that’s not possible, you can now buy lots of varieties online via Wine & More.
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