Wine Roads of Istria
Many Istrians conceive wine a inexplicable unearthly sacred potion, a necessity and passion, the culture of living, as nourishment and liquor, prayer and a curse. Istrians have been historically devoted to the grapevine. A proverbial saying confirms it; Wine comes from grapevine and milk from a goat. Wheat is life, while wine is a myth and as our elders would say, The bread is for the flesh and wine is for the soul. Istria, this miniature continent and the largest peninsula of the Adriatic coast, slopes gently into the sea towards the eternally sunny southwest. The wine's bouquet and body is enriched by the special land structure, i.e. the red soil spreading over the littoral and the white soil covering the hinterland area. The vineyards spread over approx.15.200 acres of land. The western viticulture area (in the vicinity of Poreč, Buje, Pula and Rovinj) is the largest, its vineyards covering approx. 14.430 acres. The central Istria wine-growing hills (around Buzet and Pazin) spread over some 516.44 acres, while in the eastern part (near Labin), there are around 255 acres of vine grapes.
Over the past century the Istrian malmsey has born the title of the most famous and ubiquitous wine of our peninsula. Depending on the chemical processing procedure, nurture and vintage year, its color varies from straw to golden yellow. Its scent primarily reminds of the locust flower scent. The contents of its main components make her an average to-full bodied wine, its volume of alcohol ranging from 11.5 to 13.5 with delicate bouquet and fresh taste. It complements most superbly the entire variety of the Mediterranean cuisine. The Istrian counterpart of malmsey is teran. Teran and its subtype refosc are both considered the pristine, indigenous wines of Istria. We tend to call the red wines black, mostly because of teran's intense, deep, ruby color. The local farmer gently whispers, its color is similar to hare’s blood and it can be drunk like milk. Its bouquet is fruit-like and its special taste is easily recognized. It is in excellent harmony with heavier, more caloric dishes, such as local stew, sauces and venison. A great many connoisseurs of Istrian wines will tend to rank the highest the Istrian muscatel or, to be more specific, the muscatel produced in and around Momjan, owing to it’s gold-like color, intense bouquet of wild clove pink and it’s exquisite aroma. Dry and sweet. Worthy complement of desserts and many other delicacies. Even aphrodisiac power has been attributed to it.
Thus we are proposing to you these Istrian Wine Roads in order to make you familiar with our wine-cellars and small wine-vaults. A larger, more explicit symbol (flag) was used to indicate wine-cellars, i.e. the ones offering greater selection of wine, modern technology, a bottled wine assortment. A smaller sign (barrel) was used to mark smaller rural wine-cellars and vaults using traditional vintage methods and offering a more modest selection of not necessarily bottled wine, but nonetheless, of good quality and at a more favourable price. We are convinced that you are about to get lost trying to figure a way to move across our wine roads, but it can happen to us local people as well. Istria is a country of numberless trails and small hamlets; you set out for one hamlet and turn out in another but you needn't worry, there is good wine in there, too. Dear visitors, you are kindly pleased to notify your visit to the wine cellar by phone.
As tiny part of the Mediterranean tale, Istria has been interwoven with rich wine tradition handed down by ancestors. Scripts written by Greek and other ancient authors testify that winemaking had flourished during the Roman times (177 B.C. - 476 A.D.) and according to some preserved manuscripts, it would seem even in the pre-Roman period.
In the Raša Bay, close to the village of Rakalj, spreads an area known as Kalavojna, meaning «good wine» in Greek (kalos oinos). This would confirm the hypothesis that Greek merchant ships sailed into our ports supplying themselves with «fine wine».
The Roman author Plinius the Older (23 – 79 A.D.) in his historic work Historiarum mundi speaks highly of the wine «vinum Pucinum» claiming that the empress Livia had lived to be 82, thanks to this particular wine. Plinius refers to an Istrian hinterland, by some authors; this could very well have been in the Motovun and Buzet hill-side.
Throughout the Middle Ages, muscat wine from Istria had been frequently referred to as a delicacy ending on royal tables. The economic importance of wine has changed from the gloomy periods of warfares and epidemics, when in most cases, the wine had been kept in the background, up to the good times, when wine finally has taken the place it deserves in the lives of ordinary people.
And another important thing derives from that time, namely malmsey.Back then,Venice used to trade with the wines from Levant, Peloponnesus, Cyprus and Crete, wherefrom the first wine grapes of malmsey used to arrive.
Subsequently, in the epoch of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, wine started to regain significance on the Istrian peninsula – over thirty thousand hectares of vineyards had been planted. But these are the times of pestilence called filoxera, the vineyards wasted away and are being replanted...... and thus up to the modern times.
Today, wine has become a must in Istria. And there is an even more interesting tale to be told. Naturally, times have changed ever since and recently, wine is not so important for the economic prosperity of this region; however, it strongly accounts for the development of a unique Istrian identity. Let us try to grasp the secret of Istrian wine for a moment.... The most significant typical sort is certainly the Istrian Malvasia. It is a white sort grown on almost two thirds of the entire grapevine plantations extending over this area. Though not common in other places, it has been for long a predominant sort in Istria, thus recognized as a synonim for the Istrian white wine.
Most frequently this is a dry wine, free of unboiled sugar residues, attaining its best quality within the first year after the vintage, straw yellow, of a moderate structure and density. It is usually classed among semi-flavored sorts, embodying a hardly noticeable almond bitterness, fresh fruit and flower bouquet, most often of locust blossom. Sometimes, grapes grown on sloping hills, particularly exposed to the sun, tend to make the wine structure more accentuated, of ripe fruit flavor, so then it needs to be left to age in oak wood (barrique), which will give it complexity, distinctive quality and constancy.
Of course, Istrian Malvasia can vary owing to the «terroir», or a combination of indigenous factors common to particular settings. Among these, we often mention two different types of soil – the red soil (terrarossa) most common in the coastal area, enriching the wine structure and marly soil in the hinterland where, as a rule, we tend to come upon the wines with a more delicate bouquet. Apart from Malvasia, the primary white sort in istria, the most typical red sort grown in this region is Teran. It gives a very unusual, ruby red wine with purple reflections, strong, unrestrained flavor, mostly wild fruit, with distinctive traits and sour substance and, by rule, of a lesser density in relation to the established norms for red wine sorts. Its special quality and lack of harmony, but only at first sight, leaves no one indifferent. As a matter of fact, recent tendencies in showing greater interest for unusual, local products, opens new potentials for this interesting sort. Young Teran is used to prepare Istrian supa, a traditional meal with warm, toasted bread dipped into the bukaleta, a jug of red wine. This specialty is still very popular at the Istrian table and it speaks of the ingenuity of the poor, local peasant whom supa often used to be the only daily meal.
Besides typical sorts such as Malvasia and Teran, indigenous to Istria, you can also find muscatel otonel such as the Momjan Muscat and the Rose Muscat from the Poreč area, both very pleasing wines, particularly those embodying the unboiled sugar residues, perfect to accompany desserts served at the end of the meal. With a little luck, rare, autochthonous sorts like Borgonja and Hrvatica, with the most delicate bouquet and density, can also be traced. From the usual European white grape sorts, Chardonnay, White Pinot and Gray Pinot have become increasingly popular in Istria. These are the superior quality wines, awarded several times at the international fairs.Usually, these wines are produced and poured to age into small oak barrels, known as barrique. From the red sorts common in Europe, Merlot has become increasingly popular nowadays in the Istrian vineyards. To a lesser degree, but with the tendency of diffusion, we can come upon Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, the widely appraised wine sorts from Bordeaux, France. It is quite rare for any wine-growing region in Europe to be able to achieve top results in the production of both white and red wine sorts; undoubtedly, Istria has managed to do that.