I don’t pretend to be a wine or even a food connoisseur but I do enjoy drinking wine and partaking in the preparation of, and the eating of, a good meal. But you won’t find me sitting alone with a bottle of wine thinking about the tannins or the taste left on my tongue after I have swallowed. The truth is, if a new or special bottle of wine has found its way into my kitchen, or I have tracked down an organic cut of beef from a Slovenian producer with whom I have met and thoroughly vetted as organic, you will not find me opening that bottle of wine, nor searing that steak, for a solo dinner. This is not my style, nor my philosophy of food. I will wait weeks for my man to return home before I open that bottle of wine, and I won’t order that meat until I have plans for a gathering with friends or family to enjoy it together. Because, you see, for me, it really is all about the people. It is the community of sharing with others that means the world to me, be it food, wine, cheese, or truffles!
In fact I am absolutely convinced that a perfectly prepared meal will taste different each time it is eaten depending on the company you keep, the mood you wear, and the energy of those serving or preparing, even if the ingredients are the same. In the film, “Like Water for Chocolate” there is a scene in which the recipe calls for a few tears to be added in order to awaken the sympathies of those partaking. The same thing happens when you taste a new wine and have the chance to meet the wine maker or learn about his philosophies. I believe that somehow the personality of the winemaker is infused into the actual wine, whether you meet him or not. And in a very roundabout way, this leads me to the blog topic I wanted to write about… Wine-tasting.
Like I said, I am no connoisseur. But I have attended enough wine tastings to know that there is a lot of pomp and circumstance that swirls around wine tasting. So I will not pretend to understand what makes a good wine. But I do respect people who do know, and get great joy from recognizing and drinking good wine. In fact, I admire these people. I liken it a bit to listening to music or art. What I like and what moves me, quite often is not what the experts would classically define as ‘good’ art, music or wine. That does not mean I have bad taste. It means that I should not let what someone else says about wine, music or art, influence what is pleasing to me. I like what I like, and inevitably what I like is linked to the experience that I am having at that particular moment. So when I tell you about Proper Croatia’s recent discovery of an Istrian wine maker named Veralda, the experience of spontaneously meeting the owner Luciano Visintin, was a critical element to my enjoyment of this particular winery and their products. As we sipped each glass of wine, slice of prosciutto, sip of olive oil, Luciano was very specific about helping us to connect our emotions to what we were tasting. He would tell us to close our eyes and let the wine (and olive oil!) create an emotion in us. And although at first this felt a little bit silly or dramatic, it made it easier for me to discard my preconceived notions about wine. This allowed me to come away with a very specific experience. And one that I will not forget and that I highly recommend.
The fact is the Veralda winery was only added to our itinerary as an afterthought, in case we had a cancellation or some extra time while we were out doing some other research in and around the Buje area of Istria. This area, I might add, is very particular for producing specific wines because of the salt mineral content in the soil and the gentle rolling hills that are perfectly positioned for sun and winds coming off the Adriatic Sea. In the end, after several wineries, boutique hotels, and fine restaurants, it turned out to be the highlight of our trip. And in the blur of wineries whose delicacies we sampled that day, Veralda stood out as an authentic and exciting choice.
We had called ahead to all of the wineries we visited that day and were not expecting any kind of red carpet treatment (unlike our Fodor’s research…!). So it is significant to add that Luciano was the only owner that took the time to sit and drink and eat with us. Not only did he show us how to connect our emotions with the taste of a glass of wine or quality olive oil, he also gave us an education in oleic acids, in the poisonous red dyes added to most prosciutto, in the politics of wine growing, and in many other things un-related, but yet so related! to wine growing that it was hard to leave without wanting more. In hindsight, I wish we had taken more than two hours to further explore the Veralda estate. Because as it turns out, his estate is quite large and impressive, despite the difficulty of being able to find his wine on the shelves of everyday stores in Croatia (…part of the politics of wine perhaps).
It was that human touch of meeting the person behind the wine, that made all the difference in the world for me. Luciano and his family were humble and impressive in their simplicity. Their passion is hidden behind an unimpressive looking building and a lack of apparent advertising. I might add that it was off-season and that I saw the owners of the other more impressive-looking wineries on the other premises that we visited. So I cannot say if we were lucky that Luciano met us at the door or if he simply is that rare breed whose love for his craft extends also to meeting people and educating them about his art. But I can tell you that based on my further research of his winery and the other interviews that I have read, what he gave us that day was not incongruous. Authentic indeed.
The exciting part was the actual wine and olive oil that we sampled. Undoubtedly if you have been to Istria you will have become very familiar with the full-bodied red wine of the teran grape and the light and herbaceous malvazia. It was exciting for me to learn that the Veralda winery had discovered a new way to drink the teran varietal as a rose. According to Luciano, in 1998 they had decided to experiment with the complicated teran grape and discovered its potential as a fantastic rose. They took their experimentation with the teran even further using in-bottle fermentation to produce an excellent champagne. Veralda’s innovation is not limited to just their wine making. In 1996 they decided that they would harvest their olive oil early in order to preserve the nutrients which make extra virgin olive oil an excellent source of anti-oxidants. Early harvesting is now a standard practice in Isria for oileries that seek to produce higher quality oil despite the lower quantity that is subsequently extracted because of the early harvest. My love for olive oil, specifically Croatian olive oil, is almost an obsession and this information from Luciano while sampling his liquid gold, was priceless.
In the past, neither rose nor sparkling wine have been frequent guests at my table, until my visit to Veralda. In fact after I got out of the Army, and was working for a mergers and acquisitions firm that was owned by a southern gentleman with very refined tastes, I hardly ever drank rose. My boss, who had taken me under his wing for a time to learn the ins and outs of collecting business information, told me that cultured people don’t drink rose. I mistakenly understood this as part of my education to become a sophisticated business person. Of course I was wrong to understand what he had said to me in that way. That fact that he had hired me over a Harvard MBA, kind of like choosing a rose over a teran, was totally lost on me then. It is foolish to think that we can assume that refinement can graciously be rubbed off on us simply through contact. So while I don’t discourage research and being a connoisseur about whatever it is that we do, but there is nothing more genuine than the emotions that arise from our own individual experience. So as your tip your glass close your eyes and let your heart and your tongue be your guide when you sip your next glass of wine…!
Photo credit: DAMIR FABIJANIĆ