Thursday, November 11, 2010

Will we see our first snowflake today while sipping on St. Martin's wine?

Today is St. Martin's Day and according to a weather lore, this saint is supposed to bring the first snowflakes to us.  Although snowflakes are pretty, I'm not much for snow.  I much prefer the wine that is associated with today.  That's right, a day when you have to drink wine...I love it!  

At precisely 11 am sharp, every winery and restaurant across the Czech Republic opens the first wines produced this year - the young wines.  Because of the date, this wine is also known as St. Martin's wine.  The St. Martin's tradition is very similar to the French Beaujolais Noveau, however, the Czech ritual is much older.

St. Martin's wine is the first wine from the autumn harvest.  The wine hits the market just a few weeks after its harvest, thus it's intended to be instantly consumed (um, no problem!).
This celebration of opening and consuming young wine dates back to the period of Emperor Joseph II.  It was he who gave permission to begin serving new wine from the autumn harvest just on St. Martin's Day.  The day was symbolic of the end of harvest work - it was the end of the main farming season and the beginning of winter.

Joseph II

The trademark "Svatomartinské víno" (St. Martin's wine) was not registered until 1995.  Since 2005, it has been owned by the Wine Fund of the Czech Republic.  The wine varieties and the character of the wine are firmly specified.  The brand name "Svatomartinské víno" may be used by any wine producer registered in the Czech Republic who is capable of meeting the strict criteria.

 Young wine is dry, light and fresh, with low alcohol content (damn) of about 12%.  Four wine species are used for this special product - Müller Thurgau and Veltlínské červené rané for white wine and Modrý Portugal and Svatovavřinecké for red or rosé wine.

On St. Martin's Day, you should eat goose, goose liver, stuffed chicken, St. Martin's cake or special feast doughnuts... delicious!

I got so focused on the delicious wine that I forgot to mention St. Martin.  It's quite an interesting story really...

St. Martin was born in 316 AD as Martin of Tours.  His father was a pagan Roman senior officer in the Roman province of Upper Pannonia, present-day Hungary, and forced Martin to become a soldier as early as 15 years old.  Legend has it that on a cold, dark night, Martin encountered a half-naked beggar who asked him for alms.  However, Martin had no money on him and, as he wanted to protect the beggar from the cold, he cleaved his coat into two halves and gave one to the beggar.  The following night, Christ appeared in front of him dressed in one half of the coat.  It's likely that this apparition caused Martin to be christened at Easter 339 and to decide to devote his life to God.  However, he could not leave the army for another 15 years when he reached the rank of officer. He was named Bishop of Tours in 372, but continued to lead the life of a monk in a hut by the Loire River, where the Marmourtier abbey was founded later. 

St. Martin died at the age of 81 in Candes near Tours in 397.  He is the patron saint of soldiers, horses, riders, geese and wine makers; most often he is depicted on horseback with his half coat and the beggar.