November 29, 2018 – The third and last in a series of articles unveiling the most important Istrian wines.
Choosing the third most iconic Istrian wine was a bit tricky. There is the famous Muškat which can be found in several different styles, though in Istria it is traditionally produced as a dessert wine, and comes as a close second right after Malvazija. When it comes to red wines, the Bordeaux varieties like Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot show remarkable results in Istrian terroir and so their production is on the rise. In fact, Merlot is today probably more prevalent than Teran.
However, since we’re talking about the Istrian “holy trinity,” choosing any other variety than Refošk would be a sacrilege. This rich red enjoys the reputation of being the enfant terrible of Istrian wines, and because of its strong, tannic flavor, you either love it or hate it.
Although it was long mistakenly considered that Refošk is merely another name for Teran, and even that they are “first cousins,” an extensive DNA analysis and comparison of these two varieties determined that they are actually two separate cultivars, despite their numerous genetical similarities.
According to a renowned Italian professor Antonio Calò and several other wine experts, Refošk is indigenous to northern parts of Italy, namely the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region, and in particular the Karst plateau which stretches across the Italian border to both southwestern Slovenia and northwestern Istria.
Refošk is dark ruby to violet in color; it has a pronounced fruity flavor with a slightly bitter aftertaste and exudes a rich aroma reminiscent of cherries and black currants with a touch of black pepper and vanilla from the wooden barrels. It is best paired with cured meats, especially Istrian game sausages, but also grilled red meat, and traditional dishes like boškarin žgvacet with gnocchi.
In Istria, this powerful, full-bodied red is most often used in various blends while Refošk varietal is a rare gem made only with superb vintages, and very few winemakers have managed to tame its wild nature.
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