The Slovenia Times

Waste Not, Want Not



Boozing is good for you. Well, I've always said it. And there have been no end of medical studies to support this rather wonderful proposition. Now I know that some recent papers claim that it's nothing to do with red wine and all that, and more to do with lifestyle, a codeword for simply being middle class. And of course certain medical practitioners do have reservations about quantity. But let us counter these trifling arguments (moderation in all things, including moderation I say), and ask: what about Livia? Yes, wheel out the anecdotal evidence. Livia, wife of the Emperor Augustus, mother of the Emperor Tiberius and murderer of a whole load of other relatives, lived to the crusty old age of 82, despite the efforts of still other relatives to give her a taste of her own medicine. She herself attributed her longevity to a daily glass of puccinum, a legendarily earthy blood-red wine from the land of caves, known to us now as the Karst. And it is said that this wine lives on today as teran, purple-red like blood and earthy to boot. Most visitors to Slovenia end up trying teran, and it certainly divides opinion. If you try it in the company of some of the local prosciutto, the famous kraski prsut dried in the burja wind that whips across the hollow limestone plateau, and perhaps a little rocket and grana cheese, the verdict is likely to be positive. You might even buy a few bottles. Try it on its own, late at night in a shabby bar, and you'll be less enamoured. But that's the nature of the beast: mouth-puckering acidity in a red wine definitely calls for food. Why, though, is a red wine from a warm, sunny area like the Karst flouting so much acid? The answer is in grape and soil. It's the refosk variety, also found on the coast and over the border in Italy, that provides the naturally high acid content. And it's the terra rossa soil, strikingly brick-red, that shapes the character of the wine, full of iron and other minerals. So full, in fact, that for generations it was part of the regular rations received by hospital patients, a sound practice that big pharma has now miserably put a stop to. Back in the day, however, people had to make use of what was to hand. And the resourceful locals eventually let their thoughts wander from simple, light wine, prompted by new developments in the world of booze. It was the advent of easily available sugar that led to the creation of a new class of drink: the liqueur. These succulent beverages generally combine spirits, sugar and flavourings, usually fruit, herbs and spices. The key is balancing the strength of the alcohol, the sweetness of the sugar, and the acidity from the fruit (or bitterness from the herbs). Ah yes, acidity. Necessity being the mother of invention, and poverty the godmother, some bright spark with a glut of teran and little fruit decided to exploit the wine's lactic acid character and make a liqueur out of it, cutting the amount of expensive spirits required and turning potential waste into genius. Well, maybe it didn't happen quite like that, but nevertheless the practice has become well-established. Nowadays each teran producer seems to have his or her version of teranov liker, as the resulting beverage is known. The basic recipe calls for teran (we knew that), a quantity of sugar that ranges from modest to mind-boggling, rum or perhaps a fruit schnapps of some sort, and a cheeky bit of spice such as cinnamon or vanilla. It's vital that the flavour of the teran comes through, those raspberry yoghurt tones that make the wine so attractive, so I rather frown on the habit of adding fruit such as blueberries or citrus during maturation. Others may like it, but surely it's the teran that's the point of the drink? Whether you fruit it up, make it sweet and spicy with the caress of cinnamon, or just add the rich yet subtle overtones of vanilla, you have to decide how to drink the stuff. Some serve it as an aperitif. Hmmm. Some serve it as a digestif, and there are few more engaging sights that the host or hostess breaking out the homemade liqueur at the end of a splash-out in one of the Karst's fine gostilnas. Think of it as the port of the caves. For myself, I prefer to take it after the orehovec (homemade walnut liqueur), and before the final grappa. Or if you end up at an osmica, the traditional open days when local farms operate as restaurants, you're sure to be offered a glass or two, and the simple, natural fare and soothing teranov liker are certain to leave you feeling warmly welcomed, iron-rich, and at peace with the world. After all, boozing is good for you. Isn't it?


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