19 July 2010

2007 Plantaže Vranac Pro Corde

Last week I had the pleasure of spending an evening with the incomparable Samantha Dugan at the home of fellow Memphis wineblogger Michael Hughes. She and her husband had planned a visit to Louisville to visit their son on his 21st birthday, but decided to make a detour in order to meet up with Michael and me and to see some of the interesting sights of our dear River City. We had an amazing dinner of braised lamb shanks, stuffed eggplant (courtesy of Justin & Amy), roasted corn, and other delicacies, all accompanied by a slate of spectacular French wines that Sam brought with her as well as some wonderful Pacific Northwest wines provided by Michael. It was also the first time in ages that I've just sat down and simply enjoyed a bunch of great wine without taking notes, so hopefully Sam or Michael will fill in some of the blanks.

In the e-mails and messages leading up to the visit, she offered to bring me a bottle of wine, and told me to go to her store's website and pick something out. Would I make her day and pick a nice Champagne or Burgundy? No, a leopard can't change its spots and neither can a freckled wine lover. My eyes went straight to the Wines of Eastern Europe section, and I asked her for anything from the former Yugoslavia. She consulted her boss and brought me the 2007 Plantaže Vranac Pro Corde. $17, 13.5% abv. 100% Vranac (which means "black stallion") from the Podgorica region of Montenegro. Pro corde is a sort of Latin tag for "heart healthy", which is interesting because such claims are generally forbidden in the American wine market. The label used to feature a little EKG graph.

This starts out a little tart and tannic, but with only half an hour of breathing it smooths out and reveals its true character. The wine is mild and light with dominant black cherry and black pepper aromas. Touches of leather and chocolate. Cherry and fig flavors follow with a long, smooth finish. A lot of Eastern European wines are far more mild and subtle than you might think. Somehow it went really well with the hearty portion of garlic in the meal shown below.

When Yugoslavia broke up in the 90s, Montenegro was an on again/off again part of Serbia. It's an independent nation as of 2006, and I had intended to do a whole Montenegrin dinner. However, it's difficult to find recipes that specific in English, and Serbian cuisine is a bit more well-represented by the international food writing community. What follows are Serbian recipes and spellings, though my understanding is that variations on these dishes exist throughout the former Yugoslavia.

(Side note: in my research phase I realized that the only person I know of Serbian heritage is an eight year old boy who's a quarter Serbian based on ancestors that came over to the US over a hundred years ago. Grace informed me of the boy's opinion of Serbian food sampled at a family gathering: "They have good cheese." I've always wanted to publish his cheese reviews here--another project for another day.)

I made a batch of ćevapčići, little skinless sausages that are grilled and served with flatbread. Often these are made with some combination of ground meats, but I didn't want to make a lot of them. I stuck to beef and used plenty of paprika and garlic to amp up the flavor. I prepared a tub of tzatziki sauce the day before and served the ćevapčići in the style of a gyro or döner kebab. I threw some onion marmalade on it, and there's a little spiced brown rice hiding in the background. These little sausages are amazing, and pretty easy to make. I think it might be a fun way to play around with different sausage recipes without the grinders and casings and everything else.

In looking over recipes and reading about Serbian food, I kept seeing references to cherries, particularly sour varieties that are preserved, made into spreads, and baked into desserts. I had a lot of sweet Rainier cherries on hand, and decided to use those in višnjak piskóta, a very eggy cake that's sort of like Yorkshire pudding. I added some Luxardo Maraschino liqueur to the batter to increase the cherry flavor. It's good, but probably better for breakfast where the massive egg content makes more sense.

I plan on investigating Slavic cuisine further, since it's such an interesting fusion of Greek, Italian, Hungarian, Austrian, Turkish, and other traditions. In the meantime, sincere thanks to Sam for her gracious gift, and I promise I'll try to pay some more attention to French wines in the future.

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The Montenegrin Coat of Arms shown above is a Creative Commons-licensed image from Wikipedia.

11 comments:

Marko said...

Very good review. The maker of this wine is a company named Plantaze 13. Jul and they have been one of the largest producers of wine in the former Yugoslavia and remained in good shape after the war. Most other big producers either shut down or decreased the quality of their wines.

If you get a chance, try Vranac Reserve, it is a lot better than Pro Corde which is too acidic for me. I see that your friend's store has Cabernet Plantaze and it is very good, very fruity and light kinda like Beaujolais.

Also Dingac and Postup are among the best wines that Balkan has to offer.

I'm lookung forward to reading your posts about wines from former YU!

Anonymous said...

Ben,

Great story and an even greater love of wine. Wine is an everyday gift from the Gods. Here , in the south of France, we not only enjoy a few great glasses but as you said, the best part is sharing with friends. I can't ever see me drinking wine without friends around the house, It makes for a better experience.
Thank you for the great site that you have but above all, for your love of wines from all over the world and that you communicate so well. If ever you're in the Languedoc region, I would be pleased and honored to have you taste some real gems.
Again thank you for the passion you share with Bacchus.

A bientôt l'ami,
Amicalement,
Guy Buscéma,
Calvisson, France

Joe said...

Vranec! So now, I guess you, me, Sam, Michael, and a bunch of people in former Yugoslavia are the only ones who have ever had it.

The Vranec I've had was from Macedonia. I wonder if the grapes from Montenegro were in a cooler region, because I recall my Vranec being medium-to-full bodied. However, I totally agree with your estimation of the lighter-style in Eastern Europe. I also had a Macedonian Cab, and it was the lightest in color and body that I have ever tasted.

Benito said...

Marko,

Thanks for the additional information. Unfortunately Eastern European wines aren't normally carried in my area--Greece is about as exotic as it gets, with the occasional Hungarian wine. When I travel I will happily try anything I can find from a lesser-known wine region. And sometimes I rely upon the kindness of friends. :)

Cheers,
Benito

Benito said...

Guy,

Always a pleasure to hear from you, and it was a wonderful evening of wine. Hopefully Sam will write about some of the French wines she brought--the oness I most clearly remember are the 2007 Didier Dagueneau Pouilly Fume Pur Sang and a Billiot Champagne.

I'll definitely be in touch if I make it to Southern France.

Cheers,
Benito

Benito said...

Joe,

Unfortunately I took this bottle home with me--I wanted to do research on it and serve it with a semi-authentic meal, so Michael didn't get to try it.

The "big alcohol fruit bomb" craze hasn't hit Eastern Europe/the Middle East yet, so maybe these wines just taste mild and austere by comparison. But I'm consistently delighted with these little finds.

Cheers,
Benito

Samantha Dugan said...

Benito,
It was absolutely wonderful spending the evening there with you and Michael. I was nervous at first but once we had a glass of Agrapart Blanc de Blancs in our hands it was if I had known you two for years...in a way I guess I have. Oh and "incomparable" is one of the cooler things I have ever been called I assure you....

The other wines I brought were; Domaine Dragon Rose, Clos Rougeard Samur-Champigny and then the Dagueneau Pur Sang and Billiot Brut Reserve you mentioned. The Rougeard was the wine that was really funky and I thought you were digging the "poo" factor it was showing that night. I did however go back to Michael's the next night and the wine had opened up remarkably and was showing deep fruit, solid minerals and a plushy soft but tangy finish.

I seem to remember a Drouhin Oregon Pinot and there was a Chateauneuf-du-Pape the name of which I lost right around the time I finished my Amaro flight.

I still wish you would have let me repay all of your kindness with something a tad more special but I am thrilled that the Plantaze was useful.

Like I said it was wonderful meeting you two and thank you so much for such a warm welcome.

Benito said...

Sam,

To be honest, nothing would have made me happier than this wine. Another grape and wine region to add to the life list!

Can't wait for you to come back in the future.

Cheers,
Benito

Do Bianchi said...

I tasted that wine earlier this year in Texas. I thought it was great...

Love the Aperol recipe man...

great post as always...

Benito said...

Jeremy,

Glad to hear that these wines are available around the country--it's hard to determine distribution based on what arrives in Memphis.

Though on that note, the Pugliese restaurant where I had the Aperol has a really impressive selection of amaros and liqueurs, and the staff know how to describe and use them properly.

Cheers,
Benito

OksanaOd said...

Thanks for post I've got this wine as a present from Montenegro.