Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Samobor: Podrum Filipec, Bermet & Muštarda (Part 2)

Have you ever heard of Bermet, an aromatized wine from the Croatian town of Samobor? Until my recent Croatian visit, I was unaware of it, but now it's definitely peaked my interest. 

When we visited Samobor, we stopped at one winery, Podrum Filipec, which produces two specialties of the region, Bermet and Muštarda. They were both new to me, and I was pleasantly impressed by both. Bermet is an aromatized wine, flavored with herbs, spices and fruit, similar in some respects to Vermouth, although Bermet isn't fortified. 

The history of Bermet in the Samobor region extends back at least to the mid-18th century. A version of Bermet is also made in Serbia, primarily in the Fruška Gora region, and its origins may also extend to the 18th century. I haven't been able to definitively determine which region first created Bermet, although the oldest known documentation seems to indicate Samobor is the more likely originator. 

These two regions are separated by over 200 miles, so the origin of Bermet is fascinating. As Bermet began in monasteries in both regions, then it seems likely the monks from one monastery shared the recipe with other monasteries. Was there a special connection between the monasteries of Samobor and Fruška Gora? As a side note, it's claimed that Serbian Bermet was once served on the Titanic. 

Some articles claim that Bermet originated in the Samobor region with the arrival of Napoleon and his troops around 1809. This is not actually true as there's documentary evidence of Bermet existing over 50 years before the arrival of Napoleon. There's a manual, from 1755, that was composed by "pharmacists" at a monastery in Samobor, and it has a recipe for a "special aromatised wine" that is very similar to modern Bermet. 

This monastery was the first "pharmacy" in Samobor, and Bermet initially was intended for medicinal purposes, such as to aid digestion and relieve fever. The original versions of Bermet contained only red wine and wormwood, but over time, other ingredients were added, some for additional medical purposes, and others for their flavor, especially to balance the bitterness of the drink. The recipe from 1755 had evolved from the basics, and included lemon balm, bitter orange, mustard seed, coriander and cloves. Thus, it's clear that Bermet was created before 1755, although how much longer we are unsure, as it had already evolved at this point beyond the wine & wormwood concoction. 

During the later 18th century, the spices and ingredients used in Bermet were often costly, so Bermet was likely the domain of the wealthy. It would take time for the price of those ingredients to decrease, before Bermet became more readily available for the general public. 

Enter the Filipec family, one of the oldest in Samobor, which has been producing Bermet since the early 19th century. One of their early ancestors, Mijo Filipec, worked as a maunciple (in charge of buying & storing provisions) at the Samobor Franciscan monastery, and it's believed that he gave the recipe for Bermet to his family. Throughout the years afterward, the Filipec family produced Bermet, but only for their own private use. 

For a lengthy period, the Filipec family was primarily engaged in the tannery business but in 1946, the Communists seized control of the tannery, wanting to have complete control over leather production. Thus, as his livelihood had been seized, Josip Joca Filipec started producing Bermet and Muštarda on a commercial basis. The business would continue down the generations, although it was still only a side business, with their main business being a factory that prepared foods for the winter. In 1999, Antun Filipec (who led our visit) established Podrum Filipecproducing Bermet, as well as other still and sparkling wines.    

Today, there are only about four commercial producers of Bermet in Samobor, and each uses their own secret recipe, although there are obvious similarities. Of the four producers, the Filipec family has the oldest recipe. Some other families in Samobor produce Bermet in their homes, but it's only for their private use. Home production has occurred for many years, and it was traditional to open the new batch of Bermet at Christmas. 

Samoborski Bermet now possesses a Protected Designation of Origin with the European Union, and you can read the EU Technical File on it. According to this file, Bermet production begins with crushed red grapes to which are added figs, carob, orange, lemons and wormwood. Red wine is later added, with a portion of that wine infused with sugar, vanilla, cloves and nutmeg. It must age for at least three months in 150-350 liter wooden barrels. 10% of the grapes must also come from vineyards in Samobor. Traditional red grapes include Frankovka, Portugizac Crni (Blauer Portugieser), Kavčina Crna,  Zweigelt, Pinot Noir and Dornfelder, and a few white grapes are permitted as well, such as Graševina, Kraljevina and Rhine Riesling.

Commonly, Bermet results in a full-bodied, dark red wine with an intensive herbal aroma and bitter-sweet flavors, with fruit and spice notes as well. Bermet should be served chilled, whether neat or on the rocks. It can also be used in cocktails. Might be an intriguing substitute for Vermouth. A Bermet Manhattan? 

Our host for our tasting was Antun Filipec, who was charismatic and humorous, and told us more about their own production of Bermet. He noted, "It is wine but it isn't wine." It's certainly not what most people think of as wine, but it certainly has a strong wine component. Antun also stated that some of the main ingredients in their recipe include wormwood, carob, oranges, and dried figs, and all of their fruits come from Dalmatia. Second, their Bermet is generally aged for 5-6 months in the barrel, about twice as long as required. Some of their barrels are very old, as much as 150 years old. Third, all of their Bermet have vintages, and Antun is seeking a relative consistency from year to year.  Fourth, their base wine is usually made from about 90% Frankovka and 10% Portugizac Crni, both grown in vineyards in the Samobor region. Lastly, the ABV varies from 13-15.5%. 

We began our tasting with the 2021 Samoborski Bermet, which had a dark red color and an intriguing herbal nose. On the palate, there was a complex and well-balanced blend of bitter and sweet, with prominent herbal notes, and hints of citrus and vanilla. Each sip though seemed to bring a slightly different taste, and it would be a pleasure to slowly sip a glass over an hour or two, seeing how it evolved over time in the glass. It was delicious, and I can see its potential, from an aperitif to a cocktail ingredient. As it isn't fortified, so the alcohol level is lower, you can drink more Bermet than you can something like Vermouth. 

Bermet can age well, and Antun has a section in his tasting room with numerous older vintages. In general, the bitterness decreases over time and the herbal components help the wine to age well. Antun let us taste three older vintages of Bermet and it was enlightening to see how it transformed with time, although each vintage has its own uniqueness as well. 

We began with the 2009 Bermet, which had a lighter color, was less bitter and more sweet. It was smooth and delicious, with more citrus notes. The 2006 Bermet was about the same light color, but was more bitter than the 2009, although much of the rest of the taste was fairly similar. It was intriguing that the bitterness hadn't decreased more than the 2009 vintage. The 1992 Bermet (30 years old!) was actually a little darker in color than the other two. There was a touch of bitterness, but more sweetness, and lots of bright herbal notes and citrus, and a lengthy finish. It was still lively and could easily age for another twenty years. Definitely an impressive experience. 

Antun also produces Bianco Bermet, a limited edition wine that was made in 2013 using Grasevina grapes. It started as an experiment, but met with much raves so they decided to continue producing it. They now make about 500 bottles a year, and it's aged for seven years in the barrel. It possessed a beautiful golden color, had a compelling and complex aroma, and on the palate, it was mildly bitter, with a mild sweetness, and fresh herbal flavors and subtle fruit, mainly of citrus. 

After the Bermet tasting, we adjourned outside to taste some of their still wines. Outside, there was an old wine press, a three column press from 1864, which still works and they even use it on occasion. Their other wines include Joko (a sparkling wine), Grasevina & Pinot Gris, Tia (a rosé), and Cuvee Roko (a red blend). 

Of the two white wines, my favorite was their 2021 Grasevina, made with grapes from their own vineyard. With a 12% ABV, it was fresh and crisp with an excellent aroma of herbal and floral notes. On the palate, there was plenty of fresh fruit, including pear and grapefruit, as well as mineral notes and a subtle herbal aspect. Simply delicious! The 2021 Sivi Pinot Gris, also from grapes from his own vineyard, was easy drinking and pleasant, with tropical fruit flavors and a touch of grapefruit. 

The 2021 Tia Rosé is produced from Frankovka, and is made to be semi-sweet with a 11% ABV. Antun stated his philosophy is to make Rosé with a little sweetness, He also noted that this was a "lady's wine," though this was not seen as derogatory, more just that is the type of Rosé many women sought.  I found the Rosé to be only mildly sweet, with crisp acidity and plenty of fresh red fruit flavors. It would be a nice summery wine, to sip outside with friends or family. 

We tasted two vintages of the Cuvee Roko, a red blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Zweigelt, and Frankovka. Each grape is vinified separately, and the wine is aged in barrel for at least 18 months. The 2018 Cuvee Roko had spent 18 months in old barrique, had a 13.5% ABV, and was said to be a "wilder" wine. With a medium red color, it was lighter bodied with pleasant tastes of cherry, plum, and mild spice notes. There was a mild earthy touch to this wine as well. The 2019 Cuvee Roko had spent 24 months in barrique, and was a smoother wine, more complex and with more spice notes. It lacked that earthy aspect, and had a cleaner taste, and a lengthier finish. 

Podrum Filipec also produces Samoborska Muštarda, made by Antun's uncle. Legend states that Napoleon and his men introduced Muštarda to the region, and the people of Samobor created their own version. Antun's uncle uses a recipe from the 19th century, and the ingredients generally consists of mustard seeds, sweet wine must, grape jam, salt, and sugar. 

I'm generally not a fan of mustard, but I was intrigued by Samoborska Muštarda, which certainly seemed very different than most other mustards. We got to taste some with local charcuterie, and I was surprised how delicious it was! With a dark color, and reddish tones, it possessed a compelling nose, and on the palate, it was very spicy, lightly sweet, and much less mustard flavor than many others. It was complex and tasty, intense and interesting. I enjoyed it so much, I even bought some to take home.

If you visit Samobor, then you must visit Podrum Filipec, to taste their Bermet & Muštarda. It was a fascinating visit, with plenty of delicious wines, and you'll experience the unique Bermet. 

(Please note: Photos #5, 7-10 are courtesy of Todd Godbout)

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