November 11th, or St. Martin’s Day, has always been associated with the first snow reflected in the popular saying “St. Martin arrives on a white horse”. In recent years the day has come to be known for something else altogether: young wine from the year’s harvest goes on sale in shops and at open air markets around the country to light up the autumn gloom with some summer sun.
Historically, November 11th was the day when winemakers in the Czech lands were first allowed to sell young wine. The recent tradition of St. Martin’s wine relates to that but also to an older culinary tradition – roast goose feast. Goose pairs nicely with young wine and the combination is becoming more popular by the year. Prague-based sommelier Lucie Kohoutová, one of the people behind the Družstvo pop-up natural wine bar explains:
“It’s true that it got joined with the trend of St. Martin’s goose which is pretty old, already from the Middle Ages. But the hype only really started in 2005 when the Winemakers’ Fund of the Czech Republic started to really actively promote it.”
Similarly to the Beaujolais Nouveau tradition in France, the St. Martin’s brand helps boost winemakers’ cash flow right after the harvest. How do the two traditions compare?
“The Beaujolais Nouveau is something older, definitely, it is from the 1960–70s. And as for the quality, Beaujolais is mainly red. In the Czech Republic it is a lot about white wine although you find a lot of roses and reds as well. Beaujolais is like 95% red. And this is due to geographical conditions, of course. Because here it is kind of like a race with time sometimes, because of course, we are much more northern and the harvest starts later than in France. So especially in the years that are not that warm, like 2010 for example, the wine had to be made in an extremely short period of time.”
Not every wine makes it to the list that can be marketed as St. Martin’s. Lucie Kohoutová again:
“To have the brand, it has to be made from chosen varietals and it has to be approved by the winemakers’ fund. But to be honest, there are a lot of wines that are young, often even more interesting, but the winemakers choose not to ask for the brand. They make young wines, they sell them to people but either because they don’t want to be associated with the brand or because they know they wouldn’t pass, they sell it as young wine or under different names. But it is young wine from the current harvest.”
Over a glass on a chill November day, I asked Lucie if she was planning a traditional St. Martin’s roast goose dinner this weekend.
“We have a nice tradition with my friends, it’s been a couple of years already. We always gather in one of the apartments in a rather big group. The funny thing is that a lot of them have become vegetarians in the course of the years so now we’re having half goose, half tofu, but it should happen this November as well, yes.”
The list of St. Martin's wines currently approved by the Wine Fund: www.wineofczechrepublic.cz