"May you have as much wine to fill all barrels and kegs, all the brente and brentice in your cellar as may as are the drops in this wine!"

Wine in general, and Malvasia in particular, have great importance in traditional customs in Istria. Some of these customs are related to the tradition of viticulture and winemaking, some are related to the annual rhythm of holidays, and some to social life and relationships in the community. Since the common year is usually regarded within the span from Christmas to Christmas, let's start in that order.

There is one detail in Istrian Christmas customs that was inherited from ancient pre-Christian customs, even resembling ancient sacrificial ceremonies. Namely, on the day before Christmas, on Christmas Eve, a large tree stump was placed on the home fireplace, which was supposed to smolder until Three Kings Day (FEast of the Epiphany, January 6). On Christmas Eve, a fast is observed, in Istria it was most often white maneštra (t/n: minestrone soup) with legumes and barley, or else verzota (savoy cabbage soup) in a pan or pasutice (t/n: traditional Istrian variety of pasta) with cod fish in white, and when the family gathered for such a vigil dinner, the first one morsel (fork, spoon) from each dish on the table would be placed on that tree stump, saying "neka did jide" (lit. "let grandpa eat"), and then a little wine from a glass would be poured on the tree stump, along with the words "neka did pije" (lit. "let grandpa drink"). That wine was, of course, Malvasia, because it was considered wine to drink with family, while red wine, or teran, was more a social life wine and it would be on the table the next day, for the Christmas Day dinner.

From Christmas to the Feast of Epiphany (Three Kings), the practice of traditional holiday greetings and processions was held in different Istrian towns in different ways. The participants to such processions are called koledvari or kolejani. It is their duty to pay visit to every house in the parish, to celebrate the holidays with a song and to wish everyone a fruitful and prosperous year to come. After these holiday blessing, the hosts would treat them to cakes, sausages, eggs and wine, usually Malvasia. In Kaldir, where the custom of kolejani is still practiced today, the good blessings procession is led by three locals dressed in the costumes of the Three Magi Kings. They accept gifts on behalf of all the kolejani, and thank people for these gifts using typical traditional phrases in which, with humorous exaggeration, they wish the next year to be many times better than the previous one. Thus, receiving a bottle of Malvasia from the host, one of the Kings thanks for the gift of wine with the following words: "It is a gift to God and dear to people! May you have as much wine to fill all barrels and kegs, all the brente and brentice  in your cellar as may as are the drops in this wine!” All the wine kolejani received as a gift was accepted, but they were drunk by the next day at the community banquet, where omelette from the donated eggs and sausages was baked for all the locals. Before that, at the mass in honor of the feast of the Holy Three Kings, the Three Kings kolejani, still in their costumes, would bring to the altar and present the priest with a selection of the gifts they had collected: a basket of eggs, a cake baked from part of the collected eggs, and a bocunić (t/n: small bottle) of Malvasia containing a mixture of wine from all the houses that gave them gifts.

Something similar occurs during Carnival (Mardì Gras), when people wearing costumes in a parade visit every house in the village and are also given gifts of sausages, eggs, cakes and wine. In various parts of Istria, the characters and roles in the masked procession are diversely designed and divided, but the responsibilities they all meet regardless of the concept of each mask character are to be collectors of gifts. One of them is in charge of collecting wine in a barila (t/n: small wooden barrel) or a bocunić that he carries with him all the time. The masquerades are of course more casual, cheerful and less serious than the kolejani. When the host welcomes the masked procession, he offers them wine (usually Malvasia) on the spot, so during the carnival festivities in Istria, a lot is drunk, to contribute to a general good cheer.[1]

Easter comes next in the rhythm of yearly holidays, and it is a very interesting holiday for traditional gastronomy and wine in many ways. On Easter, in all parts of Istria, among other things, food is brought to church for blessing, and in some places, mainly in eastern Istria, wine, namely Malvasia, is also brought for blessing. Wine is sometimes brought to the blessing in small bottles, sometimes in  regular bottles, and after returning home from church, a traditional Easter breakfast is prepared during which each member of the household must have a taste of each food that was blessed, including a glass of wine. Of course, the children are only given a sip of the blessed wine, but they are included in this customary obligation as well.[2]

Throughout the year, Malvasia was drunk on almost every occasion, especially on Sundays, and guests who came to the house were always offered wine first. The host showed special honor to a guest when he invited them to the tavern, to pour wine directly from the barrel. Toasts were made in the two most common ways, either with the words "Boh daj zdravlje" (t/n: "May God bless you with good health"), or with the words "K litu" or "K letu" (t/n: "Until next year") and in Mrgani above Limska draga I recorded a very unusual toast, in which the toaster says "Šani" and who responds to the toast answers with "Bun pro". The locals don't know how to explain the meaning of these words, they only say that they have always toasted like this.[3]

In Istria, Malvasia is never diluted or mixed with mineral water in a spritzer, but in the olden days there was not enough wine in rural households for the whole year. In the poorer parts of central Istria, there is a saying that wine is "popije u jaketi" (lit. "drunk in a jacket"), it means that all the wine produced at home is consumed during the colder part of the year, before summer. However, in some regions there was a custom to save a certain amount of wine just for that local holiday of the patron saint, although the rest of the wine of the house was consumed much earlier, because every house should have wine for this occasion, when, in addition to hosting social events, a samanj (t/n: fair) was usually held in the village, and on that day, relatives from other places came to visit their local relative. In some places, for example in Muntrilj, there is a special name for the wine preserved for this occasion, usually Malvasia, usually in a smaller barrel, stored in the freshest corner of the cellar: such a wine was called rokovica, because it was kept for the local holiday of St. Roch, celebrated on August 16, in what used to be the hottest part of summer.

After the new harvest, the barrels in the cellars were filled again with new wine, and according to an old custom as well, the new wine was tasted for the first time after decanting during the feast of St. Martin or Martinje, on November 11th. In almost every Istrian village on Martinje, the heads of wine families gathered and went from tavern to tavern, tasted each other's wine, of course Malvasia as the most important and representative variety, made observations on it and praised it, estimated what it would be like when fully ripe, evaluated the quality of its yield and harvest, and spent the day in nice wine company. The tradition of the Baptism of must, accompanied by plays with costumed figures of Bacchus and St. Martin, modeled on similar ceremonies in northern Croatia, are more recent in Istria, whereas these were not part of the older tradition in Istria. Nevertheless, in some Istrian places there was a custom (to this day it has only been preserved in Beram, near Pazin) to bless new wine in the church on the feast of St. Martin, the patron saint of winemakers. Since St. Martin is the patron saint of the parish and the parish church in Beram is dedicated to this saint, in the afternoon of that day, a festive holy mass is held, and at the end of the mass, local winemakers bring into the church the brente in which young Malvasia from all the households in the parish has been collected and mixed. At the altar, the priest blesses the brente with young Malvasia from Beram, which are then taken to the square in front of the church and then a community tasting is held, with the usual conversations about how the year was, what kind of wine the year gave, and the like.

After Martinje, the new wine starts a little bit to wear off, and village winter life progresses at a slower pace than in the rest of the year towards the new Christmas and the new beginning of the Istrian common year.


[1]     Davor Šišović: Vino u tradicijskom životu središnje Istre ("Wine in the traditional life of central Istria"), Almanac Stoljeće vina ("Century of wines") 1901-2001, City of Pazin and Istrian County, Pazin 2001, p. 148.

[2]     Narratives recorded in the field research of Davor Šišović.

[3]     Narratives recorded in the field research of Davor Šišović.


Popular songs about Malvasia

BLAŠKOVIĆ FRANCI, GORI USSI WINNETOU, Mens sana in Malvasia Istriana. Ljubljana, Helidon, 1990.

TURINA DRAŽEN ŠAJETA, Nas četiri in “Božja beseda i vražje delo”. Zagreb, Croatia records, 1997.

TURINA DRAŽEN ŠAJETA, Va oštarije in “Šajonara”. Zagreb, Croatia records, 1999.