‘Monastery Tvrdos Vranac’ Wine Review by Larisa Code

Wine of the Month
Larisa Code

Note: Create joy, one sip at a time. 
Featured Wine: Monastery Tvrdos Vranac 
Appellation: Trebinje
Grape Variety: 100% Vranac
Region:  Herzegovina (Western Balkan Peninsula of Europe)
Vintage: 2016
Aging: Aged for two years in 100-year-old Monastic (oak) barrels underneath the monastery in the original wine cellar that dates back to the 15th Century.
Color: Deep Burgundy
Sediment Present
Price: $30
It is with great enthusiasm that I introduce to you an incredibly unique wine from Eastern Europe. Monastery Tvrdos Vranac is a lovely dry red wine that will please most palates and makes a perfect table wine for dining. As always, I am excited about wines that are produced using native grapes and Vranac is a native grape that can be traced back to the Middle Ages (which also entices me). Just looking at the label, a sketch of the actual Monastery gives the feel that this wine has history, which it does.
Vranac translated means black horse. There are a few theories on how this beautiful grape was named, the most likely being that it is a dark inky purple varietal; although, the fact that it thrives in shallow soil that quickly meets crushed white stones, as well as tolerating the extreme heat and dry climate, could also be a reason for this name as the grape is powerful and strong, a true survivor. Vranac is high in sugar content so the grape can also lead to high alcohol content. Monastery Tvrdos is 14.5% alcohol. 

I did read that the monastery has now expanded. Besides modernizing and adding new equipment, they are growing other, non-native grapes like Chardonnay. Of course, it makes sense. They want to grow in the wine industry, make more money and continue repairs on the monastery. And although Vranac is a hearty grape, introducing non-native grapes to the vineyard increases the risk of disease and inevitably leads to the increased use of pesticides and/or herbicides, which in turn will impact the environment, killing off important micro-organisms and altering the fine and unique flavors of this beautiful wine. This wine is precious and may change in the future; hopefully I am wrong, yet still think you should enjoy it now, just in case.
When you pour your first glass your eyes will be full of the magnificent color; dark deep burgundy, almost a blackish purple. It really is extraordinary.
Far from what I expected, the nose is very gentle; take a little time to study it. You will be greeted by subtle notes of earth, leather, black cherry, chocolate and green olive; (this is the first time I have ever picked up on notes of green olive). It sounds like a lot but believe me, each note is so soft, it is truly worth your time to try and distinguish them. 

Looking at this beautiful dark wine, you may have expectations about the palate. I did, and I was wrong. Looks can be deceiving. First and foremost, this wine is very delicious; I keep looking at my notes and thinking, will this draw someone in? Make her want to taste this wine? I hope so. Based on the subtle nose, I was taken aback by the powerful and well-rounded flavors. I first picked up on tart red cherry. There is a lot of acidity which will dance around each sip as new flavors arise. Immediately after the tart red cherry, there is this burst of black cherry, chocolate and slightly sweet espresso, as well as a tiny amount of plum along with some decent minerality. There is a lot of deliciousness packed into each sip. It is heavy in flavor but feels light, like a medium bodied wine; as it is waking up all of your taste buds, the tannins are doing their magic assisting in a very long, very dry finish. Every time I felt like ‘tart’ was the perfect word, a new flavor jumped in easing the tartness into lush flavors. At one point, I wrote, ‘spiked sour cherry punch’ and felt like I had to mention it. It is a compliment; there are these jolts of tartness along with the alcohol that briefly creates this flavor.

Even with all of its acidity, Monastery Tvrdos can be enjoyed without food, yet it is one of those wines that shines with food. I first enjoyed it with spicy Calabrian peppers on bread along with an antipasti salad, covered with lots of aged cheese. The acidity and fruit meld well with spicy flavors. I continued to enjoy it paired with Fettucine Alfredo; it pairs well with rich foods. My second pairing was with Mexican Food, Shrimp a’ la Diabla; it was filled with a variety of incredibly spicy smoked chiles and it too was a perfect match. 

Have I interested you at all in this wine? Are you excited to delve into this lovely beast? Well, you’ve gotta wait a bit, first before you even think about drinking this wine, it needs to decant for a minimum of thirty minutes and although many folks recommend serving this wine at 60’ F, I say (based on a suggestion from a fellow wine enthusiast and now from personal experience), leave it in the refrigerator for an hour, it makes a huge difference. Also, be prepared for loads of sediment; I know sometimes they catch me off guard and ruin my sip so wanted you to have a heads up. 

Monastery Tvrdos will pair wonderfully with an outdoor dinner party. Set up a casual table with vases full of rosemary and tulips and lots of bottles of Monastery Tvrdos Vranac (chilled and decanted), put on some Ricky Lee Jones, set out plates full of salads, meats, aged cheese, spicy fried peppers, some delicious crusty bread, bottles of olive oil, little bowls of salt and dried herbs and voila, your work is done. Now, sit back, warn your guests about the sediment, take a sip and enjoy! I bet there will be enough queries about this wine to keep the conversation flowing.