When it comes to watered wine there are two factions in the world. One thinks it’s a sacrilege (think the French). The other has done it out of necessity and various other weird and funny reasons.
In Croatia, the opinion is far from unanimous. We do water down both white and red wines. On the continent gemist (gemišt) is the common name for white wine mixed with sparkling mineral water. On the coast red wine with still water turns into a bevanda.
Both these strategies produce diluted or watered wine. Yet, the reasons behind them on the coast and on the continent differ, as well as the type of water used.
Let’s first dive into the realm of red wine.
Bevanda is a common way to consume red wine all around the coast in Croatia. Unlike gemist, it has fewer variations. So, all you need to know is that you mix still or tap water with your wine.
And that you should never be ashamed of doing that, even if some wine snob sneers down at you. The chances are that your ancestors did it. And many locals along the coast in Croatia still practice it with gusto.
Red wine and water = BEVANDA
There are two main reasons why people on the coast are watering wine. Number one: water scarcity. Decades ago, the only drinkable water was rainwater. Rain was collected into underground tanks called gustirna (gušterna or gustijerna).
You can imagine that its flavour was far from spectacular. So, to improve it, the most logical thing, of course, was to pair it with a drop of red wine.
The recipe for a bevanda is to mix half wine and half water. But often the ration would change in the favour of water, making bevanda weaker. These were the times when people carried a drink to work in the fields.
People would rise at dawn, pack up their food and drink and off into the vineyards and fields they went. They hydrated with a weak bevanda to make sure they stayed sober.
You know how strong Dalmatian wines are! So, if you would drank it pure while working in the field under the scorching sun, you would get slammed in no time.
Still, when the dinnertime came, and there was no more hard work to do... well, then it was time to drink red wine pure (cilo, which means whole). Only then could you relax with your family and get tipsy.
red and white watered wine
In Dalmatia, red wine such as Plavac mali and Babić are the most favourite varieties. But white grapes also grow on the coast. So, the logic suggests that there is something called white bevanda. And so, there is.
Look for white wines such as Grk and Pošip from Korčula, or Vugava from Vis. Try a white bevanda by adding still water to your glass.
Nowadays, new knowledge and technology are improving the quality of wine. This is why many wine connoisseurs say that mixing water and wine is a crime.
I say, do as people in Croatia have done for centuries. It's not a crime to have a bevanda on a sweltering day with your lunch.
I know many Dalmatians who consume a litre of red wine spread throughout the day and watered down into a bevanda. They have an afternoon shut-eye and are in their ripe 80s even 90s.
Vino se pije na ure, ne na litre. (You drink wine over time, not by the litre.)
White wine and water = gemist and spritzer
In continental Croatia, adding sparkling mineral water to white wine is super common. We call such drink gemist (gemišt) or spritzer (špricer).
Although these two words get used interchangeably, there is a difference in how they are made. Gemist comes from the German word gemischt, which means to mix, so, the name itself is the basic recipe. Water your white wine with sparkling water.
The drink was first concocted in the 19th century, using soda water. It was called a spritzer, a delicacy still enjoyed around the world. Over time, Croatians exchanged soda water with sparkling mineral water to get a gemist.
But there is a difference.
White wine + soda water = a spritzer.
White wine + sparkling mineral water = a gemist.
Adding water to wine on the continent started for different reasons than on the coast.
Bevanda was created to improve the flavour of the drinking water. Whereas the role of gemist was to improve the quality of the wine. The story says that white wine used to contain a lot of methanol, the type of alcohol that gives you a headache. Spritzing soda into it was a clever way of forcing out the bad chemicals.
Mixing water and wine stuck with us for good. The culture of having a spritzer or gemist has deep roots in and around Zagreb. It is a cultural ritual, something that not only quenches your thirst but defines you as a local person.
So again, if a wine snob tells you off for drinking watered wine, think of non-wine reasons why you should do it. No, you don't need to worry about the quality of white wine in continental Croatia. But you do want to continue the tradition and remember the ways of your fathers and grandfathers.
Best white wine for spritzer
The choice of wine is the top consideration if you want to drink a good gemist. Your wine needs to be dry, light and slightly acidic. In Zagreb, this is Kraljevina, an indigenous variety that has been our staple for the last 200 years. Wine experts argue that even though Kraljevina is a great summer wine on its own, it gets better when mixed with water.
The second best choice is Graševina (Welschriesling). In Croatia, you can find it everywhere, from Međimurje, to Plešivica, all the way to Slavonia, Baranja and Srijem.
In most Croatian bars, we serve a gemist, not a spritzer. But, just for fun, you can get yourself a spritzer bottle and see the difference. A spritzer is less fizzy and a tiny bit more acidic.
Our gemist has gone through many ups and downs in its cultural life. First it blew up in popularity. Then it became a drink of the masses, especially heavy-drinking men who didn't mind the quality of the wine.
Gemist se pije na metre, ne na litre. (You measure the quantity of gemist by the meter (of lined-up glasses on the bar), not by the litre.)
In recent years, gemist has come into vogue once again. So much so that there is a real mixology stirring around it. We now have flavoured gemist or even gemist-based cocktails.
Let's review some of the ways you can prepare your gemist. First off, there are different ratios of wine and water.
The most common type is half and half (pol-pol, in Croatian). Still, there are other twists you can apply.
Watch the video to learn all the mixing recipes and ratios.
For example, if you are doing hard manual work, you will want a lighter gemist. Sports people, too, like a good but light gemist after a heavy training. The way to instruct the waiter is to say one horizontal finger of wine topped with one vertical finger of water. This is light or sport gemist.
On the other hand, if you go to a party to get tipsy, you will want a stronger or yellow gemist. In this case, instruct your mixologist to use one vertical finger of wine and one horizontal finger of water. These are your measures.
Finally, if a group of people want to mix their own gemist, they will order a litre of wine and a litre of water. The ratios will soon blur, but who really cares? You should make your watered wine just the way you like it.
White wine in a small glass with a sprinkle of sparkling mineral water is also called škropec. (škropiti means to sprinkle)
Pairing watered down wine with food
On the coast, people eat a substantial brunch called marenda. This is often fried fish, and if the fish is sardines, then you must drink a red wine bevanda. Sardines are oily, so unless you wash them down with red wine, they will sit heavy on your stomach.
Gemist, too, has a reputation of being a fat buster. So many of us love roast pork, especially on a spit. But did you know that the best drink with such a fatty meal is spritzer or gemist? There is evidence that the acidity of white wine and the fizziness of water help dissolve the fat.
But this is not all. One gemist a day, allegedly, lowers your blood sugar levels. A sophisticated Kraljevina gemist is a perfect match to an apple strudel or an apple pie. You definitely must try this combination in late summer or early autumn.
If you still haven't got my Croatian Desserts cookbook, hurry! You will find both these recipes inside. And by the way, don't be scared of stretching your own phyllo dough. Whoever tried my recipes succeeded from the first go.
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Thanks for sharing this is great
you are welcome 🙂
Thanks It is great to know the history about the wines
Glad you like it 🙂
Andrea, in Dalmacija we drink bevanda because it s very pleasant drink in the hot Summer. Also bevanda is usually offered to younger people who are not old enough to drink cijelo. Joe Gregov
I know 🙂
This is a terrific explanation. Personally I order lemonade and my wife orders chardonnay when we are clubbing in the summertime. I put half of her wine in my lemonade. So refrehing. I call it chardonnade.
Fantastic idea, Evan. I must try it!
It made me smile to read this. My Croatian grandfather joined us in the US in 1950 and as a little American girl, I couldn't understand why he always had wine mixed with sparkling soda at every meal. He never drank water, even in America, and we used to tease him about it. He was very stubborn, thinking he would return to his beloved Croatia eventually. He died 39 years later, with a map of Yugoslavia on his hospital ceiling.
Thank you for sharing this heartfelt story with us, Nita.