Wine, Cooking and Gastronomy Trip through Istria

I had really amazing time visiting Istria with some girlfriends in early November 2010.  Since arriving in Croatia, this has been my first chance to get out and explore the gastronomical scene, and meet the for the first time some producers of wine and delightful culinary treasures. We started out trip on a Sunday, in what is definitely Istria’s “off-season,” at least for the majority of the tourists.  Since Lonely Planet rated Istria as the number two top destination for 2011, I’m sure we’ll see this change. The days all started with our cooking classes at the fantastic Radin Gourmet.  We had chef Ezio from Le Mandrac restaurant expertly guiding our lessons and leading us through many beautiful courses, often involving fresh caught seafood and the famed Istrian Truffles. The combination of this venue, our hosts- Irina, Larisa and Tony, and such a talented chef made our vacation absolutely fantastic.

Watching the chef.

Crni Risotto with Adriatic Squid and Polenta Crisp

During the days we also met with wine producers and had the opportunity to visit some of these wineries in the evening. The first day tasted the wines from Pilato, including the Malvasija, Pinot Bieli, and 2009 Muskat Bielo. Later that evening we went to Kabola Winery.  Unfortunately, we did this visit at night and we weren’t able to get a tour of the vineyards, or even see them for that matter.  But we were given an expert tour and tasted some really fantastic wines, including the Malvasija Reserve, which is aged 12 months in oak and and the truly unique Malvasija Amphora, in which special, single vineyard grapes get extended maceration on the skins then go into big clay pots (Amphora) buried underground and then into barrel.  This particular wine warranted the purchase of a case and particularly inspired my decision to teach a wine class called “An Evening in Istria”- coming on December 7th.

Tasting the Muškat Ruža with Peter Poletti

The next day at our culinary classes, we were presented with the wines of Vina Poletti, by owner and winemaker Peter Poletti.  He is a really fantastic guy, a few times even driving back to his place a few kilometers away to bring us new things to try.  We sampled his brand new olive oils, one a single olive oil made from an Italian olive cultivar , and the other, a blend of an indiginous Croatian varietal and an Italian varietal.  He is as fanatical about his oils as he is his wine, and will race to pick all of the olives within 30 minutes of bringing them to the press.  He is also a great family guy, and lives by his mission to “work to live, not live to work.”  For this reason, he is making only 25, 000 bottles of wine per year and not interested in expanding, although the demand for his wine is greater than his supply. We tasted first the 2009 Poletti Malvasija, clean and unoaked.  Just pure, clean fruit shining through on these wines, with a brave streak of acidity.  Next we tasted the Teran, a varietal widely planted in Istria, though admitedly not everyone’s favorite because this is a grape with both high acidity and high tannins, making it a little hard to tame and difficult to sip on without some food acting as a companion.  His was clean and bright and we all enjoyed it.   We followed this with our dessert course and the 2009 Poletti Rossella, made from what he refers to as “red rose muscat,”  a unusual cultivar only planted by a small handful of producers.  Peter’s is made in what I found to be an off-dry style, not cloyingly sweet and still bearing a fair amount of complexity.

On this evening we visited Radovan, meeting up with Daniela at their home winery in Poreč.  This is boutique wine indeed.  After a walk through the tank and barrel room we went into the tasting room and tried some really fantastic wines, including their 2009 Malvasija Istarska, 2009 Chardonnay, 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2007 Merlot.  Really lovely wines from a small, family owned winery, and they have the awards to prove it- the tasting room is very modest but displays a number of wine bottles bearing medals won at various competitions, most specifically VinIstra, the regional wine competition held in April each year.

Cooking and tasting wine with Mato from Roxanich.

The next day, our fourth and final day in Istria, we headed back to Radin for more culinary classes and also joined up with Mato from Roxanich Winery.  These are wines of tremendous grace and finess, and of a calibur I had not yet discovered here in Croatia.  We started our tasting with the Malvasija Antica, which was a deep golden color and featured heady aromas of dried apricot, acacia honey and orange rind.  This wine, like the Kabola Amphora, underwent an extended maceration period as well, a process not often utilized in white wines.  Next, with a bold preparation of Sea Bass prepared sous vide we tasted the 2006 Teran “Re,”  a gorgeous dark violet wine with all the muscle you’d expect from Teran, but plenty of elegance as well. It definitely featured Teran’s telltale acidity, but here the acid seemed very broad and sweeping instead of harsh and stinging.  Flavors and aromas such as blackberry, blueberry, leather, and cinnamon intermingled and tempted. This wine ages 36 months in the barrel, 20 percent in barrique and 80 in large cask.  All of Roxanich’s wines are fermented by wild, indigenous yeasts naturally present in the air. Finally, we tasted the 2006 vintage of what Roxanich calls their “Super Istrian,” an obvious play on Italy’s Super Tuscans, and which features a parallel blend, using Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and the indigenious Borgonja (in place of Tuscany’s Sangiovese).  This is a powerful but again very refined, complex wine which seems like it could age a century. I wish that we had been able to visit the Roxanich winery, but it was not in the cards for us this time.  It’s definitely on my list for the next visit to Istria.

Following our classes and tasting with Roxanich, we were to be taken on a truffle hunt, as it is black truffle season in parts of Istria.  Unfortunately, due to all of the rain, we were unable to do this.  Instead we met the hunting dogs and proceeded to a wonderful tasting of truffles and truffle products.

Then, for our final evening in Istria, we went to Koslović winery.  This is a very modern winery, having undergone several years of renovations, and which are still occurring. They are currently producing 130,000 bottles and will eventually have the capacity to double this.  We toured the gravity fed winery and had a few tank samples prior to the seated tasting.  We tried the 2009 Malvasija, 2007 Malvasija Reserve from a single vineyard and which was very nice, the 2006 Santa Lucia Malvasija, the off-dry 2008 Muškat, the 2009 Muškat (dessert wine) which had fantastic, gripping acidity and lovely manderine flavors, and the 2008 “Violetta” (Muskat Hamburg) which was a bright pink color and had some pleasant floral notes.  After this we tried the 2009 Muškat Ruža (The red rose varietal Poletti also produces) which was very interesting, and the 2006 Passito Muškat, which was a good bottle of wine, with aromas of honey and pear and lush viscosity. This was such a fantastic culinary adventure in Istria, featuring all sorts of culinary amusements like the brand new cloudy olive oils, beautiful prosciutto, black truffles and so much more, all from small producers. Not to mention the fantastic cuisine created in our  classes and at local restaurants.  I can’t wait to present some of these gems on December 7th!