Trapan in Istria, July 2011

In May I was tasting my way through Istria’s local wine event, VinIstra, with some other wine professionals when I ran into a friend who took my arm and told me there was somebody I had to meet. He introduced me to Bruno Trapan, a young winemaker from Pula who has been working steadily since his winery’s inception in 2003 on producing terroir expressive wines from this area in southern Istria. He led me through a tasting of both his own wines and those of his friend Ernest Tolj of Saints Hills Winery. Notes follow on the Trapan wines.

Barrel samples with Bruno Trapan at his winery.

Later, in June, I was back in Istria and made the trek to visit the winery with a few others. He’s got a newly built winery with a very fun, modern tasting room, which cleverly includes a kitchen so he can host lively wine dinners. We visited his vineyards, 11 hectares of beautiful, healthy vines planted in Teran, Malvasia, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay. Many went into the ground this year and will hopefully be mature enough for use in 2013. He’s implementing organic viticulture, and employing microorganic organisms borrowed from the principles of biodynamics. He’s definitely onto something. His wines, as he claims, have been improving from vintage to vintage. Which means the future’s looking really bright for this determined, energetic winemaker.

Stainless steel tanks in Trapan’s new winery.

Tasting Notes:

Trapan Ponente 2010– 100% Malvasia. Soft with aromas of green apple and minerality. The acidity is more broad than focused, a great cocktail wine and food wine both. I’m always drinking this wine at my favorite sushi joint in Zagreb and it’s a grand slam with both the sashimi and some of their more eclectic fusion dishes. A great bottle for everyday drinking, just chill it and kill it.

Trapan “Uroboros” Cuvee 2009– 50% Malvasia, 50% Chardonnay. This blend is mostly aged in Acacia wood, sur lie 10 months. 13.6% alc. Flavors are green and spicy both, an interesting combination. The vineyards are near to the sea, and I picked up some salty minerality on this wine that was reminiscent of a good Albariño from Spain. Creamy, savory, rich, round and really interesting in general. This was one of my favorite wines overall at the VinIstra tasting. Estimated aging potential 5-10 years. Would be perfect with seafood or poultry, but I bet this baby could definitely hold its own against more assertively-flavored dishes as well, like a spicy curry. Props.

Trapan Rubi Rosé 2010– The kitchen sink blend comprised of Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Teran. Aged sur lie 7 months. It’s got this neon-salmon color, and if it was served in a martini glass I’d for sure think it was a Cosmo.  It leads off with primary aromas of strawberry and brioche. The palate is clean and fresh, but congruent with his style, it doesn’t sting with acidity. Flavors echo the nose, with watermelon and even cantaloupe coming through. Despite the shocking color, it’s more subtle on the palate, and that’s exactly what I want on a bottle of wine like this. Great summer/spring sipper or would be a good compliment to salads, egg-based dishes or light summer fare. Easily the kind of wine you can open a few bottles of on the terrace and forget to go back to work.

Trapan “Nigra Virgo” Cabernet Sauvignon 2009– This wine shows exactly what can be done with Cabernet Sauvignon in the right hands. Classic, textbook even, oak kissed but not overdone. That’s due to the balance between stainless steel and oak (50/50%) during the aging process, and the restraint practiced in the winery. Gorgeous blackberry, cassis, cigar box and anise show up on the palate. Tannins are incredibly well-integrated on this seamless wine. Perfect for fans of this new world and old world alike, it’s the wine that says “let’s all be friends.” Cab lovers rejoice, this is a winner. Aging potential…10 years? Good luck resisting the urge to yank the cork for that long.

Another Visit to Roxanich, July 2011

Another Visit to Roxanich, July 2011

Visit to Roxanich Cellars: July 25th

With each trip to Istria, I like to see what’s happening at Roxanich Winery, one of my favorite wineries in Croatia.  They’re srpiring to be an ultra-premium winery, and they’re on the right track.  I love the uniqueness of their wines and  don’t miss a chance to stop by and see how things are progressing in the winery when I’m in Istria.

We arrived and already the atmosphere seemed a little different than usual. The winery was busy with visitors and more staff was on hand. My friend Mato arranged with Kristijan to guide our tour, which was really a delight, as Kristijan is the assistant winemaker, and handles the day-to-day operations inside the winery. Great for me because I’m always curious about the intricacies of the winemaking process, and a tour with Kristijan was like having the Roxanich encyclopedia right at my fingertips.

Roxanich is unique in several ways, but one is that they employ extended maceration with their wines, which promotes, at first, stronger tannins and color. It also creates really unique flavors and aromas. As wine drinkers we’re used to this with most red wines, but it’s fairly uncommon with the whites. You see it a little bit in white Bordeaux, but Roxanich really pushes the envelope, sometimes keeping the juice on its skin for as long as 80 days. That’s crazy talk for most winemakers, but believe me when I say that the results are nothing short of amazing. Try for yourself and you’ll see that the wines speak for themselves, or rather they sing a glorious little tune.

Another point to mention before I get into the tasting notes is that Roxanich is also adhering to some of Steiner’s biodynamic principals. While they don’t want to be pigeonholed into this category, they are definitely employing the techniques. This means that they are making “natural” wines, even harvesting and cultivating their own yeasts and minimizing the use of sulfites. Again, great for you and me because natural, organic wines (like food) allows fewer toxins into our systems, and keeps us healthier, right? The point has even been stretched out to say that these wines won’t cause a hangover. Think I’m full of it? Read on.

Tasting Notes:

2008 Rose- made up of Borgojna, (a local cultivar of Burgundy’s Gamay) this is a lovely little quaffing wine that makes for great mid-day sipping or pairing with a cheese plate or summer salad. Primary aromas and flavors both of dried, wild strawberry. It goes for a couple years into the barrel, but neutral barrel so no strong oak tannins or none of that nasty Vanilla-roma air freshner smell I can’t stand on some rosés.

2010 Malvasia “Antica” (barrel)- This malvasia was macerated 6 months. The aromas are loud and clear, with cardamom, nutmeg, and pear taking the lead. The palate presented a little more, with nice minerality and orange zest.

2009 Malvasia “Antica” (barrel)- The aging in the big oak casks has kicked in here, the color here is much deeper gold than the 2010, with even an orange hue. Aromas were dried apricot, lemon curd and clove, and this was consistent with the palate.

2009 Chardonnay “Milva”- The interesting thing about tasting wines throughout the year is that they are often in various phases of their evolution. This one was opening with some subtle smoke and minerality, also a little orchard fruit. But on the palate it was extremely reserved and difficult to discern much at all. Kristijan mentioned that this wine was just moved from a different barrel, so maybe it’s just a little shocked at the moment.

2009 Ines u Bielom (Ines in White, in barrel)- When the 2008 vintage of Ines in White is released, it will be the first vintage of this cuvee. A blend comprised of Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Blanc, Tokaj, Prosecco (Glara), Verdiccio, Pinot Grigio and Riesling, equal parts. All harvested together and macerated together. Cooool wine. Dark gold color with incredibly lush notes of juicy, tangy peach. Aromatically this thing screams at you. The palate is far more reserved, almost to the point of a whisper which is odd considering the amazing nose. Hope it comes together as seamlessly as their other whites…I’m sure it’s just a sleeping giant at the moment.

2008 Merlot (barrel)- All blackberry on the nose, on the palate more flavors crop up. Primarily game, blueberry and has a very lean minerality to it. Nice.

2008 Teran Re (barrel)- Black cassis, anise, black licorice. The acidity is already well under control and there’s a lush softness to it. Really pretty wine, in fact I think this wine showed the best so far on the palate of all the others. Hint of smoke on the finish.

2008 Cabernet Sauvignon (barrel)- Pretty and soft with violet and blueberry coming through on the nose and palate. A little gamey as well, a nice touch for this otherwise feminine style of Cab.

2008 Super Istrian (barrel)- Another blend and an obvious play on words, using the style of Italy’s Super Tuscan as the example. Made up of 40% Cab Sauv, 40% Merlot and 10% Borgogne this is a lush little baby, with some spicy, lip-smacking tannins. Anise and black currant dominate the palate. This is my favorite of the Super Istrians from these guys ever. I say bottle it up and let’s drink!

2008 “Message in a Bottle” Red blend- Another new product to the market upon it’s release, this is a blend of Syrah, Barbera, Black Malvasia, Cabernet Franc and Lambrusco. (Sounds strange, I know.) Loads of raspberry and black cherry. If I was blind tasting this wine I’d guess they blended Barbera and Dolcetto. Everything about it drinks like a little Piemontese blend of those two coyboys. Great, long finish with loads more raspberry coming through.

2008 Pinot Noir- A little secret, I think. It’s kept stashed away and I had to ask for it. But being the PN freak that I am I can’t miss the opportunity. So I did. And we tasted. And man, it’s freaking gorgeous. All classic Burgundy and what have you, with pretty black cherry and dill on a beautiful core of minerality with a mile-long finish. Again, 2008 will be the first vintage for this wine but the winery’s not yet sure when they will release it. Could be a few more years…unfortunately.

Then we headed to the tasting room to crack open a few (!) bottles. Starting with the…

2008 Chardonnay “Milva” (prepared for bottling)- Deep gold color, orange marmalade on the nose and a hint of nutmeg. Beautiful and elegant.

2008 Malvasia “Antica”- Yum. Dark gold color, on the palate lemon curd, dill cardamom and hint of clove.

2008 Ines in White- Wow! Just as juicy on the nose as the 09 tank sample. Screaming peaches (that’s totally the name of my next band) on the nose and absolutely beautiful on the palate as well. Lush, mouthwatering and absolutely delicious. It’s making me thirsty just writing about it.

2007 Malvasia “Antica”- Bright orange color, the nose is like a Snickerdoodle cookie, with all the warm brown baking spices and hints at sweetness. That is until you taste it, then the nutmeg and clove really pop and it is indeed completely dry. Lovely, lovely wine.

2006 Malvasia Classica- Made with a much shorter maceration period, just 20 days in the 2006 vintage, this is a “lighter” style of wine for them, though still quite complex and interesting. Spicy on the nose, with more fruit coming through than their whites typically have. Pear, peach and again that aroma of nutmeg blend together like a freshly baked pie in the summer.

2007 Teran Re- This is historically not my favorite vintage of their Teran Re, but taken from a bottle that had been open for a while, it was showing more depth and character. Black cherry, cigar box and red licorice came through.

2006 Super Istrian- Cedar, leather and licorice. Really pretty, a perpetual favorite of mine.

2005 Teran- (This was a vintage that the Teran and Refosco were made as mono-varietals) Showing lots of spice, I really like this wine. Cigarbox and leather again, with a little baked fruit on the palate as well. I wish I knew now when they had opened the bottle, it was sealed off but previously open, because it’s hard to say if some of these evolved aromas are from the natural aging of the wine or from sitting open for a day or two. Though with the number of guests I imagine they have coming through, I don’t think they are probably sitting on open bottles too long.

2005 Merlot- Spicy with blueberry up front and cedar and leather coming through on the palate. I wonder if some of the stronger wood aromas are coming from the time when the barrels were newer. The wines seem to have more fruit on them in later vintages. Of course by this, the millionth wine we drank, my palate could have been a little tired too. Just noting that the reds seem to be alike in my notes and I generally don’t find that to be true of their wines.

Are you still reading? I can’t believe I’m still writing…

The next morning, after tasting these 18 wines (and who am I kidding, I was with friends and family and I was DRINKING the wines. Not spitting, hardly dumping anything out. ) I got up and ran a 12 miler. No joke. No hangover. Maybe there’s something in the water here in Istria, or maybe there’s some magic in the barrels at Roxanich…

Heredad Ugarte in Rioja, Spain

Today we traveled to Rioja, with our first stop being in the town of Haro, home of such famous wineries as R. Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia (considered by many to be one of Spain’s national treasures) and Muga.  Based on the dates we were to be in Rioja we were unable to book tastings at either winery, and we soon found out why.  This was the weekend that celebrated local saints, in particular the Fiestas de San Juan, San Felices, and San Pedro, all of which Haro takes quite seriously.

Poster in Haro

After finding parking on the narrow, winding roads that lead through the center of town we walked down to the square.  The air was perfumed with rose petals, and indeed they were scattered all over the walkways.  People were everywhere, talking and laughing as they drank their wine in the open air.  A little girl was giggling in delight as the wind swirled rose petals around her feet.

Upon arriving in Haro

We walked around to weigh our options about where to eat and drink.  But before we made the final cut on our restaurant we were intrigued by a local wine shop, or vinoteca. This place, called Vinicola Jarrera, and claims to be the first “Club de Vino” in Rioja, was absolutely perfect.  Bottles, many covered in dust, filled the store.  Old vintages, primarily from La Rioja but also selections from Bordeaux and Burgundy, dating back decades and decades were in plain reach of anybody.  The shop had a really sweet ambiance about it too, great music and super helpful staff.  One guy working at the shop even stopped me before I purchased a bottle that he didn’t think had held up well in the bottle.  With great difficulty I whittled my selections down to four bottles and we headed to dinner.

Old bottles in the wine shop

After a nice meal and a bottle of 2001 R. Lopez de Heredia Viña Tondonia (the current vintage) we got in the car to head to Rioja Alavesa.  We went to Heredad Ugarte, an amazing property owned by the Eguren family, making beautiful wines.  We toured the labyrinth of underground caves and tunnels, some 2.8 km worth and growing, with different tastings arranged in various places in the winery.  Here at Ugarte you can even purchase your own barrel of the Reserva or Martin Cendoya Grand Reserva, and they will store it and bottle it for you.  At which time you can access your private cave with your luckiest friends and have a dinner in one of the underground dining areas.  Naturally, it’s on my to-do list. The last stop on our tour which lasted a couple of hours, was to taste the top bottling of the estate, a wine that I never had the chance to taste in the years I’ve been working with this winery.  The Anastasio 2005, Heredad Ugarte’s top bottling of 100% Tempranillo.

Dinner at Ugarte was amazing, easily one of the best meals I have eaten in Spain. We brought several bottles with us and enjoyed the view of the vineyards through the windowed walls of the restaurant.

The next day it was on to the vineyards.  In Rioja the vines are bush trained, with very few trellises employed throughout all of the vineyards we saw in this region.  We rode around down dry, rutted out roads in a big land cruiser and from my vantage point of the front seat I thought we were going to roll over on more than a few occasions.  Viticulturist and enologist Elena didn’t let this happen, however, and brought us to some truly amazing vineyards.  She and her crew of 14 are taking great care of the vines and the land in Rioja Alavesa.

Bush trained Tempranillo vines.

If you can’t make it to the Heredad Ugarte property in Spain and enjoy their over-the-top hospitality, well, I feel sorry for you.  But at least I can recommend that you get your hands on any of their bottlings, particularly those focused on the tempranillo grape.  We hope to see these wines available soon in Croatia- stay tuned!

This was the view from my beautiful hotel room. Sick and wrong. I was ready to move in for good.