Wine Glass in Hand: Southern Dalmatia (part 2)

Standing above a vineyard in the famous Dingac region of Dalmatia in Croatia.

Waking up to the sounds of crashing waves coming from the Adriatic, 50 meters away from your open balcony doors can never be a bad thing. In fact, their mesmerizing effect is probably what sent me to bed at around two a.m. after a long day visiting wineries, followed by an incredible seafood dinner at Hotel Glavović, and a sampling of many interesting wines brought to the dinner by a friend. I was the first to crash that night and nowhere near the first on deck in the morning. It had been a long day. Actually, it had been a long streak of long days.

A quiet morning in Lopud.

We were on the island of Lopud, part of the Elefati island chain in southern Dalmatia, and this was the second day of a wine trip that was as near to perfect as any I’ve ever experienced.

After rallying up the team we took the boat back to the mainland to make tracks for Pelješac. We were on the road only about an hour, just after passing through Ston when we made our first stop, at a small (or let’s say Garage, but in the boutique-y way) winery, called Rozić producing wine under a label called Mili (translates to “dear”).  We tasted three wines from the current releases, including Plavac Mali made in varying levels of sweetness, from bone dry to a highly sweet dessert wine.

Admiring the Rozić vineyards…but, wait for it……there’s a better view.

We hiked up behind their rental apartments and winery into some of the most stunning vineyards I’ve ever been in. The vines here are all bush-trained, and gnarled up with wild looking foliage. Super cool. And as we hiked up and up, we landed ourselves in a remarkable vantage point, overlooking the sea and in the midst of all of these scruffy old vines.  Rozić has earned their place in God’s good graces to have a slice of heaven like this, no doubt.  My jaw was on the ground.

Hiking up into the Rozić vineyards.

The vineyards at Rozić, looking out toward the sea.

Ok, I know there are a lot of vineyard photos but I was so taken by their rugged beauty and pristine location. Had it been the second or third winery of the day I might have had the guts to ask if I could move there. I could find a way to earn my keep. I have a tent.

We later tapped into some of their previous vintages, sitting in the shade on the curb near the under-construction winery/ tasting room.  It was a perfect start to the day, even if these wines weren’t made in a style I tend to drink much of.  They’re largely serving the locals with a style that has lots of local appeal (read: semi-sweet and inexpensive).

After a walk (climb) through the vineyards, we relax with a few more wines and revisit the earlier samples at Rozić.

Mili bottles on the terrace.

Off again, this time further up the peninsula where we stopped periodically to visit vineyards, kindly pointed out by local expert in our entourage, Marko.  He pulled over so we could step foot and photograph such amazing vineyards that the highway rips right through, like the famous Dingać.

Dingać, in the hearts of many.

We cut a left through a precarious tunnel and made our way through a small, abandoned looking village called Donja Banda, to arrive at another garagiste winery, Philippvina. We visited here in the home of Baldo, winemaker and grapegrower.

Relaxed at Philippvina, winemaker Baldo Kangjera in the background.

First on the docket was his white wine, called Palinurus 2011. This is a 50/50 blend of Chardonnay and Rukatac (or Maraština as it’s also known). They’re producing 1500 bottles of this very interesting wine, which bore flavors that I’ve never really experienced in the wineglass, and pretty hard to describe. The line, I’ve found, is sometimes crossed when it comes to Dalmatian wines.  In the same glass one can extract a broad spectrum of aromas and flavors, both fruity and vegetable and savory. Pot roast in a glass? Check.  I’ve had it in Dalmatia.    This particular wine actually sparked up quite a bit of discussion and we agreed on a few common flavors, such as baked apple, fennel and Mediterranean herbs.

Philippvina wines

Next up was Zicada, Plavac from near the village of Poštup.   We tasted the 2007, which had been decanting for at least an hour, and it was big and inky, in every which way from it’s appearance to the long finish.  Super spicy with anise dominating the aromas, but black pepper and tomato leaf showed up on the gamey palate. The wine was surprisingly refined for an alcohol level of 15.4.

I bought a bottle of this Plavac to take home for further analysis (it’s a tough job, I know). But I think I’m more likely to take it back to the States and give it a whirl in about five or ten more years to see how this thing evolves.

Off again, this time back on the road towards Orebić and the winery Korta Katarina. We parked the cars here at a winery that proved to be the antithesis of all of the wineries we previously visited, looking like it fell straight out of Disney’s Magic Kingdom. Perched on the edge of the Adriatic with a white palatial building, I was actually struck most by the amazing gardens that surrounded the winery.  It seems that the name Korta Katerina is actually synonymous with “Gardens/Courtyards of Katarina” or something like that.  Vineyards also partially encapsulate the grounds, planted in the very Zinfandel that makes up their rose.

Korta Katarina on approach by the sea…

and by land…

We toured the immaculate winery (it doesn’t even smell like a winery!) and grounds before eating some lovely local fish, cheeses and tasting our way through a beautiful horizontal of their Pošip (po-ship) from the region Čara. We worked our way back from 2010 until 2007, enjoying every sip and musing on how different these wines could be from each other, depending on vintage.

Discussing the wines…

We then tasted through a three vintage vertical of their incredibly muscular Plavac Mali, starting with the ’09 vintage.  All had been decanting since the morning and had yet to settle down, unlike the rest of us who were finding no trouble relaxing on the shady terrace outside.

Taking some tank samples from the inox.

Barriques in Korta Katarina cellar

Zinfandel Rose waiting for labels.

The sun was just considering setting when we hopped on a high speed water taxi which took us to the island of Korčula. The timing was perfect, we were getting awfully comfortable at Korta Katarina and it was time for another adventure.

The water taxi to Korcula. Bring it!

We arrived in Korčula and were picked up in a big pickup truck (was I back in Wisconsin?), where I eventually gave up my front seat position next to winemaker Bire, to hop in the covered bed in the back.  We cruised around this large island, and had a full-island tour with lots of brief stops to point out hidden beaches and other points of interest.  At last we perched up at a high vantage point on the island, home to many of Bire’s beautiful and perfectly lined up baby Grk vines all set against the backdrop of perfectly arranged white stone terraces.  As the sun was now setting, this was one of the most beautiful places we’d stepped all day, though admitedly the competition had been fierce.  The landscape seemed to sparkle and the white stones gleamed a pale pink as the last rays of sun tucked behind the horizon casting the sky fuschia.

Luka enjoying the view from a vantage point in Korčula, overlooking baby Grk vines and the Adriatic.

We hopped in the pickup again and headed to his other property, the one which hosts his winery and is well-prepared to receive tourists (busloads of them at that).  This agritourismo was again another pristine property, though more traditionally rustic, if I can say that, at least in comparison with the modern opulance of Korta Katarina.

We entered into the winery to taste a broad offering of specialties all made by Mr. Bire himself, including the anchovies, prsut, cheese, olives and capers.  “I would have made the bread, too, but I wasn’t sure you were coming,” he throws out casually.

What he also made was the wine, the reason we were here.  He’s specialized in the eco-production of a white wine called Grk, which was incredibly beautiful.  Citrus, mineral and lemon zest interchanged places on the palate, and though I generally gravitate towards wines with higher acidity, this wine was so perfect in this place, in this company.  Rich and round on the mouthfeel, it’s actually quite decadent without a trace of heaviness.  As we moved onto other vintages, the wines remained pretty consistent, only occasionally presenting subtle nuances like white peach and even a little lentil, not unlike a Gruner Veltliner, at least flavor-wise.

Bire Grk and Bire the guy.

Specialized in Grk, he also makes a little Plavac (who doesn’t?). His 2011 had some pretty herbal aromas, like mint and eucalyptus, along with black pepper and crushed red fruit.  It may seem obvious to say it seemed incredibly fresh, but it really had these mouthwatering, tangy flavors that didn’t seem to bear the weight of many Plavac Malis I’ve tasted in the past.  It was, at least in this moment, incredibly likeable and friendly in a way I don’t usually find in this grape.

Bire pulling a barrel sample of Plavac Mali.

We moved onto the 201o and the 2008, the latter of which Bire calls his “Reserve” wine and seems to hold a very high affection for.  I just know that it was a spectactular day of tasting wines with a perfectly broad gamut of producers, each of them making their own interpretation of Plavac Mali and whichever obscure white seemed to grow best in their region.

As we headed a very late dinner on the island, the group was feeling kind and magnanimous,  and we ordered a couple of bottles of Maraština so that I could try it as a mono-varietal, as this was my least “understoo” grape of the day.  It was such an honor to be in the company of great wine lovers who could really get into the nitty-gritty of such things and care so passionately about wine as I feel I do.  We ate, laughed, chatted and compared wines and then dashed to make the 12:30 a.m. boat back to Orebić on the Pelješac peninsula.

Tomorrow we had things to do, and more wineries to visit.

Props/Thanks/Gratitude: Tore Wold for sharing photos, Marko Pavlak for guiding us through Peljesac and Korcula and opening the doors at KK, The entire Glavovic family for being such hospitable, generous (and knowledgeable) guides and hosts.  And all of the producers who shared their wine, wit, wisdom and hospitality with us.  

Wine Glass in Hand: Southern Dalmatia (part 1)

Eager beaver that I am, I decided to hop on a 5:55 a.m. flight to Dubrovnik, so as not to miss a beat.  My tour guides for the day picked me up at 7 a.m. and suggested that perhaps it was a better hour for a coffee than to hit the wine trails.  No need to feign agreement here as I had just come off of a wine trip through Istria and thought maybe my own system could use a break from the fruit of the vine, at least for an hour or so.

Cavtat in the Morning

We headed to the small coastal town of Cavtat.  This was my first introduction to Dalmatia and everything about this charming little town was just that.  We stepped out of the car and the first thing that hit me was the heady perfume hanging in the air, my senses instantly intoxicated. Looking around I couldn’t understand it, I saw plenty of flowers planted in the ground and window boxes, but I knew it wasn’t these geraniums and other colorful annuals perfuming the air with what smelled to me like jasmine or maybe honeysuckle.  I learned later that the aromas were coming from the blossoms of the orange trees which grow all over Dalmatia.

Orange Blossoms and a Morning View

We walked on through the quiet streets of this old coastal town.  My father-and-son tour guides, Luka and Ljubo,  just so happened to be local history buffs and I learned much about the architecture, history and important historical figures here in Cavtat as we walked down the winding pedestrian path through town.

A small fishing boat on Cavtat’s crystal clear water

This path winds lazily along the coastline of the cove, and I couldn’t resist the urge to dip my feet into the sea.  We meandered over to a coffee bar and sipped on a macchiato before we would head into the off-the-beaten-path wine country that lies nearby in the region of Konavle.  The cluster of coffee bars were all populated by locals at this hour, mostly men sipping on their coffees and reading the paper or conversing with their friends.  They casually slip in and out of these local establishments, warmly greeting everybody they pass. In the time we spent sipping our coffee, we were joined by three different men, each stopping just for a few moments to say hello, catch up and move on.

From here we headed into rural Konavle, the region which borders Dubrovnik to the south.

First stop was at the big, industrial looking winery Dubrovački Podrumi. This winery is situated in a long valley protected from the sea by mountains on either side. The winery was originally built in 1877.  With Božo, head of winery operations, we tasted first the Malvasija Dubrovačka (locally referred to as simply Malvasija).   It’s is a different grape than the Malvazija Istarska that from Istria that I’ve become more familiar with.  The flavors of the two different types of Malvasija/Malvazija don’t actually strike me as being such a far cry from one another, with similar flavors of peach and melon lurking in each.  Here it’s a bit lemony, with some floral tones taking hold too.  The main difference I notice between the two varietals from the two different regions is the mouthfeel.  Here it’s more oily and fat, softer in acidity.

Božo and his Cabernet Sauvignon, Trajectum.

Artwork depicting the winemaking process at Dubrovacka Podrumi.

Artwork depicting the winemaking process adorns the walls of the large tasting rooms at Dubrovacka Podrumi in Konavle, Croatia.

We also tried a handful of other wines, all reds, including Zinfandel (Crnjelak) and a few international varietals before hitting the road.  Dubrovački Podrumi is a very solid producer making some nice wines from international varietals at a reasonable enough price point.

We packed back into the car and headed off to see another producer, Marinović.  A true “garage” winery, Marinović actually has quite a bit of land under vine, but no fancy winery or tasting room.  Instead, it was a real treat to be led into his dining room to taste with his family.  He’s producing just a few wines, and I couldn’t believe how much I liked them, each a very good complement to his homemade pršut (prosciutto), which had an intense, smoky flavor.  A close family, everybody came out to say hello and join us, spanning three generations.  We were treated to a concert on the lirica by the youngest member of the family.  And great grandfather, a living legend in town, treated us to a robust recital of a local blessing, something he would have given in the regional costume,  in the past when he was called upon to do so for local weddings or for a new vintage of wine.  Despite his 83 years his eyes still sparkle like those of a little boy.

Owner and Winemaker Marinović with his Zinfandel

After leaving the Marinović home, we drove up winding roads through the beautiful mountains, stopping at last at a gathering of ancient looking stone buildings where we were greeted by our next host, Vlaho.  This is where we were to have lunch, though it didn’t resemble a restaurant but rather the countryside property that someone might head to for a weekend escape.  After walking around and visiting with Vlaho, I was treated to one of the most majestic vistas I’ve ever had the privilege to gaze out from.

Local legend Vlaho

Vlaho’s slice of Heaven in Pičete

This place had no signage to alert passers-by of the delicacies that lie within, and everything here was prepared by our host himself.  We feasted on his creations, including salami, cheese, rakija (domestic brandies made from various herbs and fruits), and bread.  Then, for the meal, we had slow roasted pork and vegetables cooked under the peka (a cast iron lidded pot which is filled with fish, meat or vegetables and buried in a trough under the ash of a live fire). He is currently the local champion of the regional cooking contest specialized in the preparation a regional cabbage dish called zelena menestra, and he brought out a huge platter of that to try as well.  It was one of the most heavenly preparations of an otherwise pretty utilitarian vegetable that I have ever tried.

Later, as the festivities got underway, the guys in our group broke out into song, singing local songs (it would be the first time of many) as a guitar was pulled out of the corner. Then a few more songs, followed (naturally) by dancing. We were drinking Malvasija from one of the local wineries we had just visited and also spring water captured an hour before, and it was at times hard to believe we were in the twenty-first century.  We enjoyed this afternoon in the ancient-feeling stone building with only a small makeshift kitchen and an outdoor cooking area, and I could only imagine how many people before had done exactly the same thing.  I later learned that our host (and chef, and entertainer) Vlaho is a local war hero. During the time of the war he bravely made a daily trip under fire in his own armored vehicle so he could drive bread and water to others who were in peril and need of supplies.

Easier to find in this area is another restaurant, much more conventional but fascinating in its own right. It’s called Konavoski Dvori and was originally run by my own tour guide, Luka.  This restaurant, nestled against the river Ljuta has been harnessing the river’s power for a number of years. The hydropower is used to grind flour from corn and to irrigate the gardens.  Everything is still fully operational, including the original stone mill which the traditionally dressed employees will demonstrate for you.  They also farm their own trout from a well located right on the terrace.

Grinding flour from corn

Before we were to board the boat to the island of Lopud where we were to make our base camp, we visited one more winery.

“I planned to retire at 60 and now that I’m 70 I’m working more than ever,” owner Andro Crvik cheerfully laments on this perfectly sunny afternoon, before turning our winery visit over to his son, Petar, so he can go work in the vineyards.

Crvik bottlings from different vintages

Crvik Winery is located in Konavle near the village of Čilipi and is definitely worth a visit. They started making wine since 1994, when they were using only the local grapes Maraština and Plavac. They’ve since expanded the plantings to include Malvasija, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot as well. Petar, or Pero as he’s also called, has now taken over the bulk of the duties as winemaker and has shown that he’s open to  experimenting, in terms of the wines and even the labels, which they’ve been adapted to create more visibility in the market.

Crvik and their flagship Malvasija Dubrovačka.

We had the chance to taste a handful of the wines, from young fresh barrel samples to some incredibly interesting bottles from the archives, including a bottle of 2007 Malvasija which picked up all the flinty mineral tones of an aged Mosel Riesling. The 2003 from the archives (of which fourteen bottles remain) was reminiscent of both crème brulee and a Moscatel Sherry.  Delicious.  The fact that their wines have been able to stand the test of time is perhaps indication enough that these guys know what they’re doing.

It was time to hit the road again, and we headed to port where we made for the short sea voyage, joined by a few more visitors.  Off to dinner and a relaxed evening on the island of Lopud, part of the Elefati Island chain…

Raising a glass to a great day in Konavle (and Lopud)!

Passing of a Legend: Goodbye MCA

My love of the Beastie Boys predates my love of wine, so I respectfully post here on my wine blog.  I’ve learned to love and appreciate both, sometimes together, in a way that’s completely shaped the person I am today.

It’s impossible for me to not wax sentimental at the passing of Adam Yauch, or better known to me and most of the world as MCA of the Beastie Boys.  I learned about it last night right before dinner, while I was still reeling from an amazing wine trip to southern Dalmatia.  It felt like a punch to the stomach, and  one I had to deal with alone at the dinner table.  My husband grew up on the musical mayonnaise* of the Beatles and storytelling songwriters like Harry Chapin and Gordon Lightfoot, and while he appreciates music it’s generally within the pop genre.  And while my music appreciation certainly runs the gamut, from jam bands like the Grateful Dead to some of my perpetual faves like Modest Mouse and Radiohead, the Beastie Boys and their raucous rhymes won my adoration from the get go.  The video for “(You Gotta) Fight for your Right (to Party!)” is an earliest MTV memory and their albums were played (on vinyl, usually) at every party I ever attended in college, and for many years later in my kitchen in a well-loved Sony boom box.  In between were many road trips, windows rolled down in my shitty old Ford Escort with a battered and bruised, dashboard sun warped Paul’s Boutique or Check your Head cassette tape pounding away in my factory stereo, full blast.

Image

I had this poster in my dorm room.

I’m flooded with nostalgia. I have a million Beastie Boys moments and there’s nary a lyric I don’t know by heart. They’ve coined so many of the phrases that rattle out of my mouth on a regular basis. Even now, 15 years after living on a college campus where maybe some of the strongest memories come from, the B-Boys play a key roll in my musical repertoire. They blare out randomly when my iPod is playing on the home stereo in shuffle mode (“Sabotage” has been known to pop on and sort of rudely interrupt an otherwise peaceful moment, I must admit).  My son has learned, over time, to rephrase the question “What’s the time?” as he knows what answer he’ll get.  They’ve held my pace on long marathon training runs.  And they’ve earned more than just my musical admiration when they went on to champion human rights in Tibet, leveraging their popularity to fight for more than just their right to party, but for justice and an end to political oppression.

So today, in honor of the passing of Adam Yauch, critical member of one of the most important trios of all time, I’ll be listening to some solid white boy hip hop and reliving moments of my past.  Maybe I’ll even roll down the car windows and crank it up a notch.

RIP MCA, you’ll be missed.

*JD Fratzke gets credit for this metaphor, he said it and it stuck.