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.  

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