Single Day Trips- Istria by Land and Sea!

Rovinj by Sea

New Single Day Trips Available in July:

“When arriving to Rovinj, dear traveller, please try to make sure that you do so by sea.”

-M. Rakovac

It’s an unforgettable opportunity to see Istria this summer by land and SEA, guided by a local winemaker, sommelier and fishermen!  To see recent photos from this trip click here.

The ultimate in laid back gourmet adventure, your unforgettable day between Istria’s two most beautiful seaside towns of Poreč and Rovinj features everything you love about this area, from two of the most beautiful towns to the best in secret gastronomy, it’s all waiting for you when you book your adventure.

We’ll meet in the morning in Poreč, where we’ll have a short walking tour of this beautiful, historical city.

Fresh oysters just harvested in the Limski Canal. Bring on the bubbly!

Then we’ll board a private boat and head into the Limski Canal, where the beauty of the natural landscape meets the bounty of the sea. We’ll have our first taste of the day with fresh shells harvested moments ago from the very spot that Anthony Bourdain ate fresh oysters on his recently aired TV show, “No Reservations- Croatian Coast.” And we wouldn’t miss the opportunity to pair this with one of Istria’s finest sparkling wines!

From there we’ll travel at our own pace towards Rovinj, the longtime maritime center of Istria, where further adventures await. We’ll embark on an expertly guided walk through this Venetian-inflected old town, stopping to visit some special places which don’t exist in any guide book, like a local spacio. We will have a fresh fish lunch with an excellent local winemaker in the colorful home of a local fisherman and renowned chef, right on the edge of Rovinj’s beautiful marina and nestled between bustling shops and cafes.

Multi-course lunches prepared with fish caught that morning and paired with local wines and olive oils!

After this full, fun day of fresh seafood, fabulous wine, and sightseeing, we’ll get back on the private boat and leisurely make our way back towards Poreč, stopping for a relaxing break on a small island.

This adventure will run from 9 a.m. until around 6 p.m. and is subject to change based on weather or other circumstances. Price is 140 Euros per adult.  Minimum of 4 and maximum of 8 people per tour.  Deposit of 50% is required at least 3 days in advance and is non-refundable.  Payments are possible in cash or bank deposit or on paypal (see below).

Inquiries and bookings at bravawine@hotmail.com

There’s a good reason Lonely Planet voted Istria the #2 place to visit for 2011!  And this is your chance to see it as a local.

Visit to Miloš on Dalmatia’s Pelješac Peninsula

Things seem to move a bit slower in Dalmatia and nobody seems to mind. We rescheduled twice, then showed up an hour late to visit Frano Miloš in his winery in Pelješac. He greeted us on this blistering 100 degree day with a big smile and welcomed us into his winery, where he explained his philosophy on making wine. Keep it natural, intervene minimally, and don’t let the wood barrels have too much impact on the wine.  Actually he explained that the big Slavonian (Croatian) wood barrels he employs in his cavernous winery only act as vessels for aging and microoxidation, which smooth the tannins on his Plavac Mali. Then he ages them, first in the barrel then for quite a while in the bottle, before he presents them to the public. While others are serving up young versions with jagged tannins, his are remarkably smooth and elegant, without compromising any body or character.

Miloš in his winery on the Pelješac Peninsula

Miloš’ vineyards are situated on the steep, rocky hillsides of the Pelješac peninsula, facing the Adriatic Sea. He’s tending the plants by hand, as if there’s any other option on these jagged slopes.  His basic Miloš Plavac is coming from the middle section of the hillsides while Stagnum, his top wine, comes from the top position of the vineyards. The slopes are steep and sunny, and the valley between hills creates an environment which allows plenty of wind to pass through, thus cooling off the grapes from the scorching sun. He’s got 15 hectares in total under vine, and employs only natural winegrowing, without the use of chemicals or pesticides. Of course, it has to be this way for him to round out the remainder of his philosophy- using indigenous yeasts from the vineyards for fermentation.

After touring the winery, we moved into the tasting room where we tasted his wines and olive oil.

Stagum Rosé 2010– Very full bodied for a rosé, made from Plavac Mali. Creamy, and a little funky on the palate, I think this wine would almost serve better in a cordial-style application than as a light-bodied summery substitution for red wine. Some light tropical aromas and a bit of garden mint. Full malolactic fermentation on this wine creates a very creamy character, and eventually presents some candied strawberry notes.  Definitely not an aperitif or picnic wine, much more for the rosé connoisseur looking for something interesting.

Stagnum Rosé, I never did get the chance to ask what the giant “R” on the bottle stands for. I mean, could it be that obvious?

Plavac Mali 2008– Cracked black pepper and fresh cedar open the stage for this beautiful yet approachable plavac. The gingerbread man comes out from stage left, gracing the palate with all of the proper brown spices used for baking. The fruit’s in check too, calling forth black currant and baked plum. Really pretty, elegant and not too heavy.

Stagnum 2005 (Plavac Mali)– Incredible wine, my first impression is that it’s actually very floral on the nose, with graceful notes of violet and cocoa powder. I’m taken with this wine every time I taste it. The palate reinforces the tones picked up on the nose, and adds the layer of soft, silky tannins to round out the complexity. The fruit is in the background, with more earth and minerality coming forward, and baked plum and stewed fruit coming forth secondary. The tannins tighten up on the finish, like they’re tying up a bow on a pretty package.  So elegant, this wine is a marvel in its category, making a believer out of me with a grape I don’t usually drink much of.

Stagnum 2003 (Plavac Mali)– Bring the funk. I totally love this wine for its rustic, barnyard aromas.  Dried plum, dark chocolate, cocoa powder, and sweaty saddle. Tannins are still alive and well, but totally delicate, just adding enough texture to make it really interesting. This is totally cool wine reminiscent of this funk monster I used to drink from Salice Salentino in Puglia, Italy.  Sexy in a very dirty way.  I adore this wine, and had the chance to taste both a freshly opened bottle and one that was opened for three days, which had an incredible port-like quality to the matured fruits, and leads me to believe it will continue to age beautifully for quite a while yet.

The Rise and Fall of Sweet Riesling

Back in the States I had a colleague and friend, Bill Hooper, who was also working as a wine distributor, for another company.  He’s wicked smart, and incredibly passionate about wine. And right around the time I packed up for Croatia, he did the same, heading to Germany’s Pfalz region to study winemaking in what is arguably the finest country in the world for white wine. It’s the wine that makes my head spin and my mouth salivate at the thought, and it can get me even more excited than the thought of Champagne, to tell you the truth. I’m actually more familiar with the Rieslings of Germany’s Mosel region, of which I have a basement full of bottles, as they age incredibly, but those from the Pfalz are equally intriguing and indeed, drier in style in general.

Enjoy!

-April

The guy makes a good point…

The Rise and Fall of Sweet Riesling 

by Bill Hooper (and that’s not him in the photo above, Bill’s far handsomer. I wish I had a photo of him to post, but he’s as elusive as a muskie in a weedy fresh water lake. -A)

Sweet Riesling is dead:  to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that…Sweet Riesling is as dead as a door-nail. (Apologies to Charles Dickens)

That might sound dramatic to you, but if so you haven’t been to Germany lately. Depending on which generation you belong to and also to your level of involvement in the wine industry or your level of enthusiasm as a consumer of wine, this could either come across as surprising news or old hat. Either way, the truth of the matter is that it is near impossible for me to walk into a winery, wine-shop, or grocery store here to find a bottle of sweetish Riesling and I live in the middle of the Pfalz, which is the largest Riesling-growing wine region on the planet. It seems that we are almost to the point of dropping the qualifier ‘dry’ (Trocken in German –used to signify wines with 9 grams or less residual sugar) when speaking about Riesling, and substituting ‘sweet’ as the outlying indicator of style. The German wine industry has developed over the last couple of decades into a producer of primarily dry wine. How did this happen?

There has been a fair amount of controversy generated by this development and it has been written about and discussed for years by Terry Theise and recently in the unfortunately titled, but well written “Can American Fans Save German Riesling?” by Mike Steinberger. Matters of taste certainly come into play, but it isn’t as tidy as that. Germans overwhelmingly prefer soccer to American football, dislike spicy foods in favor of savory foods, and love Bon Jovi. With the exception of the Bon Jovi obsession (there is a Bon Jovi edition Volkswagen for chrissakes!) I’m not willing to concede that their tastes are wrong nor can I say that our American tastes are correct. Even beyond that, what worries me on both sides of the argument is that there is a tendency for people to read something, misinterpret it, and declare one style superior only to dismiss the other altogether. To do that would mean missing out on some of the world’s great wines –those being Riesling both dry and those with some residual sugar.

Tradition plays a central role in the appreciation of wine for many of us, but it is also wise to understand that wine-styles are a moving target and always have been (you should read about some of the stuff that used to find its way into Champagne or about the oft made claim about Rhone wines being blended into Burgundy or Bordeaux in small vintages.) The past tends to be over-romanticized including the not-so-distant past. Trying to pin-point a ‘true’ or authentic style of any particular wine is as futile an exercise as debating if the ’72 Dolphins would beat the ’85 Bears in the Superbowl, or saying that Renaissance paintings are superior to those of the Impressionists. Drink what you like. I offer the following not in attempt to define the real nature of the world’s finest wine grape, but only to offer some insight on a developing (or completed) trend as I see it not only from inside the industry, but as a wine lover.

German Riesling has been around for a long time. Written records of the grape point to 1430 for a ‘Ruslingwingarten’ outside of Worms (The Wonnegau of Rheinhessen today) and others mentioning ‘Rissling’ in Alsace in 1477 (then part of the German Holy Roman Empire) and also in 1511 in what is now Germany.  Ever since, the popularity of German Riesling has ebbed and flowed with the tastes and trends of society over time (and more than anything with the political and economic climate in Germany and abroad.) The very peak popularity of Riesling came in the half century leading up to 1914. Up until that time, the technology simply did not exist to produce stabile wine with residual sugar. That technology being sterile filtration to remove yeast and microorganisms, thus preventing refermentation in the bottle (first with asbestos fibers, later with wood fibers/Cellulose) and temperature-controlled fermenting vessels to stop fermentation at the desired point of residual sugar by dropping the temperature to below the point where yeast can function. Interestingly, the invention of sterile filtration in the early 1900s coincided with the implosion of the German export markets for wine. Understandably, after the First World War, followed by the second, the export markets for German Riesling dried up for a spell. The most perfect quote that I have read on the subject was in Simon Winder’s wonderful book ‘Germania’ from a British historian who stated that after the wars, German wine just ‘tasted too much of steel helmet’.

The only real available option for the fermentation of wine was oak barrels and vats (the size of the vessel depended on the region and the individual parcel or selection being harvested, but they were normally in the 300 -2400 liter range. The larger casks gave potentially warmer fermentations.) In wooden vat, fermentations are more rapid than those produced with the aid of temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks of the same size because the more porous oak and the heat generated by the volume of fermenting must allows for more oxygen in a more comfortable and conducive temperature range and therefore less stressful environment for the yeast (also reducing or eliminating the need for chemical nutrient supplements such as DAP –Diammonium Phosphate, an often used supplement throughout the world, and one which I really don’t want in my wine.) Relatively quick, warmish, gemütlich fermentations, from healthy, minimally processed, ripe (but not over-ripe) grapes have the very best chances of fermenting to dryness.  The best, most quality conscious estates have always sought to achieve this standard.

It has also been suggested that more wines would have gone through Malolactic fermentation, resulting in creamier wines with softer acidity. This would probably only have happened in extremely warm years, when the crop came in with relatively high pH. Malolactic fermentation rarely happens spontaneously at a pH value less than 3.2, and the majority of Riesling harvested even today when must weights are on average far higher than they were even twenty (much less one hundred) years ago rarely exceeds that number. MLF starter cultures were not available until much later.

Botrytis has always been a problem and one that can certainly complicate fermentation. One of the most common misconceptions about winemakers in Germany is that we accept or even desire a certain amount of Botrytis in the crop. This is absolutely false. Fighting botrytis is one of the biggest challenges and one of the most time consuming measures that we undertake throughout the growing season. (The exceptions being Auslesen, Beerenauslesen, and Trockenbeerenauslesen) There have likely been huge increases in Botrytis devastation since the advent of nitrogen fertilizer which really took off in the 1950s. Over-fertilization and high yields lead to much more plant growth: compact grape bunches which often burst open and a denser leaf canopy, which lessens airflow and promotes fungal growth resulting in a greater need for chemical fungicide (a wicked circle, conventional agriculture can be.) Today, wines made from grapes too strongly affected by botrytis (from poor selection during the harvest) need to be heavily processed in the winery through clarification, filtration and heavy doses of sulfur or the resultant wines are a mess of turbidity, oxidation and spoilage. They rarely ferment to dryness, but vinegar and mushrooms dominate the palate. I can’t imagine that highly regarded wines ever came from such material.

Stuck fermentations would always have to have been accounted for and sweet wines have always been made from the results, but they were undesirable, risky and required far more treatments, some quite detrimental to wine quality (Fortified wines such as Port or Banyuls from warm regions owe their existence to the stuck fermentations of long gone eras, as adding alcohol was the only way to stabilize the wines for transport or future consumption.) With the discovery and distribution of cultured yeast strains, fermenting to dry was less of an issue than ever and this obviously came as a huge relief to winemakers globally.

We can with some measure of certainty conclude that the best German Rieslings of the past, those from which Germany initially gained its high reputation were dry with a few bottles of BA and TBA thrown in for good measure, but these were great rarities. Analysis of the sugar content of surviving bottles from centuries past has also confirmed this.

Cellar technology rapidly out-paced innovation in the vineyard and when filtration (led by the German company now called Begerow/Eaton), cooling jackets, and steel tanks became more available, it became possible for virtually every producer, led by large co-operatives to produce sweeter wine at much lower prices than that of those great dessert wine rarities of BA and TBA. The addition of Süssreserve (sweet, heavily sulfured, unfermented grape-juice) or arresting the fermentation meant that low-quality (either heavily rotten and/or under-ripe, high-cropped, high acid) grapes could be processed by cutting corners in the vineyard and buffering the result with sugar, in effect covering up the flaws. The high quality, elite producers of the era banded together in an attempt to legally block the production of such wines. When those attempts failed, and the public demand for cheap sweeter wines rose, the great producers adopted an ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’ attitude and Germany became known in the 1970s and 1980s as a sweet-wine producer, led of course by Liebfraumilch (which incidentally has been involved in court cases since the 1909 German wine law became ratified as a detriment to the German wine ‘Brand’.) This story is not entirely confined to Germany. We can see similar parallels in the Loire with Chenin Blanc (most notably Vouvray, which is rapidly getting drier as well) and to a lesser-extent, in Austria. Alsace is an interesting case in that they never really succumbed to the temptations of producing more fabricated wines, and it continues to be regarded as a dry-wine region.

To make the claim that every producer who made or makes sweet or off-dry Riesling in Germany is doing so with low-quality produce is absolutely false, but unfortunately for the conscientious few, the gap narrowed and wine prices dropped.

Gradually over the last few decades, improvements in vineyard management -better trellising techniques which promote air-flow, green-cover to bring competition for water and nutrients as well as providing structure and oxygen to the soil, legume planting to naturally fix nitrogen from the air instead of using chemical fertilizers, improvements in canopy management, using pheromone capsules instead of insecticides to combat grapevine moths (a leading cause of botrytis), and more intensive plowing have made it possible to bring in much healthier grape material than in the past. This in combination with global warming has led to riper, less-acidic grapes on the whole, especially in the southern regions of Rheinhessen, the Pfalz, and Baden, making it possible for higher-Oechsle, cleaner, lower acid (less-shrill) dry Riesling to be consistently produced in a more natural in a way that than ever before. The crux of the issue is that producers here are extremely proud of the very-labor intensive farming measures that they undertake and feel that dry Riesling better expresses the minerality and individual character of their terroir (which comes in many different flavors other than slate.) Despite the unique climatic challenges faced in Germany (far more rain than any other major wine-growing region in the world meaning higher sensitivity to Oidium, Downy Mildew, and botrytis, higher frost risk, and cultivation of extremely steep slopes) there has been an enormous rise in Organic and Biodynamic viticulture here and the very top producers in the Pfalz have converted to these methods (A. Christmann,Dr. Bürklin-WolfBassermann-JordanRebholzOdinstalKarl SchaeferTheo MingesMeßmer among others.) Dry, organically produced German Riesling is among the most difficult wines in the word to make, and is seen as the highest rendition of art and craft in winemaking.

Talking to producers, it has become clear to me that they are making huge strides in making more friends of dry Riesling in America and the UK and they are excited about showcasing what they feel are their best wines. There seems to be a lot more potential for growth in dry Riesling than in the sweeter styles, but I don’t believe that there is any real danger of off-dry, sweet Riesling becoming extinct. If the demand remains, there will be more than enough not-dry Riesling produced to go around (mostly from the Mosel).  If you like it, buy it –sometimes there is absolutely no substitute for brilliant off-dry, steep-slope Mosel or Mittelrhien Riesling and I love it too (luckily, a shop in the region does stock some Willi Schaefer and Egon Müller, but I have to go way the hell out of my way to get there). Detractors might find the dry wines a little too macho, and the best Trocken Rieslings have higher alcohol than their sweeter counterparts, but remain perfectly balanced and still generally fall on the lower side of the scale: 11-13% alc. I have found that a few chaptalized wines (adding sugar to the must before fermentation to raise alcohol, not sweetness) can come across a little hot as there is more alcohol, but not more fruit or mineral flavor to counteract it (though even chaptalization is becoming increasingly rare.) The higher ripeness of the wines usually provides more intense aromas and more exotic fruit flavors which are more than enough substitute for sugar and they tend to be more versatile food-wines because of their lack of sweetness. They also tend to be more compact and firm and dense with minerality. They can be delicious, beautiful, fascinating, complex and as satisfying as revenge both young and with some age on it.

Cheers,

Bill Hooper

Pfalz Riesling

Brudetijada on Island of Cres, Croatia

Boats in the harbor of Cres

When I was approached about pouring wine for a festival during a weekend on an island in Croatia, I didn’t have to think too hard.  I just had to get permission.

The festival was called Brudetijada, themed around a competition for the best Brudet, which is a regional fish stew. It took place on the island of Cres in the Kvarner region of Croatia on the weekend of June 8th.  The locals cook off and are judged in the end by a panel of judges. The event is open to the public who must make the difficult decision of choosing which Brudet they will try from the ten (or so) tables offering this aromatic and savory dish. For the equivalent of about four bucks they will have the opportunity to dine on what is perhaps the best island offering at the moment. Judging from the rich aromas in the air, the task at hand was not an easy one.

What follows is my photo journal of the event.

Fresh fish is doled out to all participants.

Veteran competition

Another table…

The Yellow Team

and the White team.

Team Filozići

Chattin up some colorful locals.

Stirrin’ the pot.

And the wine of the day is… Piquentum. Perfect!

Enjoying just before the crowds.

Ice cream break!

After deciding which to try comes the good part…eating!