Snapshots from Istria Wine Trip, October 2011

In October 2011, Brava Wine Company took the first group of travelers through Istria to experience the beautiful wines and the culinary riches. It’s also truffle season and time for the olive harvest, so we had a very full weekend of amazing food and wine!  A similar trip will be repeated again several times in October.

You can read all about this trip here or join us in Istria for a weekend in October of 2012- more information about upcoming trips can be found here.

Arriving at the Truffle Festival…

…on a crisp autumn day, one traveler is saving his energy for the truffle tasting.

The group in Livade for the Zigante Tartufi festival

At Misal Winery

Ana pours sparkling wine at her family winery.

A long day of truffles, wine and fresh air calls for pizza and… more wine!

The pizza wiz

The next day, we are enjoying a four course traditional wine lunch in Višnan.

Joined by Peter Poletti who introduces us to his delightful wines.

Helping Poletti pour for my guests.

Muškat Ruža to go with the fritule we brought back to his winery.

In Poletti’s winery

Poletti gets up in the archive section to fetch a bottle of wine for us!

Vines. olives and the sea as seen from Višnjan.

Freshly harvested olives to be pressed.

Admiring the olives.

Pouring a bottle of freshly pressed olive oil.

It’s onto Roxanich Winery in Nova Vas

Pouring Roxanich for one of my great guests!

Barrel samples in the winery at Roxanich.

A post-tour glass of wine on the terrace at our place before we head out to dinner. (Sorry boys and girls, the fingerless rainbow gloves aren’t for sale).

Our final dinner at Divino in Poreč, specialized in gourmet preparations of fresh fish.

Snapshots from the full day tour of “Istria by Land and Sea”

Following a walking tour in Porec, we arrive by boat in Limski Canal where we meet up with Emil, who farms fresh shells here every day.

Limski Canal’s king, Emil Sošić, takes us on a boat tour and pulls in fresh oysters.

Opening the oysters caught moments ago.

Oysters caught a minute ago in the Limski Canal.

Emil prepares the oysters simply with a squeeze of lemon.  Champagne adds the final touch.

Passing through a small spacio, or fisherman’s hangout spot after the boat ride from Limski to Rovinj. Just a quick snack in this traditional locale and we’re off to lunch.

Seaside home of a local fisherman in Rovinj, where he welcomes us and prepares for us a multi-course lunch based on the daily catch.

First is fresh fish carpaccio marinated in local olive oil.

Next, fillets of small fish. Completely simple and totally perfect with a glass of Malvazija which is presented to us by our local winemaker from Piquentum winery.

Fisherman and chef of the day Luciano takes a break to enjoy his wine.

Squid is served alongside vegetables from Luciano’s garden.

Squash blossoms and young zucchini.

In Luciano’s garden, on the marina in Rovinj’s old town.

Luciano tends to lunch while his pup lazes on this relaxed day.

A rare “serious” moment before we’re off for a walking tour of Rovinj.

A walk through Rovinj shows us some local faces.

Young ladies in Rovinj.

A happy moment as we tour Rovinj.

Traveling via wineglass, we take a break in Rovinj before heading back by boat to Poreč.

All beautiful photos courtesy of the talented Mladen Scerbe.  For which we are incredibly grateful.  Information about joining this tour for a single day during the month of July can be found here or here.

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.

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)!

Brava Travel: An Istrian Wine Trip to Remember

The snow was a bit of a surprise, especially since the day before in Zagreb we were in summer clothes. But driving from Zagreb to Istria the night before the rest of my group arrived, snow and sleet was falling furiously and showing no sign of letting up. Meanwhile the temps started dropping into the danger zone of 32 degrees Fahrenheit (or 0 degrees Celsius). We pushed through slowly and carefully only to discover as we often do, on the other side of the Učka tunnel, windy but clear weather.

The group arrives in Livade for the Zigante Tartufi festival

The ominous warnings proved false. By the next day as the 25 guests were arriving on this family-friendly wine trip, the clouds had broken and the sun was warming our skin through our light fall jackets and sweaters. It was perfect timing. We gathered in our cars and caravanned through Istria’s beautiful two-lane roads which wind lazily through miles and miles of vineyards, olive groves and the hills and valleys with their quaint villages and towns. We arrived in Livade at Zigante Tartufi for the kick-off of the day’s Truffle Festival, featuring many culinary delights featuring the magnificent truffle. We tasted wine, admittedly of varying degrees of quality, and sampled the many different truffle offerings, from olive oils to cheeses and salamis. We all walked away from the fair with shopping bags of whichever  truffle-studded treasures we decided to purchase to take home before enjoying a light lunch of Fuži pasta, an Istrian specialty of hand-rolled pasta tubes. In this case the pasta was served with a cream sauce, and you guessed it, more truffles. We washed it down with Istria’s local gem of a white wine, Malvazija.

Ana Persurić, winemaker at Misal

From there we headed to Misal winery, owned by the Peršurić family just outside of Višnjan. Winemaker Ana Peršurić was our delightful guide and hostess, taking us on an insightful tour and fantastic tasting in their unique tasting room (the tasting counter is an island in the middle room, shaped like a Champagne cork and, in fact, partially made of cork).  Since we ate such a light lunch at Zigante it was lucky for us that I had loads of my favorite American kettle chips in my car, having stocked up on a recent trip to an American grocery store. Because of this good fortune, one of my favorite wine pairings of all times manifested before us (queue the choir of angels):  Champagne (or in this case, Champagne-style sparkling wine) and POTATO CHIPS!  It’s heaven, people. If you haven’t tried it, give it a shot.

Well, sparkling wine has a funny habit of whetting your palate, so from there we headed to dinner at our family’s favorite pizza joint in Poreć. From start to finish at this little neighborhood spot you can watch them roll out the dough, toss it ever so cavalierly into the air, slap it down, spread it out and cover it just about anything your heart desires before throwing it in a blazing wood-fired oven. It was delicious, casual and perfect for our hungry group.  Naturally, a little after party formed once we got back to the apartments, and then to bed, for another day of food and wine was ahead.

On these wine trips I always like to leave the morning free for folks to enjoy as they wish, whether it’s hammering out a work-related proposal (boo) or taking a walk on the water’s edge toward the old city of Poreć (hooray).

Enjoying lunch at Konoba Borgonja in Višnan

So, after some time to ourselves, we commenced at noon for an early lunch and wine tasting at a Borgonja, a local Konoba (a.k.a. traditional restaurant) in Višnjan. This place not only takes great care of their guests, but delivers great value and serves some of the best traditional cuisine in the area. Rich, hearty food greeted us immediately upon arrival, starting with a huge helping of Fuži pasta, this time served in a rich gravy of beef goulash (gulaš) with loads of fresh, homemade bread. It was delicious and quite a meal in itself, but we had to slap on our game faces as the next course was soon to roll out. This one featured a locally made sausage, served atop a bed of sauerkraut along with a pork chop and roasted potatoes. Yeah, all of that on one plate.  Needless to say, we did our best and enjoyed every bit. Our friendly and gracious hosts checked in on us every step of the way. Peter Poletti, a local winemaker and good friend, joined us for this ample lunch and poured his fresh, flavorful wines which did a great job of cutting through the richness of the meal.

Tapping into a bottle of 2001 Chardonnay courtesy of Peter Poletti!

Well, we were in it to win it on this fine day, so we tossed back quick espressos and took dessert on the road with us as we headed to Peter’s winery in Višnjan. There we enjoyed Borgonja’s fabulous smile-enducing Fritule (little fried donut-hole treats they serve here, especially in the cold weather) and Kroštule, a simple but tasty local dessert of flour rolled out into ribbons, tied into knots, fried and sprinkled with powdered sugar. Peter accompanied the treats with a glass of his Rosella, a special dessert wine made from Muškat Ruža, a unique grape in the Muskat family which is especially difficult to produce, given that it’s such a challenge in the vineyard. This pretty pink wine was spot on with the sweet treats from the restaurant.

We packed up again and headed out, this time to see olive oil production underway nearby. This year’s weather created early harvests all around, both in the vineyards and olive groves, and this provided us the opportunity to see fresh olives being brought to press and make their way through the production line. It was a really fascinating experience, and we all lined up to buy lots of the dark green oil which had just been pressed yesterday.

From here we headed to Roxanich Winery, a producer of unique wines made in a cask-matured, aged style. These wines are full of character and this is arguably one of the best producers in all of Croatia. Their style in contrast with the fresh, young wines made by Poletti proved that there are many ways to make wine on this charming peninsula. We had the opportunity to taste the newly released 2008 vintage, including the premier of Ines in White, a beautiful blend of seven white grape varietals.

However, we decided that enough wasn’t indeed enough on this day, and we made dinner reservations at the new restaurant in the old city of Poreć called Divino. It’s the antithesis of Borgonja’s rustic, traditional, meat-based menu, instead serving elegant seafood, freshly caught, beautifully prepared and presented in a very luxe restaurant setting. We were served with finesse by the well-appointed staff and we struggled to make a selection from their smart, extremely well-chosen wine list featuring Istrian favorites like Clai and international gems as well. We finally decided upon the Trapan Malvazija Ponete as the main wine with our dinner, since this was a producer we weren’t able to visit on this trip, due to their location in Istria’s southern region, near Pula. Indeed the group loved this wine, so much that we ordered multiple bottles to enhance our meal and celebrate our last night together. It worked so well with all of our seafood dishes that we vowed to make the pilgrimage to Trapan’s winery on our next visit to the ever delightful Istria.

And it was unanimously agreed. There will be a next time.

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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.

Piquentum Winery, Buzet, Istria

Driving back from a four day visit to Istria today, I visited winemaker Dimitri Brečević, producer of Piquentum wines. We met at his winery, located just outside of Buzet where he shared his story with me. Born and raised in France, he went on to study enology in Bordeaux, which he followed up by working in wineries there and elsewhere in the world. He is young, passionate and honest, all qualities which I think will be to his advantage as he blazes his trail as a winemaker in Istria. True of many of the wines I favor, he is making wines in a natural way (or they say in Croatia, bio) and will have even more control of the wines when he owns all of the vineyards his fruit comes from. Piquentum is still young, 2006 was the first vintage and they are growing their winery slowly and methodically. The winery as it is now is really cool. It’s a repurposed water cistern which had been used by the Italian army, with rounded ceilings (Nicolas Joly approves) and an inherently cool temperature. The winery is fairly incognito from the outside, just a few big doors and an unadorned pergola mark it’s entrance.

Grapes used in production are Teran, Refošk and Malvazija, and these are the grapes which Dimitri will continue to use and promote. He dreams of Istria being as terrior driven and specialized in its native grapes as some of the other famed wine regions in the world, like Burgundy for example. To this end, and aligned with the principles of a few other great producers in Istria like Roxanich and Clai, he is cultivating and using his own indigenous yeasts so that there is minimal intervention to get in the way of true terroir expression. Barrels are employed, but only aged barrels from Bordeaux which are adding texture to the wines but not imparting any strong aromas or flavors. The reds are unfiltered, thus enhancing the richness of the wine.

A photo taken at the 2011 VinIstra fair in Istria. With winemaker Dimitri Brećevič.

Tasting Notes:

Blanc10 (Malvazija 2010 – tank sample, will be bottled in June) was bright and fresh, with aromas of wet stone, green apple and honeysuckle, all subtly woven together. The palate had broad, sweeping acidity which instantly made me crave sushi. Takenoko, take note- I’ll be requesting that this gem joins your wine list. This wine, in 2010, is simply called “Piquentum blanc” on the label. 100% Malvazija, aged sur lie.

Teranum09 (Teran 2009 -barrel sample): Lush aromas come out of this gorgeous purple-colored glass of wine. All sorts of wet earth, forest floor, crushed black fruit and violet. The palate is a bit more lean and even mineral. Again, broad acidity sweeps the palate and this wine is looking for food, and some serious food at that. Labeled as Piquentum Teranum in the marketplace, this baby is all Teran. Dimitri recommends, and I agree, the Teran would benefit from being decanted.

Enjoy!

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!