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.

A Midsummer’s Day in Hvar with Ivo Duboković

We were dressed less than seriously in our swimsuits, casually covered with as little as we could get away with on this scorching hot day on the island of Hvar, often nicknamed the St. Tropez of Croatia. It takes this nickname due to its crystalline aqua waters, stunning beaches, swanky boats swaying languidly in the many harbors and beautiful bleached out stone buildings.

An afternoon in Hvar, in Duboković’s wine cellar.

We were headed to the beach to cool off, but not before passing through the wine cellar of one very highly recommended producer, Ivo Duboković. His unmarked cellar in the town of Jelsa would be a welcome respite from even the short drive on this hot day.  Anyhow, it was too hot to eat lunch and I was pretty sure I could get my friends to pull over the car for a glass or two of wine.

Little did I know, when I made the appointment to visit, that he makes over ten labels.

We knocked on the door and were welcomed into his peaceful, romantic wine cellar. Lit by candles, with soft classical music playing in the background (we would later learn more about this), we quietly looked around and were invited to sit so he could guide us step-by-step through his wines.  Three bottles of red wine stood aside, on a candlelit table, with small decanters in front of the bottles, forewarning us that something special was about to take place.

Plavac Mali decants.

What started for Ivo Duboković as a hobby 15 years ago has quietly morphed into 20,000 liters, mostly for the commercial market. He originally took after his father and grandfather making wine just for family and friends. In fact, it was a defining moment in his winemaking career when he decided indeed to go forth and make wine commercially.

In taking the operation from family winery to commercial winery, he had to weigh his options.  One turning point occurred for Duboković when he and his cousin, Swiss resident and Master of Wine Ivan Barbić, opened an archived bottle of wine from 1999, a white made by Ivo’s father. They were astounded at the remarkable amount of freshness that the bottle still contained, and became convinced that white wines in this region can stand the test of time and hold their structure.

Dessert wines were among the first wines produced by Duboković.

Another moment of clarity came from the legendary Aleš Kristiančić, Slovenian winemaker producing the cult wine Movia. Kristiančić told him, “the problem with Dalmatian wine is that they copy the continental style.” Meaning that producers in this hot, mediterranean climate are trying to follow a model set by those in an entirely different climate and terroir. These words resounded with Duboković and he set off on his own path, using his own intuition to make wines that are very minimally marked with his personal fingerprint (which, in its own way, ends up doing just that), and the wines are also left to their own devices in the winery, versus being chemically scrubbed and altered into something specific.

“All production we make without enological knowledge. To have something special, it doesn’t have to be perfect, like Photoshop. I don’t want to produce something that’s drinkable in every moment, just in the right moment for that wine. It’s the same way you  wear different clothes for different situations.”

Barrels for Medvid and Medvjedica are coming from top producers Canton and Taransaud.

In this way, he makes a number of different labels, perhaps that the end user can choose which they will drink based on the specificity of the wine.  He’s making wines from different grapes from his organically farmed vineyards, and grapes he sources from the some of the best vineyards of other local growers, who are farming to his standards of low yields per vine and the absence of pesticides and herbicides.

He’s making three dry white wines at the moment.  All of them are unlike any wines I’ve been familiar with in the past, and at first try all of these wines took me a little getting used to.  Once I did, I found that they can be pervasively interesting and contemplative. In the winery, his white wines are gently macerated for anywhere from 3-5 days, and then aged in old barrels sur lie.

Tasting Notes:

Moj Otok (My Island) 2010

A blended white wine, consisting of local sorts Maraština, Bogdaneša, and Tarpinka (Trebbiano).

Lighter in body and style, with a very noticeable mineral streak that’s reminiscent of a hot coin. Green apple peel and some apple and white peach, though this is not a fruity wine. There is an earthy component to this wine that shows up in the form of warmed stone. Interesting, likable and definitely something different.

Moja B (My “B”) 2009

100% Bogdaneša

Loads of white pepper, preserved lemon and hazelnut, which together make a really interesting combination.  Left it in my glass for a while to come back to it, and found that it developed some spicy, peppery notes and aromas of baked green apple.

Moja M (My “M”)

100% Maraština

Interesting wine that seems altogether savory on the nose. Roasted parsnip, dried white fruits, orange peel, oregano and clove all showed up on the nose while the palate presented more nuttiness and almost a touch of salinity. Texturally rich, with a round mouthfeel that has a lemony streak of acidity which lingers on the back of the palate.

His red wines are all made up of the local grape Plavac Mali. Based on the age of the vines, the part of the island they’re coming from, and the treatment they get in the winery, he has separated them into three distinct labels.  The reds we tasted today had been decanted for two hours.

2718 sati sunce u boci (hours of sunlight in the bottle) 2010

100% Plavac Mali

This smells so nice, with nothing heavy about it. Young red raspberry and cranberry, mineral with some light yeasty aromas that I love. Actually it smells like a freshly poured cherry lambic beer in some ways. Young, easy and softer tannins make it a very nice bottle of wine coming from the vines planted on sandy soil.  All stainless steel aged.

Medvjedica 2009

100% Plavac Mali from the south part of the island, in soil high in carbon.

This wine and that of it’s partner (Medvid) are named for the extinct sea lions (or “bears of the sea”) that used to populate the sea around the island of Hvar.

Black pepper, oregano, blackberries and cranberry, this wine is markedly more complex than it’s younger counterpart, and spent its time aging in older, more neutral wood barriques. Ivo recommends this wine for lunch. And today, it was indeed lunch.

Medvid 2009

100% Plavac Mali

The primary difference with this wine and it’s feminine counterpart Medvjedica* is that Medvid goes into newer oak barrels, both American and French. The oak doesn’t overpower the fruit, however, and the wine leads with really pretty floral aromas, like violet and mint. The fruit comes in as mature blackberries and plums, with the floral notes perking up alongside them.

*Medvjedica (med-vyed-eet-sa) was named as such as it’s a softer and more delicate expression than her masculine counterpart, Medvid, which is the masculine form of the name, and refers of course to the male of the gender in this case. Ivo recommends the former with lunch and the latter with dinner.

Dessert Wines:

Don Petar MMVM

100% Plavac Mali

Named for the priest of the house. Baked stone fruits with a slightly spicy cigar box aroma. The taste is not entirely congruent with the aroma, and has a warm, silky feel with mature black fruit, raisin and prune spilling over the palate. A little dirty, which gives it nice complexity and keeps it from being too girl-next-door sweet wine. Not at all cloying, in fact my favorite thing about this wine may be the mouthfeel, which is marked by the heat of a slightly alcoholic finish.

Prvi Poljubac 

Maraština, Bogdaneša, and Tarpinka

Name is literally “first kiss” and is prounounced like (perv-i pol-yu-bahtz). This is a wine they call prošek, a specific type of dessert wine made Dalmatia.

Smells like a really nice Moscatel sherry and has beautiful aromas and flavors both of baked pear, orange rind and scorched caramel, and pecan pie. Delicious. There’s also a little savory component to this wine, like carmalized carrots and parsnips, in a good and interesting way. It unravels and unravels, and I have the overwhelming impression that this wine would still be out of this world in a decade. I think this is something I will be stashing away in my cellar for future enjoyment.

Rosé 2011

We also tasted a tank sample of rosé, an unnamed version made of plavac mali, but not macerated at all, which gave it the most amazing subtlety, and beautiful aromas of tangerine, green apple and garden mint. Reminiscent of my favorite rosé from Provence, France. Beautiful and delicate, though unfortunately going to be released into the market in September which may prove to be a strange time for the first presentation of a new rosé. Great as an aperitif or for warm weather lunches. Gorgeous.

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.

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.

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!

 

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)!