I finally figured out how to upload the article to the blog. Just in time…now that I’m back in the States! But, will be back in Croatia guiding tours in October and next spring.
I finally figured out how to upload the article to the blog. Just in time…now that I’m back in the States! But, will be back in Croatia guiding tours in October and next spring.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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
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”)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
New Single Day Trips Available in July:
“When arriving to Rovinj, dear traveller, please try to make sure that you do so by sea.”
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.
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.
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 email@example.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.
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’ 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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…
On the fifth day of Croatian Vino, I was in for a surprise. I was at another Christmas party, this one happened to be all comprised of Americans. Among this crew were a few of the A-Teamers, if you remember Kim and Christine. Among this group of 15 we definitely had a mixed crowd of drinkers, not all wine aficionados by any means, but they were all game.
After a fabulous meal of Caesar salad prepared by yours truly and Christine’s amazing lasagna, we cracked open the wine that I brought, which of course I previously cleared with the hostess. It was the Korta Katarina Plavac Mali 2007, from the Peljesac peninsula on Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast. Widely regarded as one of Croatia’s finer, more prestigious wines, we were about to get some feedback.
The bottle went around the table after dinner. Some wine-murmurs started bubbling to the surface. I myself noticed something wasn’t right- the wine clashed with the meal we had just eaten. The wine itself was sound, the problem was that the strong flavors from dinner were still prevalent on our palates. We had Caesar salad, which was fabulous but wicked garlicky, and lasagna, which was all meat, cheese and more garlic. I knew it when I tasted it, these were not the flavors I wanted dancing on my palate as we embarked on this style of wine.
As the bottle went around and the comments started flowing, some others found this to be the case as well. This wine, which I have presented in the past to remarkable reviews, was getting mixed reviews here. All of the pretty fruit and floral aromas that make Plavac Mali such a special wine were being sabotaged here, victims to our strongly-flavored dinner. Also, because I brought only one bottle, there wasn’t a chance for people to try it over the course of several sips, thus cleansing their palates with the wine and transitioning to these new flavors. Comments ranged from “it’s good red wine” and “smooth, with hardly any bite” to “it tastes like seafood, maybe walleye.” Huh?!? Can’t say I agree with that one.
The case in point is that there really is some magic to pairing food and wine. And those who didn’t like this wine at this tasting would likely swoon over it in another setting, with another meal or maybe just on its own.
When I’ve tasted this wine on its own, I found this wine to have all the seduction you’d expect from a big, lush Plavac, with really pretty floral notes backed by amarena cherry, blackberry and blueberry notes. I find some Plavac Malis to be totally in your face, but Korta Katarina’s got it all under control, and the wine is smooth with broad, velvety tannins. For me, it’s a bigger wine than I usually drink, but fans of this super-lush style of wine will be very pleasantly rewarded with a bottle of this wine.
Full disclosure: I ripped off this picture from someone else’s blog, called “Wine Words and Videotape.” Sounds a little naughty, right?
Hilarious sidenote: Later on we had fun with a gift exchange of all types of gifts, and “Tastes like Walleye” opened a very special imported cheetah-print Snuggie. For those who don’t know, this is an all-inclusive blanket/sleeping bag/fashion item for those who take maxing and relaxing on their Lazy Boy to a hole. nother. level. (HNL). It was stolen by another friend who is shown here modeling it and kindly stole it for good, as his wife is about to have surgery. I’m sure she’s grateful.
On the Third Day of Croatian Vino…
With today’s wine tasters in tow, we headed on foot to one of my fave little restaurants, Lari and Penati on Petrinjska. We found our table and I ordered the wine that I planned on putting under today’s spotlight, only to find out that it was sold out. Tom, who runs the show, rotating roles as the owner, the DJ and all-things front of house shrugged his shoulders and offered up the short but concerted wine list so I could make an alternate selection. But I was set on tasting Roxanich’s new release, Ines u Bijelom 2008, or “Ines in White.”
This particular wine pulled me into its clutches long ago, prior to the first release, when the only way to taste it was from a barrel sample at their winery in Istria’s Nova Vas. These samples proved to be quite varied, depending on the time and even day, perhaps. And the concept is an uncommon one, at best: ferment all different sorts of grapes (7 varietals, to be exact) together, whole cluster, with Roxanich’s trademark prolonged maceration. Then see what happens.
The result has been fantastic, and while I’m often a purist when it comes to wine, and I also have a thing for championing indigenous varietals from their home lands, there is something so intrinsically likeable about this wine that I had to retract my preconceived notions. The chosen varietals are interesting, and proximally-close indigenous, as most of them are from neighboring Italy. But the question loomed large, would we get to taste and talk about this wine today, with this company I invited for this sole purpose?
The problem, it turned out, was easily solved with a quick text message to my friend, Mato. He’s often seen as the face of Roxanich Winery, running winery tours, sales and marketing, international promotions, and even delivery guy (in a pinch). I quickly relayed our quandary and he soon responded that he’d be by with a delivery. Wipe the sweat off my brow, order some starters, and we’re off to a decent start.
The group today was one I was excited to taste wine with. We’re all members of the International Women’s Club, and today this wine and lunch date followed our monthly general meeting. Naomi and Orli are from Israel, Maria’s from Greece, and Renata is Croatian. We’d have a global palate coming together today to chat this wine up.
Orli and I originally bonded when she came on one of my wine tours through Italy. Originally having pitched it to her husband as a “photography trip,” she became a wine lover in no time flat. She snapped all the shots you’ll see today, and she’s a great amateur photographer. Orli does everything in life her own way, and is hands down one of the most well-loved women I have ever met. And while I’m pretty sure she’s not always trying to be funny, she seriously says some of the funniest shit ever.
About 30 minutes later Mato arrives bearing boxes of wine. These savvy chicas are ready to delve into some wine conversation, and immediately the conversation turns to the color of the wine, which is a cloudy marigold color. Naomi compares it to a wine a few of us tasted yesterday, a Slovenian wine by Prinčič, one which they were on the fence about and I loved. It too was an unfiltered white wine which appeared to have been through a prolonged maceration period. Orli comments that she can smell the flowers. And the bees. And feel the car driving up the hill to the vineyard. Huh? I’m not sure what the hell she’s talking about but she’s got me laughing.
The topic then switches to the label, and the name of this wine. Roxanich’s chief winemaker (and owner) Mladen named this wine for his wife, Ines. Likewise, their Chardonnay bears Mato’s wife’s name, Milva. While we’re all dreamy about the idea that someone would name a wine after us, Renata snaps us back to reality by quipping that it’s much better than someone naming their damn dog after you. Indeed.
We go on to laugh and enjoy our wine and lunches.
I met Maria last year when she signed up to take my Wine Basics and Beyond course. She was also a regular in my Wednesday Wine Sessions and also came on the “Italy by Storm” wine trip with her husband, Giorgos. She loves her some sweet wine, and also has a keen appreciation for rosé. But in this past year she’s branched out quite a bit and enjoys a full range of different styles of wine. She really likes this Ines in White.
Then Renata makes a good point. She says that she thinks “you really have to learn to like this wine,” and that the color is a bit confusing, “it’s almost like drinking a red without the color.” I agree and try to see it from this perspective. While I’ve been interested in this category of “orange” wines as they’re dubbed, for some people they’re still quite strange. And people who are especially used to drinking Croatian wines that are really ripe, fresh and fruity, this wine is the opposite, tending toward dried apricot and bitter orange, with some nice spice tones, including cardamom and clove. It’s a totally different animal. Naomi finds it to be powerful, a quality not everybody likes in their wine. Maria agrees but notes that it doesn’t have strong tannins and she also mentions that it’s great with her meal of pork chops and figs.
But Maria has the last word, and maybe this last statement sums it up best: “… I don’t know, it’s just good.”
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 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.
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).
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.
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.