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.

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.

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.

Travel opportunities with Brava Wine Travel abound! http://www.bravawinetravel.wordpress.com or bravawine@hotmail.com for inquiries!

Amphora Magic in Slovenia

Wines made in the ancient style using terra cotta Amphora buried in the ground are as unique as they are hard to find.  In fact, they were merely more than legend before I moved to Croatia in 2010, having tried only one that I could find available on the market in the U.S. at that time.  So when a friend introduced me to Mr. Jean Michel Morel of Slovenia’s Goriška Brda region at a wine trade show in Zagreb, I was more than elated to meet him and try his wines.  I was completely blown away by their beauty.  The article that follows is my account of this past weekend’s visit to his winery and family residence, where his family’s hospitality is as astounding as the wines they produce.

Beli Pinot (Pinot Blanc)

Amphora Magic in Slovenia

September 27, 2011

“Put down your notebook,” Jean Michel instructs me as we began our tasting tour of his family’s winery, letting me know there would be no rigorous note-taking or fastidious documentation as we walked through the cool, dark cellar tasting wine from the barrels.  On the way down we had passed the quiet, private room which hosts the Amforae, which has just one small cut-out window to peer into from the staircase.  In here the Amforae are completely buried, with only the mouth of the vessels actually exposed above ground.  He explains to me that 20% of the wine that is put into the vessels is lost due to evaporation each year, but this aids in the microoxidation process which contributes to the unique character of the wine.

Taking barrel samples at Kabaj

We make our way through the cellar, without taking any notes, simply sharing thoughts on the wines that we taste from their barrels. There is true magic in this winery, in this space.  It’s not fancy by any stretch, but the common thread running through all of the wines is that they’re all really amazing, each in their own right.  The white wines here are some of the most magnificent expressions that I have ever tasted of their varietals; the Beli Pinot (Pinot Blanc), for example, bears remarkable brightness along with the lovely characteristics of white peach and baked apple. And indeed all of them are incredibly intriguing, richly complex and beautifully integrated. Most of the wine, in fact all but for one single barrel, is aged in old oak barrels, and Morel jokingly makes the comment that, “One new barrel is enough. I’m selling wine, not oak.”

The wines that we sampled from the barrels would all make perfect young wines, but producing young wine is not the goal of this family winery. They are making serious, finely woven wines which will stand the test of time and even improve in the bottle for a decade or more to come, as was easily proven during later tastings of 1994 Tocai and 1996 Chardonnay.

The reds are no different, vibrant and complex with just enough rusticity to make them really intriguing as well. Merlot will be bottled on its own, but the gorgeous Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon, along with Petit Verdot will be blended into the Morel Cuvée.  Floral aromatics dominate on these stunning reds, with crushed rose petal and violet aromas coming forward and wild bramble fruit in the background, mingled with leather, tar and baking spices. These are gorgeous wines, buzzing with a life of their own.

The real star of the show in the Kabaj winery is the Amfora. This complete and utter labor of love began in 2006.  Jean Michel explains that he learned about this style of wine on a vacation to the Republic of Georgia.  “I was visiting in 2004, and tasting a lot of mediocre wine. Then I went to a monastery of the Orthodox Church. At this time I tasted the craziest, best wine of my life. I’m talking with these guys from the monastery, and they gave me one opportunity, they asked if I wanted to make this kind of wine. So they gave me the chance to train with them and learn these techniques (using Amphora). The monastery is very serious- they are not selling wine.  They produce these wines to give as gifts to the royal families.  I am returning to Georgia every year to learn more.”

Buried Amfora

The Amfora wines are beautiful beyond explanation. They, like the other wines produced here, win you over with their pervasive aromas and flavors, always subtle but incredibly complex and definitive, even unusual in some ways that we traditionally think about wine. Tastings from the not-yet-released 2008 vintage poured forth black pepper, tangled with traditional stone fruit flavors and aromas.  Not exactly what you expect from a white wine. Maybe my favorite characteristic of these wines though is the mouthfeel. It’s waxy and oily both, coating your mouth and pervading your senses. It’s absolutely unforgettable wine, which for me is the marker of a classic.

Back upstairs in the winery, rock music blares from the radio and Jean Michel explains to me that some producers play only opera music in their wineries, but that doesn’t suit him. “In my winery it’s rock and roll.” And while in fact his manner is very relaxed and jovial, Mr. Morel seems the kind of guy who’s more rock and roll than opera, blaring his rock music and sporting a 5 o’clock shadow, with a perpetual Marlboro Red dangling from his lip. His casual style and the well-worn winery are completely in contrast with the family’s bright, tidy agritourismo and restaurant upstairs.

He himself grew up in France, having lived in several areas including Perpignan, where his mother still resides. As a young man he moved to Italy, for a job at a winery in the Collio region of Italy’s Northeast, which borders the Slovenian region of Goriška Brda. It was there that he met his wife, Katja Kabaj, and her family, with whom he joined forces in 1993 to work in the family’s winery in Slovenia. At that time the family was producing just 3 barrels of wine, enough for themselves. When Jean Michel came on they began more serious production, and the winery is now up to 70,000 bottles under the Kabaj label.

Jean Michel now runs the winery while Katja thoughtfully and attentively tends to the guests.  In 2006 they expanded their family property to include 6 lovely double rooms which are available for guests to rent.  The rooms, joined with the restaurant, make a perfect horseshoe around the restaurant’s terrace, which is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  The cuisine here is based on the freshest regional ingredients and culinary tradition, with an inspired and creative twist.  Instead of the expected risottos and tiramisus that dominate many of the region’s menus, they are featuring exciting riffs on the local cuisine.  They brought on a bright, young chef with fresh ideas so that their restaurant isn’t run of the mill by any stretch, which of course matches the philosophy of the winery.  And beginning in October of this year, they will bring on another highly acclaimed chef, who formerly worked as Sous Chef at Le Mandrac Restaurant in Opatija, Croatia. This will serve to shake things up even more and further develop their restaurant concept.  As it is, the community has definitely taken notice of this sweet spot. The restaurant was consistently filled with happy customers during my visit, sipping their favorite Kabaj wines and enjoying their delicious multi-course meals in this bright, sunny setting which overlooks miles of vineyards.  Here it’s truly great hospitality combined with amazing wines in a spot that’s as close to heaven on earth as any I’ve ever experienced.  And if the 2011 vintage here in Goriška Brda is as good as Jean Michel’s smile and nod indicates, I think we’re in for a treat.