Snapshots from Istria Wine Trip, October 2011

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

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

Arriving at the Truffle Festival…

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

The group in Livade for the Zigante Tartufi festival

At Misal Winery

Ana pours sparkling wine at her family winery.

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

The pizza wiz

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

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

Helping Poletti pour for my guests.

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

In Poletti’s winery

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

Vines. olives and the sea as seen from Višnjan.

Freshly harvested olives to be pressed.

Admiring the olives.

Pouring a bottle of freshly pressed olive oil.

It’s onto Roxanich Winery in Nova Vas

Pouring Roxanich for one of my great guests!

Barrel samples in the winery at Roxanich.

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

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

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

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

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

Opening the oysters caught moments ago.

Oysters caught a minute ago in the Limski Canal.

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

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

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

First is fresh fish carpaccio marinated in local olive oil.

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

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

Squid is served alongside vegetables from Luciano’s garden.

Squash blossoms and young zucchini.

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

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

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

A walk through Rovinj shows us some local faces.

Young ladies in Rovinj.

A happy moment as we tour Rovinj.

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

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

Single Day Trips- Istria by Land and Sea!

Rovinj by Sea

New Single Day Trips Available in July:

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

-M. Rakovac

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Inquiries and bookings at bravawine@hotmail.com

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

En Primeur Malvazije- 2011 Malvazija Tasting in Zagreb

Winemaker Ivan Damjanić of Damjanić Vino, presenting his new wine

The Regent Esplanade was once again taken over by wine lovers.  Though it was  mainly offered to people in the trade and some guests, the atmosphere was as buzzed up as ever.  Maybe it is in fact these folks who know how to create the buzz.

Winemakers came from Istria to bring a mini-version of the VinIstra fair to Zagreb, presenting their 2011 Malvazijas (along with another wine or two in many cases).

A highlight for me was meeting and tasting the wines from Ivan Damjanić of Damjanić Vino, located just outside of Poreć.  His Malvasija bore lots of fresh fruit, including green apple and ripe peach, and when I came back later in the afternoon to taste his recently-winning Borgonja (Gamay) I found that he’s quite adept at the reds too.  I look forward to visiting his cellar in an upcoming visit in March.

Damjanić wines, chillin’ at En Primeur Malvazije.

Many of the wines today were still a little on the harsh side, hopefully they’ll mellow a bit before release, around Easter.  But 2011 holds tons of promise in the bottle, considered to be one of the strongest vintages in recent history.

Wine #4- On the Fourth Day of Croatian Vino

I was so hoping it wouldn’t come to this. Yet here it is, my first and I promise ONLY slacker post.

I did indeed drink Croatian wine last night, and it was in fact in the company of wine amateurs (lots and lots of them, actually), per my self imposed guidelines, but I didn’t do it in a thoughtful, concerted manner. But I did manage to snap a picture.

Truth is, I was at a party. Then an after party. This is definitely the MO for the next week and a half, but I’ll try to stay focused and carry out the project with integrity.

Disclaimer, check.  Here we go:

Tonight we drank Meneghetti Merlot 2010, at our after party in Velvet, which is a gorgeous coffee bar with nice desserts and a real wine list. This is another wine from Istria, and it’s not Meneghetti’s top tier wine, but rather the wine that has now effectively invaded EVERY SINGLE WINE LIST in Zagreb.  It’s their 50-or-so Kunas per bottle second label (retail price.  American friends, that’s about ten bucks a bottle.), with a jovial little Malvazija to keep it company on the white side.  And what can I say? It’s totally decent. It’s very likeable, approachable, soft, juicy merlot-y wine. And it tasted f*ing fantastic after that glass of Henkel sparkling I had to drink out of politeness. Cause I’m nice like that. But ew.

Did we discuss the Meneghetti as a group? No, but I have discussed the nuances, pricepoint, etc of this wine previously with a restaurant owner who is very proud to be pouring this as his by-the-glass red, along with (gasp, gag) Rosemount Red from Australia. By comparison of which it shines like the North Star, but of course that’s not saying much.

Actually, the wine does have some nice mineral tones and isn’t a super fleshed out fruit bomb, which I like about it. And there’s a hint at green pepper, a quality I used to detest, but on this wine I actually find pleasand as it seems to bring a nod of complexity. Listen, if you’re having a party and have to pour for the masses, this could be your wine. Everybody would like it, and while it’s not going to inspire, it can certainly delight. Hey, sometimes there’s no harm in an easy drinker like this.

Cheers! (And something really interesting tomorrow, I will make it up to you.)

Wine #3. On the Third Day of Croatian Vino…

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.”

Roxanich Ines u Bijelom 2008

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.

April, Naomi, Mato, Orli, Renata and Maria. Anticipating that first sip!

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.

Naomi undoubtedly contemplating what her namesake wine label will look like.

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.”

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!

Another Visit to Roxanich, July 2011

Another Visit to Roxanich, July 2011

Visit to Roxanich Cellars: July 25th

With each trip to Istria, I like to see what’s happening at Roxanich Winery, one of my favorite wineries in Croatia.  They’re srpiring to be an ultra-premium winery, and they’re on the right track.  I love the uniqueness of their wines and  don’t miss a chance to stop by and see how things are progressing in the winery when I’m in Istria.

We arrived and already the atmosphere seemed a little different than usual. The winery was busy with visitors and more staff was on hand. My friend Mato arranged with Kristijan to guide our tour, which was really a delight, as Kristijan is the assistant winemaker, and handles the day-to-day operations inside the winery. Great for me because I’m always curious about the intricacies of the winemaking process, and a tour with Kristijan was like having the Roxanich encyclopedia right at my fingertips.

Roxanich is unique in several ways, but one is that they employ extended maceration with their wines, which promotes, at first, stronger tannins and color. It also creates really unique flavors and aromas. As wine drinkers we’re used to this with most red wines, but it’s fairly uncommon with the whites. You see it a little bit in white Bordeaux, but Roxanich really pushes the envelope, sometimes keeping the juice on its skin for as long as 80 days. That’s crazy talk for most winemakers, but believe me when I say that the results are nothing short of amazing. Try for yourself and you’ll see that the wines speak for themselves, or rather they sing a glorious little tune.

Another point to mention before I get into the tasting notes is that Roxanich is also adhering to some of Steiner’s biodynamic principals. While they don’t want to be pigeonholed into this category, they are definitely employing the techniques. This means that they are making “natural” wines, even harvesting and cultivating their own yeasts and minimizing the use of sulfites. Again, great for you and me because natural, organic wines (like food) allows fewer toxins into our systems, and keeps us healthier, right? The point has even been stretched out to say that these wines won’t cause a hangover. Think I’m full of it? Read on.

Tasting Notes:

2008 Rose- made up of Borgojna, (a local cultivar of Burgundy’s Gamay) this is a lovely little quaffing wine that makes for great mid-day sipping or pairing with a cheese plate or summer salad. Primary aromas and flavors both of dried, wild strawberry. It goes for a couple years into the barrel, but neutral barrel so no strong oak tannins or none of that nasty Vanilla-roma air freshner smell I can’t stand on some rosés.

2010 Malvasia “Antica” (barrel)- This malvasia was macerated 6 months. The aromas are loud and clear, with cardamom, nutmeg, and pear taking the lead. The palate presented a little more, with nice minerality and orange zest.

2009 Malvasia “Antica” (barrel)- The aging in the big oak casks has kicked in here, the color here is much deeper gold than the 2010, with even an orange hue. Aromas were dried apricot, lemon curd and clove, and this was consistent with the palate.

2009 Chardonnay “Milva”- The interesting thing about tasting wines throughout the year is that they are often in various phases of their evolution. This one was opening with some subtle smoke and minerality, also a little orchard fruit. But on the palate it was extremely reserved and difficult to discern much at all. Kristijan mentioned that this wine was just moved from a different barrel, so maybe it’s just a little shocked at the moment.

2009 Ines u Bielom (Ines in White, in barrel)- When the 2008 vintage of Ines in White is released, it will be the first vintage of this cuvee. A blend comprised of Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Blanc, Tokaj, Prosecco (Glara), Verdiccio, Pinot Grigio and Riesling, equal parts. All harvested together and macerated together. Cooool wine. Dark gold color with incredibly lush notes of juicy, tangy peach. Aromatically this thing screams at you. The palate is far more reserved, almost to the point of a whisper which is odd considering the amazing nose. Hope it comes together as seamlessly as their other whites…I’m sure it’s just a sleeping giant at the moment.

2008 Merlot (barrel)- All blackberry on the nose, on the palate more flavors crop up. Primarily game, blueberry and has a very lean minerality to it. Nice.

2008 Teran Re (barrel)- Black cassis, anise, black licorice. The acidity is already well under control and there’s a lush softness to it. Really pretty wine, in fact I think this wine showed the best so far on the palate of all the others. Hint of smoke on the finish.

2008 Cabernet Sauvignon (barrel)- Pretty and soft with violet and blueberry coming through on the nose and palate. A little gamey as well, a nice touch for this otherwise feminine style of Cab.

2008 Super Istrian (barrel)- Another blend and an obvious play on words, using the style of Italy’s Super Tuscan as the example. Made up of 40% Cab Sauv, 40% Merlot and 10% Borgogne this is a lush little baby, with some spicy, lip-smacking tannins. Anise and black currant dominate the palate. This is my favorite of the Super Istrians from these guys ever. I say bottle it up and let’s drink!

2008 “Message in a Bottle” Red blend- Another new product to the market upon it’s release, this is a blend of Syrah, Barbera, Black Malvasia, Cabernet Franc and Lambrusco. (Sounds strange, I know.) Loads of raspberry and black cherry. If I was blind tasting this wine I’d guess they blended Barbera and Dolcetto. Everything about it drinks like a little Piemontese blend of those two coyboys. Great, long finish with loads more raspberry coming through.

2008 Pinot Noir- A little secret, I think. It’s kept stashed away and I had to ask for it. But being the PN freak that I am I can’t miss the opportunity. So I did. And we tasted. And man, it’s freaking gorgeous. All classic Burgundy and what have you, with pretty black cherry and dill on a beautiful core of minerality with a mile-long finish. Again, 2008 will be the first vintage for this wine but the winery’s not yet sure when they will release it. Could be a few more years…unfortunately.

Then we headed to the tasting room to crack open a few (!) bottles. Starting with the…

2008 Chardonnay “Milva” (prepared for bottling)- Deep gold color, orange marmalade on the nose and a hint of nutmeg. Beautiful and elegant.

2008 Malvasia “Antica”- Yum. Dark gold color, on the palate lemon curd, dill cardamom and hint of clove.

2008 Ines in White- Wow! Just as juicy on the nose as the 09 tank sample. Screaming peaches (that’s totally the name of my next band) on the nose and absolutely beautiful on the palate as well. Lush, mouthwatering and absolutely delicious. It’s making me thirsty just writing about it.

2007 Malvasia “Antica”- Bright orange color, the nose is like a Snickerdoodle cookie, with all the warm brown baking spices and hints at sweetness. That is until you taste it, then the nutmeg and clove really pop and it is indeed completely dry. Lovely, lovely wine.

2006 Malvasia Classica- Made with a much shorter maceration period, just 20 days in the 2006 vintage, this is a “lighter” style of wine for them, though still quite complex and interesting. Spicy on the nose, with more fruit coming through than their whites typically have. Pear, peach and again that aroma of nutmeg blend together like a freshly baked pie in the summer.

2007 Teran Re- This is historically not my favorite vintage of their Teran Re, but taken from a bottle that had been open for a while, it was showing more depth and character. Black cherry, cigar box and red licorice came through.

2006 Super Istrian- Cedar, leather and licorice. Really pretty, a perpetual favorite of mine.

2005 Teran- (This was a vintage that the Teran and Refosco were made as mono-varietals) Showing lots of spice, I really like this wine. Cigarbox and leather again, with a little baked fruit on the palate as well. I wish I knew now when they had opened the bottle, it was sealed off but previously open, because it’s hard to say if some of these evolved aromas are from the natural aging of the wine or from sitting open for a day or two. Though with the number of guests I imagine they have coming through, I don’t think they are probably sitting on open bottles too long.

2005 Merlot- Spicy with blueberry up front and cedar and leather coming through on the palate. I wonder if some of the stronger wood aromas are coming from the time when the barrels were newer. The wines seem to have more fruit on them in later vintages. Of course by this, the millionth wine we drank, my palate could have been a little tired too. Just noting that the reds seem to be alike in my notes and I generally don’t find that to be true of their wines.

Are you still reading? I can’t believe I’m still writing…

The next morning, after tasting these 18 wines (and who am I kidding, I was with friends and family and I was DRINKING the wines. Not spitting, hardly dumping anything out. ) I got up and ran a 12 miler. No joke. No hangover. Maybe there’s something in the water here in Istria, or maybe there’s some magic in the barrels at Roxanich…

Piquentum Winery, Buzet, Istria

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

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

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

Tasting Notes:

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

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

Enjoy!

Giorgio Clai in Istria, Croatia

I’ve got nothing but good to say about Clai.

Photo taken at VinIstra 2012 with the dear Giorgio Clai and winemaker Moreno Coronica on the left. Fishbowl photo effect is just a bonus.

They arranged for me a visit to their cellar at 10:30 on a Sunday morning, per my unusual request. I had been eager to try these wines and learn about them for some time, as they had been recommended to me as another of these “natural” wine producers that I’m so fond of, even having been called biodynamic, maybe accurately or not. So, on that Sunday morning my wish was granted and I parked my car across the family residence and winery.

I was met by Martina, daughter of Giorgio and Vesna Clai, who led me into the bottling room to meet her father. He took us on a tour and spoke to me about his philosophy. They have 10 hectares under vine and olive trees, all grown and cared for biologically, which is the word he prefers over biodynamic. This speaks to his care of the land, and includes such things as using compost teas for fertilizer and harvesting according to the calendar. He is a firm believer that all wines are made in the vineyard, and are to be completely and utterly representative of the land from which they came. It is most important to him to represent the terroir, climate and finally the serious, respectful winemaker. He believes the winemaker’s duty is to carry on with what nature has given him and complete the task of making grapes into wine. He says that you simply have to represent these variables, and don’t penalize or change the wines in the cellars. In his native Italian he tells me about his process for cultivating and harvesting his own yeasts, that which is growing on the grapes in the vineyard. Of these grapes, he harvests a small bunch or piede di partenza, the yeast starter. Using these wild, indigenous yeasts completes the expression of terroir even more completely, creating what he lovingly refers to as sincere wines.

His soil is unlike the dark red soil I’ve seen elsewhere in Istria. His is white, and very mineral rich. He later let me take a bit for my little terroir collection.

In the cellar we tasted:

Malvazija 2010– Macerated on the skins for 2 months. The color was cloudy, naturally as a barrel sample, but also because he is doing no filtering or fining. The aromas and flavors carried an intense aroma of apricot, golden raisin and pineapple. Acidity was soft and round, really nice mouthfeel to this wine.

Ottocento– This is a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon, harvested together and fermented together. Malvasia was added to the blend after it was harvested a bit later. The color is again cloudy and almost an amber-gold color. Everything this wine is intense, from the color to the nose to the palate and beyond. To me it was reminiscent of grapefruit and candied orange, with pervasive brown spice notes. It was incredibly long and lush with velvety acidity. Delicious.

Ottocento Red– This was a blend of Merlot, Teran, and Cabernet Sauvignon, with Merlot carrying the majority of this year’s blend. The color was some kind of electric magenta! It was gorgeous in the glass. The palate was all floral, rose petals and violet with some crushed berries in the background. Absolutely gorgeous.

Refosco 2008 was a favorite. It had gorgeous blueberry, crushed raspberry aromas and flavors that evolved every time I came near my glass. At times I smelled and tasted cotton candy, anise, candied raspberries and blackberries. For Giorgio this wine evokes chocolate and fresh mint, and I believe it, as this is a highly complex wine.

Back in the tasting room we tasted some of his bottled wines.

Malvazija Sv. Jakov 2009 – dark gold in color. Baked apricot, fig and notes of white peach and pear. Super lush and round on the palate, this is a stunning wine that would be great with fish.

Ottocento Bijeli 2009– Topaz in color. Aromas and flavors of lemon curd, acacia blossoms, caramel and Clementine. Gorgeous.

We went on to taste the Ottocento Red, the Refosco “Brombonero” which were both fantastic. And finally…

Moscato “Tasel” 2009 . Tasel represents the name of the local soil. The grapes are made here in passimento style, late harvest and dried 1-2 months. They are macerated with the skins and the wine matures for 1-2 years. He is only making this wine in very good vintages. There were huge aromas of orange rind, marmalade, and honey on this dark orange wine. On the palate I was blown away by the freshness of the wine, and further flavors of white pepper and fresh herbs. There is even a slightly spicy component to this wine that makes it really interesting. I thought it was quite amazing. And apparently I’m not the only one, because when I asked to buy some I found it was sold out.

Martina is queen of the distillery here, making artisanal grappas and rakijas. The grappas were each really beautiful, her Komovica which is a blend of all the grape varieties, the komovica s medom which has honey distilled with the grapes, and the travarica, which is her grappa distilled along with herbs. She is also making beautiful rakijas, like the typical sliva (plum), and jabuka (apple). She will make an exciting new grappa in oak from 2009 and a reserve with the Ottocento grapes.

All in all, what they’re doing here is really cutting edge and at the same time really humble, honest and ancient. They’re acting as a true steward of the land, sharing her truest expression and the rest of us lucky enough to simply reap the rewards. Get your hands on a bottle.