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.
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.
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.
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…
I had really amazing time visiting Istria with some girlfriends in early November 2010. Since arriving in Croatia, this has been my first chance to get out and explore the gastronomical scene, and meet the for the first time some producers of wine and delightful culinary treasures. We started out trip on a Sunday, in what is definitely Istria’s “off-season,” at least for the majority of the tourists. Since Lonely Planet rated Istria as the number two top destination for 2011, I’m sure we’ll see this change. The days all started with our cooking classes at the fantastic Radin Gourmet. We had chef Ezio from Le Mandrac restaurant expertly guiding our lessons and leading us through many beautiful courses, often involving fresh caught seafood and the famed Istrian Truffles. The combination of this venue, our hosts- Irina, Larisa and Tony, and such a talented chef made our vacation absolutely fantastic.
During the days we also met with wine producers and had the opportunity to visit some of these wineries in the evening. The first day tasted the wines from Pilato, including the Malvasija, Pinot Bieli, and 2009 Muskat Bielo. Later that evening we went to Kabola Winery. Unfortunately, we did this visit at night and we weren’t able to get a tour of the vineyards, or even see them for that matter. But we were given an expert tour and tasted some really fantastic wines, including the Malvasija Reserve, which is aged 12 months in oak and and the truly unique Malvasija Amphora, in which special, single vineyard grapes get extended maceration on the skins then go into big clay pots (Amphora) buried underground and then into barrel. This particular wine warranted the purchase of a case and particularly inspired my decision to teach a wine class called “An Evening in Istria”- coming on December 7th.
The next day at our culinary classes, we were presented with the wines of Vina Poletti, by owner and winemaker Peter Poletti. He is a really fantastic guy, a few times even driving back to his place a few kilometers away to bring us new things to try. We sampled his brand new olive oils, one a single olive oil made from an Italian olive cultivar , and the other, a blend of an indiginous Croatian varietal and an Italian varietal. He is as fanatical about his oils as he is his wine, and will race to pick all of the olives within 30 minutes of bringing them to the press. He is also a great family guy, and lives by his mission to “work to live, not live to work.” For this reason, he is making only 25, 000 bottles of wine per year and not interested in expanding, although the demand for his wine is greater than his supply. We tasted first the 2009 Poletti Malvasija, clean and unoaked. Just pure, clean fruit shining through on these wines, with a brave streak of acidity. Next we tasted the Teran, a varietal widely planted in Istria, though admitedly not everyone’s favorite because this is a grape with both high acidity and high tannins, making it a little hard to tame and difficult to sip on without some food acting as a companion. His was clean and bright and we all enjoyed it. We followed this with our dessert course and the 2009 Poletti Rossella, made from what he refers to as “red rose muscat,” a unusual cultivar only planted by a small handful of producers. Peter’s is made in what I found to be an off-dry style, not cloyingly sweet and still bearing a fair amount of complexity.
On this evening we visited Radovan, meeting up with Daniela at their home winery in Poreč. This is boutique wine indeed. After a walk through the tank and barrel room we went into the tasting room and tried some really fantastic wines, including their 2009 Malvasija Istarska, 2009 Chardonnay, 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2007 Merlot. Really lovely wines from a small, family owned winery, and they have the awards to prove it- the tasting room is very modest but displays a number of wine bottles bearing medals won at various competitions, most specifically VinIstra, the regional wine competition held in April each year.
The next day, our fourth and final day in Istria, we headed back to Radin for more culinary classes and also joined up with Mato from Roxanich Winery. These are wines of tremendous grace and finess, and of a calibur I had not yet discovered here in Croatia. We started our tasting with the Malvasija Antica, which was a deep golden color and featured heady aromas of dried apricot, acacia honey and orange rind. This wine, like the Kabola Amphora, underwent an extended maceration period as well, a process not often utilized in white wines. Next, with a bold preparation of Sea Bass prepared sous vide we tasted the 2006 Teran “Re,” a gorgeous dark violet wine with all the muscle you’d expect from Teran, but plenty of elegance as well. It definitely featured Teran’s telltale acidity, but here the acid seemed very broad and sweeping instead of harsh and stinging. Flavors and aromas such as blackberry, blueberry, leather, and cinnamon intermingled and tempted. This wine ages 36 months in the barrel, 20 percent in barrique and 80 in large cask. All of Roxanich’s wines are fermented by wild, indigenous yeasts naturally present in the air. Finally, we tasted the 2006 vintage of what Roxanich calls their “Super Istrian,” an obvious play on Italy’s Super Tuscans, and which features a parallel blend, using Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and the indigenious Borgonja (in place of Tuscany’s Sangiovese). This is a powerful but again very refined, complex wine which seems like it could age a century. I wish that we had been able to visit the Roxanich winery, but it was not in the cards for us this time. It’s definitely on my list for the next visit to Istria.
Following our classes and tasting with Roxanich, we were to be taken on a truffle hunt, as it is black truffle season in parts of Istria. Unfortunately, due to all of the rain, we were unable to do this. Instead we met the hunting dogs and proceeded to a wonderful tasting of truffles and truffle products.
Then, for our final evening in Istria, we went to Koslović winery. This is a very modern winery, having undergone several years of renovations, and which are still occurring. They are currently producing 130,000 bottles and will eventually have the capacity to double this. We toured the gravity fed winery and had a few tank samples prior to the seated tasting. We tried the 2009 Malvasija, 2007 Malvasija Reserve from a single vineyard and which was very nice, the 2006 Santa Lucia Malvasija, the off-dry 2008 Muškat, the 2009 Muškat (dessert wine) which had fantastic, gripping acidity and lovely manderine flavors, and the 2008 “Violetta” (Muskat Hamburg) which was a bright pink color and had some pleasant floral notes. After this we tried the 2009 Muškat Ruža (The red rose varietal Poletti also produces) which was very interesting, and the 2006 Passito Muškat, which was a good bottle of wine, with aromas of honey and pear and lush viscosity. This was such a fantastic culinary adventure in Istria, featuring all sorts of culinary amusements like the brand new cloudy olive oils, beautiful prosciutto, black truffles and so much more, all from small producers. Not to mention the fantastic cuisine created in our classes and at local restaurants. I can’t wait to present some of these gems on December 7th!