Two kvevri (amphora) wines from ORGO, Kakheti, Georgia are recommended by James The Wine Guy. The white is a Rkatsiteli, the red a Saperavi, the two most important indigenous Georgian grape varieties.
Watch his video reviews here:
“I must tell you: Hungarian paprika is the best. This is not arrogant nationalism. This is a fact.”—Flora Gaspar
My paprika education and enjoyment started and continues with Flora Gaspar at Da Flora restaurant in North Beach. Flora is someone I like to reserve at least two hours for even when I only have a few wines to share. Her encyclopedic knowledge of Hungarian history, language, food, and culture are based on decades of personal experience and heritage. That’s the first hour. The second hour is dedicated to her opinions about the first. She tackles all of the things that make wine and food so endlessly engaging. I’ve shamelessly plagiarized her insight and stories to further your Hungarian indoctrination. And although her restaurant (everyone should go) just turned 20 years old, importing Paprika under her Red Fangs label is just getting off the ground. To tie everything together, Flora has shared some of her favorite Paprika laden recipes, paired them with two Hungarian wines I will be bombarding you with in the coming months, and of course the opportunity to purchase some Red Fangs yourself.
Before we get to the wines, recipes and the stories behind them told by Flora below, there are few things worth pointing about consuming Paprika.
• Paprika is the single largest natural source of Vitamin C – at least 5-6 times more than citrus.
• Vitamin C was discovered by Hungarian Professor Albert Szent-Györgyi earning him the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine in 1937.
• You will never get scurvy.
• Don’t burn it. Turns bitter.
• The brighter more fiery the red color, the more mild it is and vice versa.
• It’s a uniquely Hungarian cultural product that cries out for two other Hungarian cultural products, Kadarka and Kékfrankos.
Katrin and Birgit Pfneisl
Speaking of, the 2012 Pfneiszl Kékfrankos Újra Együtt, 2013 Eszterbauer Kadarka Nagyapám, and 2013 Eszterbauer Kadarka Sógor are arriving in a few short weeks. Much like a great Cru Beaujolais and a piquant Merguez pair well together, these two light reds have the spice, fruit and structure that make the paprika pop and get you ready for the next bite. I often think of both grapes as the love children of Cabernet Franc and Gamay, but there is plenty of “I’ve never had something like this before” going on with each as well. In terms of style, there is nothing carbonic going on, fermentations are native, and both are elegant and bright without being overly polished. Great wines to pair with food in general, and something truly special and homegrown when paired with some red gold.
Janos, Miklós and Ildikó Eszterbauer
Please enjoy the following stories and recipes, try them at home, open up some bottles, and do a little armchair traveling to Hungary.
This dish was her favorite. Sissi, Empress of Austria-Hungary was the most romantic woman of the 19th century. Preferring to ride a horse rather than sit on a throne, she galloped through her adopted Hungarian country-side, secretly and un-escorted, visiting the local estates for a sip of champagne. Wild by nature, she despised the controlled atmosphere of the court at Vienna and helped the Hungarians to negotiate their equality with Austria. She loved the people and she loved their food. After her declaration, chicken paprikas became popular at the most elegant tables of Europe.
Auguste Escoffier, the pivotal chef who established how we eat, course by course, liked chicken paprika so much that he display-cooked it at his pavilion in the Paris World Fair at the turn of the century. Later on it became a classic on the menu at his restaurant, the Ritz.
• 8 small bone-less, skinless chicken thighs [ free-range is best ]
• ½ white onion, diced
• ½ cup good quality chicken stock [ naturally home-made would be better ]
• 1½ cups crushed tomatoes, fresh when in season, or drained san marziano
• 1 red or yellow bell pepper, sliced in lengths (be sure to remove seeds and veins – they are bitter)
• another red or yellow bell pepper, diced fine
• some spoonfuls of fat- preferably duck or goose, but olive oil will do
• dollops according to taste, of sour cream and a little heavy cream
• 2 tbs sweet paprika, you may add 1-2 tsp hot if you like
Brown thighs in fat, remove. Sautee onions in same pan, add salt, diced bell pepper, stir and scrape till wilted. Add paprika and tomatoes, stir nicely for a minute. Add chicken and stock, let bubble; reduce heat and let simmer 40 minutes. Meanwhile sautee pepper lengths till al dente. Add them 10 minutes or so before meat is tender, then remove some of the sauce into a pan where cream, sour and heavy have been warmed together. Oops! I forgot! Add a good pinch of paprika to brighten and heighten! But do not go overboard – chalkiness can occur… And never, never let the paprika burn, let it see short heat so it can release its flavor oils, but then turn the fire down, or add liquid, or both. Now pour the cream with sauce into the paprikas pan and stir gently.
Traditionally galuska, Hungarian egg noodles are the side. Or use gnocchi or fingerling potatoes to sop up the sauce. A small cucumber salad, sprinkled with paprika is also most appropriate. A delicate red from western Hungary, like a Kékfrankos would be elevating!
This is the Hungarian equivalent to spaghetti with garlic, pepperoncino, and olive oil: a dish created by poverty or what is always in the pantry. During the last and terrible days of World War II people pooled their lard, paprika, onion and potatoes into the communal cauldron, finding a rare pleasure in this simple, nourishing dish, coziness steaming from the starch, stamina from the alearian, excitement from the Magyar chile.
During the war my aunt Eva lived through constant hunger and weeks in dungeon-like cellars. Years later, safe in her family home in Pest she rejected my offer to cook her roast duck leg with croquettes, requesting instead paprikas krumpli. These are her strict instructions:
• 3-4 medium yellow potatoes
• 1 finely diced white onion
• Stock or simply water
• 1-2 TBS sweet paprika ½ tsp hot [optional ]
Mince onion very fine and add to pot with fat or olive oil, sautee till golden. Peel and quarter potatoes, throw into pot with salt and paprika. Swirl around for a minute or so , then add stock or water to cover. Lower heat to simmer cover, with lid, and cook about 20 minutes, or till tender. Keep your eye on the liquid, you want it to be nearly absorbed, but too dry, and then again not too saucy – the potatoes should soak up and have just a little left over. With the introduction of a sausage or hunk of ham it becomes a Brueghlesque feast, alone it is sheer comfort. These paprika-infused taters are a nice side dish as well. Have a glass of dark beer, or some earthy red wine, perhaps a Kadarka.
On the second day of our Kabaj visit we met a group of cheerful US tourists that were just starting a tour through Slovenia and Croatia. Their tour leader was Andrew Villone — a longtime friend of Blue Danube Wine Co. — who had just moved to Slovenia from Seattle with his Russian-born wife and two children to grow his Savor the Experience touring business.
With Andrew at Kabaj’s
“I love it here,” he told me later that night as we were sipping our Cuvée Morel on the terrace. “Running Savor the Experience from Ljubljana is so much more convenient than from Seattle. And we don’t regret the big city. The life here is much better for my wife and my kids. Plus the schools in Slovenia are excellent.”
We also talked about his plans to introduce special Blue Danube tours for wine and food lovers. The itineraries would be designed around visits to Blue Danube producers, where guests could enjoy exclusive wine tastings and food pairings. I thought this project could surely appeal to our customer community in the US.
The group left the following morning — some still sleepy as they stayed until 3am in the Kabaj cellar with Jean-Michel! — in Andrew’s passenger van for more wine, food, and cultural adventures.
It’s pretty simple. When you want great wines and insight to wine makers from Central and Eastern Europe you know and trust that Frank and his Blue Danube staff will take care of you. When you are looking to combine your enthusiasm and love of wines with travel and culinary delights then come with Savor The Experience Tours and our combined 25 years experience of running tours in Europe. Meet the wine makers, learn their stories, indulge in delicious food and wine every day, discover some hidden gems along the way and come home with a one of a kind experience.
Each of our tours spotlight multiple Blue Danube wineries (Bibich, Kabaj, Milos, Batic, Coronica just to name a few) with tastings and quality time spent with the winemakers. Two complimentary bottles of wine are sent pre-tour to each guest, reflecting the wineries visited on that specific tour. The full line of Blue Danube tours are “all inclusive” — every meal and all drinks are included. That means if you come on one of our tours without a dime in your pocket you’ll still be taken care of the whole way. We’ll even treat you to a postcard and a few espressos if you’d like!
For our first tour season we are offering three different tours that focus on Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia. And plans for a tour of Blue Danube’s Austrian and Hungarian wineries is already in the works.
Island of Hvar
Dalmatia 10 day tour in-depth exploration of local wines and foods in Croatia’s Dalmatian coast, ancient Bosnia and alluring Montenegro. But there’s more to the places than just the wine cellars and dinner tables. Guests won’t miss out on the rich culture and fascinating histories from the oriental mystique of Sarajevo and Mostar to the traces of the Venetian empire in Hvar and Montenegro and finally to the grandeur and romance of Dubrovnik.
BD Wineries featured: Bibich, Caric, Milos, Brkic
Tasting Wine at Piquentum
Slovenia-Istria 8 day tour highlights the wine, food and hidden sights from a variety of regions stretching from Slovenia’s wine regions of Vipava Valley and Goriska Brda to Croatia’s Istria region. Savor all these fresh, organic and local culinary delights that both countries have to offer. It’s a unique experience where each day presents a special opportunity for guests to sit down, talk with and learn from a myriad of friendly local producers, wine makers and chefs in their cellars, houses, kitchens and gardens.
BD Wineries featured: Batic, Kabaj, Santomas, Piquentum, Coronica
Adriatic 2 Alps Gourmet 13 day tour begins in southern Croatia, runs along the Dalmatian coast up to the Istria region before reaching the beautiful hill towns and foodie capital of Slovenia’s Goriska Brda. It combines many guests’ favorites from Slovenia and Croatia. Highlights include Dubrovnik, Vis Island, Peljesac peninsula, Rovinj and Ljubljana. Along the way there are hidden churches to visit, traditional fishing boats to sail in, amazing castles to explore and beautiful spots such as Lake Bled to soak in the atmosphere.
BD Wineries featured: Batic, Kabaj, Milos, Piquentum, Coronica
If these none of these tours fit your schedule or you’d prefer to have a private tour with just your friends and family, we offer custom tours. Or perhaps you’d like to add a visit to Vienna, Venice or a relaxing long-weekend on one of Croatia’s beautiful islands before or after a tour? We can do that too. We create custom tours for groups as little as two people. Please contact us to and let us make your dream trip come true.
Eric exploring the carved tufa stone cellars beneath Tokaj
In preparation for the 3rd Annual Great Tokaj Auction, Tom Gardyne of The Drinks Business, asked Eric Danch to explain the current state of Tokaji wines in the US market.
Q. What’s demand like for Tokaj at present?
Difficult question. It’s like asking what was the demand for Grüner Veltliner in the late 1980’s. Once people became comfortable with Austrian wine, the range of styles, and how to navigate the umlaut, it became a standard on every serious wine list. As for Tokaj, even though for the past 500 years the traditional wines like Aszú, dry Szamorodni, Sweet Szamorodni, late harvest, and Eszencia warranted the world’s first wine appellation system (over 100 years before Bordeaux), the quality dry wines are just over a decade old. That said, there is no doubt that unique grapes are planted in unique places coupled with an incredible producer renaissance. This is what’s exciting about Tokaj right now and people are taking note. We should also remember that Tokaj was once in high demand and a muse for Leo Tolstoy, Pablo Néruda, Balzac, Flaubert, Diderot, Catherine the Great, Goethe, Peter the Great, Bram Stoker, and Voltaire to name a few. No reason that kind of demand and appreciation won’t happen again. In our experience, it’s already happening in Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco.
Q. Where’s the main interest coming from? – eg – private collectors – wine investors – high-end restaurants?
The main interest is all over the map. While it’s true that there is a collector audience and classically trained wine buyers often feature some sort of Aszú, the main interest has simply been fueled by something uniquely delicious with a great price to quality ratio. We’ve seen growth across the board from neighborhood wine shops to Michelin starred restaurants. For people who are into Vin Jaune or Sherry, Dry Szamorodni is a must try. For those into Chenin Blanc and Riesling, please try some dry and off dry Furmint, Hárslevelű or Sárga Muskotály (aka Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains). For those looking for unparalleled sugar, fruit and acidity, get some Aszú. And finally, for anyone who enjoys deeply volcanic wines, please try all of the above.
Drink Eszencia with a spoon
Q. Would you say there’s much of a secondary market for Tokaj in US?
I’m not too familiar with this end of the market, but the third Confrérie de Tokaj takes place this April and attracts buyers and collectors from all over the world. This event is sure to grow and proceeds are already helping rebuild and improve the infrastructure of the region.
Q. Is it still very niche – or is knowledge and interest in Tokaj spreading?
In some ways, Tokaj will always be somewhat niche simply because it’s not big enough to satisfy worldwide demand. Bordeaux is roughly 20 times larger in terms of vines planted for instance. At the same time, there is still exponential room to grow in terms of by the glass placements, the $15-25 retail sweet spot, and not relegating the sweet wines only for special occasions or pigeonholed as “dessert” only wine. Concerning knowledge, while many wine shops, wine professionals and inquisitive consumers might have a coffee table book on wines of the world and books focused on regions like Burgundy, Champagne, Piedmont, Rioja, and Napa, there has been very little printed in English that’s current about Tokaj. There are of course some, but they need to be sought out. I’d also personally love to see Tokaj appellation maps alongside the other great classical wine regions of the world. Lastly and most importantly, people need to go there, eat, drink, explore and meet the people. It’s an incredible
place to grow wine.
Stagnum, the flagship wine made from Plavac Mali grapes by Frano Miloš and his children is my first choice for Thanksgiving. Stagnum is the Latin name for the small Croatian town Ston where the Miloš family lives and tends their organic vineyards. Here,the Pelješac Peninsula connects with the Dalmatian mainland less than 50 miles north of Dubrovnik. If there is one Plavac which truly represents the land from where it comes and what this popular Croatian grape tastes like, it’s Stagnum. It’s not cheap but worth every single drop. The 2006 vintage we offer is excellent, making this wine a special treat for every wine lover. Miloš makes Plavac Pur!
Ivan, Franica, and Josip Miloš
The main reason that Stagnum fits so well on our Thanksgiving dinner table is its versatility. Naturally, Plavac pairs well with BBQ meats of all kinds. More surprisingly is that it also works very well with Turkey, Chicken, and even more gamey fowl. Most visitors to Dalmatia are amazed when they experience that Plavac also is a great match for Oysters regardless of how they are prepared: fresh on the shell with just a touch of lemon juice, or baked with bacon, hot sauce, and other flavorful condiments.
Plavac also reminds us that there is an immigrant in every American. Keep in mind that Zinfandel is a direct relative of Plavac Mali and came originally from the Dalmatian coast to California.
After landing at Venice’s Marco Polo Airport from San Francisco, we were less than 2 hours away from the Kabaj-Morel Guest House. The drive took us through the the Veneto flatlands until we reached the Friulian Hills and crossed seamlessly the Italian/Slovenian border. A few more kilometers driving through rolling hills of Brda and we were arrived at our destination: a deep yellow colored house glowing in the sunset, a large terrace overlooking small hilltop villages surrounded by vineyards and a big welcoming hug from Katja Kabaj.
The view from our bedroom
Our balcony on the second floor, facing the vineyards
Jean-Michel was busy talking to other guests but suddenly he was in front of us: “Let’s go to the cellar, let’s taste some wine!” he said. And here we are in the cellar underneath the house, with a glass of of golden Tocai — as Friulano is still called in the region. Not a bad way to fight the jet lag!
The Kabaj-Morel house and entrance to the cellar
We’re having some fun in the cellar
Jean — as his family calls him — is a force de la nature, larger than life. He works all day and then at night entertains his guests, sometimes until 3am! He makes his wines in his own image: intense and generous, in a no—compromise style: he will not play the ratings game. But even without trying his wines are internationally highly rated. Jean was even named a Top 100 winemaker of the Year 2013 by the American Wine and Spirits Magazine.
And Jean loves big bottles: magnums, double magnums, jeroboams! He has a humid and cool area in the cellar where he ages these big bottles wrapped in plastic to protect the label. What a feast to be able to taste an old vintage like the 2007 Beli Pinot that Jean opened for us!
The place where Jean ages his big bottles
The 2007 Beli Pinot was absolutely delicious!
But this was just the beginning of the evening. The cellar tasting was followed by a four-course tasting menu showcasing the local specialties:
Flan with Fennel, Prosciutto and Arugula
Barley Risotto with Porcini
Grilled Steak with Polenta and Eggplant
Sweet Gnocchi with Cinnamon and Berry Sauce
After a good night of sleep and a solid breakfast of prosciutto, cheese, homemade jam, and a couple of foamy cappuccinos, we were back on the road for a tour of Goriska Brda.
Breakfast is also a feast at the Kabaj-Morel house
The medieval village of Šmartno, cultural monument
The old streets of Šmartno
The last day, Jean drove us around to see the vineyards. It rained a lot in July and August and the vintage will not be easy but Jean, hedging his bets, owns a mosaic of small lots spread across the hills, with different elevations, sun exposure levels and even one vineyard on the other side of the border.
Goriska Brda and the Veneto flatlands in the background
The grapes are almost ready to be harvested.
“I’ll mostly do big bottles this year.” Jean told us after looking at a grape that showed some signs of rot. “Small quantities and in big bottles, that’s how I see it for this vintage.”
It was time to leave , but not yet! Jean had woken up early in the morning to prepare his famous Goulash and we had to try it! The meat melted in our mouth and the Rebula had surprisingly the right amount of tannins and acidity to go well with the dish.
Our last treat: Jean’s Goulash!
Katja and Jean-Michel, we can’t thank you enough for your hospitality and generosity! And thanks to my husband Matthieu for his beautiful pictures!
Sometime ago, we drew your attention to this region of Volcano Gods and now we return to delve deeper and celebrate success. We are pleased to report that Istvan Spiegelberg has won the prestigious Wine & Spirits Top 100 Wineries of 2014 award. “His latest releases, particularly this late-harvest juhfark, are catapulting him into the realm of Hungary’s greatest vintners.” noted Wine & Spirits Magazine referring to the 95-point rated 2010 Juhfark Szent Ilona.
Somló is celebrated for its volcanic past and distinctive mineral-laced wines. The region is almost exclusively white wine territory with a long tradition of extended barrel aging. This lends an oxidative quality to the wines which aids in their ability to improve with bottle aging and stay fresh longer than the average white wine once opened.
These are voluptuous, full-bodied whites enjoyed with dishes we may normally reserve for red wine, like red meats. Another tell-tell sign of wines from this region is riper fruits coupled with high acidity and smoky minerality. The five authorized grapes of Somló are Juhfark, Furmint, Olaszrizling, Hárslevelű, and Tramini. Istvan Spiegelberg and Fekete Bela are our “dynamic duo” of producers in Somló, keeping traditions alive and garnering attention outside of Hungary.
Istvan Spiegelberg, former DJ and BMW test driver, founded his eponymous winery in 1993. Making wine was just a hobby for Istvan at the beginning but now his wines are considered cult collectibles. He farms just 3 hectares of vines, mostly by himself, and employs minimal intervention in the winery, crafting wines at his image: unconventional and stylish. We asked Spiegelberg to tell us more about Juhfark and his award-winning wine and this is what he had to say:
Juhfark used to be grown, not just in Somló, but also in Tokaj. The varietal has a naturally high sugar content and is susceptible to rot, making it difficult to grow. Due to this, the grape was prohibited during Communism, a regime that favored high yields with minimal difficulty to produce bulk wine. Only a few in Somló, notably Fekete Bela, continued to grow Juhfark and even prevailed against the ban. Thanks to the work of Fekete Bela and others, the grape was revived and gained notoriety. Juhfark represents “Hungarianism” and is something very interwoven into the culture as a unique representation of the place.
“It’s only every 10 years that you have a good vintage with Juhfark.”
Concerning the 2010 vintage, Spiegelberg went on to explain that this was one of the most difficult vintages due to heavy rain. The relentless rains made most winemakers very anxious, leading them to harvest before the grapes achieved ripeness. He lost a significant amount to rot. October 2nd was the date he decided to harvest and what he ended up with were small yields of shriveled, yet healthy grapes. The sugars had concentrated which produced a semi-dry wine. In the end, just 220 used barriques were filled with the rich, high alcohol wine that is now known as one of Spiegelberg’s best.
While Istvan Spiegelberg represents a new guard of Somló winemaking, Fekete Bela is very much the traditionalist. Approaching 90 years of age, “The Grand Old Man of Somló” still tends his 4 hectares of vines himself. Bela purchased his vineyards over 30 years ago, allowing him plenty of time to become intimately connected to his vineyard and understand its true expression. The vines are dry farmed with little to no synthetic treatments. Grapes are picked when they are fully ripe, even if Fekete’s neighbors start picking much earlier. After a long successful career including several Decanter awards and high ratings in wine publications such as Wine & Spirits, Fekete and his wife Bori have decided that 2013 would be their last vintage. This is the perfect season to enjoy his unique Hárslevelű, Juhfark, and Olaszrizling.
Imagine a white wine as rich and complex as any red wine, with an intriguing amber hue. Breathe in and you are at once overwhelmed and delighted by aromas of toasted nuts, herbal tea, warm spices. Now, picture a red wine with intense hues of purple. The smell brings to mind deep earthiness, meatiness, and spicy red fruit. Taste the wine and appreciate the exotic flavors coupled with gripping tannins that beg to be enjoyed at the dinner table. These are the wines of Georgia. More specifically, these experiences are the result of the uniquely Georgian practice of fermenting and aging wines in clay qvevri.
At least 8,000 years ago, Georgians discovered that they could produce a stable wine by fermenting within clay vessels, or qvevri. Georgia is a food and wine lovers paradise with traditions like supra, or feast, where course upon course of stunningly fresh, judiciously prepared food are arranged on a large dining table. The only suitable beverage is copious amounts of qvevri wine!
Qvevri winemaking. Qvevri are used to both ferment and age wines which makes them different than amphorae. The conical shape encourages the seeds, pomace, and other sediment to migrate to the base of the container. The clay also interacts with the wine allowing it to circulate within the qvevri, alleviating pressure and controlling temperatures during fermentation. A marani is the Georgian wine cellar, where the qvevri are buried into the earth which also aids in temperature regulation.
The Saperavi grape
Over 500 native varietals, a diversity of terroirs. There is no other wine drinking culture as rich as the one that exists in Georgia. With over 8,000 vintages, 500 plus native grape varietals, signature natural wine making process, and original root word for wine, it is easy to see how wine is woven into the very fabric of the culture. For more on Georgian history and qvevri winemaking, see our regional profile.
Saperavi and Rkatsiteli are the most popular of the hundreds of native Georgian varietals. Saperavi means “dye” in Georgian and refers to the rich, concentrated purple color of the resultant wines. Rkatsiteli is a combination of two words: rka, meaning “vine shoot”, and tsiteli meaning “red”. The grape is so named because the vine shoot is a striking red color. Some other important white varietals include Tsolikouri, Kisi, and Mtsvane. As for reds, that would be Aleksandreuli, Mujuretuli, and Otskhanuri Sapere.
With 19 identified appellations of origin, Georgia exhibits a diversity of terroir as well as wine styles. Kakheti is one of the major wine-making regions and, as an appellation, is known especially for its dry wines of Rkatsiteli. A few noteworthy sub-appellations: Tsinandali: a dry white blend of Rkatsiteli and Mtsvane. Tvishi: a dry to semi-sweet white wine made from Tsolikouri. Mukuzani: a dry red wine from Saperavi. Khvanchkara: a semi-sweet red blend of Aleksandreuli and Mujuretuli.
We are excited to introduce Georgian wines into our portfolio. Meet our producers and browse our webshop for a selection of some of the best wines that the country has to offer.
The coast of Croatia is a rugged mountainous seascape of 1000 islands. From the barren Kornati to the forested shores of Korčula, these are the jewels of the Adriatic. 3,500 miles of craggy untamed limestone coast, awesome in the truest sense. Only 66 of the islands are inhabited. Krk (Ki-rrk), Hvar (huh-var), and Korčula (Core-chew-la) are three of the largest, and most important wine wise are still very much wild. Each is home to their own autochthonous (formed in its present position) grape varieties—found little or nowhere else on earth, under conditions unique to each island, capable of expressing their position and the culture of those who farm them. The soils vary but are all limestone based. Conditions tend to be wet in winter and hot and dry in summer. Each of these producers is working small plots by hand, the dry windy growing season rarely requires vineyard treatment.
Krk, Croatia’s northerly, largest island has long been famous for wine. Less of the Dalmatian islands are under vine today than historically. The 250 hectares today are a shadow of the 2,500 under vine during Roman occupation. Within Krk’s Kvarner Valley winemaker Ivica Dobrinčić maintains vineyards, a winery and a vineyard nursery dedicated to the re-propagation of nearly forgotten local sorts. Ivica hopes to give his children a reason to carry on their family’s winemaking traditions and preserve the local culture. The once prolific, now rare Žlahtina, or “noble” is the most common variety of Krk. Despite the rocky conditions and warm Mediterranean climate, it typically clocks in at 12% alcohol or less. The current 2012 is a modest 11.4% fully dry. A coastal wine that makes you want to curl your toes in rocky sand (specifically Baška) and drink directly from the bottle while the octopus sizzles on the grill. It is simple but has style, a gentle wine that can be gulped, but also remembered. A wine at once discreet and full of character.
A few hundred miles, and islands to the south is the magnificent Hvar. Its south coast lined by a mountain ridge speckled with jagged rows of vines. These steep, sun drenched, sea-side vineyards produce some of Croatia’s burliest reds, while 2 miles north, leeward of this range, in the Stari Grad Plain, delicate, light, mostly white wines are the norm. A UNESCO world heritage Stari Grad has been continuously cultivated for more than 24 centuries. The native Bogdanjuša or “God Given” is believed to have originated in the valley. The Carić family farms in both locations and the wines could not be more starkly different. Bogdanjuša produces light, savory white wines with pronounced minerality and edgy acidity. Were it not for the characteristic note of the “sea”, “Friškina” the 2013 Carić Bogdanjuša could be mistaken for something Alpine in origin. Ideally suited for raw shellfish or the local specialty “Forska Gregoda”. A simple stew of potatoes, fish, garlic parsley and white wine.
Once famous for its red wines, today Korčula is all about Pošip. Pošip is so popular it’s hard to get any off the island. Toreta may be the only small producer presently available in the US. Although we may get a little wine from local super star Luka Krajančić again soon. Frano Banicević of Toreta farms 5 hectares of vines planted in Smokvica where Pošip is believed to have been discovered about 100 years ago. The winery is named for the ancient unfortified stacked stone huts or “Toreta” that have protected vineyard workers on Korčula from the elements for 1000’s of years. Though a young producer, Frano’s approach in the cellar is comparably restrained. By nature a heady wine Frano’s accentuates the subtleties of Pošip. Toreta wines are fruitful without being overly primary, lush, but also mineral and textural. The 2013 Special Pošip, is lighter, simpler, than the 2013 Toreta Pošip Premium (Verhunsko). Both wines are defined by the elemental combination of Mediterranean herbs, thick pine forest, sunshine and sea breeze. Naturally appropriate for sea-fare, pork or even highly seasoned combinations of seafood and pork are appropriate.
On their recent trip to Croatia, Eric and Michael enjoyed their visit to the island of Hvar where they met Ivana and Ivo Carić.
Lunch at Kod None with Ivana and Ivo Carić
It’s a rare occasion to be eager to swim in the area where ferries dock but even more rare that the water there is crystal clear and littered with sea urchins and schools of fish. The moment we drove our mighty Fiat off of the boat, even before walking on solid land, it was obvious to us that this island is pristine and busy with life. We began our journey by meeting up with recent friends Marion and Zdravko Podolski. This couple who usually reside in California also have a house on Hvar and a near encyclopedic knowledge of it — check out their website. We joined up to meet, and beyond just visiting vineyards and tasting wine we circumnavigated and learned the history of the entire island and what makes it undeniably unique.
Stari Grad Plain
Our first stop was to tour the UNESCO protected Stari Grad Plain. These are agricultural parcels (900x180m) called “Chora” replete with a rainwater collection system, cisterns, and rock walls dividing everything within a maze of stone roads. This may sound typical but it’s been unbroken this way for over 24 consecutive centuries. Walking through, you are surrounded by a crazy patchwork of grapes, olives, onions, fennel, figs, onions, and lavender. The plots are so small that it’s basically a polyculture of everything you want to eat and drink. This is where the Carić family grows their vines of the native white Bogdanjuša. Ivo, who has hands that immediately remind you that you don’t work hard enough, was constantly picking herbs, smelling them, and feeling the various soils; you can tell he spends on inordinate amount of time here and is well connected to this land.
Eric and Michael below the town of Sveta Nedjelja
We stopped for lunch at Kod None in the town of Svirče, easily one of the most memorable meals of our trip. Pogača sa inćunima (thin crust bread filled with onions, anchovies and herbs), whole baked fish, Ćrni Rizot (cuttlefish ink seafood risotto) and maybe the best calamari I’ve ever had accompanied by, of course, a table littered with bottles of Carić wines.
Pogača sa inćunima
Our next stop was the impossibly steep vineyards on the south side of the island. To get there you need to drive through the unlit, 1.5 km, one-lane Pitve tunnel. When you pop out it’s like leaving black and white Kansas and entering full color Oz.
The hillside vineyards climb up and disappear into the fog ahead of you while behind they descend right down to the Adriatic’s edge. A scene that seems like the Mosel meets the White Cliffs of Dover.
Plavac Mali on the south side of the island
This is also where Ivo and Ivana grow their Plavac Mali. Ivana, constantly juggling a toddler and newborn, is the perfect balance to Ivo’s ceaseless manual labor. She is incredibly patient, knowledgeable and determined to impress the importance of this place upon us as much as possible.
Ivo Carić and ownrooted Plavac Mali
To that end, every time I drink Plavac Mali from Hvar I can smell the wild sage, rosemary, lavender, salt air, see the little towns tucked into the canyons, and the marvel at the head trained vines burrowed deep into the rocks. It’s an impressive place to grow grapes and we are grateful to everyone who made this visit possible. We will be back, and in the meantime we’ll drink the wines and attempt to recreate the food we ate.
Eric Danch & Michael Newsome
Curious to taste the wines from Hvar and smell the aromas of the island? The Bogdanjuša and Plavac Mali from Carić are available on our website.