Island Whites

Coast of Croatia
Somewhere in Croatia (photo: Michael Newsome)

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.

Map of Coast of Croatia

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.

Map of Krk

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.

Map of Hvar

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.

Map of Korcula

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Visiting Croatia with Eric and Michael: Carić Winery

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

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

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

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

Pogača sa inćunima

Črni Rizot

Črni Rizot

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

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

Ivo Carić and ownrooted Plavac Mali

Ivana Carić

Ivana Carić

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.

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Croatian Holiday with Adventures Croatia

Korcula

Town of Korčula, Korčula Island

It looks like this summer everybody I know is going to Croatia. This includes my sister, who should be crossing the Croatian border as I write these words, my friend, who is taking her kids on a Game of Thrones Tour along the Dalmatian coast, and then in September, my husband and I will be spending a week in Istria, just the two of us!

I don’t think it’s a coincidence. Since the end of the Serbo-Croatian War, Croatia has become an attractive touristic destination with a reputation of being one of the most romantic getaways in Europe. This is not surprising: with more than a thousand islands and a 3,600 miles of coastline, Croatia is full of natural and historic wonders including Roman ruins, Byzantine mosaics, Venetian towns, and a picturesque hilly interior covered with olive groves, vineyards, and medieval villages.

Now if you need help organizing your Croatian Holiday, we recommend Adventures Croatia. They have a team of knowledgeable travel consultants that can assist you with your itinerary. They’re particularly specialized in designing tours for honeymooners as well as couples seeking a romantic getaway.

They will partner with you to design a great travel adventure based on your interests, budget, and travel style. And don’t hesitate to request a visit to our wonderful wine producers.

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Curious & Thirsty – Slovenian Wine Goggles

Drinking Teran

Team Blue Danube Wine Co. and team Štoka drinking sparkling Teran

Historically vineyards have covered much of Slovenia’s countryside. In them you find grapes brought over the thousands of years of human movement. Coupled with the diversity of climate, topography, wine production methods, and localized taste, Slovenian wines are extremely different region to region. In the US we are largely unaware of this. Blue Danube Wine Co. — the company I am a part of — has been working for close to ten years to change this.

For me wine is more than beverage, it is the ultimate lens to view Slovenia through. It is made in some of the country’s most beautiful locations, accompanies the best food, and attracts interesting people. Both those who make it and drink it. I return repeatedly to enjoy of course the wine but also the atmosphere, the cuisine and my friends there. It has taught me the value of returning to a destination. Slovenia is a place I would like to one day call a second home.

For those who like to Travel Curious Often and want to learn more about Slovenia and its wines, read the full article here.

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Visiting Croatia with Eric and Michael: Miloš Winery

Michael and Eric with Ivan Miloš

Michael and Eric with Ivan Miloš

Not too long ago we had the privilege to host a significant part of the Miloš family: all three of the next generation. It was a pleasure to get to know Ivan, Franica, and Josip and learn more about the wine their father Frano creates back home in Croatia. Enjoy this next stop on the tour!

-Gisele

In a world that seems trapped in time, the amphitheater of Miloš vineyards spreads out beyond the boundaries of peripheral vision. Bright white stone reflects more sunlight than most Californians ever experience and between this abundant sun and stone live thousands of head trained Plavac Mali vines. Truly a magical place, the land is covered with rock walls built from the creation of these family tilled vineyards.

Milos_amphitheater

The wonder of this place is only surpassed when compared to the visionary that created it, Frano Miloš. One of the memorable things Frano told us is that he’s aware that his wine-growing and winemaking are both at odds with the current pace of the world. And while he admits to sometimes driving with one hand and eating a sandwich in the other, making and drinking his wine is an opportunity to live a more fulfilling pace of life.

New maraština plantings overlooking the ocean

New Maraština plantings overlooking the ocean

With this in mind, Frano and his three children (Ivan, Franica and Josip) work the land tirelessly and with the fruit that they harvest, make a wine that is not only among the top Croatian wines but easily stands aside the great wines of the entire world. Plavac Mali is a grape with surprisingly high tannins and at Miloš they know how to tame them with extended barrel ageing. It is no surprise that when tasted blind, these wines bear a striking resemblance to single vineyard Barberesco and Grand Reserva Rioja.

Michael Newsome & Eric Danch

Dinner with Frano, Ivan, and Josef

Michael and Eric enjoying dinner with Frano, Ivan, and Josef

Learn more about Miloš and its wines here.

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Visiting Croatia with Eric and Michael: Suha Punta Winery

We continue our adventure with Eric and Michael in Croatia at Suha Punta winery. Thank you for following along thus far!
-Gisele

As guide books and Google searches are keen to remind you, George Bernard Shaw wrote about the staggering number of rocky islands off the Croatian coast as “On the last Day of Creation God wished to crown his work and he created Kornati out of tears, stars and breath.” This may be true for the Kornati Islands, but when you see the rocky vineyards just south on the mainland in Bucavac, it looks like God lost a bet.

Michael in Primosten

Michael as we approach the town of Primošten

Even as you drive towards to the nearest town of Primošten, there are just piles of rocks and old rock walls coating the hillsides. Topsoil doesn’t seem to apply, there is little to no tree cover, and the “Bora” and “Jugo” winds relentlessly pummel the area.

Bucavec vineyards

Bucavec Vineyards

Growing grapes here at first glance seems like losing a bet as well. Not surprisingly, this is Croatia’s smallest appellation and a UNESCO World Heritage Site since it has been under vine since the 8th Century B.C. Illyrians. When you see these vineyards for the first time, it’s less about: how is this possible? But rather: why would anyone ever subject him or herself to it in the first place? In order to battle the overbearing winds, the impossibly rocky soil is broken up and used to form “Vlačica,” or small 6-meter square rock wall boxes to protect the vines. When a whole row of these is formed, they are called a “Tirada.”

Eric along the Tirada

Eric walking along the Tirada

Seeing these Tirada climb up and down to the Adriatic is a testament to our drive to ferment grapes. Old vine arms are held up by carefully placed rocks, no green harvesting is necessary, and the cool night air keeps acidity remarkably high.

Leo Gracin

Leo Gracin in the vineyard

Leo Gracin and his Suha Punta Winery are championing and evangelizing this place and the Babić grape indigenous to the area. Nothing makes sense at first, but all of sudden you are drinking pungent red wine with shellfish; it’s refreshing, and it’s a wine built to age.

lunch

lunch and babic

This is a place designed to challenge the mainstream paradigms of wine and truly taste something that cannot be recreated elsewhere. It is also delicious.

Eric Danch

Learn more about Suha Punta and its wines here.

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Visiting Croatia with Eric and Michael: Coronica Winery

If you follow your GPS on the way to find Coronica, you will end up on a lovely tour of the city of Umag, but not at his winery. Head just a few miles east of the village onto a small road named Koreniki (the old spelling of his surname) and you will find him there. Even though the land is the same, Moreno’s grandfather was Austro-Hungarian, his father was Italian, he is Yugoslavian, and now his children are Croatian. He still has a stone tablet from 1764 with the family name carved into it.

Stone Tablet

Moreno Coronica showing an old stone tablet from 1764

Nevertheless, the vineyards have always been planted in Istria’s famous Terra Rossa. Moreno tends his vines with focus, care and minimal intervention. At the winery, grapes are chilled down before fermentation to ensure a pure expression of the vineyards. The intense red soil here perfectly reflects Moreno’s own temperament.

Terra Rossa

Istria’s famous Terra Rossa

Rich with iron, and with a strong capacity to hold moisture it will make impression on you and your shoes that will spread everywhere you walk the rest of the day. It is in this soil that Teran and Malvasia grow as they do nowhere else — even the walls in the winery have this soil built into them. Bright acidity and mineral focus is consistent throughout the wines, whether they are vinified in stainless, or barreled down for the grand reserves. Moreno and his wines are a perfect blend of Istria’s tradition and modernity.

Michael Newsome & Eric Danch

You can learn more about and purchase Coronica wines here.

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Visiting Croatia with Eric and Michael: Šipun Winery

For part of the month of April, two of our sales managers, Eric and Michael, were able to taste around Croatia searching out more deliciously unique wines to bring back for your drinking pleasure. Here is from Michael one of several parts of that trip:

View from the Sipun Winery

View from the Šipun Winery

Crossing the bridge to Otok Krk, one might be surprised by all the advertisements; some for a local casino, some for other types of seemingly out of place entertainment venues. Sadly this is the direction most of the inhabitants of the island are heading to generate income. The idea of producing a product, be it wine, olive oil, or other goods is being left behind for the easier income of renting out apartments. There is however, one man who is not only sustaining himself and his family with winemaking, but is making great strides to preserve it on the island of Krk.

Ivica Dobrinčić

Ivica Dobrinčić in his vineyard

Ivica Dobrinčić is a man full of passion for the grapes he grows to make wine from as well as many others. At Šipun, two main wines are produced from the local varieties of Žlathina and Sansigot. But Ivica doesn’t stop there. He has a vineyard planted for the express purpose of preserving indigenous varieties of the island.

Indigenous plantings

Collection of indigenous grape varieties

Row after row are labeled with names of grapes that I and probably most of the inhabitants of Krk don’t recognize. He is a man on a mission, both to revive the winegrowing traditions of the island and further develop his own already focused style.

Michael Newsome

You can learn more about and purchase Šipun wines here.

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Juhfark-ing Around

All jokes aside, Juhfark is a grape name that is not heard too often. Meaning “sheep’s tail”, the grape is pretty much only grown in the tiny Hungarian appellation of Somló.

Juhfark Grape

Juhfark Grape By The original uploader was Budai Zoltan at Hungarian Wikipedia (Transferred from hu.wikipedia to Commons.) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Juhfark grape bunches grow in a distinctive cylindrical shape which recalls to mind a sheep’s tail, hence the name. The grape is early to break bud and tends to be quite high yielding. Juhfark used to be extensively grown throughout northern Hungary for this reason but soon fell out of fashion. When allowed to produce such high yields, the berries produce a neutral, high acid, uninteresting wine. However, the volcanic soils of Somló have proven to be Juhfark’s best terroir, allowing the grape to express a sense of place and varietal. As of 2008, only 358 acres of Juhfark were planted in all of Hungary, primarily in Somló, but the small amount of wine that is produced today from this grape is truly something to experience.

Juhfark acts as a direct link to experience the terroir of Somló. The nose hints at green apple/pear with a floral yet herbal character. But on the palate, the fruit disappears and the star of the show becomes the unique smokey, ash, and crushed chalk that the region is known for. Now you may think a wine like this would be difficult to pair with food but you would be mistaken! The smokiness of the wine works well with similarly smoked products like smoked almonds, speck, and salty, hard cheeses like an aged parmesan. During my most recent tasting of our 2011 Fekete Bela Juhfark, I decided to prepare a pasta enveloped with a rich sauce composed of roasted chicken, leeks, fresh peas, and creme fraiche. The savoriness of the wine, coupled with its highly acidic kick stood up to my sauce, enhancing the subtle flavors and cutting through the cream. Other perfect accompaniments would be game birds like quail, braised rabbit, and veal. There is an earthiness to the wine which would also complement sauteed mushrooms for you non-meat eaters.

So how do you Juhfark?

Browse our collection of Juhfark Wines

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What if the Westeros Houses were drinking Blue Danube Wines?

Cersei Lannister

Copyright © 2003 by MLuisa Giliberti
winterfell.altervista.org

Are you a wine lover who is like me obsessed with George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire?

Wine is a major theme in the series and is often associated with the most important plots: a wineseller attempts to poison Daenerys with a cask of of fine Arbor red; King Robert who only loved three things: war, women and wine, is mortally wounded by a boar while hunting drunk; at his wedding, Joffrey’s wine is poisoned and he dies after drinking from his wine goblet.

Now, did you know that pairing wines with each of the 9 main houses of Westeros has become increasingly popular on the internet? Check this version based on regions and climates or this one based on wine labels and the houses’ sigils. And don’t miss the Game of Thrones Wine Map.

So I couldn’t resist. Here is my Blue Danube version:

House Stark

The Starks are lean of build and long of face. They live in Winterfell in the North, a castle warmed by natural hot springs, evidence of some volcanic activity. Their wine is the 2011 Bott Csontos Furmint from the Tokaj region. The wine grows on volcanic slopes where the soil is a mixture of clay and tufa and it shows a high mineral intensity mixed with honey and spices.

House Lannister

The Lannisters rule the Seven Kingdoms from King’s Landing the capital city, which, it is known, is on the Dalmatian coast. Rich and powerful, they are often seen drinking strong red wines that help them deal with stress. Their wine is the 2008 Bibich Bas de Bas Rouge, a spicy and concentrated Syrah from a dry and windy old vineyard on the Northern Dalmatian coast.

House Baratheon

House Baratheon rules the Stormlands but Robert, the head of of the house, is King of the Seven Kingdoms and lives in King’s Landing with his Lannister family. His wine is another powerful Dalmatian red, the 2006 Miloš Stagnum. Sourced from 30 year old terraced vineyards on the slopes of the Pelješac peninsula, this rich Plavac Mali is full of dark fruit and dried herbs flavors.

House Targaryen

The ancestral seat of the dragon-rider Targaryens is Dragonstone, a volcanic island in the Narrow Sea. Their wine is the 2011 Spiegelberg Juhfark from the Somló region in Hungary, once an underwater volcano. This is a fiery white wine, highly mineral, with a razor-sharp intensity.

House Arryn

House Arryn rules the Vale of Arryn from the Eyrie castle. The Vale has a temperate climate, protected on all sides by a large mountain range. Their wine is the 2012 Geyerhof Grüner Veltliner Rosensteig from Kremstal in Austria. Grown on terraced vineyards sloping down to the Danube, it is steely and refreshing, vibrant and spicy.

House Tully

The old noble house of Tully ruled over the Riverlands, a fertile and temperate region around the forks of the Trident. Their wine is the 2010 Batič Cabernet Franc from the picturesque Vipava Valley in Slovenia. This organic wine combines fruity and savory flavors with a deliciously well-balanced texture.

House Tyrell

The sigil of House Tyrell from Highgarden is a rose, beautiful but thorny, beware! They control the Reach, a major wine-producing region that includes the Arbor known for its terrific reds and gold whites. Their wine is the 2007 Kabaj Cuvée Morel, a dark, richly textured Merlot-based wine from the Goriška Brda region in Slovenia.

House Martell

The Prince of Dorne rules over a land of mountains and deserts, a region producing citrus, olives, pomegranates, and sweet red wines that are highly prized throughout Westeros. Their wine is the 2012 Teliani Kindzmarauli from Georgia, a naturally semi-sweet wine made from the native Saperavi grape. Showing aromas of crushed rose petals and sweet plums, it is best with spicy food and gamey meat.

House Greyjoy

The Greyjoys, ironborn of the Iron Islands, worship the Drowned God and only drink sea water. As for wines, they know nothing.

And now, it’s your turn!

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