Bordeaux vigneron Samuel Tinon, settled in Tokaj with his family after making wine all over the world. His wife, Mathilde, a wine journalist, tells their extraordinary story in a matter-of-fact way, but even her words are soaked with the beauty of Tokaj. “Wherever we were in the world, we always just thought about Tokaj, coming back here. The botrytis is perfect here, and we were fascinated by the aszú. We were on a quest, to discover the aszú berry”. In fact, “aszú”, the Hungarian word for the noble rot, botrytis, does enjoy the climate of Tokaj. Nights of thick fog are followed by warm sunshine in the fall, allowing the healthy development of botrytis.
Today’s wine is dry Szamorodni. Partially botrytized bunches are picked as a whole (versus berry-selecting for an aszú wine) and fermented, resulting in Tokaji Szamorodni. Being really popular in Poland, the name “szamorodni” comes from the Polish word “as it is”, or “as it grows”.
What makes this particular Szamorodni so unique and wonderful, is that Tinon went back to the original, traditional way of making this wine: aging it in partial barrels and allowing flor, the surface yeast to develop.
The result is extreme complexity: aromas from the indigenous grapes furmint and hárslevelű, mingled with those from the botrytis and flor aging, not to mention the tertiary aromas that come from bottle aging!
Nutty, earthy, mushroom notes lead to flavors of apricot, honey, and green apple.
This 2007 Szamorodni is lively, and still has years of life left in it for us to enjoy this incredible wine of Tokaj.
With its 130 indigenous grape varieties — including the original Zinfandel — Croatian wine is attracting interest around the globe, but how easy is it to sell Croatian wine in the Zinfandel heartland of California? Paul Bradbury from Total Croatia News interviewed Frank Dietrich and his team from Blue Danube on January 31, 2016, who are doing exactly that. And with great success.
Here are some of the interview’s highlights:
Wines from Eastern Europe selling in a wine heartland such as California sounds like a tough sell. How did you come up with the idea and tell us how you started?
We hail from Europe and returned to Europe to build marketing and sales for a fast growing American computer company. After our return to California we decided to leave hi-tech and start Blue Danube Wine, an import company dedicated to the wines of the ancient wine regions along the Danube River and the Eastern Mediterranean. We knew a lot of wine was historically produced here. Our hopes that the wines would become better over time have been confirmed vintage-by-vintage. It has been an exciting journey so far.
The new, young generation of wine makers active today in Central, East, and Southeast Europe has connected with the wine world at large, and at the same time is rediscovering the foundations of their region’s viticulture. The region as a whole is regaining its pride and self-confidence. All of this has helped us tremendously to bring these wines to the attention of American wine lovers and wine professionals alike.
Croatia is of course the home of the original Zinfandel (the grape Crljenak Kastelanski) and Californian Zinfandel is world famous. How are you raising awareness of the Croatian roots, and what levels of interest are you experiencing?
Our customers are very interested in the Croatian origins of Zinfandel, a grape variety from which the most popular American wine are made but whose background was unknown. We make it a point to mention the link between the grapes as a frame of reference, while also noting the differences. There are some who are quite surprised when they taste CK and discover a much leaner, more savory wine in comparison to many opulent California expressions.
Jean Michel Morel makes Bordeaux style reds in Slovenia with class and a quiet energy. Bordeaux varieties have existed in Goriška Brda, the region where Kabaj is located, just over the Italian border, for over 200 years. At only 15 miles from the Adriatic, Brda sees mild winters, an early spring, and an extended growing season. The extreme temperature differences between the Alps and the Sea, and their close proximity to each other, make wind in the area a constant phenomena, to the north an ideally situated ridge of limestone protects Brda from ‘Bora’, the worst of these. Brda’s prized hills of marl and flysch, are the hardened remains of an ancient limestone seabed, sculpted by the slow action of rain and river. Their steep slopes offer an infinite range of vineyard exposures and micro climates. The unique conditions of the region produce elegant wines that will age gracefully but drink beautifully today. Kabaj’s passion for his wines is evident in every bottle.
Cuvée Morel 2009 is a Merlot-based Bordeaux style blend that is structured and serious, an hommage to Jean Michel’s native France. Could easily pass for right bank Bordeaux with plums, dusty leather, espresso, mild oregano in its aromatics. Palate is sleek on entry then fans out with red and black plums, damp earth and a firm grip on the finish. Clean, precise, detailed and delicious. If this said Bordeaux on the label it would be $100+. Pair with roast leg of lamb to coax the savory meaty flavors out of this wine which is still a baby.
Dalmatia is beautiful, but it receives more than its fair share of attention. Croatia’s Istrian Peninsula and Kvarner region, while perhaps less dramatic than Dalmatia, make up one of Europe’s most diverse landscapes. As one drives, the panoramas oscillate between mountain vistas, windswept limestone beaches and misty vineyards. You can wash down scampi on the island of Krk with a light briny Žlahtina for lunch, and after just an hour and a half drive west into Istria, eat for dinner hand rolled Fuzi buried in white truffles with sappy red Teran. It is one of our favorite areas to return. Around every corner is a new dish and in every cellar a new wine.
We have just received a shipment from Slovenia and Northern Croatia. Among the wines are two distinctive new reds: Coronica Crno from Coastal Istria and Šipun Sansigot from the island of Krk in the gulf of Kvarner.
The rare Sansigot is the latest release of Ivica Dobrinčić of Šipun on the island of Krk. In addition to making wine from the half dozen hectares of vines he farms, Ivica also operates a grape vine nursery aimed at re-propagating ancient native varieties. Ivica says most of the 20 plus sorts he is cultivating will have to be the work of his 4 sons if they choose to continue with this family business, which is what he and his wife Željka hope they will do.
Originally from the island of Susek, Sansigot became a favorite sort on the island of Krk before practically vanishing along with most of the islands vines. Planted to the clay and limestone soils in the protected interior valley outside their seaside home of Vrbnik, Ivica’s Sansigot is light, aromatic, and sea inflected. It will take many more plantings and many more wines before it can be said that Sansigot is a sort we understand, but the distinctiveness of Ivica’s wine shows that the effort is worthwhile. This is a fascinating process to drink along with.
Moreno Coronica’s new wine “Crno” has an almost opposite story. A producer farming more than 50 hectares in the village of Koreniki on the Istrian coast, Moreno is considered one of Istria’s benchmark winemakers. But faced with variable and cool conditions throughout the summer of 2014, he opted to make an easier drinking, lighter, less extracted or oak influenced red cuvee instead of the rich, sunny reds he is often noted for. The 2014 Crno is 80% Teran and 10% each Cabernet and Merlot.
Whatever role the international sorts play, it is the Teran and the Terra Rossa soil that dominate the character of the wine. Bright and spicy with notes of myrtle, thyme, orange, clove and the region’s characteristic briny iron note. We do not know if it is a one-off or something Moreno will, or even can, reproduce, but we certainly do find that it transports us back to Istria.
As the very welcome rain was pouring down in Northern California last weekend, I suddenly wished I could have shared my Moroccan spiced fish stew dinner with my East coast relatives and colleagues who were stranded by what we now are calling the record-setting blizzard of 2016. I opened a bottle of the relativity low-priced, but great quality red wine from the well-established Southern Hungarian town of Villány: Gere Portugieser.
Since German settlers brought innovative techniques and the Portugieser grape with them to the region, it has become a local treasure. The winemaker, Attila Gere, first took interest in the future of Villány wines while tasting the home-made versions served by his father-in-law. Gere became obsessed with the potential of the area and when the Communist regime was dissolved in the early 90’s, Attila Gere winery was established.
In Hungary, the grape was once known as Kékoportó or “blue Portuguese” but has been renamed Portugieser in recent times. Aged in stainless steel after fermentation in wild yeast, the wine has a deep color, and is more fuller-bodied than wines aged in oak. The variety’s naturally low levels of acidity mean that Portugieser wines should be drunk in their youth.
It was an excellent complement and stood up well to the spices in my Moroccan fish stew.Whether you are looking at pairing a red with a hearty peasant soup, a lamb stew or even a wood-oven fired pizza, the Gere Portugieser will not disappoint with its wild berry flavor and full-bodied bite. Salud!
Try the Moroccan fish stew for yourself:
3/4 c. couscous
spicy stewed fish
11 oz. white fish
peeled tin of chopped tomatoes
Handful of chickpeas
2 cloves of garlic
1 fresh red chilli
1 tsp cumin seeds
½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp tumeric
½ tsp ras el hanout
pinch of cayenne pepper
Handful of fresh basil
Salt / pepper
Pour the couscous into a bowl and drizzle over 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Squeeze about ¾ of the juice from one lemon into the bowl, add salt and pepper, then slowly add boiling water until the couscous is covered. Place a plate or clingfilm over the bowl for 10 minutes to allow the couscous to soak up the water.
Place a large saucepan on a medium heat. Finely chop the chilli, crush the garlic and pick the basil leaves from the stalks. Set aside the smaller leaves and roughly chop the larger leaves.
Add a tablespoon of olive oil to the saucepan then add the chilli, garlic, all spices, and the chopped basil leaves. Stir well then set the fish fillets on top.
Add the tinned tomatoes and chickpeas then squeeze in the remaining juice from the lemon. Once the sauce has started to bubble, put a lid on the saucepan, turn down the heat and simmer for 8 minutes until the fish has cooked through.
Taste the sauce and add more seasoning if required. Spoon the couscous into a large bowl then top with the stew and scatter over the smaller basil leaves.
Only Coronica can get away with something like this. The “CO” logo alone is sufficient incentive to buy a bottle.
Immediately the distinctive Teran spice is apparent on the nose. You can smell, and taste, a wild, iron-like character. Coronica blends Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon along with the Teran which can be felt on the palate. Beautiful simplicity that is not easily accomplished. Coronica is a skilled master after all. Even his simple table wine is a true, serious wine. Perfect for everyday consumption.
Hearty, lively, sleek, with no tannic roughness or any components demanding more time to soften and mellow. Ready upon opening the bottle, with a very drinkable 12% alc, suitable with many dishes.
I am quite sure this wine, aside from a small percentage perhaps, has not aged in any wood, yet I am confident many will comment on certain “woodiness” on the nose.
Both aromatic sensations and well balanced vinous acids are features of a wine ideal for casual consumption. For example, I was endlessly thankful how it paired with my BBQ Cheeseburger pizza 😀 Comfort wine for comfort food!
Cliff Rames, founder of Wines of Croatia and sommelier, writes about indigenous Croatian grapes making the most impact in the United States market for Total Croatia.
On January 21, 2016, I asked the top three American importers of Croatian wines to reveal which Croatian wines were best sellers in 2015 and provide clues about what new and exciting developments await in 2016. So grab a glass of your top Croatian wine and check out revelations below, listed alphabetically by producer, with tasting notes and added commentary by the importers about what made the wines successful in the U.S.
“Plavac Mali has a much thicker skin than any of the three native grapes in the Bibich R6,” noted Danch. “The Miloš Plavac is a wine built to age. Grown in an impossibly terraced limestone amphitheater on the Pelješac peninsula along the Adriatic Sea, it is fermented and aged in Slavonian oak and is richly textured and mineral driven. We often refer to it as ‘Nebbiolo by the sea’for its age-ability, grip and acidity.”
Eric goes on to say this about what to look forward to from Croatia in 2016:
“In 2016 we are excited to offer the 2015 Toreta Pošip from Korčula, a bright, briny and aromatic white wine from a sunbaked island appellation—a beautiful expression of the terroir. We will also present the 2013 Šipun Sansigot from Krk island, produced from grapes planted in pure pink Karst limestone and kept cool by the bura wind. It is a pungent yet light red with low tannins, low alcohol, and truly alluring aromatics—a perfect seafood red! Finally, we are excited to introduce the 2014 Coronica Črno, which is a blend of 80% Teran, 10% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon from Istria. Coronica’s Gran Teran reigns as a benchmark red for the region, and the Črno is great introduction to the ferrous flavors of the terra rosa (iron rich red soils) of Istria. Ripe and balanced, this is an ideal jumping off point to explore the vast diversity of Croatian Teran from other producers like Piquentum and Terzolo. What ties all of these wines together is a true sense of place, high quality-to-price ratio, passionate winemaking, great farming, and a focus on native grapes. Croatia is an exciting country to drink!”
As I opened our bottle of Piquentum Terre Refošk 2012 last weekend, this reminded me of our trip to Istria in fall 2014 and our visit to Piquentum and its owner, Dimitri Brečević. I am afraid to say, we first missed the place and had to call Dimitri for assistance. For our defense, there was no obvious sign from the road that could indicate the winery, just big industrial doors leading to an underground Italian water cistern. Fortunately, we found Dimitri waving at us as we were retracing our steps.
Being raised in Jurançon in south-western France, Dimitri speaks a pleasant musical French. It was a friend of his Croatian father, as he explained to us, that found this water cistern at the bottom of the medieval town of Buzet (Pinguente in Italian). With an average temperature of 10ºC (50ºF) throughout the year, this was the perfect place to make and age wines.
There are no vineyards around Buzet, which is better known for its truffles, and some of Dimitri’s best vineyards are a few miles away, around the historic town of Motovun.
In some way, Istria is a “new old world”. Contrary to France, explained Dimitri, there’s a lot to learn in the region if one wants to really understand which grape varieties are best suited to which terroirs. His best Malvasia comes from an old-vine vineyard owned by an old lady. Unfortunately, her children seem unaware of the rich quality of the fruits and want to replant the lot with lavender.
Dimitri makes 2 different reds: a Teran and a Refošk. They are often considered the same grape but there are morphological differences between the two and they also taste differently.
Like Teran, the Refošk has a purple-violet color and smells like tart red berries but on the palate, it is much less acidic. Well balanced, it has an earthiness that really shined with our sauteed wild mushrooms. Add a dash of fresh pepper to enhance the wine’s spiciness and share it with friends, this wine is just the most convivial.
Travel/wine writer and founder of Writing Between the Vines, Marcy Gordon loves Croatia, especially the wines. Check out what sparked her interest and read about her first visit to Croatia. Thank you for sharing with us, Marcy!
The first time the wines of Croatia came across my radar was through a random Tweet I saw by Cliff Rames (founder, Wines of Croatia). Until that point I’d never tried any wine from the region and knew little about Croatian varietals. I was directed to Blue Danube Wines as the place to start. Through the Blue Danube Portfolio I was given a wonderful overview of what Croatia had to offer. I found a rustic elegance in the wines with flavor profiles both bright and deep, and a briny kiss of salinity that was intriguing and enjoyable. One producer that stood out for me was Bibich.
My love affair with Bibich wine began with that tasting and shortly afterwards I had the opportunity to visit Alen Bibić at his winery in Skradin, outside of Šibenik on the Dalmatian coast of Croatia. It was there that my simple infatuation with Croatia bloomed into lust — an appreciative lust for the wine and food and the enviable coastal Croatian lifestyle.
Often we build things up in our heads and the reality leaves us disappointed. But my visit to Bibich far exceeded my expectations in the most delightful and unexpected ways. At the winery we sat at a small table and began an eight wine & seven course degustation. Here are my notes and some photos from the tasting:
Bibich Brut Sparkling wine paired with Oysters 2 ways: Raw Oysters and Oysters with Lemon ice and Worchester Foam.
Debit 2010, paired with a cucumber sorbet topped with trout caviar and granita of smoked trout. The Debit was dry and lively with a mineral chalky quality and nose of flowers granite dust. The cucumber sorbet was an unexpected flavor sensation but it really made the Debit come alive.
Pairing 3: R5 Riserva 2008 a blend of Debit, Pošip, Maraština, Pinot Grigio, and Chardonnay –all the flavors in harmony. Paired with Sea bass tartar w/ olive oil, pepper, chili, and an “orange roof”.
Pairing 4: Lučica 100% Debit paired with scallops grilled with goat cheese & black sesame seeds. The Lučica is a limited production wine from vines close to 50 years old. It had a light perfume of honeysuckle, and violets with notes of apple and apricot. I was entranced by the presence of granite, limestone and vanilla, a touch of caramel with a golden amber color. Seductive and captivating as if a chorus of angels was singing inside the glass, lulling you into complete surrender.
Pairing 5: Riserva R6 2008 paired with Cuttlefish Pasta balsamic reduction and olive oil dust. The R6 is a blend of Plavic, Lasin and Babić with a floral rosy vanilla nose and full rich flavors. The pairing dish was a play on black and white, a deconstructed take on cuttlefish as a pasta with paski (cheese) cream, almonds, and a reduction of balsamic vinegar with olive oil dust. Deconstructed and delicious!
Pairing 6: Sangreal Merlot 2007 and Bas de Bas Crno paired with Lamb Filet with hazel nut, chili oil and Mediterranean spice “glass top” brittle. This pairing was almost surreal. The Bas de Bas Syrah was an unexpected pleasure with oak notes on the nose and palate and a deep ruby color.
Pairing 7: Ambra (100% Debit) paired with Baked Chocolate Mousse and Cream Cataluña. The Ambra had awesome fig and apricot flavors.
I drifted out of the tasting fully under the Bibich spell. Today I’m still enthralled by the wines and marvel at how one winery; one man, can create such essential wines that epitomize the essence of place.
We will be revisiting Dalmatia with Marcy in April 2016! Look for our stories and photos from the trip.
First things first: this is the city whose very name means wine. In the native tongue they say Wien, which is short for the Latin name Vindobona, which means the place where the good wine grows. Indigenous Celtic peoples had been cultivating the vine and producing wine for nearly one thousand years before the ancient Romans arrived, roaming up from their nearby military installation at Carnuntum… The Römer had a longstanding affinity for the vine and its most noble product, thus had always been hip to recognising local talent whenever it crossed their paths of conquest.
Second, Austria is a wine culture, more similar to France than Germany. In the early 1980’s, the great French wine-making specialist Emil Peynaud asserted that the only other wine culture in Europe like France was Austria.
A little country, the remains of an extensive polycultural empire, Austria is a tourist paradise featuring wine on one end, winter sport on the other end, and Mozart in the middle. Leaving poor Mister Mozart in Salzburg and the skis in Tirol, we shall concentrate on the capital city…
There are nearly fifteen hundred acres of vines within the city limits. Vienna (once officially characterised as imperial and royal) is the only national capital where one can ride a trolley car to the wine country (and better still take a trolley car home from the wine country at the end of a long and delicious day of tasting, sipping and eventually guzzling the local product). In some instances, the wine in a Viennese tavern will deliver a case of heartburn that is second to none; it makes sense to carefully choose a quality address when planning an expedition into the local colour.
So, arriving in Vienna midmorning on a Saturday in the middle of Advent, I ditched my rental car, checked into my favourite flea-trap, and got on public transit out to the 21st district, the suburban environs of Jedlersdorf and the Heuriger (a wine tavern, typically serving wine from the proprietor’s own vines) of winegrower Peter Bernreiter.
I resisted temptation to tuck in to the cornucopia of culinary delights on display at the buffet (all of a local, somewhat rustic nature) and collared the man himself; we sat down to taste tank-samples of the coming 2015 vintage, which Bernreiter brought up three-at-a-time from the depths of his cellar.
Of particular interest from this eleven-hectare estate was a wine that Peter calls Heuriger. This is the word for a tavern, but also defines a wine of the current vintage (heuer is an Austrian word meaning ‘this year’). In this case it is a vibrant and inviting blend of many different grape varieties, based on a Gemischter Satz (see below) but ultimately blended as a cuvée. This is a wine that offers the most for the least in a litre bottle; the 2014 vintage is about handling and verve, while the subsequent vintage offers more in the way of horsepower. Yumm!
Bernreiter wines on the way to you from Jedlersdorf in the ‘15 vintage will also include a fine example of Vienna’s famous local white wine, the Gemischter Satz. The name is tantalisingly inviting to translate, since the rather versatile German noun Satz can mean either a sentence, a leap, one movement from a symphony (thank you Mr Mozart) – or for our purposes a parcel of vines consisting of mixed (gemischt) grape varieties, which are grown together, harvested together, fermented together and bottled thus as well. This practice is a lovely holdover from those days where growers hedged their bets a bit, worried about the weather; the early-ripening grapes would provide body and texture, the medium-term varieties impart a solid structure, while the later-ripening varieties contribute zing and zip. Bernreiter’s Gemischter Satz is composed of Weisser Burgunder (the vastly underrated Austrian Pinot Blanc), Grüner Veltliner and Sauvignon Blanc, which yields splendid and spicy material in the sandy soils of nearby Bisamberg.
Bernreiter himself is a very modest, highly articulate individual whose wines speak well for him, wines that are not made to any template but rather evolve as distinctive individuals, though related via the house style. Peter is also a man well versed in many of the finer things. My comment that favourite opera composer Mozart (can’t get away from him; funny thing…) benefited from having an excellent librettist brought back Bernreiter’s instant response ‘Lorenzo da Ponte…’ Peter’s Heuriger is the scene of many musical performances over the course of a season, and lately he had even ventured to devote an evening to the songs of twentieth century Viennese composers Arnold Schoenberg and Alban Berg – a very adventuresome venture given the angular nature of their twelve-tone expressionistic melodies, but acknowledging an essential phase in the cultural evolution of the imperial and royal city.