Crljenak Kaštelanski — Discovering Zinfandel’s Croatian Roots

Mrcevlje vineyard
The Mrčevlje vineyard above the village of Cavtat where the Dubrovački Crljenak Kaštelanski grows.

It is a very exciting time to be a student of wine. DNA fingerprinting has led to many new discoveries about grape varietals, in particular identifying genetic relationships. One such discovery was made in 2001 by University of Davis professor, Carole Meredith. After hearing suggestions that Zinfandel may be related to a Croatian grape, Meredith went to Croatia to collect samples. What she found is that Zinfandel is actually an indigenous Croatian varietal referred to locally as Crljenak Kaštelanski. Other than California, the grape is cultivated extensively in Italy, going by the name Primitivo. Read the full story of how the Original Zinfandel was found in Croatia: here.

Dubrovački Harvest

It has been a long time since we have had a Crljenak Kaštelanski (CK for short) also known as Tribidrag in our portfolio. Many of you sent requests and inquiries so we are pleased to introduce the 2012 Dubrovački Podrumi Crljenak (Zinfandel). Dubrovački Podrumi was founded in 1877 by Kolić Pero, a wine merchant. After World War II, the winery became a state-run operation. In 2000, the winery was bought by local entrepreneurs who revitalized the winemaking program and planted new vineyards.

Dubrovački Harvest

The winery is now comprised of 30 hectares. old vine Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot as well as 12 hectares new vineyards planted in the Konavle Valley. CK was planted in 2007 along with small quantities of other local varieties.

The wine shows a bright red color and exhibits aromas of red berries on the nose. The palate has lots of crushed tart cassis and a finish of dried herbs. Try it with a tomato-based dish like Capellini and Tomatoes and Basil.

Bibich Lučica 2011, one of W&S Best Eastern European Wines

Bibich Lučica 2011 92 Points

The new 2011 vintage of the BIBICh Lucica has just received a very nice review published in the current edition of Wine & Spirits Magazine. Check what they say about the wine:

Alen Bibic pulls this wine from debit vines his grandfather planted some 50 years ago in Plastovo, a small village hemmed in between Croatia’s vast Krka national park and the Adriatic coast. The dry-farmed bush vines produce very little fruit, which Bibic macerates on the skins for two weeks, and ferments without added yeast in French oak barrels. The result is a wine as rich as its burnished golden hue, with a yeasty, salty aspect that brings fino sherry to mind. As it opens in the glass, it gets fresher, with a crisp tang of an antique apple variety and a corresponding apple-skin grip. The firm structure and freshness suggest that this will age well, although it’s delicious now with a pork chop.

We hope you’ll try the wine very soon. This summer, this will be the perfect companion for Spanish tapas.

Demeter Zoltán, Tokaj, Hungary

Having recently been fortunate enough to spend two weeks in Austria and Hungary, I can happily say my notebook is full of things to further clog your inbox for months to come. However, in the interest of keeping things focused and digging a little deeper, I’d like to start with a particularly intense (in a good way) encounter with Demeter Zoltán in Hungary’s Tokaj appellation.

Demeter Zoltán

Terroir lesson from Demeter Zoltán

Demeter is a one man army by choice and demands 100% control over everything. By everything, work in the vineyards, winery and cellar are all assumed. His control extends to how the word “Tokaj” is placed on his labels, custom drawers in his tasting room filled with terroir specific soils and rocks, selecting specific music for the winery/cellar/tasting room, and creating custom maps for his single vineyards. Even the photography associated with his brand on Facebook is his own and branded with his logo. If I were to move a book on shelf without him seeing, I have little doubt he would notice the moment he turned back around.

Demeter tasting

Tasting with Demeter Zoltán

The fascinating thing is that despite all of this control, he’s happy to admit the elusive magic of Tokaj and is remarkably humbled by it despite being a benchmark pioneer in the region. The only thing rivaling his desire for control is his assertion that Tokaj is truly one of the most important wine appellations in the world. With only 25 or so more harvests left to rediscover 500 years of history mostly lost during Communism, his race against time to showcase Tokaj is the driving force behind everything he does. Maps of famous wine regions hang the walls next to maps of Tokaj. If Champagne is branded with James Bond, so can Tokaj. When he speaks about the present and future of the appellation, the seriousness of this tone and unwavering eye contact makes you afraid to blink (in a good way.)

Tokaj luxury brand

Tokaj as a luxury brand

With this in mind, I’m proud to be able to share two of his single vineyard dry wines: the 2012 Veres Furmint and the 2012 Szerelmi Hárslevelű. The 40 year old Veres (Red) vineyard is known for it’s reddish hue coupled with rhyolitic volcanic tufa soils.

Horse plowed

Plowing vineyard with horse — credit Demeter Zoltán

Where some Furmints often have a fair amount of residual sugar to add body and balance the acidity, this one is impossibly dry and balanced without sacrificing intensity. Try pairing it with roast duck or goat; it’s got the structure.

Veres Furmint

Szerelmi (Lovely) is by contrast predominately loess soil with 70 year old vines on the southern side of Tokaj Hill. The loess soil lends an elegant texture and the aromatics are both sweet and sour. This is one of those wines that is intellectually interesting and delicious. Both vineyards were designated as a 1st Class sites in 1798 and are still plowed by horse without pesticides or fertilizer. If I was still working the floor, these are both wines I’d have lying in wait on the bottle list to wow the right person.

Veres Furmint

Happy to be back in country and looking forward to sharing more with you soon.

A Grand Atypical Rosé

One of the most unexpected wines of the season, has to be the Rosé  from Miloš winery in Croatia. Struggling to understand how this atmospheric mineral delight came to be, I called up Ivan Miloš who makes the wine with his father Frano for a little Q and A. And then I hope that like me, you’ll taste and enjoy this “truly serious, grand, atypical wine”.

Old vine Plavac

Miloš vineyards: Old vine Plavac amongs walled terraces of Dolomitic limestone.
Photo Credit: Frano Miloš

Why does Miloš make a Rosé?
The Miloš family farm has a very unique location on the Pelješac peninsula at the southern part of Croatia. We are 100% focused on that one spot planted with one grape, Plavac Mali. Combined with the dolomitic limestone of our terraced vineyards, it gives us grapes of such a unique quality, we simply wanted to show the richness of its pure juice, Rosé is the best way to do this.

Where did the idea to make a Rosé from the best grapes of the harvest come from?
We were tasting rose wines from other appelpations and countries, and we found very few which met our taste. Unfortunately, most rosé are light with almost no structure. We hate to hear statements from some winemakers like: “it’s a bad vintage, let’s make some rosé from our red grape”, So we did the opposite, we selected the best grapes from our old Plavac mali vines, from the very best locations, because we knew we could produce something unique.

How is Miloš Rosé made differently from other Rosé?
Our rosé is made from old ungrafted vines, organically grown on steep manually farmed terraces. It is obtained through the natural squeezing of freshly picked grapes fermented with native yeasts.

Fresh pressed Rose

Fresh pressed Miloš Stagnum Rosé. No maceration! Look at that color!
Photo Credit: Jošip Miloš

There is no maceration, but as Plavac Mali contains high amounts of polyphenolic compounds, thanks to small berries and thick skin, even in rosé made of it you find lots of polyphenols, and that is why our rosé is a complex, structured wine. Actually, for my Masters Thesis I researched the polyphenolic compounds of rosé and red wines made of Plavac from our vineyards, and compared them to other international wines. I found one large research project where more than 170 red wines from international market across several vintages where anylized, and found that average quantity of polyphenols are between 900-1200 mg/l. I then analyzed our rosé and found that it had almost 1000 mg/l. Like an average red wine, but it’s a rosé and really refreshing!

Is Miloš Rosé a reductive or oxidative wine?
Miloš Rosé is not a reductive or oxidative wine, it’s open and complete already at first sniff. During winemaking we let the wine develop more complex aromas, and we need oxygen for that. We don’t want to preserve just fruit because this is not a natural process and needs large amounts of sulfites, which we simply don’t want in our wines. Wine should taste like wine, not like grape must. Must is just a base of something much bigger.

What is unique about the Rosé Plavac Mali vines and their location?
Plavac Mali gives the best results gives when planted on the most challenging location. Our position is one big terraced amphitheatre, which is really hard to farm. But, the roots of our ungrafted vines are completely acclimatized to the terroir, they can always find enough moisture deep in our dolomitic limestone. And when vines get older they get even better, because their roots go much deeper, they have lower yield, bigger bush, and they award us with fruit with more complexity and acidity. This is what we are looking for when we harvest for rosé. The whole fruit selection is done in the vineyards. In the very south of Europe it is easier to find structure than freshness and good acidity in the wine, so that makes combination of Plavac and our location really important because we manage to get huge structure paired with freshness.

How can we taste this in the wine?
Sometimes, when you hear a story about a wine and then you taste it, you simply can’t relate the story with the wine itself. But, when you taste our rosé, with all its fullness, minerality, a little bit of salinity, the nice tannins, piquance and freshness, you can perfectly understand how and where we made it. This rosé is truly a serious, grand, atypical wine.

Old vine Plavac

Photo Credit: Frano Miloš
Old vine Plavac

Photo Credit: Frano Miloš

Join Blue Danube at the Hungarian Heritage Festival

Hungarian Festival Heritage

Celebrate Hungarian culture at the Hungarian Heritage Festival this Saturday May 9th, in Belmont, CA. There will be music, dance, food and wine from 12pm to 9pm.

Also don’t miss Prof. Eric Danch’s presentation on “The Hungarian Wine” from 1:30pm to 2:00pm. Our wines will be available to pair with Pörkölt, Töltött Káposzta, and Lángos.

Here is the program.

Looking forward to seeing you this Saturday!

Hungary: The New France

The Tokaj Album published by: The Viticultural Society of the Tokay-Hegyalja printed in Hungarian, French, German and English 1867
The Tokaj Album published by: The Viticultural Society of the Tokay-Hegyalja printed in Hungarian, French, German and English 1867

Hungary is neither new, nor French, but both countries are lands of developed terroir. In fact, the concept may even be older in Hungary. The vineyards around the city of Tokaj were recognized as special early on and ranked through a formal classification in 1770, a century before Bordeaux received similar treatment. Tokaj is as faceted and hypnotic as Burgundy, Somló an enigma like Hermitage and Eger something of a mini Loire, but Hungarian wines are not French facsimiles, they are utterly different. What underlies the wines of both is the slow understanding of relationships between land, vine and wine that farmers have formed over centuries into the distinct archetypes they are today. The French models are better recognized, marketed and never suffered 50 years of collectivized production, but these things have little to do with the Hungarian wine Renaissance happening right now. Let’s taste it!

Stippling of the village of Olaszliszka where Samuel Tinon lives. From Tokaj-Hegyaljai Album
Stippling of the village of Olaszliszka where Samuel Tinon lives. From Tokaj-Hegyaljai Album

It is not by accident that Samuel Tinon, French vigneron by birth makes strongly Hungarian Tokaji. He grew up on the estate of his family in St. Croix-du-Monts where his sister makes botrytis wines today. His restless curiosity took him around the world, studying, tasting and making wine. Samuel was drawn to Tokaj by what existed only there.Today many Tokaji producers are looking to regions outside Hungary for direction, Austria, Germany and yes France, but Samuel strives to understand the same subtle secrets of the vineyard and the cellar that have forever made Tokaji great. He has begun making small quantities of exquisite dry wines that are reductive, pale and might leave one convinced they are drinking exceptional chenin, an increasingly common direction of Tokaj production. But the greatest of Tinon’s wines are and will remain the old fashioned gold to amber, oxidative, and wondrous elixirs he nurtures. Often the outsider is dismissed, but Samuel brings to Tokaj a reverence for its past, a deep desire to preserve it and a masters touch. Tokaj is lucky to have Samuel, Samuel is lucky to have Tokaj, and we are lucky to have Samuel’s Tokaji! I am a much more outside outsider than Samuel, but I see what he is trying to protect and believe that you would too! Let’s see!

P.S. Tokaj: the name of the appellation; Tokaji: the wines from Tokaj.

Dalmatian Island Wine: The Carić Winery

The Croatian island of Hvar
The Croatian island of Hvar- wineawesomeness.com

Our friends Andrew Villone, of Savor the Experience Tours, and Wine Awesomeness teamed up to present this informative interview with Ivana Carić herself about why you need to visit Hvar and her winery. Particularly interesting are her local food and wine pairing suggestions.

We, the Carić family, love salted anchovies served with raštika (collard). We pair this with our white wine Bogdanjuša. Collard is a very old type of cabbage, eaten in the Roman times. Today, it’s hard to find this form of cabbage in the market or in stores, but every house on the island has it in its garden.

Read the whole article here.

Browse Carić wines here.

Amici Vinorum Olaszliszka and their 2013 Hárslevelű

Amici Vinorum Olaszliszka
The Amici Vinorum Olaszliszka (Friends of Wine of Olaszliszka)

“Olaszliszka is an important village, it is our village. We feel like guest, we try to do something for the village. There a group of motivated people who all want to build and give value to this village. This is the start: Let’s do it.” — Samuel Tinon

Olaszlizska is the largest village along the Bodrog River between Tokaj and Sárospatak and dates back to the 12th Century. It has formally been attached to the Tokaj appellation since 1560. Despite suffering through Ottoman times and a plague in the 1730’s, this village has been noted for top crus and famous wines for hundreds of years.

Olaszliszka
Olaszliszka along the Bodrog river

The soil is riddled with volcanic stones and Nyirok (red clay) and planted mostly to the Hárslevelű grape. The Amici Vinorum Olaszliszka (Latin for Olaszliszka Friends of Wine) is the combined efforts of 10 local winemakers to reaffirm the historical identity and importance of the village of Olaszliszka. Much like Burgundy, although many of the same grapes and styles are produced throughout the appellation, each village has a distinct identity.

Olaszliszka vineyards
Tour of the vineyards in Olaszliszka

Sourcing from vineyards like Csontos, Határi, Meszes, and Palandor that date as far back as 1641, members of the association are combining their fruit to produce one single “village” wine. The goal is to better understand the terroir, make a delicious wine, and perhaps more importantly, build and strengthen the wine community in Olaszliszka. Slightly off dry (11.7 g/l) with incredibly high acidity (7.9 g/l), this Hárslevelű is both exotic, intensely textured, and has that undeniable volcanic vein of Tokaj running all the way through it. Only 700 bottles produced.

Amici logo
The Amici Vinorum Olaszliszka Logo

Austria’s Wine Future Looks Brightest in Burgenland

Vineyard in Burgenland – huffingtonpost.com

 

Award-winning author John Mariani shares his view on Austria’s wine future in this article for the Huffington Post. Not only does he find the wines from Burgenland to be the most exciting, he is also enamored by one of the producers we work with in the region, Juris.

I was, however, most impressed by the Austrian red wines I tasted, for I’d never had much interest in them before and very little at all with those from Burgenland. I had a splendid wine named Juris (George) from Gols, made from the often finicky St. Laurent grape, related to Pinot Noir, but with more body and concentration.

Continue reading the article and then browse Juris wines.

Emerging Wine Regions: Georgia

Vineyards in Georgia – Georgian National Wine Agency

 

With one of the oldest wine making traditions in the world, Georgia is believed by many to be the birthplace of wine making. DNA evidence has shown that wine was made in the region at least 7,000 years ago!

The Middle Ages was a golden period for winemaking in Georgia. As in Burgundy, local monks and farmers studied the terroir and plant the best grapes in the best areas.

Read the rest of the article by Bottlenotes to find out why Georgian wines are “on the tip of every hip somm’s tongue”.

Try the recommended Pheasant’s Tears wines.