Highlights of Old Dubrovnik

One of the many architectural beauties in Dubrovnik. Old Dubrovnik (or “Ragusa” as it was called in the Medieval ages) is a wonderful town for the history buff, who can wander for hours with a guidebook looking at buildings, and the amateur photographer, who can capture the details of atmosphere and architecture without regard for the madding crowds. We arrive early to roam atop the fortification walls (admission $10/person), which only those in relatively good stair-climbing shape should attempt, sunscreen in hand. We make more than half the three-hour circuit on the wide and undulating brick path, enjoying views of aquamarine sea and cannon portals on the outside (Bokar Bastion and Lovrijenac Fortress shown below) and time-worn lanes on the inside. Then we climb down to have a cappuccino and toast, and read the Herald Tribune. For lunch, we meet Vido B. and his wife. Vido is a former machinery engineer in long-distance shipping—once the major industry in these parts—and now a politician. He tells us a bit about the life, how it stopped being much fun because improvements in the speed of loading and offloading meant you wouldn’t be spending more than eight hours or so in any port, … Continue reading Highlights of Old Dubrovnik

Food and Wine on the Road to Dubrovnik

Ancient fortifications built to protect Ston where the Peljesac peninsula connects with the main land. Marija and Anita pick us up in the morning for our drive to Dubrovnik, the last coastal destination on our journey. On the way out of Orebic, we stop at the old Riviera Hotel to pick up some rootstock for Marija. The old hotel, which looks like a Communist-era castle but is probably earlier, has been bought by a man from Texas and his Croatian wife. They’ll remodel it into ten or eleven luxury suites, and there is already a winery in the cellar, where we taste a very promising pošip from a tank that will be blended with the same wine matured in barrels. Next to the hotel they’ve planted zinfandel vines, which will begin producing in another four years or so. A little later as we drive through the countryside we stop unannounced at Frano Milos’s winery, where we hurriedly taste three wines while he waits for an American tour to arrive. Frano is a curly-headed artist, perhaps in his early forties, and very charismatic—as testified by the magazine articles posted in his tasting room, showing him in GQ-esque poses. His work also … Continue reading Food and Wine on the Road to Dubrovnik

Marko Polos Hometown, and the Wine He May Have Drunk

Approaching Korčula by Ferry. After gazing longingly for two days at the picturesque walled town of Korčula across the water from our hotel balcony, we finally hop on the ferry and head back to the island with Boris. He has arranged for his former boss, at Marco Polo Tours in Korčula town, to give us a tour of the old city. This charming, professorial man in a houndstooth jacket clearly loves his native city. He leads us up the steps to the old walled city—steps that used to be a drawbridge over the moat. On the outside of the city gate is a relief of St Mark’s lion—the lion of Venice. For some 400 years, until about 1800, Korčula was a part of the Venetian empire, at the same time that Orebic, across the water, was the farthest outpost of the Dubrovnik Republic. Just inside the main gate is the early Renaissance St. Mark’s Cathedral, with more lions guarding the portal, and two Tintorettos, among other treasures, inside. As we walk through town, we’re told that the streets were laid out in a fishbone pattern in order to control the passage of hot and cold breezes through the city. Marko … Continue reading Marko Polos Hometown, and the Wine He May Have Drunk

Hvar Island – Home of Zlatans Grand Cru

Seaside Tasting Room of the Zlatan Plenkovic Estate on Hvar. (Photo courtesy Leith Steel) A vineyard assistant named Nevin drives us the four hours south from Krk to Split in the rain, where we slog to the catamaran that will take us to Jelsa, on the north side of Hvar island, in 90 minutes. Jelsa is a gorgeous town with a riviera look—there’s obviously plenty of money here, at least in tourist season. We’re on Hvar to visit the single winery in all of Croatia, called Zlatan Otok, that produces a Grand Cru wine. Zlatan Plenkovic, the owner, is not available to us, but his son Marin (who is finishing his studies to take up a position at the winery) takes good care of us for the twenty-odd hours we’re here. He drives us from Jelsa over the top of the island to the south side, where the winery is, via a single-lane tunnel with rough rock walls carved through the mountaintop. Marin pauses about 100 meters into the tunnel and points to a room off to the side where stainless-steel tanks are visible through the doorway—they store some of their white wine here without need for refrigeration (because of … Continue reading Hvar Island – Home of Zlatans Grand Cru

The Hanging Vineyards of Dingač and Postup (part 2: Bura)

Niko Bura in the middle of an extensive tasting at his kitchen table. Niko Bura is a Croatian garagiste, with his setup on the ground floor of his house, and he is one of this region’s leaders in quality. Niko is making wine in the vineyard, not in the winery. Indeed, we met him this morning tilling the soil between newly planted vines on the family’s Dingač hillside. Niko himself is soft-spoken, clearly proud of his artist daughter, whose painting hangs on the wall of the small tasting room, and appears on the label of Bura Galerija, a light cabernet sauvignon that was first released this year, made from grapes grown in a prime valley location. He is also experimenting with marsellane, a cross between cabernet and grenache. It will be three or four years before the first bottling. The wine called Bura, of 100% Dingač plavac mali, was first produced in 1995. This year saw the release of the first bottles of Mare, from Postup plavac mali and named after its maker, Niko’s sister Marija. MARE 2004, Postup. For this vintage, the grapes were partially raisined due to lack of water on the hillsides. The wine is an unfiltered … Continue reading The Hanging Vineyards of Dingač and Postup (part 2: Bura)

The Hanging Vineyards of Dingač and Postup (part 1: Grgic etc)

The Dingač at its best: steep slopes, old vines, tons of sunshine right at the coast. We arrive by ferry on one end of the island of Korčula and are picked up by Marija Mrgudic and her son Boris, who drive us to the ferry dock at the other end of the island. This is a sneak preview only—we’re leaving the island immediately for Orebic, on the mainland, and will return to Korčula in a day or two. Orebic is a waterfront town on the edge of the Pelješac peninsula, where the renowned wine producing areas of Dingač and Postup cling precariously to hillside terraces overlooking the Adriatic. In terms of prestige, Dingač and Postup are the Napa and Sonoma of Croatia. Marija Mrgudic and her brother Niko Bura and their families are a leading wine producer in the area, under the name Bura Estate Winery. Boris is in his twenties, and does marketing and PR for the winery while also working in marketing for a local hotel group. He spends his weekend driving us through vineyards, crisscrossing the Pelješac, and talking with us about the growing private wine industry and rampant experimentation in the region, notably with plavac mali’s … Continue reading The Hanging Vineyards of Dingač and Postup (part 1: Grgic etc)

A Day at Katunar, on Krk Island

Panoramic view of the city of Krk on the island of Krk. The next morning, we set off for the island of Krk, driven by Antonella. Driving east toward Rijeka, we pass Tuscan-looking hill towns and a public forest at the side of the small, local highway, which Antonella tells us is a truffle forest where locals go to try their luck. There is a controversy about continuing public access to the forest, which the truffle hunters consider their right. At Rijeka, we need to take a sharp right turn and head south, but first, we need to get past Mt. Ucka. There’s a tunnel through the mountain, but we decide to go over it, and head upward at a steep angle along switchback curves, past tiny, five-house towns, through the forest. We stop as the road starts to slope downward again, to look out over the Adriatic toward Krk to the south and Rijeka below us (shown), situated in the dog’s-leg turn where Istria becomes the Kvarner region of northern coastline, mercilessly blown in winter by the bura, Croatia’s version of the mistral winds. First we drive through the resort villas of Opatija, playing a game of “if I … Continue reading A Day at Katunar, on Krk Island

Malvasia and more from a leader in Istrian wine making

Line-up of the bottles at the Kozlovic tasting. We drive through Slovenia toward Istria, the area just below Trieste, Italy, that was part of Italy for twenty-five years until the end of World War II. As we approach Croatia, the Germanic-looking houses and barns and the typical hay drying racks–a ladderlike wooden rack open to the air but protected beneath a roof–disappear, and we no longer see maypoles in the little towns we pass. Our destination is Porec, about a third of the way down the western coast of Istria. It’s a pretty resort town with bars and restaurants lining the waterfront street on the land side, and luxury power yachts lining it on the water side. We’re here to join a group from Vinistra, the Istrian wine trade show that is going on this weekend, on a pleasure tour by boat. Our hosts are three prominent producers, Kozlovic, Degrassi, and Matosevic, who have been working together to build an Istrian wine brand closely linked to tourism in the area. As the boat makes its way south along the coast to Rovinj, a beautiful medieval fortified town crowned by a church, we sit on the top deck in the frigid … Continue reading Malvasia and more from a leader in Istrian wine making

We taste promising, modern wines in Slovenias oldest wine cellar

Barrel tasting in Slovenia’s oldest wine cellar, Ptujska Klet. [This trip was taken in early May. It was organized by an importer for whom my husband is a consultant.] The three of us wind through the streets of Ptuj in the car, past the hilltop castle, a monastery, and countless unknown wonders. We won’t see anything in Slovenia’s oldest town (mentioned by Tacitus in AD 69) except Slovenia’s oldest wine cellar, Ptujska Klet, which can be traced back to the year 1239. When we arrive, we are given first the tourist treatment, then the behind-the-scenes tour. As tourists, we walk through a cold cellar beneath the visitor center and tasting rooms, where there are rows of oval wooden barrels taller than I am, rich dark-chocolate wood trimmed in forest green, with picturesque scenes of winemaking carved (recently) on the barrel heads. We also see the famous wine archive, where wines dating back to 1917 are stored, recorked every twelve years. Tito drew wines from this archive, and anyone fairly young can still buy a wine from their birth year, back to at least the 1950s, in the shop next to the tasting rooms. There we spot a wine from my … Continue reading We taste promising, modern wines in Slovenias oldest wine cellar

The Chrons Sense of Debit Humor

The San Francisco Chronicle recently reviewed a number of wines in their Wine for Every Occasion section. The good news is that they like the Bibich Debit a great deal. The bad news (or maybe the expected news) is that they found the name a bit humorous. Not to be surprised as the first time I saw a bottle of Debit I wondered what it meant. From my background in Croatian, I assume it comes from “debeo” which means “fat or thick” which is fitting given that it’s a very tasty, full-bodied white wine. Of course, I could be completely wrong on this and am more than willing to stand corrected.