Coronica: Full Circle

Coronica: Full Circle
Moreno Coronica in his vineyard with the typical Istrian Terra Rosso.

We have just gotten back from the Blue Danube company trip to Hungary, and there are so many highlights to share. However, this must be postponed because of the 2008 Coronica Istrian Malvazija from Istria, Croatia. Why? The reason is the season. Let me explain.

Istrian Malvazija is primarily grown in Slovenia and parts of northern Italy but is most at home on the large Croatian peninsula of Istria at the north end of the Adriatic where Croatia, Slovenia and Italy meet. Wines from this grape vary greatly in style. Many are made in a fresh, reductive form, akin to the commercial white wines of New Zealand, pleasant but undistinguished. Others are macerated, or made like red wine where the skins are left with the juice during fermentation, resulting in deeply colored, even orange wines with red wine structure, tannin and all. Quality varies radically among wines of this already challenging-to-appreciate style. When bad they can be undrinkable, but the best examples are unforgettably good.

In July 2009 we tasted the 2007 Coronica Malvasia during a tasting of potential imports. We all immediately noticed that there was more to the nose than on the lineup of fresh Istrian Malvazija we had just sampled. What was tropical and bubblegummy in the other wines was still sweet-smelling but more herbal, complex and engaging. As good as it smelled, the real crux of it was the texture, sea mist, olive oil and chalk. I know, doesn’t that sound delicious? Seriously, it was clean but deep and textural, lush but mineral, fruity but savory, a wine that pushed and pulled. We all wanted more and the tasting bottle was empty, and that, my friends, is how an import is born.

Moreno Coronica in orange with his wine maker friend Giorgio Clai.

We received our first delivery of the 2008 Coronica Istrian Malvazija early this January. As I had a hand in selecting it, it was one of the wines I was most anticipating—but it has been slow to catch on. When I taste the wine I go “yeah, that’s what I want!” while buyers respond by nodding their head yes and muttering a non-committal, “interesting.” Needless to say, the situation has left me a little flustered. That is, until the season changed.

Seasonality is more than just difference in temperature. The Earth changes position, the length of day changes, plants bloom, the whole environment changes. It is logical to consider that this has an affect on our biology as well. It is also logical that this would change how a wine taste or how we taste a wine. In the case of Coronica this had not really entered my mind; if you looked at my tasting notes you would not guess that I was talking about a summer wine.

I first saw the change at the Croatian dinner at Michael’s of Naples in Long Beach that we did with The Wine Country on the 17th of June—a pretty warm night. People could not get enough of the Coronica. Pairing it with poached lobster with grilled apricot and treviso salad possibly had something to do with this. All I noticed was that people bought a lot of it—it was the second most popular wine of the night.

Coronica winery: Can you believe wine has ever been made here?

This week I showed the wine to customers. Surprisingly, they were digging it. By the end of the day it was clear that something was up. When Kristyn and I sat down to eat fresh pasta with lentil bolognese, the Coronica was a must taste. The wine did in fact taste different. It was crystalline, as if all the attributes finally came into focus. The following morning I tried it again–3 days open and it was still good. It is like the wine turned on–for months it was off and then, flip, on.

No matter how familiar I may think I am with the wines we import, there is always more to learn from them. My awareness changes, and suddenly, in the middle of routine I discover a new pursuit: this time, to taste for other wines that might have turned on. Below are a few of my favorites that are drinking differently than they were 3 months ago. Most of them are 12.5% Alc. or less, and even the reds can handle a bit of a chill. They are all are fairly inexpensive, meaning there is no reason not to make it a multiple bottle night, another appropriately seasonal trait for summer.

2009 Hilltop Winery “Craftsman” – Cserszegi Füszeres – Neszmély Region, Hungary
2008 Weinrieder “DAC” – Grüner Veltliner – Weinviertel, Austria
2009 Crnko “Jarenincan” – 40% Riesling, 30% Chardonnay, 30%Sauv. Blanc – Podravje, Slovenia – 1 Liter
2008 Szöke – Pinot Gris – Mátra, Hungary

2008 J.Heinrich – Blaufränkisch – Mittelburgenland, Austria
2007 Dingac Winery “Peljesac” Dalmatian Coast, Croatia
2007 Dingac Winery “Plavac” Dalmatian Coast, Croatia

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