Atypical Wines From a Tough 2014 Istrian Vintage

2014 was generally a tough vintage throughout the Istrian peninsula, including the nearly 50 km Slovenian coastline (Slovenska obala) that runs north towards Trieste. Heavy rains in August and a cold summer overall meant lower yields for everyone. However, it was still a quality vintage if you farmed well, hand picked and weren’t tied to a recipe. Such was the case with the red wines from Coronica in Croatia and the Malvazija from Santomas in Slovenia. These are also the wines they each typically make the least of anyway. Coronica’s production is mostly white and Santomas is overwhelmingly red.

Coronica Crno and Gran Teran
Drive about 15 minutes southeast of the coastal city of Umag (50 km south of Trieste) and follow a small road named Koreniki and you will find Moreno Coronica. Even though the land is the same, Moreno’s grandfather was Austro-Hungarian, his father was Italian, he was Yugoslavian, and now his children are Croatian. Nevertheless, he has a stone tablet from 1764 with the family name carved into it that ties it all together.

Moreno Coronica
Moreno Coronica

Even further back, the region’s long history also includes Romans, Goths, Franks, and Bavarians. The Republic of Venice also had a solid 500+ year run. That said, Istria has always been the largest peninsula in the Adriatic with over 280 miles of coastline with 35% covered with old growth oak and pine forests. Along the coast where Coronica farms, the bright red and iron rich soil (Terra Rossa) is accented white calcareous stone and kept cool by the Bura winds.

Moreno Coronica
Coronica family’s stone tablet

Normally, Coronica harvests his red Teran late in the season because picking early means over the top tannins and crazy high acidity. He then barrels it down into French oak for extended élevage. These wines are called “Gran Teran” and have a distinct cranberry/ pomegranate like tartness, herbaceousness, and sanguine flavor. Traditionally it’s paired with local pršut (prosciutto), oily cured fish, blood sausages and rare beef. Locals also make “Istarska supa,” a slightly warmed broth of Teran, toasted country bread, olive oil, sugar, and black pepper. The current vintage is 2011. We imported very little, but a very special, elegant, and unique red for the bottle list.

Old school barometer
Old school barometer

In 2014 he had to pick early to avoid massive rains. Fortunately, he also farms a small amount of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot and decided to make a one off blend and declassify his Teran. This is why the 2014 is called “Crno,” literally “black.” And instead of barreling down into oak, this is done fresh in stainless steel. The Teran still dominates in tartness, forest herbs and iron, but the Merlot and Cabernet add some needed fruit, weight, and soften the tannins. The early pick also yielded some rare rose like aromatics. Slightly chilled, this is a go to light coastal red. Even the great Latin lover Giacomo Casanova noted the native red wines from Istria in his famous memoirs. No libido promises, but certainly couldn’t hurt throwing that out there.

Santomas Malvazija
Roughly 30 miles south of Trieste you’ll hit the port town of Koper. Drive a few minutes more up into the hills overlooking the Adriatic until you hit the small town of Šmarje. The Santomas winery is easy to spot along with its herb garden and olive trees growing on its living roof. The Glavina family has cultivated vines, olives and other crops here for over 200 years.

Panorama of the Santomas Winery

Ludvik, Andreja, and Tamara Glavina, descendents of the Ninth century owners of this land, own and run the winery. As Slovenia gained its independence in 1990, they returned to the vineyard to expand and to improve on the existing operation in the new spirit of private enterprise. Appropriately, the family’s coat-of-arms and motto “Semper memoriam refacit tempum” (The memory renews the time) adorns a white, red and yellow flag that hangs from the cellar tower.

Older generations
Tamara Glavina pointing out generations past

All wines are estate grown in vineyards between 100 and 280 meters above sea level where exposure to the sun and the incessant “Bora” wind is greatest. The soils are stony sandy mixes of flysch and marl. The 2014 Malvazija comes from the Poljane Vineyard (280m height above sea level) and Izola (30m height above sea level). As previously mentioned, harvest came super early so in an effort to bolster the fruit, about 5% went into new French oak for 9 months sur lie along with some stirring to add weight. After being blended back in, it’s a great foil for those you want a fresh coastal wine but some weight and texture as well. Normally served with fresh sea fare like octopus, fish Carpaccio, scallops and shellfish, the 2014 can also take on richer dishes like Risotto and baked pastas.

Santomas Vineyards

As with all wine regions, there is rarely a horrible vintage in terms of quality, just knowing how to improvise and roll with the punches. The 2014s are in predictably short supply, but each tells the story of an atypical vintage.