Istria, the new Tuscany

Olive tree groves, vineyard-dotted hills, truffles and medieval hilltop towns: we’re not describing Tuscany but Istria, a heart-shaped peninsula — the largest in the Adriatic Sea — located south of Trieste. Long ruled by the Venetians and later the Hapsburgs, it is now shared by three countries: the largest part (89%) is in Croatia, the northwestern part lies in Slovenia, and a very tiny portion belongs to Italy.

Istria Map
Istria Peninsula — Map Data © 2017 Google

While they both enjoy a rich food and wine culture and a beneficial Mediterranean climate, Tuscany and Istria are not completely similar: more than 80% of Tuscany’s production is in red wine while about 80% of the wine produced in Istria is white. Its most significant grape variety is Malvasia Istriana (also the second most important Croatian white grape after Graševina).

This ancient grape is believed to have been introduced by the Venetians from Greece. Young Malvasia, simply vinified in stainless steel, produces fresh and crisp delicious wines, ideal partners for grilled sea bass, squid, sardines, and langoustines from the Adriatic.
On the other hand, barrel aging and a few days of skin contact can produce a more full-bodied and age-worthy style, perfect accompaniment to Istrian pasta with truffle, black risotto, and hard cheese.

Istrian Seafood
Sardines, langoustines, and squid, just waiting for a glass of Coronica Malvasia

Malvasia Istriana is one of the focus of master winemaker Moreno Coronica. Its Coronica Malvasia 2015, made in stainless steel, is mineral and floral with a slight touch of saltiness reminiscent of the nearby sea.

Visiting Piquentum
Visiting Dimitri Brečević at Piquentum

The organic Piquentum Blanc 2015 that has just arrived from Croatia, illustrates well the latter style. Made by French-born winemaker Dimitri Brečević, it’s a 100% Malvasia Istriana that macerated for 2-3 days, fermented spontaneously, and aged mostly in barriques.

Teran in Terra Rossa
Teran growing in Terra Rossa in Kras

Istria’s native red variety is Teran, a grape rich in flavors and high in tannins and acidity that pairs well with fatty food like sausages, prosciutto and aged cheeses. Teran loves Istria’s iron rich red soil (terra rossa) that can be found in the Kras plateau in Slovenian Istria. This is where the Štoka family grows grapes and also raises cattle and pigs. They produce a Teran Rosé that is vinified like a white wine in order to expose Teran’s delicious fruitiness and acidity. We just received their 2016 vintage. Try it with Mexican food like Fajitas and Pork Carnitas Tacos.

Istrian Landscape
This is not Tuscany but inland Istria, with the village of Motovun in the background

Also in our new container is the 2014 vintage of Piquentum Rouge. It’s a 100% organic Teran from vineyards around the old village of Motovun in in central Istria. After a maceration of 2-4 weeks and a spontaneous fermentation with native yeast, the wine was aged in barriques and bottled without filtration. Pair its red fruit flavors and acidity with tomato-based dishes such as a spicy Cioppino.

Refošk is Istria’s second native grape variety. Both Teran and Refošk belong to the same “Refosco group” of grapes. While they share many similar characteristics, Refošk is often softer in terms of tannins and acidity. Try the Santomas Refošk 2015 from Slovenian Istria. It’s extremely fruity and smooth and perfect with pasta and pizza.