The Tart, Salty and the Nutty from the other side of the Adriatic: Summer Wines from the Balkans

15 wines is a lot to get through without losing you after this sentence. However, there is a salty, tart, and often nutty line that connects them all from the Bay of Trieste down to Southern Dalmatia. These are our table wines for the summer.

martincic france
France Martinčič

For the past few years, we’ve brought the Martinčič Cviček liter in from Dolenjsko (in between Zagreb and Ljubljana in Slovenia). This tongue-twisting blend of red and white grapes must be between 8.5-10% alcohol and dry by law. Now we are finally adding two more liters to round things out – the 2016 Modra Frankinja (Blaufränkisch) and 2016 Modri Pinot Rosé (Pinot Noir). They are both around 11-11.5% alcohol, incredibly low in SO2, and are impossibly fresh and full of character. Chill all three down and let them come up at the table.

santomas vineyard
Santomas vineyards overlooking the Adriatic

Roughly 2 hours West and a bit south by car and you hit Istria (Istra in Slovenia). Dominated by Malvasia Istarska, Teran and Refošk, the diversity by soil and proximity to the Adriatic is immense. Keeping with the liter theme, the 2016 Santomas LNG Refošk is our Dolcetto by the sea in that it satisfies the pizza/pasta needs but still lends itself to seafood. Best chilled. Just 30-40 mins drive south along the Western coast of Istria in Croatia you hit Coronica. Iron rich red soils, a keen sense of keeping acidity in balance, and salty salty salty. It’s like drinking fried fish with lemon and cured sardines in olive oil and lemon. The Gran Malvasia and Teran (related to Refošk) translate to extended élevage and oak aging. We get very little every year, but they both showcase how balanced these grapes can be with added weight, spice and texture.

Karst limestone at Śipun

Just off the Eastern Coast of Istria is the Island of Krk. The running joke is the Venetians took all of the vowels when they left. Pink karst limestone, wild asparagus as cover crops, and two grapes you can hardly find elsewhere even in Croatia: Źlahtina and Sansigot. Ivica at Śipun is also cultivating a library of heritage grapes, driving quality on the Island, and his hospitality matches the inviting nature of both wines. Using Mulberry, Acacia and Walnut barrels in concert with two distinct local grapes makes for something special. Pair the white Žlahtina like you would a Muscadet and give the red Sansigot a slight chill and pair like a Ligurian red.

BIBICh vineyard
BIBICh vineyard

About 3-4 hours drive down the Dalmatian coast you hit Bibich near the town of Skradin. While Bibich makes a variety of red wines, the focus today is the Debit grape done four ways. Debit, much like Pagadebit in Italy (no genetic relationship) refers to easily repaying one’s debts due to the vigorousness of the variety. We think of it like the Riesling of Northern Dalmatia. You can make it bright in stainless steel, refreshingly oxidative in barrel, takes skin contact really well, plenty of acidity for sparkling, and even lends itself to Prošek (passito style). Croatia meets the Jura by the sea…

Ivana Caric
Ivana Carić

About 1.5 hours south by car and off of the coast is the Island of Hvar. A whole newsletter could be devoted to the history to this place. UNESCO Heritage etc… Nevertheless, Ivana and Ivo Carić make a delicious Bogdanjuša here. The grape translates to “a godsend” (Bogom dana), and is traditionally used during church holidays and festivities. For our purposes here, it’s a light bodied island white with salt, herbs and a mineral core that sneaks up on you as it warms up. It tastes like you should be on vacation.

There will no doubt be a lot of articles about whites and reds to chill down this summer, so we humbly ask to consider these in complimenting the usual and worthy suspects.