Border(less) Regions are Great for Wine

With Miha Batic listening to Led Zeppelin
With Miha Batič, listening to Led Zeppelin

Take a good dose of nationalism, a slightly larger dollop of history, and fuse it with taking the best from what’s around you and creating something new. This Slovenian and Istrian container is emblematic of changing flags and political systems forcing winemakers to make something that can’t be taken away from them. New co-fermented liters from Štajerska and Dolenjsko. Sanguine Teran, Refošk, Malvazija and Vitovska from both Istria and the Kras. The singular (and extremely limited) Batič wines from Vipavska Dolina. And finally, an iconic example of the most planted grape in Croatia. The borders move around, but the land and people often don’t.

Antun Adžic
Antun Adžić

In 1993, Željko Adžić scored for the Croatian National soccer team and helped defeat Ukraine 3-1 — hero status in Croatia! In 1998, he left soccer to follow his larger passion for making wine in Kutjevo (interior Croatia), working with his father Antun full time. Slightly prior to 1993, Cistercian monks founded a winery in Kutjevo in 1232. It still stands and produces Graševina (Grash-eh-veena), the most planted grape in Croatia. The Adžić family continues this tradition. Graševina is high in acidity, has great weight, and carries both residual sugar and botrytis well. In Kutjevo, where large portions and hospitality reign supreme, it makes the local “Švargla” (mixed pork scraps and trimmings with buckwheat and spices) taste refreshing. Back in the US, wherever there is BYOB at a killer ethnic restaurant, the 2017 Adžić Graševina is a bottle to bring.

Dimitri Brecevic
Dimitri Brečević and level of rainfall for each month of 2015

Piquentum is the classic tale of a son of a Frenchwoman (Jurançon) and an Istrian father making wine in an old Mussolini era concrete water tank. Pre water tank, Dimitri Brečević studied oenology in France and then worked harvests in Australia, New Zealand, Bordeaux, and Burgundy. In 2004 he settled in Buzet, Croatia and founded Piquentum — the town’s Latin name. The focus is on native grapes like Malvazija Istarska, Teran and Refošk and a humble commitment to better understanding the red iron rich “Terra Rossa” and white marl/karst soils of Istria. Water is another focus, and he’s changed his labels to literally show the level of rainfall in liters from October of the previous year to September harvest. Reading left to right, you can immediately get a sense of the whole vintage. Back to the wines, the Teran and Refošk are the perfect matchs for my personal favorite, and somewhat unofficial, Croatian hair of the dog called “Istarska supa.” A slightly warmed broth of red wine, toasted country bread, olive oil, sugar, and black pepper. Brings you back to life. The Malvazija Istarska, despite only 2-3 days maceration, is like opening your car window in Buzet — salt and forest. It also hints at Istria being ground zero for truffles and olive oil in Croatia.

In the vineyard with Miha Batic
In the vineyard with Miha Batič

The Batič family has been making wines since 1592. Wedged between Italy, Austria, Hungary, and Croatia, the Vipavska Dolina (Vipava Valley) lies within the Primorje wine growing region of Western Slovenia, right along the Italian border. When you drive up, the lush diversity of the Demeter Certified vineyards are palpable. We were once warned never to trust a quiet vineyard. At Batič, you have to shout over the birds and bugs to hear one another. Miha and his father Ivan make a range of wines from slightly macerated, macerated co-fermentations (open vat), a rare Cabernet Franc (only certain vintages) and a passito like barrel aged white blend. My last visit was mainly listening to Led Zeppelin on vinyl, tasting other wines from the appellation in concert with his own, walking vineyards overlooking the valley, and eating a Slovenian surf and turf given their proximity to both the Julian Alps and the Mediterranean. All of the wines worked with everything and were as bright as the ingredients were fresh. Quantities are very limited.

Stoka father and son
Primož and Tadej Štoka and a glass of Teran Petnat

For over 200 years, the Štoka farm has been nestled northeast of Trieste about 5 miles from the Adriatic in the village of Krajna Vas. The Kras, or “Carso” as it is called in nearby Italy, is Europe’s first recognized cross border wine region where only 600 hectares of vines are planted between the two countries. The tiny amount of fertile soil is the result of various human and natural events. Old oak forests dominated the land until the Venetians deforested nearly everything. Erosion and the famously strong “burja” winds caused huge amounts of topsoil to simply blow away. People learned how to build stonewalls called “griže” to protect against the wind and small manmade lakes to gather rain called “kali” to keep crops alive. The confluence of these factors plus the Maraska cherry orchards and ubiquitous Istarski pršut (prosciutto) hanging from every rafter make you see and smell the flavors of the wines all around you. Plenty of acid for sparkling wines, enough ripeness for extended maceration, and despite looking rich in the glass, the alcohol levels are counterintuitively low. Deft pairing wines that has that otherness without losing the deliciousness. One brand new addition is the “Teranov Liker.” This is an aromatized Refošk, slightly boiled with cinnamon and cloves in the Apéritif/digestif vein.

Crnko cellar
In the Črnko cellar

The 2017 Črnko Jereninčan is our house white. It pulls together many of things we’ve become addicted to in Viennese Gemischter Satz and adds some spice and bright aromatics from Štajerska all in a crown capped liter. The main grapes in play are Laški Rizling (aka Graševina), Sauvignon Blanc, and Rizvanec (Müller-Thurgau) but there are many muscat family grapes and others as well. Until 1918 this area was known as Lower Styria (formally Austria) and had been for many centuries. Grapes have been cultivated here for over 2,000 years alongside famed aromatic hop fields and rich pumpkin seed oil. In addition to wine, Silvo also raises a variety of livestock for milk, meat, cheese and eggs. The family also preserves and pickles a wide range of fruits and vegetables from their own garden and orchards and bakes bread daily from grains they grow and mill themselves. All in all, this is a liter that keeps us connected to the proud culture of always having a hand harvested table wine made with the same honesty and attention to detail as a single vineyard selection.

France Martincic
In the cellar with France Martinčič

No discussion of quality table wines is complete without mentioning the 2017 Martinčič Cviček. The name Cviček (Zvee-Check) is basically Slovenian for “very sour wine.” Hailing from southern Slovenia in the Dolenjsko region, Cviček is a blend of native red and white varieties (Kraljevina, Laški Riesling, Sylvaner, Žlahtnina, Ranfol, Lipna, Žametovka, Franconian, Portugalka etc…) that cannot exceed 10% alcohol and must be dry. The color looks like something in between a Poulsard and cherry juice. Cviček is typically served slightly chilled with traditional Dolenjsko dishes like “štruklji” (rolled dumplings), suckling pig, “krvavice” (blood suasages), a St. Martin’s goose with “mlinci” (Slovene pasta), cured meat dishes, etc. Jernej Martinčič’s grandfather France likens the family wines as “Better less and better.” Sums of Cviček perfectly.