A special issue of Wine & Spirits Magazine featured conversations and tastings with 50 sommeliers, critics and wine educators.
One of the articles was an interview of Beverage Director & Wine Buyer John Aranza by the magazine’s wine writer Tara Q. Thomas:
“Dingac is to Croatia as Chianti is to Tuscany,” Aranza says. The country’s first officially recognized appellation, it sits on the west coast of the Pelješac Peninsula, the vineyards perched high up on cliffs at such extreme angles that donkey-pulled carts are the only vehicles allowed among the vines. Old vines and warm, southern Mediterranean climate mark the flavors of this wine, “very ripe, with lush fruit, exotic spices and smoke, all entangled with a backbone of acid,” Aranza says. “Dingac has always been the finest wine of Croatia. I’ve had vintages eighteen years old still showing beautifully. If there’s a defining wine for Croatia, it’s this grape and place.”
Read the whole article here and click here to buy and enjoy one of the finest wines of Croatia!
Another contribution from our friend Marcy Gordon. Marcy is a freelance travel writer, who publishes in a variety of publications, and the Forbes Travel Guide Corespondent for Napa and Sonoma. In April, Marcy joined the Blue Danube Wine team for two weeks in Dalmatia, Croatia.
ROAD TRIP SERIES: CROATIA/BOSNIA & HERZEGOVINA
Of course almost all winemakers are highly passionate about their craft no matter where they are from. But I found the people I met in Croatia and Bosnia Herzegovina were deeply vested in their land and wines in an almost spiritual way.
One of our first visits was to Brkic Winery in Citluk – Bosnia & Herzegovina.
Josip Brkic is a shining example of a winemaker whose wines embody a philosophy that goes beyond mere passion for wine making. It’s a philosophy of life as well. The vineyards, grapes and wines are regarded as members of the family.
We sat down to taste several of the Brkic wines and listen to Josip tell his story.
Fifteen years ago Josip Brkic had an epiphany and it changed the course of his life and the trajectory of his wine making. While exhibiting at an Italian wine expo he learned about biodynamic practices and fell in love with the concept. Up to that point says Brik “I was not thinking of the wine as a living thing, only as a product.” He realized how one farmed and approached the land was a long-term vision that needed to be fully embraced.
After his father died, Josip took over the winery and against all conventional wisdom, and the advice of others, he set out on a new path to convert the vineyards to be fully organic and biodynamic. His goal was to showcase the wine as a document of the year in as pure a manner as possible.
The freedom of the moment, realizing that he alone was making the decision with no one telling him what to do, was thrilling but challenging. Brkic found going organic is risky, and not for everyone. With great changes, came great challenges. All biodynamic vines are organic, but not all organic vines are biodynamic. Brik wanted both.
Converting to all organic practices is a difficult for a vineyard, explained Brkic. “It’s as if the vineyards are addicts that have been on drugs and the new practices presented a shock to them.” It takes time to convert them without stressing them out. But Brik stayed the course and slowly nurtured the vines to a new reality.
As Brkic spoke, a family member translated from Bosnian for us. I focused on Josip’s voice and all of a sudden I felt like I could understand his words completely without translation. Perhaps the wines imbued me with some type of mystical language abilities. I don’t know. I suggest you try some for yourself and see what happens.
When I sampled the wines, it became clear, everything I needed to know about Josip Brkic was there in the glass. Josip’s personal creed and promise also appears on all the labels — “I will make wines like this or I will not make them at all.”
If you find yourself in Bosnia & Herzegovina by all means make the pilgrimage to Brkic tasting room in Citulk. It’s well worth the trip.
Unfortunately I spilled wine on my notebook towards the end of the trip so I can barely read my tasting notes. But here is what I could decipher:
Zilavka 2015: (zhee-lav-ka) Fresh, creamy, bright and light, with full flavors of pear and quince, and notes of limestone and thyme. Pretty, floral nose. Friendly and approachable style.
Greda 2010: An orange wine made from skin macerated Zilavka and aged for 2 years in oak – texture is the name of the game here. Greda is name of the vineyard. Very mellowed orange style wine with long lasting flavors of mead, almonds, orange peel — Absolutely loved this wine!
Mjesecar 2013: 100% Zilavka. Limited production, numbered bottles. You’ll have to go to Bosnia & Herzegovina for this one, but it is well worth the trip! Named “Moonwalker” after the cycles of the moon in biodynamic charts, not after Michael Jackson and his moonwalking moves as rumor has it.
Rose 2014: Lovely and light, his first time making a rose.
Plava Greda 2013: 100% Blatina fresh and juicy red fruits with a lively minerality. Soft and elegant with long finish. Would be great to pair with smoked meats.
Following the trace of Sisi, the beloved Empress of Austria and Queen of Hungary, we crossed the Erzsébet híd (Elisabeth Bridge) in Budapest and drove up the Danube River to Vienna. Contrary to Budapest, the inner city of Vienna is not exactly on the Danube but borders the Danube Canal, a smaller arm of the river. But one of the most scenic stretches of the river can be experienced just an hour from Vienna, in the Wachau. It’s a UNESCO world heritage site that lies in the Danube Valley between the towns of Melk and Krems. Driving along the river, you can admire baroque towns and monasteries, quaint villages, ruins of medieval castles and steep terraced vineyards planted with Riesling and Grüner Veltliner.
Facing Krems on the other side of the river is the small wine village of Oberfucha, home to the Maier family, who has been producing wines for 15 generations. We were welcomed by Ilse, her son Josef and his wife Maria. Baby Matthis, Maria and Josef’s new son, was still sleeping.
First, Josef took us for a tour of the Kirchensteig (path to the church) vineyard just behind the house. While walking in the vineyard, Josef explained the organic farming philosophy that Ilse first introduced when she took over from her father and that Josef has adopted as well.
First, it is important to respect the region’s natural diversity of terroirs: primary rocks, gravels, granite, loess, clay. Weed between the vines is removed by hand and clover is planted every other row to naturally increases soil nitrogen. The soil is loose and nicely moist underneath. Fruit trees grow among the vines. Local wildlife is welcome. We even saw a little frog jumping among the rows.
Back to the house, Josef took us to the old cellar where bottles covered with mold are peacefully aging. They seem very old but not older than 1947: the estate was occupied by the Russian army right after the war and the soldiers unfortunately drank all the wine they coud find.
After the visit of the cellar, we were ready for some wine tasting. Matthis was awake from his nap and joined us for a few minutes. Since we had talked about the different terroirs surrounding the property, Josef brought a selection of Grüner Veltliner wines from various vineyards for us to compare.
First, we tasted the Grüner Veltliner StockWerk that is sourced from granulite and tertiary gravel. Low in alcohol (11.6%), it was lively, light and fruity. The Grüner Veltliner Rosensteig comes from a vineyard on a slope near the Danube with alluvial soil and gravels. The wine is mineral, spicy, with very good acidity. It’s my favorite wine at home with Dungeness crab. The Grüner Veltliner Hoher Rain comes from a vineyard with soils of clay and sand. Very different from the Rosensteig, it has a lower acidity with rich flavors and a good concentration. The Grüner Veltliner Wildwux comes from loess and sandy loam soils. It’s herbal, mineral, with more acidity than the Hoher Rain, and a nice concentration.
While there’s a inherent distinctiveness to Grüner Veltliner wines, it was fascinating to experience the multiple facets of the grape and the influence of the different terroirs. We left Josef and his lovely family not only feeling that we had gained more insight into the Grüner Veltliner grape but also with a jar of Acacia honey from Maria’s bees.
It is Wine Wednesday and my family and I are in Tokaj, visiting Samuel and Mathilde Tinon. The day is sunny and warm, which is excellent news for the ripening of the grapes. Thanks to the rainfall we had two days ago, the soil has now the right moisture, which will allow the botrytis to develop on the berries: 2016 is going to be a good year!
Samuel takes us to the famed Hatari vineyard up the hill with glasses and a bottle of dry Hatari Furmint 2015. The wine is rich and concentrated like the berries that we taste from the vines that has not been harvested yet, as they will be saved for the Aszú production.
Back to the Tinons’ house, we’re greeted by Mathilde with 2 pitchers of fresh water and 2 bottles of dry and sweet Szamorodni.
Both are exquisite wines with a unctuous texture and great complexity. The dry version leaves a taste of walnut and curry spices and is delicious with the pieces of Comté cheese that Mathilde has prepared.
The sweet version is rich in sugar but perfectly balanced thanks to its acidity. Mathilde explains to us that sweet Tokaji shouldn’t be restricted to desserts. She recommends a slowly cooked meat with the wine. I am thinking a roasted duck.
It was getting late and it was time to say goodbye as we wanted to visit the town of Tokaj before the night. So thank you Samuel and Mathilde for this fabulous afternoon!
StockWerk is a real project of the next generation at Geyerhof (we are the 15th generation of the family). Maria had the idea of the name and the label. Generally the label should show how organic viticulture works. In German, StockWerk means the work (Werk) on the vine (Stock). Of course the vine is in the middle, but in an organic farm, there is also a strong focus on the surrounding. For us, it was very important that the vine was not drawn bigger than the cover plants around it, because for the ecosystem, they have the same importance. The secret little helpers stand for all the manual work in our vineyards. But the label should also show the projects of Maria and me:
In the right corner you can see bees. Maria’s father has been a beekeeper for 30 years and so Maria started to have bees two years ago. Beekeeping is a combination of handcraft, luck, patience, and a deep interest in the course of nature. Just as in viticulture, it is vital to observe and intervene with a guiding hand only at the right moment. The measures to be taken are highly dependent on the life cycle of each individual bee colony. Surplus honey is taken without depleting the vital resources of the bee colony. Abstinence from pesticides on our croplands and in our vineyards is integrated into the biologically diverse landscape surrounding our village Oberfucha, providing ideal preconditions for healthy and thriving bee colonies. Their profuse pollination activity contributes further to the expansion and preservation of biological diversity. This contribution to biological diversity was first initiated in our environmental project “wildwux” and has been further extended to include the establishment of our own apiculture. Of course, we are highly pleased to be able to offer one of the oldest and highly prized condiments in the world — fresh honey from the beehive.
In the left corner you can see cattle. In our area almost every farm had cattle. It was important to get manure for the fields but also to get meat or milk. Because of the intensification of agriculture nobody has cattle any more. The grasslands and meadows on the slopes in Oberfucha built habitats for numerous animal and plant species. These habitats are almost lost nowadays. A large share of these areas are threatened by overgrowth because they are no longer used as pastures for grazing animals. Last year we started to get cattle again and use the same pastureland as my grandparents did. This allows a return to the original vegetation and offer a habitat to a larger diversity of plants and animals. Our cattle lives on 7,5 acres and each cow has 5000 m² to graze, while all the food they get is produced on the Geyerhof.
Generally we think that light but characterful wines are the future. Both the Stockwerk Red and Stockwerk White come from cooler sites where it is possible to make light wines with a high ripeness as they start to produce sugar later and keep acidity better.
The StockWerk Grüner Veltliner comes from a new vineyard in Oberfucha, granulite and tertiary gravel, very cold, north-east oriented site, surrounded by sparse forests, close to our grazing-land with the wildwux-cattles. It has bright yellow-green highlights with aromas of fresh meadow herbs, fruity, fresh, lively, fine spice, light in alcohol — full drinking pleasure. The ideal drinking temperature is at 8-10°C (45-50°F). It pairs very well with light dishes and summer snacks.
The StockWerk Zweigelt comes from a vineyard with deep sandy soil, slope facing the east. It has delicate cherry aromas, lush, enjoyable richness, fine aroma structure, elegant, ideal supplement for meals, makes you fancy for more. The ideal drinking temperature is at 10-15°C (50-60°F). It pairs very well with venison, beef and pasta.
Everyone agrees: The BIBICh Debit from the 2015 vintage is particularly awesome!
Here is what wine professional Kerry Winslow has to say about it over at Grapelive:
The stainless steel fermented and aged Debit comes from rocky dry farmed and head trained vines, the warm days and sea cooled nights gives this wine its poise and flavor filled vitality it bursts from the glass with citrus, white flowers and tropical notes with a hint of flinty spice and wet stones. Bright tangerine, melon and peach lead the way along with mango, lemon/lime, basil leaf and a nice dry saltiness. This is a pleasing crisp wine with a nice balance of juicy fruit and brisk elements, great with sea food, salads and just plain summer sipping! Debit is an interesting grape, it hasn’t been studied, though some claim it might be related to Italy’s Trebbiano, I find it more similar to Pecorino, and it drinks a little like a fine Soave, though less floral, the terroir influence makes it unique and clearly Bibich has it nailed, this is lovely stuff.
91 Points, grapelive
A great video from our friend Marcy Gordon! All the food, wine, rakija, vineyards, amazing views and wonderful people from the Epic Blue Danube Wine Roadtrip through Dalmatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina in April 2016:
British-born and wine lover Paul Bradbury — who has made the island of Hvar his adopted homeland — recently launched Total Croatia Wine, a new website dedicated to Croatian wine tourism, winemakers, wine festivals and wine shops and bars. The site has also a useful section on indigenous Croatian grapes, including this article on Bogdanjuša, a unique white grape varietal native to the island.
If you’ve never been on the Croatian island of Hvar, you’ve probably never had Bogdanuša wine, an autochthonous white wine, found almost exclusively on that island – that has been, as legend has it, grown there since the time of the ancient Greeks. Originally found on the Stari Grad Plain, a cultural landscape protected by UNESCO that has remained practically intact since it was first colonized by Greeks in the 4th century BC and where vines were one of the major crops, along with the olives. It is a white wine of a very rich greenish-yellow colour, unexpectedly fresh taste (with just the right amount of bitterness that is rarely found in other wines from the Croatian islands) and quite low alcohol content, almost always around 12%. Those that like bogdanuša will tell you that its taste reminds them of the lavender that has also been traditionally grown in Stari Grad Plain, alongside the vines.
Vina Carić is one of the best Bogdanjuša producers on Hvar. It was nice to retaste its 2015 Bogdanjuša with other Blue Danubians and friends this weekend. With less than 11% alcohol, the wine is light and airy, fresh and crisp, with a smell of dried mediterranean herbs.
Contributed by Marcy Gordon. Marcy is a freelance travel writer, published in a variety of publications, and the Forbes Travel Guide Corespondent for Napa and Sonoma. She is also the Founder and Executive Director of Writing Between the Vines — Vineyard Retreats for Writers — A literary arts foundation providing residencies for writers on vineyard estates around the world. In April, Marcy joined the Blue Danube Wine team for two weeks in Dalmatia, Croatia.
Back in April I embarked on an epic two-week road trip through Dalmatia in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina with Frank Dietrich, Catherine Granger and Gisele Carig of the Blue Danube Wine team. This post kicks off my blog series that will recount all the extraordinary locations, people, vineyards, wine, food and vistas and adventures from the journey.
I would argue that a road trip is the best way to really experience a place. Sure you can travel by train or bus or boat, but to really get off the proverbial beaten track to truly go deep into a place and get into all sorts of adventures and tight spots (literally!) — you need to have a car. All of the best travel experiences I’ve ever had (both good and hair-raising) were with a foreign car in a foreign land.
Možeš, možeš — You Can Do It!
But things can go wrong in a jiffy on a road trip — getting lost is a mainstay of road trips, and getting in and out of tight spaces where cars don’t belong comes with the territory. Our very first day we were blocked in parking lot by other cars until a few helpful locals simply picked up the other car allowing us room to pass.
We learned our first and most important Croatian phrase: Možeš možeš. Možeš ti to (You can do it!) Along with a few Polako, polako’s (slowly, slowly) we were on our way to the first appointment.
Yes, having a car is more trouble. Yes, you will get lost. Yes, finding parking may be impossible. Yes, you may find yourself where no car had gone before — but the rewards are greater too.
For efficiency sake during the trip we all took on specific roles. Frank—leader and key negotiator. Catherine—navigator and relief driver. Gisele—client liaison and schedule keeper. Me? I was more than ballast, I have skills too ya know. I’m designated as the Rakija Queen and gladly step forward to take one for the team whenever the potent schnapps is presented. Trust me in Croatia it’s a very important role.
So fasten your seat belts, and follow along as I file reports for the Blue Danube Wine blog about the trip from Split/Torgir to Dubrovnik, Korcula, Ston, Kastela, Hvar, Skradin, plus Bosnia and Herzegovina and the places in between.
All photos courtesy of Marcy Gordon. Browse all Croatian wines here.
The story started with a photo of the Jewish cemetery in Mád, Tokaj. The photo can be found on Gabor and Carolyn Banfalvi’s food and wine tour website Taste Hungary, where they offer a Tokaj Jewish Heritage & Wine Tour. The photo shows headstones with names of local Jewish families including the Zimmermanns who owned a property in Mád, today the location of the Royal Tokaji winery. Beverly Fox and her mother Zsuzsanna Zimmermann — a Hungarian-American Holocaust survivor who is now called Susy Oster — recognized the cemetery and also one of the nearby buildings in front of a war monument as Zsuzsanna’s childhood house before she was deported in 1944 with her mother Blanka.
In fact, Oster still has a postcard of the monument and the house. But on Royal Tokaji’s website, in the section on the winery’s history, there was a mysterious gap between the 1700s and the Communist and post-Communist eras. After this surprising historic find, the family approached the company.
After a year of hard negotiations, Royal Tokaji has finally revised its historical section and on June 24 2016, unveiled two plaques on one of the exterior walls of the winery:
“This was the home of Miklos and Blanka Zimmermann and their two children,” one of them reads, in engraved Hungarian and English. Miklos “was engaged in the cultivation, production, and marketing of Tokaj wines, like generations of his family before him, dating from the early 1800s. In May 1944, the family was deported to Auschwitz along with other Jewish families of Mád. Blanka died in Auschwitz on October 16, 1944.”
According to Gabor Banfalvi, who was with the Zimmermans at the ceremony, “The Jewish and cosmopolitan connection of Tokaj is a key factor in understanding how the wine trade before WWII used to work and why Tokaj was so successful. It was a very export oriented trade with dozens of ethnicities involved. These days Hungarians are looking for their old and lost traditions and actually one of the most important tradition that we used to have was the colorful ethnic and religious social structure of the country. This is important for everybody to know in order to step forward and the Zimmermans deserve some credit for taking part in this.”
This is a fascinating story. Read all the details here.