Not so long ago, very few Americans knew about Croatia. Now, with Croatia’s outstanding accomplishment at the World Cup, everybody is talking about the smallest country to compete in a World Cup final since 1950. Plus if you like friendly people, crystal-clear waters, secluded beaches, ancient architecture, and great food and wine, Croatia has really plenty to offer.
Milos is considered one of the first “cult” producers of Croatia, and Plavac Mali, one of the country’s most important red grapes used to make both rosé and robust, age-worthy dry red wines. This rosé wine is made in traditional fashion, eschewing stainless steel for open top fermenters and barrels. Flavors of sweet berry and cherry ride high on fresh acidity, followed by a touch of bitterness on the finish. Unlike many parts of the world, enjoying rosé is not new to Croatians.
The producer of this wine, Alen Bibić, is a champion of the Debit grape and on a mission to bring it to the world’s attention. It’s often a high-yielding grape, capable of producing a neutral blending wine with low acidity, but in the case of this bottle, there’s lots to enjoy. The wine showed as crisp and dry with a little palate weight and broadness on the finish. Another food-friendly example.
Whenever I hear Pétillant-naturel, methode ancestrale, Pét-nat, or even Peneče, I don’t immediately think Loire, I think Berkeley. Back in 2011 while working harvest for Donkey and Goat Winery, this was the first year they made Lily’s Pét-nat. Leading up to this, I remember experiments of filling up beer bottles by hand with rough estimates of what would happen post crown cap (residual sugar, yeast populations etc…). Often, while doing other winery work, bottles could be heard exploding like distant artillery fire. It was during this time I really got a sense for what gross lees smell, taste and feel like. Eventually, they figured it out and I discovered how great wines like this could be as well.
For Blue Danube, it was only a matter of time before the huge array of Central/Eastern European high acid grapes would eventually lend themselves to the oldest way of making sparkling wine. Štoka was the first to lead the charge with Teran and Vitovska from the Kras appellation in Slovenia.
Tadej and Primož Štoka already produced a traditional method cave aged sparkling Teran. They knew Teran had the acidity and balance but had to reverse engineer a few things for a pét-nat. The Vitovska on the other hand, was usually skin-macerated and often with whole berries in barrel for up to 10 months. That said, the parent grapes are Glera (aka Prosecco) and Malvasia Bianca. There’s been talk of some sparkling wines made from both. With a few vintages behind the Štoka family, we are happy to have the 2017s to share with you.
The Vitovska has some tropical hints but is then intensely herbal, stony and dry. Makes me want to eat Jota – think Slovenian bean, pork and Sauerkraut hotpot. The Teran Rosé is similar to the Marasca Cherry orchards surrounding the vineyards. Tart, bright and yet still ripe. The Teran is the destroyer of all things bloody. Rare meats, charcuterie, and of course blood sausage to name a few. They are great compliments to the increasing range of Pét-nats from around the world.
Speaking of sparkling wines from around the world, I’ll end with a shameless plug for two other favorites. From Tokaj, Kikelet‘s 2013 Pezsgő Brut (100% Hárslevelű). One of the very few grower producers of traditional method wines in the whole appellation. Volcanic, bright and unique. From Somló, Kreinbacher has a traditional method Brut and lower dosage Prestige from certified organic and basalt ridden vineyards. Smoke, stone fruit and harnessing the acidity of Furmint.
A central lesson of the Iliad is the terrifying fragility of the things that bring us together, and the importance of safeguarding them. In that spirit, it becomes a wonderful book to cook from, and turns out to be full of scenes of communality where the Greek troops mark events of social and religious significance with feasting and drinking wine.
To eat like Achilles, she invented an Homeric grilling-and-skewering technique with a boneless leg of lamb, wrapped in pork belly. But how to find wines that tasted like the ones mentioned by Homer?
In the Iliad, we learn that the wines are coming from ancient regions like Thrace, a large area in Eastern and Southeastern Europe, bounded by the Balkan Mountains to the north, the Aegean Sea to the south and the Black Sea to the east. She consulted with a couple of wine directors including Patrick Cournot of Ruffian Wine & Food in Manhattan’s East Village and found some startlingly delicious bottles that went perfectly with the grilled meat.
This wine from the Republic of Georgia is aged in clay vessels buried beneath the ground, as wine was in Homer’s time. Instead of artificial refrigeration, the Gotsa vineyard uses water flowing from the nearby mountains to create a cooler environment for fermentation, technology that would have been available in antiquity.
“So, get together with friends this weekend, folks, grill, and drink wine,” concludes Valerie Stivers. “It’s what makes us human. Reading the Iliad out loud is fun but optional.”
Pétillant Naturel, or Pét-Nat for short, is a modern trend but its origin is not so new. Pét-Nats are made using the Méthode Ancestrale, the oldest way of making sparkling wines. It dates back to the 16th century and was invented by monks in the Limoux region in southwestern France. The wine is bottled before finishing its fermentation, allowing a second fermentation to naturally occur in the bottle using the residual sugar. The sediments are not removed and the wine is not filtered, producing a light and fizzy wine, often cloudy, due to the remaining lees and lack of filtration. Enjoy the fresh and lively Štoka Pét-Nats, White, Rosé, Red, made from the Slovenian grapes Vitovska and Teran.
Méthode Champenoise produces sparkling wine by creating a second fermentation in bottle. The second fermentation is accomplished by adding a mixture of sugar and yeast to still wine. The wine is then bottled, capped, and aged on its lees for several months, which develops texture and complexity. When the wine is ready, the neck of the bottle is frozen in order to remove the sediments. The cap is removed and the frozen sediments shoot out of the pressurized bottle. In Hungary, Kreinbacher combines the traditions of Champagne with Somlo’s distinctiveness. In Tokaj, Kikelet and Patricius use Hárslevelű and Furmint to make Brut wines with great depth. In Croatia, BIBICh makes two fine and fruitful Brut and Brut Rosé from local Dalmatian varieties.
Méthode Charmat was invented by Jean-Eugène Charmat in 1907. Like the Méthode Champenoise, the Charmat method uses two fermentations but here, the second fermentation happens in a large stainless steel tank rather than in the bottle. Therefore, the resulting wine has less contact with the lees and is more fruity. This is a good way to make sparkling wines from aromatic grape varieties as it preserves the fresh aromas of the grapes. From Törley, the leading sparkling wine producer in Hungary, the aromatic Gala Sec and sweeter Fortuna are great alternative to Prosecco and Moscato d’Asti.
Pošip (pronounced poe-ship) is a grape that grows predominantly in the Dalmatian region of Croatia and is indigenous to the island of Korcula. The grape is capable of reaching very high sugar levels so it’s no small feat that this bottling is full of ripe fruit flavors but remains light and crisp. Perfect to drink with anything pulled from the sea! The “special” bottling is from younger vines from the Toreta property.
Frano Banicević is the young winemaker of Toreta, a winery founded by his great grandfather. Today, he farms roughly 5 hectares of Pošip in Korčula’s Smokvica area, not far from Pošip’s birthplace. His wines are incredibly well-balanced and of course absolutely seafood-friendly. Try also his Pošip Premium, a fuller wine made from older vines, and his Pošip Sur Lie, a wine with lots of depth and complexity.
Follow Caroline’s lead and get some Toreta Pošip and lobster this summer! She is on Instagram and you can also check out her latest posts on her blog.
Charine Tan and Dr Matthew Horkey, the duo behind Exotic Wine Travel, have just released part 4 of their 4-part series about Istria. it’s a great video that will introduce you to Istria’s gastronomic treasures, the region’s wines from Teran and Malvazija, and a few organic winemakers including Dimitri Brečević from Piquentum.
“Piquentum wines are made with little or no intervention,” narrates Matthew Horkey. “They’re fermented with native yeast. We’re usually fond of the Piquentum Teran and Refosk but today we’re very impressed by his Sv. Vital Malvazija. It’s a reserve wine made from vines over 40 years of age.”
Malvazija Istarska is one of the oldest Croatian grape varieties. Being grown in the Istrian peninsula since the ancient Greeks, it produces fresh and mineral white wines of floral and citrus character. But the quality of Malvazija wines greatly depends on the terroir.
Characterized by medium-deep red soil, the Sv. Vital terroir is rich in bauxite and planted with 40-year-old vines that are farmed organically. The climate is Mediterranean with hot and dry summers tempered by the sea. On the label, the dots represent the level of rainfall from October of the previous year to September, month of the harvest.
After a short maceration, the Malvazija grapes go though a spontaneous fermentation and then are aged 12 months in oak barrel.
Showing a deep golden color, the wine is rich, smoky, savory, with a vibrant acidity and an incredibly silky texture on the palate. It’s a very special wine made in very limited quantities (only 1245 bottles produced). The wine is great with seafood of course but try it also with mushroom-based dishes (especially truffles) and soft washed-rind cheese.
And don’t forget to watch Charine Tan and Dr Matthew Horkey’s video. They will take you on a spearfishing trip in the Adriatic Sea and to one of the most famous Istrian restaurants. You’ll also meet a few of the best Istrian winemakers in their cellars and their vineyards:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Just a few weeks ago, the Blue Danube Wine Co. team was happy to visit the beautifully preserved Shavnabada Monastery and taste its traditionally made wines with winemaker Giorgi Abramashvili.
Shavnabada Monastery is a medieval Georgian Orthodox monastery on top of a mountain of the same name. Located 15 miles south of Tbilisi, it was built in honor of St. George who, according to legend, wore a black cloak (shavi nabadi in Georgian) when leading the armies of the King of Georgia.
The monastery has also been renowned for its wines made by the Monks and aged in traditional qvevris.
Today, Giorgi Abramashvili is in charge of the winemaking with the help of the Monks. The monastery owns vineyards in the Kakheti wine region in Eastern Georgia that are organically farmed under the supervision of the Monks. It also uses grapes from nearby vineyards owned by friends.
After the harvest, the grapes are foot trodden in the “Satsnakheli”, a traditional wooden press, and then poured into qvevris where they macerate with their skins. In the monastery’s marani (cellar), the wines can age in qvevri for many years, sometimes up to twelve years like the 2003 Rkatsiteli.
The monastery has its own beehives and makes beeswax that they use to seal bottles and make church candles. They also make some delicious honey.
The Shavnabada Rkatsiteli 2007 underwent a 5-month maceration and then spent 9 years buried in earth. This amazing deep golden wine opens up to honeyed, nutty aromas and long-lasting savory flavors. It is remarkable that after all these years in qvevri, there’s still lots of freshness in its mouth-filling texture. It is the kind of wine you want with aged cheese, grilled spice-rubbed meat, or a walnut-based dish like Chicken with Satsivi (Georgian walnut sauce).
Saperavi, one of Georgia’s oldest grape varieties, usually produces serious, deep-colored wines with high acidity and tannin. But two Frenchmen, Vincent Jullien et Guillaume Gouerou, have decided to transform the varietal into a fresh and fun wine Beaujolais-style. This Saperavi is called Lapati Super Ravi , a pun that means “very happy” in French.
Aged in qvevri, Super Ravi is fully Georgian but with a French twist, as it is vinified using carbonic maceration like in Beaujolais. Whole clusters were fermented for 2 weeks with carbonic gas then destemmed and crushed after 2 weeks. The final juice was aged in qvevri for 6 months before being bottled.
The resulting wine is lively and fruity with low tannins. Best enjoyed with friends and slightly chilled, it will make you cheerful and super ravi. Santé! Gaumarjos!