Can you list 25 things that you know about Croatian wine? If you’re not sure but love the wines, Total Croatia New has compiled a fascinating list.
Here is #1:
1. Tribidrag – one of the great red noble grape varieties of the world, known as Zinfandel in California as well as Primitivo in the south of Italy, hails from Croatia, more precisely from Dalmatia, where it is known as Crljenak Kaštelanski and Pribidrag or Tribidrag. New vineyards have been planted over the past decade and the most notable producers include Bedalov and Vuina from Kašela, Mimica from Omiš, Rizman from Komarna and Stina from the Island of Brač.
and #21 features a familiar person:
21. Alen Bibić – of Bibich winery from Plastovo, near Skradin in Northern Dalmatia is probably the most versatile gastro & wine figure in Croatia encompassing wine production, fantastic private restaurant, great marketing skills while making some of the most expensive wines in Croatia and at the same time selling the largest portion of his production in the Unites States. Anthony Bourdain visited Bibich winery and famously proclaimed “Why, oh why, is there so much amazing wine in this country?”.
There are a slew of brand new producers from Hungary landing in the coming months. For many, this will be their very first time in the United States. This is of course an exciting and somewhat terrifying proposition. How will a Kéknyelű from Badacsony be received? Traditional Method sparkling Furmint from outside of Tokaj? Hárslevelű with Benedictine roots planted on a Basalt volcano? I have no idea and I can’t wait to get started.
Upon our last visit to the Hungarian appellation of Somló we were fortunate enough to run into Zoltán Balogh from Apátsági Winery. Their estate and cellar were originally owned by the Benedictine Pannonhalma Archabbey. After WWII, the land was expropriated and redistributed during Communism. It was brought back to life in 2001 with 5 people (including the grandson of the last winemaker before the war), 3 hectares, no herbicides, no pesticides, and using large oak fermenters. Their 2013 Hárslevelű exemplifies what Zoltán admires about the appellation as a whole, “When you have Somló acid, why not find balance with sugar.” A concentrated and alive wine.
Speaking of acid, but without skin contact and botrytis, Somló is also home to Kreinbacher. While they do make some still wines, their overarching specialty is traditional method sparkling wines. Not surprisingly influenced by Champagne (they even use Coquard presses from Champagne), but the focus is on Furmint. They’ve also selected growers on the cooler, windier eastern slopes that aren’t often affected by botrytis. The goal is zero botrytis while focusing on the salty smoke of Somló and the acidity of Furmint. To start, we’ll be introducing the Extra Dry (16 g/l dosage) and Classic (10 g/l dosage). Between Kreinbacher, Apátsági, Fekete Béla and Spiegelberg, you can finally build that Somló section on the wine list you’ve been holding out on.
Lastly, we are finally venturing into the giant Balaton region for the first time. Lake Balaton is more like a small ocean (48 miles long, 8.7 miles wide) south west of Budapest (an hour south of Somló) and has been covered in vines since the 1st Century. It’s also checkered with Volcanic Buttes that are often referred to “organ pipes.” Imagine Monument Valley or Devils Postpile covered in grapes overlooking a massive lake. It’s a stunning place to make wine and it makes sense. The lake prevents extreme weather, reflects light and heat, and provides the fish that go with the wines.
One of the 6 appellations of Balaton is called Badacsony and where we find Csendes Dűlő Szőlőbirtok. This is also the only place where the white Kéknyelű grape is grown. Along with Olaszrizling, Szürkebarát (Pinot Gris), and Hárslevelű, Beáta and Dóra (mother and daughter) farm their 3 hectares without herbicides or pesticides. Where Somló is weighty and powerful, here the wines are a refreshing counterbalance without sacrificing the volcanic-ness and typicity of the grapes. To start we will be introducing their 2013 Kéknyelű and 2013 Hárslevelű.
I hope you’ll get a chance to taste these wines soon.
This is a juicy spicy kick of dark fruits with bright acidity and firm tannins. There are two protected wine growing regions in southern Dalmatia– Postup and Dingač. And it can get a little confusing with regard to the varietal names. While this wine is made of 100% Plavac Mali grapes the wine is called Postup, after the wine-growing region on the Pelješac Peninsula. Also confusing is that Dingač is the name of both the region and the winery, a former communist co-op from the time when the area was still known as Yugoslavia. The donkey on the label is not only cute, but symbolic of the rugged lands and steep slopes in which the vines grow, making hand harvesting a necessity.
But despite all the confusing names one thing is perfectly clear — the wine is delicious. It’s spicy and concentrated with a meatiness and hint of sage. Surprisingly it doesn’t drink like it’s 14.6 AVB! It’s bright indeed, but not hot. I love it and can’t wait to visit the winery when I tag along with the Blue Danube Wine team later this month.
Alex Halberstadt takes a bells and whistles culinary tour of Slovenia for Travel + Leisure. Starting with Kabaj Rebula and a bowl of Katja’s Jota. Read the whole article here.
Morel poured us his Rebula, an orange-hued white that smelled, improbably, of roses and tea. He ages the wine the way ancient Romans did: in clay amphorae lined with beeswax and buried in the ground. “Most orange wines are mistakes,” Morel said bluntly. His was not: I found it more delicate and fun to drink than most I’d had.
Try Kabaj Rebula, or try Amphora, the wine referenced in the article that is aged in clay amphora.
We think yes! The wines are truly distinct and the country is gorgeous. Tara Isabella Burton writes about her experience in Georgia for The Wall Street Journal. The entire original article can be read here.
Traveling through Georgia, the tiny post-Soviet country set between the Caucasus and the Black Sea, is always a metabolic endurance test. Wine, brandy, chacha—a grape-skin moonshine with the flavor of gasoline schnapps—all these are habitually, exuberantly, foisted upon any foreigner who sits still long enough. But in the country’s primary wine region of Kakheti—according to Georgians, the birthplace of wine itself—consumption seems to be the primary occupation.
Contributed by Christine Havens, Portland-based wine writer and former winemaker. Original review can be found here.
A country with an ancient wine growing and winemaking heritage, Georgia is little more than a blip on the radar of the American wine scene. I hope that will change with time, as I have been favorably impressed by the wines I’ve sampled thus far. Credited as the birthplace of viticulture and even vitis vinifera itself, the country is home to some 500 indigenous varieties, the most widely cultivated of which are Saperavi and Rkatsiteli. (Some years ago, my former mother-in-law had planted a few rows of Rkatsiteli, a think skinned, bronzy-pink white variety that seemed oddly out of place with our more conventional rows of Syrah, Cabernet and Chardonnay. But that is another story, for another time.)
The 2013 Kindzmarauli Marani Dry Red Saperavi offers up ripe, juicy plums, dried black cherries and earthy terra cotta notes. There is a pronounced but pleasant herbaceous note on the nose and palate, something akin to bay leaf or green wood intertwining a rather gorgeous structure trussed in firm tannins that are equally distributed across the palate. The mouthfeel of this wine is, in many ways reminiscent of Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s elegant, yet slightly rustic and better still, very reasonably priced.
Since April showers bring May flowers, what do May flowers bring? Floral wines, naturally. Enjoying aromatic wines is a sure-fire path to sensory pleasure. These five wines selected by our editors deliver vibrant floral bouquets—even if it’s raining outside.
There’s nothing obvious about this subtle and elegant wine.The nose holds back and the taut palate unfurls slowly to show a floral, fruity wine reminiscent of crimson peony petals as much as of dark, juicy cherries. A sensuous, intriguing wine of great elegance whose name means “Silk & Velvet.” —Anne Krebiehl
A few weeks ago I had the privilege of attending a potica baking workshop hosted by the Slovenian Hall in San Francisco. I knew that potica was an important, sweet staple for Slovenians but little else. When I saw the invitation, I jumped at the opportunity to learn more and have the chance to taste this delicacy prepared by local experts. I’m glad I did!
Potica (pronounced po-teet-sa), which roughly means “to wrap in” in Slovene, is a traditional cake often served at holiday celebrations, especially Easter. Every family has its favorite recipe but it is usually a rolled bread filled with a walnut paste. It can be shaped as a log, baked in a loaf pan or in a Bundt pan.
It was a fun afternoon featuring 3 different variations on the treat. I chose one to share with you here and hope that you will give it a try, perhaps as a snack along side a Slovenian wine?
1 c. plus 6 T. butter, melted and cooled
1 c. + 1 t. sugar
6 egg yolks
1-1/2 c. sour cream
2 packages dry yeast
3/4 c. warm milk
6 c. flour
1 t. salt
In a large bowl, combine the butter, sugar, egg yolks, and sour cream. Mix well.
In a small bowl, proof yeast in warm milk and sugar. Add yeast to the first mixture. Mix well.
Sift flour and salt. Add to the mixture in the large bowl and stir to combine. You should have a soft, sticky dough. Turn it out on a floured board and knead until smooth and elastic. Divide dough into four even balls and flatten them slightly. Wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate overnight.
2 pounds (about 6-1/2 cups) finely ground walnuts
1 c. sugar
1 T. cinnamon
dash of salt (optional)
1⁄2 cup melted butter
honey to taste, 1/2 to 1 cup
(Optional: dried cranberries or raisins)
It is easiest to use a floured cloth to roll out the dough. I like to cover the kitchen table with a tablecloth and then put a floured pillowcase in the center. The pillowcase provides a good guide for shaping and it can also be used to nudge the roll along.
Remove a ball of dough from refrigerator and place it on floured surface. Roll it into a rectangle. The dough should be thinner than pie crust but thicker than strudel or phyllo. I ended up with a 15 x 26 inch rectangle.
Spread the dough with 2 T. melted butter and a quarter of the nut/sugar mixture, which should be about 2 cups. Warm the honey in a saucepan of hot water to thin it slightly. Drizzle the dough with 2-4 T. of honey.
Roll up the dough, beginning from the short end. After every few turns, prick the dough with a fork to eliminate air bubbles. Pinch seam and ends closed and fold ends under. Place seam side down on baking sheet or rectangular pan that has been oiled or lined with parchment paper.
Repeat with remaining balls of dough, for a total of four loaves.
Let potica rise 1-1/4 hours. (Note: Loaves don’t rise much.) Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. If necessary, bake for 10 minutes more at 325 degrees. Let cool before slicing. To store, wrap in aluminum foil. Potica tastes better the next day. It stores well. It also freezes well.
For the past decade, wines from Central and Eastern Europe have been something of a sommelier secret stateside. The names can be hard to pronounce (hárslevelű, anyone?), but the best bottles offer exceptional value and tend to work extremely well with food.
Sommeliers and wine insiders have been raving about furmint for years. The grape, which is commonly used to make Hungary’s famous sweet wines, also makes an intriguing dry wine with medium- to full-body and high acidity (read: an ideal wine to pair with food).
Croatia may have initially gained some international fame for its red wines, but many sommeliers now feel that the white Malvasia coming out of the country is some of the best representations of the grape in Europe. When made in a dry style, it makes a crisp wine with some weight in the body, similar to dry Chenin Blanc.
Georgian wines can be tricky to pin down from producer to producer. Some are quite rustic and oxidative, while a growing number offer more polish. Natural wine converts prize the skin-fermented wines made in traditional clay qvevri (clay pots). A fair warning: the unusual orange colored wines are not to everyone’s taste, but are worth a try—maybe you’ll be the next super fan.
I would like to introduce you to the wine grape Otskhanuri Sapere.
Otskhanuri Sapere is one of the oldest red grapes in Georgia. It is believed that the grape originated from the village of “Otskhana” in the Guria region, in the western part of the country. Sapere loosely translates to “something you color with” in Georgian. So, it is known as “Otskana’s colorful” or Otskhanuri Sapere.
These days, the best examples of Otskhanuri Sapere are found in the districts of Baghdati, Zestaponi, and Terjola in the Imereti region of central Georgia. The grape can also be found in select locations in the Racha region of northern Georgia. It is also believed that while this grape is centuries old, it is maybe only 50% domesticated and 50% wild. Having seen the vineyard and tasted the grape, I can understand this belief. It also makes sense since Georgia is one of the few places left on Earth where “wild” wine grapes still exist.
One of the noble attributes of Otskhanuri Sapere is the high level of anthocyanins found in the grape. In short, this grape has crazy color and is used to boost the color of other wine grapes. On its own, this wine grape creates some of the darkest, deepest, densest wines that I have every come across. Tannat and Touriga Nacional wish that they were this dark! This wine is inky BLACK, with a gorgeous black purple hue. It stains everything it touches, including your glass. Treat this wine like you would beet juice, because it will show its dominance with anything that it comes into contact with.
I had the pleasure of being introduced to this wine grape on my trip to Georgia back in March of 2014. I was spending the day with winemaker and Renaissance man, Ramaz Nikoladze. He was kind enough to drive me around Imereti to visit a few producers that he works with and respects. On our last stop of the day, I remember him telling me that we were making one more stop and that “we going to visit very rare grape. Wild. Black.” After having tasted some inspirational white and amber wines all day, a black wine sounded like the perfect ending to a near perfect day.
Little did I know, as we entered the tiny village of Zeda Kldeeti, that I was about to be given one of the first tastes of a wine made from an extremely rare grape by Amiran Vepkhvadze. A wine that, to-date, is still the most haunting wine I have ever experienced.
Sometimes you meet a winemaker and their wines taste like their personality. Nothing could be further from the truth when it comes to Amiran and his lovely wife. We were warmly greeted at the entrance to their home, and they whisked us to the vineyard. Daylight was fleeting so we had to hike at a brisk pace in order to see the vineyard in good light. We crossed a football field (i.e. soccer field), a few orchards, and a couple of farmhouses until we came upon Amiran’s Otskhanuri Sapere vineyard.
At the first sight of this vineyard I thought; “these vines want to grow HIGH!” This could be another indication of the grapes “wild” origins. The fruiting zone is easily six feet off of the ground and looks like an ancient version of a pergola trellis system. Ramaz indicated that the vines love to climb and if Amiran had taller stakes, the vines would be even happier. As it turns out, this is one of the largest contiguous plantings of Otskhanuri Sapere in all of Georgia and it is probably only ½ an acre. Like I said, this is a very rare wine grape.
Back in the cellar, with dusk approaching, Amiran dutifully opened his qvevri for us to try his wine. Since it was March, I’m guessing that this was one of the first times he had opened it since harvest. There was lots of excitement and anticipation in the air. Even Ramaz had a twinkle in his eye. When Amiran dipped that first glass into the qvevri, it became glazed in a black-purple-ish liquid. I remember seeing the light shimmering off the top of the qvevri, unable to penetrate through. Christ, It looked like a tar pit or a vat of motor oil.
There are those special moments in the wine industry when a wine simply defies explanation. You might have tasted thousands of wines, but one leaves you stunned and speechless. You have no reference point for it. This was one of those times. This is a singular wine. It was the thickness of this wine that was really impressive, as were the bright acids, the stones, the flowery aromatics, and the creosote. It was all tightly woven into this milkshake-thick wine. Was this even wine? Have I ever really had wine until now? Questions and curiosities were flooding my head.
I walked over to the open window in the cellar and raised my stained glass to the last remaining light of the day to marvel at the color of this wine, to see the wine seem to defy gravity by completely coating the glass, not appearing to move. I had to take a moment away from everyone to wrap my head around what I was seeing, feeling, tasting, and experiencing. When I walked back over to the group, Amiran could see the confusion on my face and said one word to me. He said; “wild”. That was the most simple, poetic, and concise way to describe Otskhanuri Sapere. It is truly and literally “wild”.
As our whirlwind vineyard tour and tasting finished, our travel schedule left us very little time with Amiran and his wife. Much is still to be learned about this grape and I hope that on my next visit to Georgia, that I get to enjoy a meal with them so we can talk more about this hauntingly beautiful wine grape, one who’s origins are centuries old, but without having been tamed by time, man, or full domestication. Most importantly, I want to be able to thank them in person for sharing one of their first wines with me and to thank them for curating this wild wine grape.
As a wine professional, visiting Georgia feels like a religious pilgrimage. There is so much to learn by honoring the past, by understanding tradition, and by drinking what used to be and yet still is.
Below is a short video clip of my travels to Georgia. I hope that it inspires you to buy Amiran’s wines and hopefully, if you are lucky, it will inspire you to visit. Georgia is one of the most important wine regions in the world. It is arguably the birthplace of wine and has the longest continuous wine culture in the world.