It was finally cold enough this morning to start thinking about sweaters and heaven forbid a beanie after a seemingly nine month summer. There are also a few wines that have been waiting for the weather to change as well. Namely, from the Istrian Peninsula where Italy, Croatia and Slovenia all meet along the Adriatic. I also added something from the Posavje and the Kras regions for good measure (both less than 2 hours by car). As the seasonal and justifiable urge to reach for Cru Beaujolais, white Burgundy, white Rhone, Cab Franc, Champagne and Riesling etc… grow closer, the following wines offer an equally justifiable transition to something new. Acid, salt, smoke, earth, tart fruits and bubbles can all be found here, they are just hiding in different places and complimented by flavors unique to this little slice of the Northern Adriatic.
2013 Coronica Gran Malvasia Istriana, Istria, Croatia
The history of the indigenous variety Malvasia Istriana dates back to possibly before the Venetians. Over 30 types are still grown around the Mediterranean. Moreno Coronica’s Malvasia is considered a benchmark in Istria. In lieu of Garrigue, Croatians champion ‘Freškina’ (sent of the sea). Imagine the smell of the sun beating down on rocks covered in sweet briny seaweed. Moreno is therefore dismissive of wines that boast of flavors foreign to Istria, like tropical fruits catering to the “market.” And while aromatic yeasts be damned, he’s not against wood in the right vintages. The Gran Malvasia is aged sur lie in used French barrique for 6 months adding some weight, smoke and texture to the Freškina. A great gateway wine for new and old world Chardonnay drinkers.
2014 Martinčič Cviček (1L), Posavje, Slovenia
Apart from Tuscan Chianti, Cviček is the only wine in the world with a legally protected blend of local red and white grapes (Kraljevina, Laški Rizling, Sylvaner, Zlahtnina (aka Chasselas), Ranfol, Lipna, Žametovka, Franconian and Portugalka (aka Blauer Portugieser). What sets it apart is the low alcohol (8.5-10%), it’s completely dry, and has crazy high acidity often reaching 9-10 g/l. It looks like a dark Rosé with the weight of white and the texture of a red. A very unique and delicious wine. One of the main grapes in the blend is Žametovka which also happens to be same grape as the oldest living vine in Europe. At just over 400 years old, this puts its first harvest right around 1621 when the first Thanksgiving took place.
2014 Štoka Vitovska, 2014 Štoka Teran Rosé and 2014 Štoka Teran Peneče (Pétillant-Naturel), Kras, Slovenia
The Slovenian/Italian border region of the Kras (aka Carso) was historically covered in oak forests until the Venetians deforested nearly everything to build ships and the city of Venice. The resulting erosion, famously strong “burja” winds, and soluble bedrock soil (mostly limestone and dolomite), have since made it great place for grapes to suffer and become great. Fermenting them partially and then crown capping them to finish in bottle is yet another evolution. For Teran this makes perfect sense. Naturally high acidity, low sugar even when ripe, and full of iron rich character, it’s as if you crossed a dry Lambrusco with coagulated blood. Less blood and more fruit for the Rosé. For the Vitovska, although often fermented with extended skin contact, this is perhaps more of a rare creature. Aromatic, savory, and on the complete opposite end of the sparkling butter/toast spectrum. All three Peneče are bright, clean, don’t throw a bunch of sediment (no opening underwater), and ultimately reflect grape over process.
2014 Santomas Refošk, Istra, Slovenia
Roughly 30 miles south of Trieste you’ll hit the Slovenian port town of Koper. Drive a few minutes more up into the hills overlooking the Adriatic until you hit the small town of Šmarje. Overlooking the town at 250 meters above sea level, the Santomas winery is easy to spot along with its herb garden and olive trees growing on its living roof. The Glavina family has cultivated vines, olives and other crops here for 200 years. Refošk here differs from the iron rich soils of Istria and yields a more Cab Franc-y side of the grape planted in the sandy mixes of flysch and marl. More grip, more fruit, and meatiness. This is a ripe coastal red for smoked fish, rich tomato broths, and all those cranberries, persimmons, and pomegranates coming to market.
2012 Piquentum Rouge (Teran) and 2012 Terre (Refošk), Istria, Croatia
Originally built in 1928, converted into war shelter in the early 90s, and now a winery, it’s the classic tale of a son of a Frenchwoman and an Istrian father growing native Croatian grapes in an old Mussolini era concrete water tank. What’s the difference between Teran and Refošk? In short, Refošk is more like Merlot in the context of Bordeaux. More fruit, rounder, and slightly more weight. Teran typically has more acidity, more earth than fruit, and less weight. Historically, both were given to woman after childbirth to combat anemia due to the rich iron content. Both are a great pairing with charcuterie, oily cured fish, fish stews, and blood sausage. Locals also make “Istarska supa,” a slightly warmed broth of either wine, toasted country bread, olive oil, sugar, and a healthy dose of black pepper. See also Istrian hair of the dog.