The fall wines nobody will be asking for but everyone will be happy you poured

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.

Primoz Štoka
Primoz Štoka Pruning

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.

Tamara Glavina
Tamara Glavina of Santomas

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.

Dimitri Brečević
Dimitri Brečević of Piquentum

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.

Wines from Central and Eastern Europe are turning American heads

Eastern European wine selection
A selection of Eastern European wines at 20th Century Cafe in San Francisco.

Check the story called “East goes West — Wines from Central and Eastern Europe are turning American heads” in the latest issue of Imbibe Magazine. With interviews of Jeff Berlin, sommelier at À Côté, Michelle Polzine, owner of 20th Century Cafe, Paul Einbund, wine director for Frances and Octavia in San Francisco, Henry Beylin, sommelier of Los Angeles’ Gjelina, and our own Frank Dietrich, wine writer Jennifer Fiedler explores how wines from Central and Eastern Europe—what she calls the older Old World—are steadily making their way westward to some of the best restaurants’ wine lists.

Twenty years ago, a Plavac Mali or Rebula would have been a rare find on an American wine list of any stature, much less at a tiny local bistro or neighborhood wine shop. But what began as a small trickle of quality Central and Eastern European wine into U.S. markets—a Hungarian dry Furmint here, a Georgian Saperavi there—has gradually grown to a steady stream, buoyed by support from dedicated importers, enthusiastic sommeliers, and a public eager to explore wines outside of the traditional canon. “[These wines] are very unique, and very expressive of where they come from,” says Jeff Berlin, sommelier at À Côté in Oakland, and a longtime booster for wines from the region.

You can read the whole story here (PDF).

8 Wines to Try
8 Wines to Try with 20th Century Cafe owner Michelle Polzine

Taste Croatian Wine, Admire Croatian Inspired Artwork

Painting by Marion Podolski
Painting by Marion Podolski

This last September three member artists from Viewpoints Gallery, Los Altos, CA, spent a week painting in Hvar, Croatia on a retreat organized by our friend, Marion Podolski. Marion and her husband, Zdravko, have a home on the island and spend part of the year living there. This exhibit is a collection of the paintings begun at various sites around the island and celebrates a week of friendship, food, wine and the natural beauty of Hvar.

We hope you can join us at the opening reception Friday, November 6th 2015 5-8pm. The exhibit, consisting of watercolor paintings, will be hung on one front wall of the gallery. Of course the best way to enjoy Croatian inspired artwork is with a glass of Croatian wine! Look for our table for a taste of fine Croatian wine.

Viewpoints Gallery – 315 State Street, Los Altos, CA 94022  Phone: (650) 941-5789

To learn more about the artist retreat and the Podolski’s adventures on Hvar, read their blog: Go Hvar.

Artist Floy Zittin painting in Hvar.
Artist Floy Zittin painting in Hvar.
Artist Jan Grady in the vineyards of Hvar
Artist Jan Grady in the vineyards of Hvar.
Artist Marion Podolski painting in Hvar.
Artist Marion Podolski painting in Hvar.
Artist Nancy Calhoun painting in Hvar.
Artist Nancy Calhoun painting in Hvar.


Photo Credit: Dave Zittin

Hungarian Wine Regions: Szekszárd and its Elegant Reds

Szekszárd on the map. Image:
Szekszárd on the map. Image:

Get to know Hungary’s premier red wine region, Szekszárd.

The wine region of Szekszárd, known mostly for its famous Kadarka red wine, has been noted for its wine culture since Roman times and became one of the main centres of Hungarian red wine production in the 15th century. As the climate of the sunny wine region is rather balanced, excellent red grapes can grow on the mostly loess lands. Szekszárd reds are known for their velvety texture, and often show a lot of elegance. Szekszárd, along with Eger, is also one of the two regions that produce the famous Hungarian Bikavér.

Read the rest of the guide, written by Hungary Today, here.

For an excellent example of the region and its signature Kadarka grape, try the sophisticated wines from the Eszterbauer family.

Bibich R5 as reviewed by Nenad Trifunović

Alen Bibić in the vineyard. Photo: BIBICh Wine Croatia
Alen Bibić in the vineyard. Photo: BIBICh Wine Croatia

The Bibich Winery is located in the hills of Skradin, 5 miles east of the idyllic port city of Šibenik, along Croatia’s island speckled coast. Across the Adriatic from Italy, it is roughly in line with the wine hills of Tuscany. With a focus on indigenous varietals as well as international ones, the Bibich winery produces a range of fine wines for every palate or mood.

Nenad Trifunović, founder of Wine Drinker Journal, has generously shared his recent review of Bibich R5 2012 with us. His description will surely peak your interest in this unique white blend.

Photo: BIBICh Wine Croatia
Photo: BIBICh Wine Croatia

Bibich, R5, 2012
Wood & Herbs in all`antica (the manner of the ancients) style…

Dry structure with firm, grippy tannins on the palate. At the same time, the wine is juicy, at a perfectly drinkable 13% alc with acidity as smooth as silk. A crazy dance of fresh fruit (some quince and apricot) and exotic spices interconnected by oxidative character.
Its hard to tell if you are in the fanciest restaurant imaginable or in a genuine Dalmatian “konoba” (traditional restaurant) at the start of the century.

Unthinkable combination of flavors and yet they come together so very naturally, like sea salt and olive oil.
Although it is common to serve red wine with “Skradin risotto“, this Skradin-born combination of Debit, Pošip, Maraština, Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay is well worth trying as a pairing instead.

The original, untranslated, review can be found here.

We currently have the 2011 vintage of this wine available, which you will surely equally enjoy! Buy it here.

Piquentum Blanc 2013 & 2014: A review by Nenad Trifunović

Dimitri Brečević of Piquentum in his cellar
Dimitri Brečević of Piquentum in his cellar

Ever wondered about the distinctive characteristics of Malvasia from Istria, Croatia? Respected Croatian wine writer Nenad Trifunović explains what to appreciate from the varietal, why Piquentum Blanc is one of his favorite examples, and the key differences between the last two vintages.

Piquentum, Blanc 2014 vs. Piquentum, Blanc 2013

Soft aromas on the nose with gentle acacia and light, very mild oxidative hints from un-typical Malvasia Istriana, a clone of the varietal that is quite different from others.

Different from dominant styles, Dimitri Brečević always tries to present the native and true character of Malvasia Istriana. Despite the fact that 2014 was an extremely difficult vintage, this wine shatters expectations.

Piquentum is located in picturesque Istria
Piquentum is located in picturesque Istria

Although the fruity Malvasia Istriana wines can be drunk upon release, the wines benefit from a little aging to allow the bracing acidity to integrate completely. That being said, the 2014 is still green and raw in comparison to 2013. However, both wines are on the same track.
The 2013 vintage exhibits the calm, supple side of Malvasia consistent with Dimitri Brečević’s sensibility. Persistent on the palate with a high level of extraction. Such beautiful simplicity makes a man wonder why not all Malvasia Istriana`s aren`t like this. Of course, the “zingy minerality” of Piquentum Blanc is not something that can be easily copied.

Photo: Nenad Trifunović
Photo: Nenad Trifunović

If I had to choose a single Malvasia Istriana to offer an alien race visiting Earth for the first time, the choice would not be either the clean/green cult of young Malvasia or the oak/acacia aged Malvasia; and not even the skin macerated “orange” Malvasia. I would suggest a certain vintage of Palčić Malvasia, Roxanich Malvazijica and especially, Piquentum Blanc…

Reposted from Wine Drinker Journal with permission from Nenad Trifunović. See the original, untranslated review here.

Purchase Piquentum Blanc here.

Eszterbauer Kadarka Sogor – Reviews About Wines at its Best

Photo: Michael Zeebroek

The Eszterbauer family has farmed the chalk and loess hills of Szekszard since 1746. “Sogor” is Hungarian for brother-in-law and is so named for the close relationship between the two that existed in this family.

Michael Zeebroek, who’s goal it is to “get the world to respect Hungarian wines”, recently reviewed this wine for his personal blog.

This wine is almost close to perfection for me. It has class, elegance and style. The wine is in the budget range but could easily be worth double it’s price.

Read the whole review here.

We cannot agree more! Purchase a bottle to experience perfection for yourself:

Curious & Thirsty: Wines of Croatia

Lush coastal Hvar vineyards. Photo by Cliff Rames.
Lush coastal Hvar vineyards. Photo by Cliff Rames.

Our friend, and sommelier Cliff Rames of Wines of Croatia, put together a fantastic article about the key wines of Croatia for Travel Curious Often.

From the balmy banks of the Danube to the crystalline shores of Istria and Dalmatia, from the historic hills of the Croatian Uplands to the ancient walls of Stari Grad Field, and from the tables of Manhattan to the tasting rooms of Napa Valley, Croatia offers a diverse selection of wine styles and native grape varieties to suit every palate.
Croatia may be a small country but it is rich in tradition and deeply rooted in the production and consumption of wine – an alluring pastime that is increasingly available for the adventurous wine lover to discover.

Read the whole article here.

Wines and grape varietals mentioned in the article:

1. Dubrovački Podrumi Crljenak Kaštelanski 2012
2. Carić Vina Plovac Ploški 2008
3. Piquentum Blanc 2013 (Istrian Malvasia)
4. Piquentum Rouge 2012 (Teran)
5. Dingač Vinarija Pelješac 2012
6. Dingač Vinarija Dingač 2009
7. Suha Punta Tirada Babić 2009
8. Šipun Žlahtina 2013

Browse all our Croatian wines here.

Kabaj is a Wine & Spirits Top 100 Winery 2015

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Wine & Spirits Magazine has listed Kabaj in Goriška Brda, Slovenia one of the Top 100 Wineries in the world for 2015, an honor the winery also received in 2013. We hope that you will try a few of winemaker Jean-Michel Morel’s wines for yourself and join us at one of the events planned during his visit!

Meet Jean-Michel Morel in LA, SF, NY
Lou Wine Shop & TastingsOctober 17 2015: Lou Wine Shop & Tastings
1911 Hillhurst Avenue Los Angeles, CA 90027
Saturday, 3:00 pm – 7:00 pm
Silverlake WineOctober 18 2015: Silverlake Wine
2395 Glendale Blvd Los Angeles, CA 90039
Sunday, 3:00 pm – 5:00 pm
Wine & Spirits Top 100 TastingOctober 20 2015: Wine & Spirits Top 100 Tasting
City View At Metreon, 135 4TH ST, San Francisco, CA 94103
Tuesday, 6:30 pm – 8:30 pm
Wine Dinner at SPQROctober 21 2015: Wine Dinner at SPQR
1911 Fillmore St, San Francisco, CA 94115
Wednesday — call (415) 771-7779 for reservation
Dandelion WineOctober 24 2015: Tasting at Dandelion Wine
153 Franklin St, Brooklyn, NY 11222
Saturday — Time to be determined
Hudson Wine MerchantsOctober 25 2015: Hudson Wine Merchants
41 Warren St, Hudson, NY 12534
Sunday, 2:00 pm – 3:30 pm
The Ten BellsOctober 26 2015: Producer Night with Kabaj at The Ten Bells
247 Broome St, New York, NY 10002
Monday — Time to be determined

Georgia and Kabaj

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“I like extreme life and extreme wine. No fancy hotel rooms, commercial style: this is not our life.” Jean-Michel Morel

“Orange wine” has been recognized by US sommeliers and fine wine shops for more than 10 years, but has only recently become part of the wine drinker’s vocabulary. For the un-initiated, “orange wine” is not made of oranges. Its ancient production began in present day Georgia, which happens to be where Neolithic humans first domesticated Vitis Vinifera in pursuit of more and better wine. Historically, white grapes and red grapes were processed similarly: crush grapes, add to container, ferment, drink. Like red wine, “orange wine” can range from delicate to strong. This depends on the type of grape, the length of maceration, amount of oxygen, temperature of fermentation and so on, just like with red wine. Some “orange wines” are not actually that orange in color, making the term a little misleading.

“Orange wine” is just wine in the Republic of Georgia between the Caucasus Mountains and the Black Sea, and Slovenia and Croatia between the Alps and Adriatic. Both areas are typified by their varied topography, climate, abundance of biological diversity and diverse native wines.

In the early 90’s, French educated Jean-Michel Morel, winemaker of Kabaj in Goriška Brda, Slovenia, married into the Kabaj family and began to make wine from grapes the family was selling. He liked “orange wine” and in 1999 he fermented their Jakot (formerly known as Tokaj) with the skins. Kabaj calls this wine “Ravan” after one of the best positions they farm. This was the start of their first “orange” wine. Little was written on the topic, so Jean-Michel’s taste led him to Shavnabada Monastary outside Tbilisi —the capital of the Republic of Georgia— in 2004. It is the same year he imported his own Qvevri (earthen amfora made specifically for wine production) to Slovenia.

Jean at Shavnabada
Jean at Kabaj

Fast forward a few years and the Kabaj winery has received international attention for elegant “orange” wines and beautifully earthy reds. Wine & Spirits Magazine has listed Kabaj as one of the Top 100 Wineries in the world for 2015, an honor the winery also received in 2013. We hope that you will try a few of Jean’s wines for yourself.