“Off-the-beaten-path sparklers” from The Boston Globe

Not your usual sparklers. Photo: Ellen Bhang
Not your usual sparklers. Photo: Ellen Bhang

It is nice to see Bagrationi getting some much deserved attention in this article by Ellen Bhang for The Boston Globe.

The charmat method is also used at Bagrationi, based in Tbilisi, in the Republic of Georgia. The company, a leading producer of bubbly in the former Soviet country, is named for a prince who established the sparkling wine house in 1882. Winemakers craft native grapes like chinebuli (also known as chinuri), mtsvane, and tsitska into a frothy sparkler offering appetizing scents of apples and a touch of yeastiness.

Read the whole article here.

Try Bagrationi 1882 “Classic” Brut for yourself!

Interview with Cliff Rames, founder of “Wines of Croatia”

Cliff Rames with winemaker Alen Bibić
Cliff Rames with winemaker Alen Bibić of the BIBICh Winery

We caught up with our friend, and New York based sommelier, Cliff Rames, recently to share his thoughts on Croatian wine with you. Cliff also writes the popular blog, Wines of Croatia, which we encourage you to follow!

1. What makes you so passionate about Croatian wine?

Well first, my father is from Croatia, so it’s in my blood I guess. When I was 16 years old my dad asked me if I wanted to go visit his birthplace, a small island called Murter off the Dalmatian coast. I said yes, and it forever changed my life. There I learned to drink Turkish coffee and “bevanda” – a mixture of red wine (usually homemade) and water. That kicked off my fascination with the local wine customs and traditions. It was then I also first heard of a mythological place called Dingač, the place from which (I was told by relatives) Croatia’s greatest wine came. I also began to hear words like Plavina, Debit, Babić, Plavac Mali, Pošip – the names of local grape varieties used to make wine. The more I heard and learned, the more I wanted to know! After that, back in the U.S., I found myself searching for these wines because I wanted to have that taste of Croatia again. But at the time I couldn’t find them anywhere! Croatia opened the door for me to the world of wine, which eventually led to me becoming a sommelier. Once in the wine business, I made it my mission to tell people about Croatian wines and do whatever I could to help make them accessible and successful here in the U.S.

Vineyards along the Dalmatian Coast
Vineyards along the Dalmatian Coast

2. What are some of the varietals you think Americans should know about? Why?

Nothing gets me more excited than talking about little-known, indigenous varieties, and there are lots of them in Croatia. My personal favorites are Babić, Lasina, Plavac Mali, and Teran from the reds, and Graševina, Grk, Pošip, and Škrlet from the whites. Many Americans have already fallen in love with Plavac Mali – especially the easy drinking, affordable “Peljesac” label imported by Blue Danube. Perhaps it has something to do with Plavac’s relationship to Zinfandel, which we now know originated in Croatia and is closely related to Plavac Mali. And Pošip, from the island of Korčula is gaining a fan club for its deliciousness and ability to pair so well with seafood. Grk is a rare, often overlooked wine from Korčula that really gets some of my sommelier and wine geek friends jazzed whenever I have a bottle to share. And I am really looking forward to tasting and sharing more Lasina. This wine has the potential to stake a claim as the “Pinot Noir of Dalmatia”.

Plavac Mali vines
Mature Plavac Mali vines

3. What are you currently excited about drinking?

Well, it was a long, cold winter but now it’s finally summer. And that means rosé! In​ ​a blog post I wrote last year, I said that I think the “next big thing” from Croatia is rosé. I think the conditions exist, particularly in some parts of Dalmatia, to produce world class rosés. And I am thrilled that Blue Danube Wine is now importing the Miloš rosé – a great wine from a great producer and a must try! The BIBICh Sparkling Rosé is another great buy if you like bubbles. I hope to pop one in the 4th of July!

The Miloš siblings in San Francisco
The Miloš Kids Ivan, Franica, and Josip at the home of Roberta and Nenad in San Francisco

4. Looking ahead, what do you think the future of Croatian wine looks like?

Croatia is blessed with such a beautiful natural landscape, from the rolling, golden plains of Slavonia, to the pastoral, green hills of the Uplands, to the olive tree and truffle woods of Istria, to the sparkling azure Adriatic Sea and white islands of Dalmatia. In each of these gorgeous regions great wines are produced by amazing people with stories to tell. Despite this, the wine can’t sell itself, no matter how beautiful the vineyard and how delicious the wine. Someone needs to tell the story of these regions, these producers, these unique grape varieties, and these world-worthy wines every day, in a sustained, approachable, and strategic way that connects with buyers and consumers. Without marketing, promotion, brand ambassadors, and constant messaging, the wines will just sit on the shelf. The future of Croatian wine depends on this. The quality and stories are there. We just need the right messaging, the right storytellers, the right marketing approach, and a sustained commitment by all – producers, winemakers’ associations, importers and distributors, and the Croatian government – to spread the word, organize more tasting events (one Grand Tasting every two years is not close enough), and convince more buyers and consumers that Croatian wines are worthy of their hard-earned dollars and will delight their palates, too! In this respect, I think you folks at Blue Danube Wine are doing a great job of messaging, promoting, and sharing the love for the producers and wines you represent!

Croatia boasts a dramatic and diverse landscape
Croatia boasts a dramatic and diverse landscape

5. Tell us a little bit about Wines of Croatia. What is your mission?

Wines of Croatia remains my labor of love and an independent platform from which I share my passion and admiration for the country and its wines through social media, the blog, and announcements about events and latest news. It is important to me to remain independent and non-governmental. But with that come challenges, primarily financial. It costs money to operate a website and other activities. So I am constantly thinking about ways to generate income, offset costs, and ensure the sustainability of the project. I hope to refresh the brand and complete the website this year, and then from there figure out what’s​ next. A lot of people don’t realize that Wines of Croatia is manly a one-man-show, and I guess that is a compliment. But it is not ideal, and I hope to change that eventually. Until then I will continue to do whatever I can – whenever I can – to help promote the wines of Croatia and lend whatever passion, expertise, ​and sweat I can muster to writing about them, representing them at tastings, talking to buyers or consumers about them, and in general supporting others who feel the same way. Perhaps someday I will be able to earn a grand living from this and retire to a vineyard-covered island in Dalmatia. That is a dream worth pursuing! But if not, that’s okay too. No matter how you turn it, the journey will be blessed with many delicious bottles of Croatian wine, and that’s not bad at all!

Get to know “The Paprika Project”

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The Paprika Project” is American Colm FitzGeralds’ blog about his experiences as an expat living in Hungary. We had the pleasure of meeting him recently and think you will enjoy his unique perspectives on Hungarian culture, including wine of course! The blog is also very helpful if you are planning to travel throughout Hungary. Allow Colm to introduce himself and learn more about “The Paprika Project”:

I vividly remember my first trip to Hungary. It was 2005; I was living in Ireland at the time and my Hungarian girlfriend had invited me to meet her family. Knowing next to nothing about this central European country, I was instantly captivated. Culturally, linguistically and historically—everything was waiting to be discovered.

I remember lying in her parents’ garden— cool grass beneath me, warm sun on my face and chest. After 6 months in Ireland, sunny weather was a blessing in itself. It was springtime and flowers of every color adorned the green, hilly landscape. During those ten days in Hungary I discovered a whole new world: the unique Magyar people and language; a tumultuous history of invasions, occupations and uprisings; a food culture bordering on obsession; and an intimacy with the land and all it provides—including a passionate 2,000 year-old love affair with wine.

Ten years later and a dozen trips in between, I now live in Hungary. That Hungarian girl I followed home? She’s now my wife. Last January we moved from Ventura, California to Miskolc, Hungary. For many, it seemed illogical, as most migrate in the opposite direction. But here we are, between the Eger and Tokaj wine regions, and we couldn’t be happier.

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Travel has always been a common passion between us. A little over a year ago I began combining my love of writing and photography with our frequent travels. I had found a vehicle for expressing myself as an individual through the filter of foreign experiences. And when the idea of moving to Hungary came up, I knew it was my opportunity to finally uncover the mysteries of this place. Due to the lack of information about Hungary (outside of Budapest) in English, I also knew it would be of value to others. The Paprika Project was born from this idea.

Budapest Castle Hill

For years I’ve known the significant role wine plays in Hungarian culture, but it’s only since moving here that I’ve realized just how large that role is. You can’t go far in this country without seeing a sweeping vineyard, or a wine cellar carved into a hillside. Naturally, as I travel around Hungary, I have begun writing about Hungarian wine. I’m no expert on the subject, mind you, but in many ways it allows me to explore places like Mád and Badacsony with a fresh perspective; with fresh taste buds, if you will. Whether sampling my wife’s cousin’s wine in his tiny cellar, touring wineries in Tokaj, or being invited to a grape harvest at Lake Balaton, wine is becoming a major part of my life. In many ways it has grown into the perfect focal point for unraveling local history and culture.

Every week I learn something new about Hungarian wine and the people whose passion goes into each bottle. The more I explore, the more I’m convinced that Hungarian wine is worth celebrating on the global stage, if it isn’t already. I truly hope you’ll join me on this journey of discovery, perhaps be inspired to experience this fascinating country for yourself—even if only through the lens of your wine glass.

In essence, the Paprika Project is about exploring and sharing Hungary with the world. It’s about finding this country’s oft-overlooked treasures–including its storybook villages, natural wonders and magical wines.

All photos courtesy of Colm FitzGerald

What Is “Pét-Nat,” Really?

Štoka Bela Peneče (pét-nat) - taken by Stetson Robbins
Štoka Bela Peneče (pét-nat) – taken by Stetson Robbins

We are excited to introduce three new Slovenian “Pét-Nat’s” from Štoka. But what is “Pét-Nat” you may ask? In essence, it is an old method for producing gently sparkling wines that has become popular again. This article written by Zachary Sussman for Punch really describes the process and how it originated.

As a form of fermentation, the technique pre-dates the so-called Champagne method by a couple centuries, at least in those areas of France—like Gaillac, Limoux and Bugey—where it has historically been practiced. Unlike the Champagne method, which enacts a secondary fermentation by adding sugar and yeast, the ancestral method allows the initial fermentation to finish in bottle without any additives, imparting a gentle carbonation by trapping carbon dioxide.

Read the rest of the article here.

Try the new Pét-Nat’s, or Peneče in Slovenian:
Štoka Bela (Vitovska) Peneče 2014
Štoka Rosé Peneče 2014
Štoka Teranova Peneče 2014

Croatian Wine Regions: A Quick Overview

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Vivino user Darko Vozab has put together this helpful, and thorough, guide to Croatia’s wine regions. A perfect introduction to this diverse wine country!

Croatia is a must-see European oasis for the wine-minded traveler. Wine production in this land on the eastern shore of the Adriatic Sea began around 2200 B.C., and today Croatia boasts more than 130 indigenous grape varieties, as well as five different climate zones, resulting in a large number of wine styles.

Read the rest of the guide here.

Browse our Croatian wines.

Georgia’s Giant Clay Pots Hold An 8,000-Year-Old Secret To Great Wine

A man stands next to a giant qvevri pot in Kakheti, Georgia, in this photo from the late 1800s. The beeswax-lined vessels have been used to make wine for thousands of years. - via Wikimedia
A man stands next to a giant qvevri pot in Kakheti, Georgia, in this photo from the late 1800s. The beeswax-lined vessels have been used to make wine for thousands of years. – via Wikimedia

Daniella Cheslow reports on the rich winemaking history of Georgia for NPR.

Georgia’s winemaking heritage goes back 8,000 years and centers on the qvevri, a cavernous terra-cotta pot shaped like an egg, lined with beeswax and buried to the mouth underground. But these ancient vessels were sidelined by the industrial wine production dictated by seven decades of Soviet rule. Over the past 10 years, however, qvevri wine has slowly recovered. Today, it is a calling card for Georgian wine around the world.

Read the rest of the article here.

Browse our Georgian wines.

A Brief Introduction to the Confrérie de Tokaj

Members of the Confrérie de Tokaj
Members of the Confrérie de Tokaj

The French word “confrérie” means brotherhood and is used extensively for cultural or religious partnerships between groups of people. The Confrérie has a long history in Tokaj. It was originally set up in 1987 by the state winery, Tokaj Kereskedőház, as La Confrérie “Vinum Regnum, Rex Vinorum”(King of Wines, Wine of Kings) de Tokaj. The members goal was to promote the wines and gastronomy of the Tokaj wine region.

Starting in 1999 La Confrérie “Vinum Regnum, Rex Vinorum” de Tokaj was managed by Tokaj Renaissance, a producers’ association, and the twenty Tokaj Renaissance members became members of the Board. Tamás Dusóczky, who has worked internationally to rebuild the image of the Tokaji wine since the fall of Communism, received the majority of votes and thus became Grand Maître. After 15 years of service, Tamás recently stepped down but remains an honorary board member.

The most recent reincarnation of this group is the Confrérie de Tokaj (Tokaji Borlovagrend) which was formed in 2012 by 100 founding members, many of whom are winemakers. In addition to reforming the Confrérie and initiation ceremony, members travelled to Burgundy to learn more about famous auction Hospices de Beaune, and organize their own annual wine auction. The first Great Tokaj Wine Auction was held in 2013. Tokaj’s top producers craft exclusive lots of high quality wine for sale at the auction. A percentage of the proceeds are used to invest in the next auction and for the benefit of the Tokaj wine region, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2002.

The president of the Confrérie de Tokaj is István Szepsy, the vice president Samuel Tinon and the Grand Maître Dr. Tibor Kovács. As mentioned, Tamás Dusóczky, Grand Maître from 1990 to 2015, remains an honorary board member.

Eric and Tamás
Eric being inducted by Tamás Dusóczky
Frank and Eric with Samuel Tinon (pictured holding a bottle of his wine)
Frank and Eric with Samuel Tinon (pictured holding a bottle of his wine)

This year’s auction was held April 25th and raised just under $112,000! Two members of our team, Frank and Eric, had the privilege of not only attending, but being inducted as members of the Confrérie! With the 22 new members inducted this year, the group now numbers 150 professionals committed to sharing their passion for Tokaj with the world.

Frank being inducted by Tamás
Frank being inducted by Tamás Dusóczky

Special thanks to the Confrérie de Tokaj for providing us with the history of their organization and also the wonderful photos featured in this piece!

Why You Need to Taste the New ‘It’ Wines From Croatia and Beyond

Pelješac Peninsula - an example of Croatia's beautiful landscape
Pelješac Peninsula – an example of Croatia’s beautiful landscape

Wine writer Lauren Mowery tells you why you need to try wines from Croatia…and elsewhere in Eastern Europe.

Start with gorgeous Croatia, a wine-rich culture blessed with a long Adriatic coastline, and continue east, curving around the Black Sea with Moldova, Bulgaria, and Turkey; each country offers indigenous grapes at affordable prices, allowing imbibers to visit far-flung locales, via wine, for less than $20.

Read the rest of the article on The Village Voice blog.

Try one of the “it” wines recommended by sommelier Cliff Rames, Wines of Croatia: Bibich R6 Riserva

Croatian Wine Tasting at Bistro SF Grill

Full house for Croatian wine
Full house for Croatian wine

If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, you must go visit Bistro SF Grill! It is a cozy, intimate spot in San Francisco’s Lower Pacific Heights neighborhood. Co-owners Gino, Hasim, and Seni make you feel right at home with their slightly Balkan influenced menu and wine list; all three are originally from Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Local artwork adorns the walls
Local artwork adorns the walls
Hasim and Seni behind the bar
Hasim and Seni behind the bar

We had the pleasure of spending an evening with them this week to celebrate our latest arrival of Croatian wine. The guys put together a flight of 5 wines for guests to choose which included: Bibich Debit, Šipun Žlahtina, Bibich G6 Grenache, Miloš Plavac Mali, and Dubrovački Crljenak Kaštelanski (aka Croatian Zinfandel).

The whites - plus Carić Bogdanjuša
The whites – plus Carić Bogdanjuša
The reds
The reds

It was a fun night of exploration, good conversation, and wine! The experience is not complete without one of their fabulous burgers. I highly recommend the Balkan Burger, which is a lamb patty between pita bread with mint yogurt sauce.

Exploring the Dalmatian Coast and Suha Punta Wines with Marion & Zdravko Podolski

Our friends Marion and Zdravko divide there time between California and Croatia, sharing their experiences through the blog “Go Hvar – Ramblings About a Far Island“. Recently they visited the Dalmatian coast, stopping to tour and taste at Suha Punta winery. Marion and Zdravko have graciously allowed us to share their piece with you. Živjeli (cheers)!

Exploring the Dalmatian coast – Primošten, Suha Punta wines and the vineyards of Bucavac

Our normal mode of driving north from Hvar is to take the inland motorway. It’s fast and easy, and we’re usually on our way to Zagreb with no time for scenic diversions. But this May we treated ourselves to a more relaxed trip up the magistrala, that wonderfully scenic Croatian coastal road. Setting out from Hvar on a rainy Saturday morning, the clouds gradually cleared as we drove past Trogir, with the road pretty much to ourselves.

The impressive Bucavac vineyards - Marion Podolski
The impressive Bucavac vineyards

Coming up towards Primošten, we spotted a large boatyard backed by a spectacular pattern of drystone walls. This was Bucavac, known for good reason as “stone lace“, and looking just like an Oton Gliha painting. (Note: Bucavac is pronounced “Boots-a-vats” as in Croatian “c” is actually “ts”.) These are not terraced vineyards, as is more common elsewhere on the coast, but a regular grid pattern of walls marking out fields across the entire hillside. We stopped to admire, and take a few photos. In these vineyards grow the grapes for Suha Punta winery, which we planned to visit later in the day.

Bucavac – vines and olive trees - Marion Podolski
Bucavac – vines and olive trees

Over the next rise, we had a glorious view of the lovely town of Primošten looking for all the world like it was just floating out there. These days the old town is attached to the mainland by a causeway, but in the past this was an island with a drawbridge that could be pulled up at night providing safety for the good folk of Primošten and their livestock. The coast was a dangerous place to live with the Ottoman Turks about!

Primošten – what a beautiful setting!
Primošten – what a beautiful setting!

And zooming in a little further for a little closer view of the houses – very serene, isn’t it?

Primosten houses
Primosten houses

The streets in old town Primošten are narrow and either go directly uphill, or wind around the outside of the island. On the main street, there’s an art and metal gallery with a rather interesting chap climbing the wall. Now that’s something you don’t often see!

Some nut climbing the walls!
Some nut climbing the walls!

This medieval town has more the feel of a village as you continue up the hill. At its core are are not densely packed townhouses, but rather low-key rural buildings with stone roofs and outbuildings, set in parcels of land big enough to grow vegetables, keep chickens, etc. You get a feel for what this might have been like to live in, 400 or 500 years ago. Some of this has not changed much, except perhaps needing a little maintenance by now.

Old stone roofs
Old stone roofs

The church of Sv Juraj (St George) and its associated graveyard crown the island. This is the prime position on the island, with the best views. I suspect the church tower would have doubled as a watchtower, back in the day. There was a funeral on the afternoon we visited, with a slow procession of townsfolk wending their way up the hill, singing, towards the last service before burial.

Church of Sv Juraj
Church of Sv Juraj

The graveyard surrounding the church has wonderful views over the sea and nearby islands. It’s serene and peaceful here – what a beautiful place to spend eternity!

A beautiful place to spend eternity
A beautiful place to spend eternity

Our lunch is an impromptu picnic in the park with found items from the local Konzum. Croatian supermarkets don’t generally have sandwiches for purchase, so you need to find something equivalent – in our case burek (cheese-filled pastries), fruit, crisps and a Mars Bar. Very healthy lunch followed by a walk on the beach! Primošten prides itself on its beaches, and it is lovely there, especially if you get away from the popular tourist section with the cafes and bars. It is, of course, pebble/gravel rather than sand, but that does leave the water beautifully clear. No paddling today, though the water looks very inviting!

The water looks very inviting!
The water looks very inviting!

Suha Punta winery is tucked away in Varoš, a narrow street in the mainland section of Primošten. In May it’s not yet set up for visitors, later in the summer they’ll have tables and benches in a shady courtyard for wine tasting. On the wall of the winery is a mural of that distinctive vineyard of Bucavac, and sommelier Maja Vehovčić tells us about its history and what makes it so special. Vines have been grown there for centuries, dating right back to the Illyrians, before the Greeks and Romans took over cultivation. One entire row of fields from the top of the hill to the bottom is known as a tirada, hence the name of their wine! Traditionally, as the vines reached about 75 years old, they would be torn out, to be replaced with olive trees. So over time, there came to be more olives than vines.

Bucavac mural at Suha Punta winery
Bucavac mural at Suha Punta winery

Following the Second World War, what with depopulation and the disruption of wartime, Bucavac hill was largely abandoned. In an effort to revitalize the local economy, there was a lottery for ownership of the land, and a push to replant the vineyards once again. The only grapes grown there are babić, which is a varietal exceptionally well suited to the conditions. The fields are very rocky and there’s not much soil – or water either for that matter! The headland is known as Suha Punta (literally Dry Point), as for some reason it doesn’t get as much rain as the surrounding coast.

Suha Punta’s elegant logo on the wall
Suha Punta’s elegant logo on the wall

The vines planted in the 1940s are now over 60 years old, and known for their exceptional quality. Suha Punta winery is a small operation, producing three different wines, all made from babić grapes. They own some land (around 1.5 hectares) on Bucavac with old vines, and have planted some new vineyards in the hinterland also. They also buy selected grapes from other growers on Bucavac – also old vine babić.

Barrique barrels at Suha Punta
Barrique barrels at Suha Punta

Winemaker Leo Gracin is a professor of oenology in Zagreb, and he consults for other wineries in Croatia, most notably Stina on Brač, and he also works with young up-and-coming winemakers, such as Birin in Vodice.

Suha Punta Opol
Suha Punta Opol

The Suha Punta Opol rosé is a favourite of ours, aging really well – we’re still drinking and loving the 2010! It’s made two-thirds in steel tanks, one-third in barrique, which are then mixed for bottling. It’s that barrique third that gives this rosé its long life, still fresh-tasting after 6 years. Sadly they don’t make it every year, and there will be no 2011 or 2012 Opol. The next to be bottled will be 2013. Looking forward to trying that!

Tirada
Tirada

Their standard red wine is Tirada – intended as a good quality everyday wine, but is so good that it received the higher quality “vrhunsko” rating. It’s very smooth and enjoyable. Babić produces a lighter wine than Plavac mali, and this would pair well with fish and vegetable dishes in the same way as a Pinot noir.

Top of the range is the Gracin Babić, rather more complex than the Tirada. There were no bottles left of the previous production, so we tasted the new wine from the tank, the 2011 harvest which is ready to be bottled soon. By now it’s spent 24 months in barrique. The flavours aren’t yet integrated, but it’s very promising. There are red fruit and peppers, and strong tannins.

Gracin prošek
Gracin prošek

And finally, on to the dessert wine – prošek tasted from the barrels – currently in two parts which will be blended to create the final product. One part is more acidic, the other sweeter. This is a true straw wine, with the grapes dried on racks for approx 2 weeks before pressing. It has lovely flavours of raisin and spices. We’re looking forward to trying the bottled prošek!

Rock flowers
Rock flowers

After our tasting, it’s back into the car for the short drive up the coast to Šibenik, where we’ll be staying tonight.

And here are my sketches from our day in Primošten…

My sketch of Primošten
My sketch of Primošten

And that vineyard…

Sketch of Bucavac
Sketch of Bucavac

Original post Exploring the Dalmatian Coast – Go Hvar.

Writing, photo, and artwork credit: Marion Podolski

Be sure to follow her blog for more!