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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
And zooming in a little further for a little closer view of the houses – very serene, isn’t it?
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!
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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…
The Mrčevlje vineyard above the village of Cavtat where the Dubrovački Crljenak Kaštelanski grows.
It is a very exciting time to be a student of wine. DNA fingerprinting has led to many new discoveries about grape varietals, in particular identifying genetic relationships. One such discovery was made in 2001 by University of Davis professor, Carole Meredith. After hearing suggestions that Zinfandel may be related to a Croatian grape, Meredith went to Croatia to collect samples. What she found is that Zinfandel is actually an indigenous Croatian varietal referred to locally as Crljenak Kaštelanski. Other than California, the grape is cultivated extensively in Italy, going by the name Primitivo. Read the full story of how the Original Zinfandel was found in Croatia: here.
It has been a long time since we have had a Crljenak Kaštelanski (CK for short) also known as Tribidrag in our portfolio. Many of you sent requests and inquiries so we are pleased to introduce the 2012 Dubrovački Podrumi Crljenak (Zinfandel). Dubrovački Podrumi was founded in 1877 by Kolić Pero, a wine merchant. After World War II, the winery became a state-run operation. In 2000, the winery was bought by local entrepreneurs who revitalized the winemaking program and planted new vineyards.
The winery is now comprised of 30 hectares. old vine Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot as well as 12 hectares new vineyards planted in the Konavle Valley. CK was planted in 2007 along with small quantities of other local varieties.
The wine shows a bright red color and exhibits aromas of red berries on the nose. The palate has lots of crushed tart cassis and a finish of dried herbs. Try it with a tomato-based dish like Capellini and Tomatoes and Basil.
Alen Bibic pulls this wine from debit vines his grandfather planted some 50 years ago in Plastovo, a small village hemmed in between Croatia’s vast Krka national park and the Adriatic coast. The dry-farmed bush vines produce very little fruit, which Bibic macerates on the skins for two weeks, and ferments without added yeast in French oak barrels. The result is a wine as rich as its burnished golden hue, with a yeasty, salty aspect that brings fino sherry to mind. As it opens in the glass, it gets fresher, with a crisp tang of an antique apple variety and a corresponding apple-skin grip. The firm structure and freshness suggest that this will age well, although it’s delicious now with a pork chop.
We hope you’ll try the wine very soon. This summer, this will be the perfect companion for Spanish tapas.
Having recently been fortunate enough to spend two weeks in Austria and Hungary, I can happily say my notebook is full of things to further clog your inbox for months to come. However, in the interest of keeping things focused and digging a little deeper, I’d like to start with a particularly intense (in a good way) encounter with Demeter Zoltán in Hungary’s Tokaj appellation.
Terroir lesson from Demeter Zoltán
Demeter is a one man army by choice and demands 100% control over everything. By everything, work in the vineyards, winery and cellar are all assumed. His control extends to how the word “Tokaj” is placed on his labels, custom drawers in his tasting room filled with terroir specific soils and rocks, selecting specific music for the winery/cellar/tasting room, and creating custom maps for his single vineyards. Even the photography associated with his brand on Facebook is his own and branded with his logo. If I were to move a book on shelf without him seeing, I have little doubt he would notice the moment he turned back around.
Tasting with Demeter Zoltán
The fascinating thing is that despite all of this control, he’s happy to admit the elusive magic of Tokaj and is remarkably humbled by it despite being a benchmark pioneer in the region. The only thing rivaling his desire for control is his assertion that Tokaj is truly one of the most important wine appellations in the world. With only 25 or so more harvests left to rediscover 500 years of history mostly lost during Communism, his race against time to showcase Tokaj is the driving force behind everything he does. Maps of famous wine regions hang the walls next to maps of Tokaj. If Champagne is branded with James Bond, so can Tokaj. When he speaks about the present and future of the appellation, the seriousness of this tone and unwavering eye contact makes you afraid to blink (in a good way.)
Tokaj as a luxury brand
With this in mind, I’m proud to be able to share two of his single vineyard dry wines: the 2012 Veres Furmint and the 2012 Szerelmi Hárslevelű. The 40 year old Veres (Red) vineyard is known for it’s reddish hue coupled with rhyolitic volcanic tufa soils.
Plowing vineyard with horse — credit Demeter Zoltán
Where some Furmints often have a fair amount of residual sugar to add body and balance the acidity, this one is impossibly dry and balanced without sacrificing intensity. Try pairing it with roast duck or goat; it’s got the structure.
Szerelmi (Lovely) is by contrast predominately loess soil with 70 year old vines on the southern side of Tokaj Hill. The loess soil lends an elegant texture and the aromatics are both sweet and sour. This is one of those wines that is intellectually interesting and delicious. Both vineyards were designated as a 1st Class sites in 1798 and are still plowed by horse without pesticides or fertilizer. If I was still working the floor, these are both wines I’d have lying in wait on the bottle list to wow the right person.
Happy to be back in country and looking forward to sharing more with you soon.
One of the most unexpected wines of the season, has to be the Rosé from Miloš winery in Croatia. Struggling to understand how this atmospheric mineral delight came to be, I called up Ivan Miloš who makes the wine with his father Frano for a little Q and A. And then I hope that like me, you’ll taste and enjoy this “truly serious, grand, atypical wine”.
Miloš vineyards: Old vine Plavac amongs walled terraces of Dolomitic limestone. Photo Credit: Frano Miloš
Why does Miloš make a Rosé? The Miloš family farm has a very unique location on the Pelješac peninsula at the southern part of Croatia. We are 100% focused on that one spot planted with one grape, Plavac Mali. Combined with the dolomitic limestone of our terraced vineyards, it gives us grapes of such a unique quality, we simply wanted to show the richness of its pure juice, Rosé is the best way to do this.
Where did the idea to make a Rosé from the best grapes of the harvest come from? We were tasting rose wines from other appelpations and countries, and we found very few which met our taste. Unfortunately, most rosé are light with almost no structure. We hate to hear statements from some winemakers like: “it’s a bad vintage, let’s make some rosé from our red grape”, So we did the opposite, we selected the best grapes from our old Plavac mali vines, from the very best locations, because we knew we could produce something unique.
How is Miloš Rosé made differently from other Rosé? Our rosé is made from old ungrafted vines, organically grown on steep manually farmed terraces. It is obtained through the natural squeezing of freshly picked grapes fermented with native yeasts.
Fresh pressed Miloš Stagnum Rosé. No maceration! Look at that color! Photo Credit: Jošip Miloš
There is no maceration, but as Plavac Mali contains high amounts of polyphenolic compounds, thanks to small berries and thick skin, even in rosé made of it you find lots of polyphenols, and that is why our rosé is a complex, structured wine. Actually, for my Masters Thesis I researched the polyphenolic compounds of rosé and red wines made of Plavac from our vineyards, and compared them to other international wines. I found one large research project where more than 170 red wines from international market across several vintages where anylized, and found that average quantity of polyphenols are between 900-1200 mg/l. I then analyzed our rosé and found that it had almost 1000 mg/l. Like an average red wine, but it’s a rosé and really refreshing!
Is Miloš Rosé a reductive or oxidative wine? Miloš Rosé is not a reductive or oxidative wine, it’s open and complete already at first sniff. During winemaking we let the wine develop more complex aromas, and we need oxygen for that. We don’t want to preserve just fruit because this is not a natural process and needs large amounts of sulfites, which we simply don’t want in our wines. Wine should taste like wine, not like grape must. Must is just a base of something much bigger.
What is unique about the Rosé Plavac Mali vines and their location? Plavac Mali gives the best results gives when planted on the most challenging location. Our position is one big terraced amphitheatre, which is really hard to farm. But, the roots of our ungrafted vines are completely acclimatized to the terroir, they can always find enough moisture deep in our dolomitic limestone. And when vines get older they get even better, because their roots go much deeper, they have lower yield, bigger bush, and they award us with fruit with more complexity and acidity. This is what we are looking for when we harvest for rosé. The whole fruit selection is done in the vineyards. In the very south of Europe it is easier to find structure than freshness and good acidity in the wine, so that makes combination of Plavac and our location really important because we manage to get huge structure paired with freshness.
How can we taste this in the wine? Sometimes, when you hear a story about a wine and then you taste it, you simply can’t relate the story with the wine itself. But, when you taste our rosé, with all its fullness, minerality, a little bit of salinity, the nice tannins, piquance and freshness, you can perfectly understand how and where we made it. This rosé is truly a serious, grand, atypical wine.
Hungary is neither new, nor French, but both countries are lands of developed terroir. In fact, the concept may even be older in Hungary. The vineyards around the city of Tokaj were recognized as special early on and ranked through a formal classification in 1770, a century before Bordeaux received similar treatment. Tokaj is as faceted and hypnotic as Burgundy, Somló an enigma like Hermitage and Eger something of a mini Loire, but Hungarian wines are not French facsimiles, they are utterly different. What underlies the wines of both is the slow understanding of relationships between land, vine and wine that farmers have formed over centuries into the distinct archetypes they are today. The French models are better recognized, marketed and never suffered 50 years of collectivized production, but these things have little to do with the Hungarian wine Renaissance happening right now. Let’s taste it!
It is not by accident that Samuel Tinon, French vigneron by birth makes strongly Hungarian Tokaji. He grew up on the estate of his family in St. Croix-du-Monts where his sister makes botrytis wines today. His restless curiosity took him around the world, studying, tasting and making wine. Samuel was drawn to Tokaj by what existed only there.Today many Tokaji producers are looking to regions outside Hungary for direction, Austria, Germany and yes France, but Samuel strives to understand the same subtle secrets of the vineyard and the cellar that have forever made Tokaji great. He has begun making small quantities of exquisite dry wines that are reductive, pale and might leave one convinced they are drinking exceptional chenin, an increasingly common direction of Tokaj production. But the greatest of Tinon’s wines are and will remain the old fashioned gold to amber, oxidative, and wondrous elixirs he nurtures. Often the outsider is dismissed, but Samuel brings to Tokaj a reverence for its past, a deep desire to preserve it and a masters touch. Tokaj is lucky to have Samuel, Samuel is lucky to have Tokaj, and we are lucky to have Samuel’s Tokaji! I am a much more outside outsider than Samuel, but I see what he is trying to protect and believe that you would too! Let’s see!
P.S. Tokaj: the name of the appellation; Tokaji: the wines from Tokaj.
Our friends Andrew Villone, of Savor the Experience Tours, and Wine Awesomeness teamed up to present this informative interview with Ivana Carić herself about why you need to visit Hvar and her winery. Particularly interesting are her local food and wine pairing suggestions.
We, the Carić family, love salted anchovies served with raštika (collard). We pair this with our white wine Bogdanjuša. Collard is a very old type of cabbage, eaten in the Roman times. Today, it’s hard to find this form of cabbage in the market or in stores, but every house on the island has it in its garden.
The Amici Vinorum Olaszliszka (Friends of Wine of Olaszliszka)
“Olaszliszka is an important village, it is our village. We feel like guest, we try to do something for the village. There a group of motivated people who all want to build and give value to this village. This is the start: Let’s do it.” — Samuel Tinon
Olaszlizska is the largest village along the Bodrog River between Tokaj and Sárospatak and dates back to the 12th Century. It has formally been attached to the Tokaj appellation since 1560. Despite suffering through Ottoman times and a plague in the 1730’s, this village has been noted for top crus and famous wines for hundreds of years.
Olaszliszka along the Bodrog river
The soil is riddled with volcanic stones and Nyirok (red clay) and planted mostly to the Hárslevelű grape. The Amici Vinorum Olaszliszka (Latin for Olaszliszka Friends of Wine) is the combined efforts of 10 local winemakers to reaffirm the historical identity and importance of the village of Olaszliszka. Much like Burgundy, although many of the same grapes and styles are produced throughout the appellation, each village has a distinct identity.
Tour of the vineyards in Olaszliszka
Sourcing from vineyards like Csontos, Határi, Meszes, and Palandor that date as far back as 1641, members of the association are combining their fruit to produce one single “village” wine. The goal is to better understand the terroir, make a delicious wine, and perhaps more importantly, build and strengthen the wine community in Olaszliszka. Slightly off dry (11.7 g/l) with incredibly high acidity (7.9 g/l), this Hárslevelű is both exotic, intensely textured, and has that undeniable volcanic vein of Tokaj running all the way through it. Only 700 bottles produced.