Inside Perspective: Talking Wine with an Insightful Croatian Wine Writer

Nenad Trifunovic_DSC4014
Nenad Trifunović: wine enthusiast, writer, and educator

Over the past few months, we have been fortunate to get to know Croatian wine writer, Nenad Trifunović, a bit better. He has also been so generous in allowing us to repost many of his translated wine reviews on our blog to share with all of you. We thought it would be nice to formally introduce him and get a better idea about his perspective on wine. I also encourage you to check out his blog Dnevnik Vinopije (Wine Drinker Journal). It is in Croatian but his insights our worth the effort of translating!

1. Tell us more about yourself. Where are you from? Where do you live? What is your “day job”?
I was born in Zagreb, Croatia’s capital city. I had a great childhood growing up here. Upon finishing university, were I majored in Economics, I decided to stay in Zagreb. I work as a creative director at a marketing agency. Fifteen years ago I started as an entry level accountant, fell in love with being a copywriter, and today am a partner at the same agency.

2. Why are you so passionate about wine?
My work requires me to have a business focus and writing about wine provides me with a sort of getaway. It is humanizing to be able to produce stuff “for yourself”, meaning the way you believe it should be done and not driven by market expectations. However, the truth is that wine occupies my attention, keeps me calm and focused, inspired, as well as nourishes my soul every moment I spend swirling the liquid in my glass. It is a relationship with a living product and wisdom it provides that I admire as well.

3. Have you always enjoyed writing?
Yes! It began with a love for reading and understanding, which helped evolve my sense of empathy for different perspectives, then came technique, form, structure and joy. Even though I do write about wine a lot, I don’t consider myself a writer per se. But its the wine that stimulates my writing. I simply interpret my impressions of the moment, what the wine tells me and what I am able to hear. Of course, there is a lot of me in there, in a way my writing really exposes my true self.

Nenad's review of Brkić Plava Greda from Bosnia-Herzegovina on his site Dnevnik Vinopije
Nenad’s review of Brkić Plava Greda from Bosnia-Herzegovina on his site Dnevnik Vinopije

4. What inspired you to create your blog site Wine Drinker Journal (Dnevnik Vinopije)?
As I mentioned earlier, I needed to write down my thoughts in order for them not to be forgotten 🙂 Now I think journal is not the best translation because it implies journey. I complete most of the writing from my sofa, and only just recently started to do more traveling, which is important. “Dnevnik” can translate as a diary. That is a more accurate word, a personal diary available for everybody to read and comment. Miracles of the modern age I guess 😀

5. Besides writing for your personal site, do you write for other publications? Do you teach classes on wine or act as a judge on tasting panels?
I have written some contracted articles for publications, and participated in a few tasting panels for wine evaluations. Now my focus is much more on wine education, specifically as it relates to wine culture. Instead of just swirling the glass and laughing to myself while using exuberant aromatic descriptors, or hiding behind a Powerpoint slideshow preaching a class to boredom, I actually spark the passion within participants so they can approach wine with the right mindset, enabling them to educate themselves.

6. Which wine regions are you interested in the most?
My mind could explode right now. I could just have a nervous breakdown! Off the top of my head, and just naming a few, in the Old World: Santorini (Greece), dry Furmints of Tokaj (Hungary), Carso (Slovenian/Italian border), parts of Friuli and Alto Adige (Italy), Sicily and Etna especially (Italy), classic Bordeaux, the Aube region of Champagne with their Blanc de Noirs, Bekaa Valley (Lebanon), Vinho Verde & Douro & Dao (Portugal), Spain, the entire Loire valley from Muscadet to Sancerre where I especially adore Cabernet Franc and Chenin Blanc. Plenty more comes to mind and of course Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia and Croatia. Obviously, I think I am too young to focus, right?

View of Croatia's capital city, Zagreb. Photo:
View of Croatia’s capital city, Zagreb. Photo:

7. What is your process for evaluating a wine?
Is it alive? Does it have depth? Does it have a soul? Valorization of a wine is not my thing. One thing is appreciated though: The wine can only be properly assessed once it resting comfortably in your belly 🙂 🙂 🙂 The “process” is always the same.

8. What are some grape varietals or wine producers, particularly from Central/Eastern Europe, you think Americans should know about?
For serious wine crowd in search for the Holy Grail, I will recommend what I prefer. To focus on Croatia: a good Plavac Mali, a good Teran, a good Malvasia Istriana, a good Graševina and a good Pošip or Vugava will do the trick. However, above all else I especially admire the work of wineries like Miloš, Tomac and Coronica in Croatia and Brkić from Bosnia-Herzegovina. Živjeli!

9. What are some of your current favorite wines?
This seems like a logical question with expected answer in a manner of Miles in the movie Sideways. Sort of “lately, I`ve been really into Rieslings” thing, but this is too difficult a question for me. Its crazy I know, but I would prefer not to answer. I appreciate the wine I have in my glass at the moment.

Special thank you to Nenad!
Read his reviews on:

Bibich R5
Piquentum Blanc
Brkić Plava Greda

Champagne’s Cooler Cousin: 5 Pét-Nat Sparkling Wines to Try Now

Štoka Rose Peneče , or pétillant naturel
Štoka Rose Peneče , or pétillant naturel

Vogue magazine knows that pét-nat is so hot right now. See this recent article by Kristin Tice Studeman on “Champagne’s Cooler Cousin”.

So what is pét-nat exactly? It’s a natural sparkling wine, made from red or white grapes, bottled during the primary fermentation process. This means the wine reflects the natural sugars from the grapes and the native yeasts, so the result can vary quite a bit…In short, pét-nat is a whole lot of fun because you never quite know exactly what you are going to get, except that it will be light, effervescent, and easy drinking (it is typically low in alcohol).

One of the five recommended pét-nats to try now, according to restaurateur Joe Carroll, is Štoka Bela (Vitovska) Peneče from Slovenia:

“I think that’s one of my favorite wine regions in the world; they are doing some very exciting things right now,” says Carroll of Slovenia. This particular wine, from the Štoka Winery in Kras (near the Slovenian-Italian border), comes from an iron-rich terroir. The resulting wine is a little more acidic and high in minerality than most of the pét-nats on this list. Overall, its also one of the more straightforward offerings here.”

Read the whole article here.

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.