“This Killer Adriatic Red is a Must-Try,” says David Lynch, Sommelier & Editorial Director at SommSelect. And although a cynic might think the reason a sommelier had selected an obscure wine was just to show-off, nine times out of ten, the customer should really be trustful:
Listen, I know: trusting is hard. But if this were a tableside interaction instead of an email offer, I have no doubt that Štoka Teran would win me your trust. Why? Because it’s a wine which, despite what some experts say, exhibits true soil character. Because it’s a wine from one of those deeply historic yet somehow still-unknown regions the most devoted wine geeks cherish (in this case, Slovenia). And finally, because it is undeniably delicious, easy to drink, and not merely distinctive but undeniably well-made.
According to David Lynch, the wine can age for a few more years and right now, is best decanted for 30 minutes. Serve it in Bordeaux glasses and pair it with juicy medium-rare burgers.
Read the complete tasting notes and food pairing at SommSelect.
The first time we starting turning over rocks and looking for producers in Eisenberg was 2014. The area is certainly thematically ripe for Blue Danube given the confluence of Croatian, Austrian and Hungarian cultures and borders. A stone’s throw from the Hungarian border and a part of the Hungarian Empire for centuries earlier, but the Croatian connection is less obvious.
After the Turks were pushed out in the mid 16th Century, Hungary repopulated the war torn area with Croatian communities. For centuries, villages like Schandorf spoke a unique Croatian dialect and the culture was distinctly Croatian. This was the case up until 1921 when the borders changed, empires fell, and then were broken up again with the Iron Curtain. Things have of course perked up since then, but Südburgenland is still one of Austria’s smallest wine regions, and specific areas like Eisenberg are even lesser known.
Needless to say, the region’s wines are underrepresented in the US. As such we are proud to introduce Kopfensteiner. Largely committed to Blaufränkisch, Thomas and Astrid have 9 hectares in Eisenberg and 6 hectares in nearby Deutsch Schützen planted in iron rich clay, loam and layers of green schist.
Combined with the highest elevation in the region and cool winds from the Hungarian plain, these are most schist-y, spicy and mineral laden Blaufränkisch we’ve tasted. Eisenberg is literally Iron (Eisen) Mountain (Berg) after all.
Founded in 2003 with just 1 hectare, and now with 5 hectares on Carnuntum’s limestone and schist rich Spitzerberg, Johannes Trapl is considered one of the “largest” producers on the hill. Leading up to this, he interned in Napa, but turned down a job there to move back to Austria. He was then fortunate to apprentice with Dorli Muhr of Muhr-van der Niepoort. Her fervent belief in old vines and being able to buck the region’s trend of big overblown reds with bright and serious wines instead clearly influenced him.
Farming organically and working towards biodynamic agriculture, his Carnuntum Red (Zweigelt, Blaufränkisch, St. Laurent) and Carnuntum White (Weissburgunder, Grüner Veltliner, Welschriesling) are both foot trodden, spontaneously fermented and spend less than a year on the lees. Both a perfect introduction to his style and well priced. The Sankt Laurent is fermented in 500L and 600L and aged for a year on the lees. The Karpatenschiefer, literally “Carpathian schist,” is Grüner Veltliner macerated on the skins for 70-90 days and then aged for 6 months in both amphora and barrel. Perhaps not super traditional, but much like Dorli Muhr’s Prellenkirchen, shows a wonderful rarely seen side of Grüner Veltliner.
We are also very happy to provide some “Ehrlicher Trinkspaß” (honest drinking fun) in California as well. These are our Austrian house wines. From the only metropolitan wine appellation in the world (Vienna), the 2017 Gemischter Satz from Peter Bernreiter is spicy, aromatic and really should be a in 1.5 liter, but these 750ml will have to do.
From Kremstal, the new Geyerhof StockWerk Grüner and Zweigelt from Josef Maier are both versatile wines for everyday of the week. Certified organic, juicy, bright and spicy.
Last but not least, the certified organic 2017 Zweigler and Blaufränker liters from the Pfneisl sisters are finally here. Put a nice chill on both and get going on some Central European recipes and picnics.
Over at Wine Berserkers, wine lover Robert Pavlovich writes about his trip to Tokaj and his winery visits to Demeter, Majoros, and Bott. His first visit was with Demeter Zoltán:
It was an honor to get a visit here as the property is immaculate, with great respect for the past and an eye toward the future. It’s rather small but maximizes its space expertly, and gives the impression that the pursuit of quality here is second to none.
Apricot, dates, honey aromatics are very pleasing and accessible. Effortless on the palate as well, it delivers brilliant sweetness with good complexity of fruit and acidity.
Perhaps not quite as thought provoking or complex as good Aszu, which is partly due to being raised in stainless steel, and selection. However, this is just a brilliant effort and the one we took home with us.
This wine caught our attention immediately with its deep golden color and unfamiliar, complex aromas and flavors. It made me think, in a way, of aged Chardonnay. But different. We discussed this wine for quite some time after first tasting it.
The mushroom, umami flavors and brown butter were a perfect match for similar flavors in the wine. We had no idea what this wine would taste like, so it was just dumb luck that this pairing worked so well. I had to laugh when, as I sat down to write this cellar note, I read the importer’s food suggestion: brown butter mushrooms or soy sauce.
Using biodynamic practices, Josip Brkić makes magical wines using the native, enduring Žilavka (“zilav” means “tough” in slavic languages). That’s a grape that has adapted to the scorched rocky soils of the region, producing wines with a remarkable balance of freshness and fullness of flavor.
Not so long ago, very few Americans knew about Croatia. Now, with Croatia’s outstanding accomplishment at the World Cup, everybody is talking about the smallest country to compete in a World Cup final since 1950. Plus if you like friendly people, crystal-clear waters, secluded beaches, ancient architecture, and great food and wine, Croatia has really plenty to offer.
Milos is considered one of the first “cult” producers of Croatia, and Plavac Mali, one of the country’s most important red grapes used to make both rosé and robust, age-worthy dry red wines. This rosé wine is made in traditional fashion, eschewing stainless steel for open top fermenters and barrels. Flavors of sweet berry and cherry ride high on fresh acidity, followed by a touch of bitterness on the finish. Unlike many parts of the world, enjoying rosé is not new to Croatians.
The producer of this wine, Alen Bibić, is a champion of the Debit grape and on a mission to bring it to the world’s attention. It’s often a high-yielding grape, capable of producing a neutral blending wine with low acidity, but in the case of this bottle, there’s lots to enjoy. The wine showed as crisp and dry with a little palate weight and broadness on the finish. Another food-friendly example.
Whenever I hear Pétillant-naturel, methode ancestrale, Pét-nat, or even Peneče, I don’t immediately think Loire, I think Berkeley. Back in 2011 while working harvest for Donkey and Goat Winery, this was the first year they made Lily’s Pét-nat. Leading up to this, I remember experiments of filling up beer bottles by hand with rough estimates of what would happen post crown cap (residual sugar, yeast populations etc…). Often, while doing other winery work, bottles could be heard exploding like distant artillery fire. It was during this time I really got a sense for what gross lees smell, taste and feel like. Eventually, they figured it out and I discovered how great wines like this could be as well.
For Blue Danube, it was only a matter of time before the huge array of Central/Eastern European high acid grapes would eventually lend themselves to the oldest way of making sparkling wine. Štoka was the first to lead the charge with Teran and Vitovska from the Kras appellation in Slovenia.
Tadej and Primož Štoka already produced a traditional method cave aged sparkling Teran. They knew Teran had the acidity and balance but had to reverse engineer a few things for a pét-nat. The Vitovska on the other hand, was usually skin-macerated and often with whole berries in barrel for up to 10 months. That said, the parent grapes are Glera (aka Prosecco) and Malvasia Bianca. There’s been talk of some sparkling wines made from both. With a few vintages behind the Štoka family, we are happy to have the 2017s to share with you.
The Vitovska has some tropical hints but is then intensely herbal, stony and dry. Makes me want to eat Jota – think Slovenian bean, pork and Sauerkraut hotpot. The Teran Rosé is similar to the Marasca Cherry orchards surrounding the vineyards. Tart, bright and yet still ripe. The Teran is the destroyer of all things bloody. Rare meats, charcuterie, and of course blood sausage to name a few. They are great compliments to the increasing range of Pét-nats from around the world.
Speaking of sparkling wines from around the world, I’ll end with a shameless plug for two other favorites. From Tokaj, Kikelet‘s 2013 Pezsgő Brut (100% Hárslevelű). One of the very few grower producers of traditional method wines in the whole appellation. Volcanic, bright and unique. From Somló, Kreinbacher has a traditional method Brut and lower dosage Prestige from certified organic and basalt ridden vineyards. Smoke, stone fruit and harnessing the acidity of Furmint.
A central lesson of the Iliad is the terrifying fragility of the things that bring us together, and the importance of safeguarding them. In that spirit, it becomes a wonderful book to cook from, and turns out to be full of scenes of communality where the Greek troops mark events of social and religious significance with feasting and drinking wine.
To eat like Achilles, she invented an Homeric grilling-and-skewering technique with a boneless leg of lamb, wrapped in pork belly. But how to find wines that tasted like the ones mentioned by Homer?
In the Iliad, we learn that the wines are coming from ancient regions like Thrace, a large area in Eastern and Southeastern Europe, bounded by the Balkan Mountains to the north, the Aegean Sea to the south and the Black Sea to the east. She consulted with a couple of wine directors including Patrick Cournot of Ruffian Wine & Food in Manhattan’s East Village and found some startlingly delicious bottles that went perfectly with the grilled meat.
This wine from the Republic of Georgia is aged in clay vessels buried beneath the ground, as wine was in Homer’s time. Instead of artificial refrigeration, the Gotsa vineyard uses water flowing from the nearby mountains to create a cooler environment for fermentation, technology that would have been available in antiquity.
“So, get together with friends this weekend, folks, grill, and drink wine,” concludes Valerie Stivers. “It’s what makes us human. Reading the Iliad out loud is fun but optional.”
Pétillant Naturel, or Pét-Nat for short, is a modern trend but its origin is not so new. Pét-Nats are made using the Méthode Ancestrale, the oldest way of making sparkling wines. It dates back to the 16th century and was invented by monks in the Limoux region in southwestern France. The wine is bottled before finishing its fermentation, allowing a second fermentation to naturally occur in the bottle using the residual sugar. The sediments are not removed and the wine is not filtered, producing a light and fizzy wine, often cloudy, due to the remaining lees and lack of filtration. Enjoy the fresh and lively Štoka Pét-Nats, White, Rosé, Red, made from the Slovenian grapes Vitovska and Teran.
Méthode Champenoise produces sparkling wine by creating a second fermentation in bottle. The second fermentation is accomplished by adding a mixture of sugar and yeast to still wine. The wine is then bottled, capped, and aged on its lees for several months, which develops texture and complexity. When the wine is ready, the neck of the bottle is frozen in order to remove the sediments. The cap is removed and the frozen sediments shoot out of the pressurized bottle. In Hungary, Kreinbacher combines the traditions of Champagne with Somlo’s distinctiveness. In Tokaj, Kikelet and Patricius use Hárslevelű and Furmint to make Brut wines with great depth. In Croatia, BIBICh makes two fine and fruitful Brut and Brut Rosé from local Dalmatian varieties.
Méthode Charmat was invented by Jean-Eugène Charmat in 1907. Like the Méthode Champenoise, the Charmat method uses two fermentations but here, the second fermentation happens in a large stainless steel tank rather than in the bottle. Therefore, the resulting wine has less contact with the lees and is more fruity. This is a good way to make sparkling wines from aromatic grape varieties as it preserves the fresh aromas of the grapes. From Törley, the leading sparkling wine producer in Hungary, the aromatic Gala Sec and sweeter Fortuna are great alternative to Prosecco and Moscato d’Asti.
Pošip (pronounced poe-ship) is a grape that grows predominantly in the Dalmatian region of Croatia and is indigenous to the island of Korcula. The grape is capable of reaching very high sugar levels so it’s no small feat that this bottling is full of ripe fruit flavors but remains light and crisp. Perfect to drink with anything pulled from the sea! The “special” bottling is from younger vines from the Toreta property.
Frano Banicević is the young winemaker of Toreta, a winery founded by his great grandfather. Today, he farms roughly 5 hectares of Pošip in Korčula’s Smokvica area, not far from Pošip’s birthplace. His wines are incredibly well-balanced and of course absolutely seafood-friendly. Try also his Pošip Premium, a fuller wine made from older vines, and his Pošip Sur Lie, a wine with lots of depth and complexity.
Follow Caroline’s lead and get some Toreta Pošip and lobster this summer! She is on Instagram and you can also check out her latest posts on her blog.
Charine Tan and Dr Matthew Horkey, the duo behind Exotic Wine Travel, have just released part 4 of their 4-part series about Istria. it’s a great video that will introduce you to Istria’s gastronomic treasures, the region’s wines from Teran and Malvazija, and a few organic winemakers including Dimitri Brečević from Piquentum.
“Piquentum wines are made with little or no intervention,” narrates Matthew Horkey. “They’re fermented with native yeast. We’re usually fond of the Piquentum Teran and Refosk but today we’re very impressed by his Sv. Vital Malvazija. It’s a reserve wine made from vines over 40 years of age.”
Malvazija Istarska is one of the oldest Croatian grape varieties. Being grown in the Istrian peninsula since the ancient Greeks, it produces fresh and mineral white wines of floral and citrus character. But the quality of Malvazija wines greatly depends on the terroir.
Characterized by medium-deep red soil, the Sv. Vital terroir is rich in bauxite and planted with 40-year-old vines that are farmed organically. The climate is Mediterranean with hot and dry summers tempered by the sea. On the label, the dots represent the level of rainfall from October of the previous year to September, month of the harvest.
After a short maceration, the Malvazija grapes go though a spontaneous fermentation and then are aged 12 months in oak barrel.
Showing a deep golden color, the wine is rich, smoky, savory, with a vibrant acidity and an incredibly silky texture on the palate. It’s a very special wine made in very limited quantities (only 1245 bottles produced). The wine is great with seafood of course but try it also with mushroom-based dishes (especially truffles) and soft washed-rind cheese.
And don’t forget to watch Charine Tan and Dr Matthew Horkey’s video. They will take you on a spearfishing trip in the Adriatic Sea and to one of the most famous Istrian restaurants. You’ll also meet a few of the best Istrian winemakers in their cellars and their vineyards: