Partly because it’s already hitting 80 degrees in my adopted hometown of Sacramento, and partly because I miss Croatia, I’d like to highlight two island wines this month. Island wine regions, whether they be Italian, Spanish, Greek, French, or Kiwi, are all fiercely independent with their respective language, food and wine. Croatia is no different and the Island of Krk and the Island of Hvar both possess something unique from the mainland. At the risk of both a Star Trek and Star Wars pun, these are both serious wines with great stories, made by wonderful people, and from impossibly beautiful places.
Crossing the bridge to the Island of Krk, one might be surprised by all the advertisements; some for a local casino, some for other types of seemingly out of place entertainment venues. Sadly this is the direction most of the inhabitants of the island are heading to generate income. The idea of producing a physical product, be it wine, olive oil, or other goods is being left behind for the easier income of renting out apartments.
There is however, one man who is not only sustaining himself and his family with winemaking, but is making great strides to preserve it on the island of Krk. Ivica Dobrinčić is a force of nature on the island and Žlahtina is his flagship white grape. Gently gardenia scented with a whiff of Friškina (scent of the sea) and plenty of weight and acidity. In addition to classic pairings like Muscadet, Sauvignon Blanc or Chablis for oysters, please give this a try. Works well with the entire and perhaps more familiar Italian kitchen as well.
2008 Carić Plovac Ploski (100% Plavac Mali), Island of Hvar, Croatia…
Our next stop are the impossibly steep vineyards on the south side of the Island of Hvar. To get there you need to drive through the semi terrifying, unlit, 1.5 km, one-lane Pitve tunnel originally designed for water pipes, never for cars. Once you hit daylight, the hillside vineyards climb up and disappear into the fog and descend right down to the Adriatic’s edge. It’s like the Mosel meets the White Cliffs of Dover. See also the Cliffs of Insanity.
It’s also where the Carić family grows their Plavac Mali. Ivo, whose hands immediately remind you that you’ve gone far too soft, is constantly picking herbs, smelling them, and feeling the various soils — you can tell he spends on inordinate amount of time here. Plavac Mali from this area takes on the Umani like brininess typical to the grape but also embodies the sun-baked herbs and weathered stone soils overlooking the sea. Locals drink it with Dalmatinska Pašticada, a beef based stew where the meat is pierced and stuffed with garlic, cloves, carrot and bacon, then salted and marinated in vinegar overnight. Add a bunch of prunes, nutmeg, and Prošek and cook for hours and hours.
If you have tasted more than a few Georgian wines, chances are at least one of them was made under the watchful eyes of Gogi Dakishvili. He has made wine for one of the largest Georgian producers, Teliani Valley, and one of the smallest, Vinoterra, which is now part of the Schuchmann Wines Georgia family.
He has been working as a chief wine-maker in “Schuchmann Wines Georgia” since its establishment in 2008 where he carefully and cautiously put his great experience accumulated from travel and knowledge gained from approaching world wine traditions into practice.
Read more of Keto Ninidze’ written “portrait” here.
Browse all our Georgian wines, including those made by Gogi here.
Recently Frank Dietrich led an in depth tasting of Hungarian wines at Soif wine bar in Santa Cruz, CA. The wines represented many of the major appellations and indigenous grapes of the regions. Wine writer Christine Havens attended this event and has graciously permitted us to share her blog post, in which she provides detailed notes of the wines tasted as well as a little of her own connection to Hungary. You can view the original post, and all of Christine’s other reviews on her site.
Hungarian Wine Tasting at Soif Wine Bar & Merchants by Christine Havens.
My mother is Hungarian. My father was mostly English with some other nationalities thrown in, like most Americans, his family tree included a pinch of German and a nip of Irish. My dad never talked about his heritage, but my mother has always been fiercely proud of her ancestry. I suppose that’s why I’ve always identified as Hungarian, the country with some of the world’s most beautiful women and a famously high rate of depression, pessimism and overall gloominess.
After my grandparents had passed, photos of my great grandparents emerged from dusty albums stored and long forgotten in their basement. My predecessors grew vines in their backyard and even made wine during prohibition. I don’t think there is anything remarkable about that, but it felt significant to learn that wine is intertwined with my history, my DNA.
Of course, like most American wine consumers, I know very little about Hungarian wines, so when a Hungarian wine tasting was advertised at Soif, I made a point to attend.
The wines were presented by the Blue Danube Wine Company; a distributor focused on representing top quality wines from Austria, Hungary, Croatia, Slovenia and Montenegro. To my great surprise, several other Hungarians showed up for the tasting. Seated together, we sipped, shared stories and compared notes.
Here are my notes from the tasting:
Olaszliszka Tokaj Hárslevelu 2013: A collaborative effort between ten winemakers united in their mission to reinstate the historical identity and importance of the village of Olaszliszka, Olaszliszka Tokaj Hárslevelu 2013 was a favorite at yesterday’s Hungarian wine tasting. Notes of kerosene, apricot kernel, and dried mint. On the palate, it’s slightly sweet and extraordinarily silky with discreet lees and traces of lemon oil and pear. $26.00 | Sample
Bott Csontos Furmint 2012: There is a charming story behind Bott winery. Managed by husband and wife team, Judit and József Bodó, they’re still using their first barrel they received as a wedding gift. Frank Dietrich esplained, a wine barrel is a traditional wedding gift in Hungary. The 2012 Csontos Furmint hails from a region that is rich in clay and volcanic soils. Seated on the edge of the Zemplèn forest, the vineyard is a mere 1.5 hectares and still plowed by horses. Ethereal and delicate nose of orange blossom, white hand soap, and spearmint. Limpid and golden-robed in the glass, it’s lavishly silky and shot through with citrus and mineral notes. 14.0% ABV $33.00 | Sample
Fekete Béla Somló Juhfark 2011: From an obscure, nearly extinct grape variety, Juhfark translated literally means “sheep’s tail” so named because tightly clustered bunches have a distinctive curve at the tip. Found only in the Somló region of Hungary, this non-aromatic variety is typically aged in large oak barriques. Preserved lemon, cling peaches, chamomile, and white flowers round out the nose. It’s a broad-shouldered white with a coursing vein of acidity, along with a mineral upwelling that showcases an ashy, volcanic soil type. There are over 400 volcanoes in Hungary, certainly the whites have a sort of unity to them, in terms of fruit expression and texture, I found myself wondering if the similarity is due to a soil type and climate. $28.00 | Sample
Eszterbauer Nagyapám Szekszárd Kadarka 2013: Yet another relatively unknown grape, Kadarka traces it’s origins to the Szekszárd region of Hungry. For me, it’s somewhat reminiscent of Blaufränkisch, which, interestingly also originates from Szekszárd. Ruby-hued and aromatic, ebullient notes of red fruit, roses and subtle spice tumble forth. It’s equally generous on the palate with low tannins, balanced by a nice pop of acidity that gives lift to pie cherries, raspberries and a carefree pinch of tobacco. 13.0% ABV $21.00 | Sample
J & J Eger Hegy Dűlő Kékfrankos 2009: Kékfrankos is better known as Blaufränkisch, which is certainly gaining in popularity in Burgenland. This Hungarian offering from J&J Eger is the work of two men named Janos, and it shines. It is also the one wine I purchased from the tasting, not only because I enjoyed it, but because the it was suggested as a great pairing with venison or boar—the pairing pushed me over the edge. Evocative notes of violets, flowers, black cherries, forest underbrush lead into fine, mouth-coating tannins in this voluptuous red. I opened this a few days after to tasting to pair it with venison and cherry sausages from d’Artagnan. $26.00 | Sample
Gere Attila Kopár Villányi Cuvée 2009: Interesting to find an international blend of 50% Cabernet Franc; 40% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. This is the top cuvée from Gere Attilla, I was intrigued to read that the soil composition in the vineyards is primarily windblown loess, the same soil type that was in my former vineyard. It’s big-boned and densely packed with violets and sweet black cherries, blackberries, vanilla and toast. Easy-drinking, the tannins are ripe and inviting. It’s a modern, fruit-forward style. $60.00 | Sample
The Fuleky Pallas Tokaji 2012 is a modern, late harvest Tokaji whose grapes have not been affected by botrytis (or Noble Rot). While enjoyable, I found myself wanting more complexity from both the nose and palate. It has light floral accents tinged with spiced pear and honey, and a moderate level of acidity. It’s quite silky on the palate. I wasn’t bowled over by this dessert wine, especially considering its price. $25.00 | Sample
All in all, an excellent and informative tasting, one of the many reasons why I love visiting Soif. I’ll have more to write about this small but well-provisioned wine shop and bar in the coming months.
While you may not be able to recall the last time you encountered a wine spritzer, the beverage is quite popular in many countries. In fact throughout most of Eastern Europe you will find that adding a touch of sparkling water to wine is just as common as drinking wine on its own. Why?
First off, wine plays a different role in Eastern European cultures than it does in the West. On this difference Stetson Robbins of Blue Danube Wines says “they view wine as less precious. It’s just part of the table, like bread. I think in Central and Eastern Europe this quality is even stronger.” Well, there you have it.
Rosé is no longer a sweet, uninspiring wine to drink as was often the case in past generations. More and more people are discovering the diversity of rosé and the wine is enjoying renewed popularity.
A younger generation of vinophiles are increasingly embracing the pink stuff, and more and more winemakers are producing rosé to keep up with its rising popularity. According to Nielsen, rosé sales in the US grew 25.4 percent last year.
Continue reading this article by Lauren Gitlin for the NY Post, where our Štoka Teran rosé is recommended as one to “drink now”. Vine Wine owner Talitha Whidbee says,”It’s refreshing and delicious but it has enough weight and structure to hold up to some winter foods. I took it home and had it with chicken and tomatoes baked with feta.”
Do you want to know more about Hungary’s beloved wine region of Tokaj? welovebudapest.com has put together this great primer on the region and its myriad of wine styles.
Like a gigantic quilt of randomly shaped corduroy patches draped over a vast expanse of pillows, the hills of Hungary’s globally revered Tokaj wine region are crisscrossed with premier vineyards cultivated for centuries – this is the source of goldenly sweet Aszú, long esteemed as one of the world’s most desirable libations.
The Region Šibenik is an idyllic port city along the Dalmatian Coast, about an hour and a half from Split to the south, and Zadar to the north. Set against a backdrop of shimmering blue sea, the town is also an important access point to the Krka National Park and the Kornati Islands.
The BIBICh Winery is located in the hills of Skradin, about 5 miles east of of Šibenik. Alen Bibić has really put the region on the map with consistently high-quality wines. Although Alen takes pride in indigenous varieties like the Zinfandel-related grapes Babić, Lasin, and Plavina, and the white Debit, he also enjoys working with international ones like Merlot and Syrah (Shiraz).
Things to do and see
The BIBICh winery offers special wine tasting menus that you will need to arrange ahead of time. Each wine is paired with a gourmet bite utilizing local products, thoughtfully put together by Alen’s wife, Vesna.
While there is no onsite hotel, the nearby Villa Barbara hotel comes highly recommended. Located right by River Krka and the Skradin marina, Villa Barbara offers spacious apartments within walking distance of the local bus station.
A trip to the Krka National Park is not to be missed, with its extremely scenic waterfalls and wildlife.
The border between Northeast Italy, and Western Slovenia runs from the Alps to the Adriatic Sea, dividing a terroir important to both. Known as ‘Collio’ in Italy, and ‘Brda’ in Slovenia, their shared meaning is ‘hills’.
Due to its proximity to both the Alps and the Adriatic sea, Brda enjoys climate conditions most favorable for growing vines as well as cherries, peaches, apricots, pears, apples, figs, plums, and olives. Winters are mild and summers can be hot. Cool northeast winds help remove humidity and mildew in the vineyards.
The region is known for white varieties such as Rebula, Sauvignonasse (formerly Tocai Fruilano), Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, and Sauvignon Blanc as well as international reds like Merlot and Cabernet Franc.
Winemaker Jean-Michel Morel is originally from France but after meeting his wife Katja Kabaj in a nearby Italian winery, decided to relocate to Slovenia and rebuild the Kabaj family estate. Jean-Michel, a Wine & Spirits Magazine 100 Wineries winner in 2013, makes world-class wines using local varieties and winemaking techniques. His skin-macerated white wines including Rebula (known as ‘the queen of Brda’), Ravan (an old local name for the grape formerly known as Tocai Friullano) and Sivi Pinot (Pinot Gris) are rich and earthy with plenty of freshness. His red wines, made from Bordeaux varieties that have existed in Brda for over 200 years, are distinctive and well-balanced.
Things to do and see
Above the underground cellar, Katja and Jean-Michel run a guest house with 6 charming rooms overlooking the vineyard. The breakfast is traditional and includes cheese, prosciutto, homemade jams, freshly baked breads, and fruits. In the evening, a gourmet tasting menu is served featuring Slovenian recipes and local ingredients, and paired with Kabaj wines.
The guest house is the perfect base to explore the picturesque vineyard-covered hills and hilltop villages of Brda including Dobrovo and its Renaissance castle and the fortified village of Smartno. Across the border in Italy, the town of Cividale del Friuli is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The seaside is just 30min away and from there, access to the Venetian towns of Koper, Izola, and Piran. Ljubljana, Slovenia’s beautiful capital, is around 1.15h away.
Renowned Riesling expert, Stuart Pigott, expresses his thoughts on Georgian wine after a tasting led by Lisa Granik MW in Brooklyn at Hotel Delmano.
During my June 2008 tour of Georgia the most exciting wines were those being made by Dr. Giorgi Dakishvili at Vinoterra in Qvevri, that is fermenting them in Georgian “amphora”, were the most striking and exciting of all. That was also the case at today’s tasting, but the best wines were even better than those I experienced there five years ago.