Cracking Croatian Wine: A Visitor-Friendly Guide

Charine Tan on Pag
Charine Tan on the island of Pag, Istria

After four years of deliberating and planning together, in May 2015, Charine Tan and Dr Matthew Horkey sold almost all of their possessions, dropped the comfort and security of their lucrative careers, and left Singapore to travel around the world. With a dream of building a location-independent business and to absorb the world’s lessons, they have explored over 50 wine regions and published four books (three of them are wine related) along the way. Cracking Croatian Wine: A Visitor-Friendly Guide is the third in a series of ‘Exotic Wine Travel’ books that they plan to author. They also share wine travel tips, videos, wine-related stories, and exciting finds from lesser-known wine regions on exoticwinetravel.com, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube.

Matt Overlooking Dingac Dalmatia
Matthew Horkey Overlooking the Dingač vineyard in Southern Dalmatia

When asked about the name ‘Exotic Wine Travel’, the duo explained that the problem with lesser-known wine regions and exotic wines is that, often, visitors bounce around a country swiftly and end up tasting some sub-standard local wines. Their experiences tend to be incidental and far from ideal. For that reason, Charine and Matthew aim to explore the unheralded wine regions of the world and introduce the readers to the best that those places have to offer. To achieve that, they usually spend a long period in a wine region or country, integrating with the local wine community to find out the ‘good, bad, and ugly’, and finally, share the vinous gems and stories of a place with fellow wine lovers.

Cracking Croatian Wine: A Visitor-Friendly Guide

Charine in Kutjevo Slavonia and the Danube
Charine in Kutjevo, Slavonia

While Croatia is a young country, its wine history dates back to over 2,500 years ago. There are more than 130 indigenous wine grapes in Croatia; around 40 of them are currently used in commercial wine production. These autochthonous grapes are supplemented by numerous international ones. All in all, it is believed that over 200 varieties are cultivated in the country and vinified by about 1,600 registered wine producers.

Croatian White Wine Vineyard
Croatian White Wine Vineyard

Charine and Matthew say, “Croatia is making some of the most exciting wines in Europe. Let us help you find them!”

Cracking Croatian Wine: A Visitor-Friendly Guide is a practical and informative guidebook, designed for people who enjoy wine either casually or with great curiosity and vigor. The couple spent eight months traveling through the country, visiting hundreds of producers, and tasting nearly 2,000 wines in preparation for the book. Cracking Croatian Wine is their way of helping wine lovers save time, money, and effort: the book will provide pertinent information to help wine tourists maximize their time in Croatia and identify the types of wines they will enjoy.

Lumbarda Korcula Dalmatia
The village of Lumbarda on Korčula island, Dalmatia

The book covers:

An Introduction to Croatia: An overview of Croatian wine history, wine regions, general climatic and geographical features, Croatian cuisine, and styles of wine available to complete the gastronomic experience.

Wine Grapes in Croatia: A rundown of the native and international wine grapes planted in Croatia, along with a pronunciation guide to help you order wine like a local.

Wine Label Interpretation: Croatian wine labels can have a lot of information on them. In this book, we offer a guide to understanding every line on the label.

Wine Recommendations: More than 150 wine recommendations, complete with tasting notes. This section is categorized into:

1. For the discerning palate and the connoisseur

2. For the adventurous palate and the wine geek

3. For the casual wine drinker

Featured Wine Personalities: These people will offer insights into the existing wine culture and the prospect of Croatia as a wine destination.

Saša Says: Saša Špiranec, renowned Croatian wine writer, offers an insider’s look at Croatia’s wine regions.

To purchase the paperback book: https://www.amazon.com/Cracking-Croatian-Wine-Visitor-Friendly-Guide/dp/9811139733

To purchase the electronic book: http://exoticwinetravel.com/cracking-croatian-wine-guide

#WineWednesday Spotlight #104: Shavnabada Rkatsiteli

Georgian wine tasting
Photo: Sierra Dawn Downey

Sierra Dawn Downey tells stories through illustrating, writing, and photography and teaches about wine. She recently attended a tasting of Georgian wines at The Barrel Room in San Francisco and was particularly fascinated by the Shavnabada Rkatsiteli, a rich amber-colored wine made by monks from the Shavnabada Monastery that spent 9 years buried in the earth after 5 months of maceration:

Ever since listening to @winefornormalpeople’s episode on Georgian wines, I’ve been incredibly curious to try some for myself. Thanks to the intrepid wine gurus at @barrelroomsf, I was able to travel to Eastern Europe via its vino and dive into the world of amphorae wines! I can honestly say I’ve never quite experienced history on my tongue and in my nose as I did with this flight. When I tried the amber-colored Shavnabada Rkatsiteli, made by Georgian Orthodox monks in Kakheti who age it for years in qvevris, it brought to mind creaking old stone-and-wood buildings decorated with decades of dust. Tree resin, herbs, treated wood. It was fascinating.

She also tasted the Gotsa Tavkveri and the doqi Saperavi:

Then it was on to the Gotsa Rosé of Tarkveri, the color of a vivid sunset in my glass–with the slight (and very unexpected) scent of blood and iron–think rare red meat–with the red fruit notes dancing underneath. Rounding out the flight was a doqi Saperavi from Kakheti, an inky wine aged in (at least from this producer) stainless steel and French oak barriques rather than qvevris. Aromas of warm honey and toffee swirled in the glass, turning to honeyed plum, cherries, and nearly over-cooked caramel on the tongue with a pleasing finish. I found it a brooding wine that enticed another sip to (try to) further understand it.

Overall, it was a fascinating experience, and I was transported to my days spent exploring Fort Ross in elementary school, where the importance was placed on living history rather than simply learning it.

Follow Sierra Dawn Downey and her drawings and photography on Instagram.

#WineWednesday Spotlight #103: Brkić Greda

Brkic Greda
Biodynamic Bosnian producer Josip Brkić

Today is a contribution by Bosnian wine educator and consultant Aleksandar Draganić over at Grape Nomad.

The Brkić Greda is one of these wines that Will Make You Fall in Love with Žilavka Immediately:

A deep golden yellow in the glass, reminiscent of that tree sap you liked to poke your fingers into when you were a kid. I love the authenticity this wine has year in year out – maturing in Bosnian oak, with fine lees aging to get its creamy texture and scrumptious notes of dried apricot, vanilla biscuits, ripe pear and quince. Infinite aftertaste, medium body and without a glamorous drinking window, but still something to taste if you want to remember this grape.

For Josip Brkić, who organically farms the white Žilavka and red Blatina in Čitluk in southern Bosnia and Herzegovina, the vineyard is a special place. It’s a place of dedication, a place that demands respect, attention, love, knowledge and passionate work. And his wines reflect his vision and dedication. Check Josip Brkić’s amazing wines on our webshop.

#WineWednesday Spotlight #102: Miloš Stagnum

milos stagnum tasting
Photo: Oxford University Wine Circle

The Oxford University Wine Circle is the oldest student wine society in the world. Since 1962, it has organized frequent tastings and dinners for its members and their guests, bringing top quality producers to the university of Oxford.

One of the society’s recent tastings featured a 1961 Aloxe-Corton, a 1995 Corton-Charlemagne, a 2003 Opus One and a 2003 Miloš Stagnum:

So a couple of (opposite) ’03s.. ’03 Stagnum Milos.. against a ’03 Opus One… Well, we also had a 1961 Aloxe-Corton (rubbish) and a wonderful ’95 Corton-Charlemagne..
.
Par for the course.. The Milos won! Goddamn, this Croatian wine is good! I really hope my subscribers get a chance to taste it! .
.
#croatia #plavacmali #milos

The Stagnum is quite a special wine. Sourced from organic 30-year-old Plavac Mali vines planted on steep, dry-farmed terraced vineyards, it is fermented with wild yeasts, and aged in old Slavonian oak barrel for three years. The wine is rich and powerful with well structured tannins and it is definitively age-worthy.

Is it the First Cult Wine of Croatia? Check this video from Exotic Wine Travel:

We’re sold out of the 2003 but the 2007 vintage is still available, hurry up!

#WineWednesday Spotlight #101: BIBICh Lučica

bibich lucica
Photo: Marcy Gordon

Another contribution from our friend, BIBICh wine lover Marcy Gordon:

Lučica, Lučica! How do I love thee Lučica, let me count the ways… 1) Produced by the master Alen Bibić. 2) My beloved Debit grape indigenous to Croatia. 3) The first Bibich wine I fell in love with. (The rest all followed quickly) 4) Always surprises me. 5) Orange is not the only wine, but it could be for me. (subtle Jeanette Winterson reference –google it) 6) Every sip transports me to Skradin.

Thank you Alen Bibic for making Lučica!

#Lučia #Bibich #winesofcroatia #wine #croatia #Skradin #orange #orangewine #bluedanubewine #dalmatia #winesofdalmatia #BibichWinery #BIBICh

The BIBICh Lučica 2015 is a 100% Debit from old vines planted by Alen Bibić’s grandfather. It’s Alen’s special wine, macerated on the skins for two weeks, and fermented with natural yeast in French oak barrels for more than a year. It’s a serious age-worthy wine, evoking scents of Mediterranean dried herbs and the salty sea breeze and it’s also delicious right now. Ask Marcy!

#WineWednesday Spotlight #100: Martinčič Pinot Noir Rosé

Martincic Pinot Noir Rosé
Martinčič Pinot Noir Rosé showing its lovely salmon pink color

An hour’s drive from Ljubljana in Southeast Slovenia, the Dolenjska wine-growing district is one of Slovenia’s largest wine growing region. Thanks to a combination of alpine and continental climatic influences, its gentle, south-facing hills at the edge of the woods are ideal for growing grapevines.

The region is famous for its light, fruity, low-alcohol reds, especially the Cviček, a traditional, slightly sour red wine made by blending red and white grape varieties.

Made in the same light and fruity style, try this Pinot Noir Rosé from the family-owned Martinčič winery: showing a lovely pale salmon pink hue, the wine is dry and tangy with a refreshing round palate. With only 11% alcohol in a 1 Liter bottle, bring it to your next picnic with a cured salami and a fresh loaf of bread.

The Tart, Salty and the Nutty from the other side of the Adriatic: Summer Wines from the Balkans

15 wines is a lot to get through without losing you after this sentence. However, there is a salty, tart, and often nutty line that connects them all from the Bay of Trieste down to Southern Dalmatia. These are our table wines for the summer.

martincic france
France Martinčič

For the past few years, we’ve brought the Martinčič Cviček liter in from Dolenjsko (in between Zagreb and Ljubljana in Slovenia). This tongue-twisting blend of red and white grapes must be between 8.5-10% alcohol and dry by law. Now we are finally adding two more liters to round things out – the 2016 Modra Frankinja (Blaufränkisch) and 2016 Modri Pinot Rosé (Pinot Noir). They are both around 11-11.5% alcohol, incredibly low in SO2, and are impossibly fresh and full of character. Chill all three down and let them come up at the table.

santomas vineyard
Santomas vineyards overlooking the Adriatic

Roughly 2 hours West and a bit south by car and you hit Istria (Istra in Slovenia). Dominated by Malvasia Istarska, Teran and Refošk, the diversity by soil and proximity to the Adriatic is immense. Keeping with the liter theme, the 2016 Santomas LNG Refošk is our Dolcetto by the sea in that it satisfies the pizza/pasta needs but still lends itself to seafood. Best chilled. Just 30-40 mins drive south along the Western coast of Istria in Croatia you hit Coronica. Iron rich red soils, a keen sense of keeping acidity in balance, and salty salty salty. It’s like drinking fried fish with lemon and cured sardines in olive oil and lemon. The Gran Malvasia and Teran (related to Refošk) translate to extended élevage and oak aging. We get very little every year, but they both showcase how balanced these grapes can be with added weight, spice and texture.

Karst
Karst limestone at Śipun

Just off the Eastern Coast of Istria is the Island of Krk. The running joke is the Venetians took all of the vowels when they left. Pink karst limestone, wild asparagus as cover crops, and two grapes you can hardly find elsewhere even in Croatia: Źlahtina and Sansigot. Ivica at Śipun is also cultivating a library of heritage grapes, driving quality on the Island, and his hospitality matches the inviting nature of both wines. Using Mulberry, Acacia and Walnut barrels in concert with two distinct local grapes makes for something special. Pair the white Žlahtina like you would a Muscadet and give the red Sansigot a slight chill and pair like a Ligurian red.

BIBICh vineyard
BIBICh vineyard

About 3-4 hours drive down the Dalmatian coast you hit Bibich near the town of Skradin. While Bibich makes a variety of red wines, the focus today is the Debit grape done four ways. Debit, much like Pagadebit in Italy (no genetic relationship) refers to easily repaying one’s debts due to the vigorousness of the variety. We think of it like the Riesling of Northern Dalmatia. You can make it bright in stainless steel, refreshingly oxidative in barrel, takes skin contact really well, plenty of acidity for sparkling, and even lends itself to Prošek (passito style). Croatia meets the Jura by the sea…

Ivana Caric
Ivana Carić

About 1.5 hours south by car and off of the coast is the Island of Hvar. A whole newsletter could be devoted to the history to this place. UNESCO Heritage etc… Nevertheless, Ivana and Ivo Carić make a delicious Bogdanjuša here. The grape translates to “a godsend” (Bogom dana), and is traditionally used during church holidays and festivities. For our purposes here, it’s a light bodied island white with salt, herbs and a mineral core that sneaks up on you as it warms up. It tastes like you should be on vacation.

There will no doubt be a lot of articles about whites and reds to chill down this summer, so we humbly ask to consider these in complimenting the usual and worthy suspects.

#WineWednesday Spotlight #99: Pfneiszl Zweigler

Pfneiszl Zweigler
Photo: Shelley Warkentin

This week’s #WineWednesday Spotlight is the dazzling Pfneiszl Zweigler thanks to this Instagram post from wine lover Shelley Warkentin:

Crushed this tasty Zweigelt over the weekend. Really loving this grape as an alternative to rosé on hot days, especially with a little chill on it.⚡️Also, I want to hang out with the two awesome sisters, Birgit and Katrin, who made this wine. @pfneiszlestate #glouglou
#pfneiszlwinery #zweigler #zweigelt #austrianwine #realwine #birgitundkatrin #bluedanubewine

Affirmative! The 1 Liter Zweigler from the Pfneisl sisters is just what you need on a hot day. Try also his brother, the spicy 1 Liter Blaufränker. Both are bright, fruity as well as organic.

And don’t forget to follow Shelley Warkentin on on Instagram.

#WineWednesday Spotlight #98: Doqi Saperavi

doqi Saperavi
doqi Saperavi

Another good review from The Wine Enthusiast Magazine for the doqi Saperavi:

This red-violet-colored wine has a bouquet of raspberry and lingonberry. Velvety tannins create a backdrop for flavors of blackberry, cranberry, vanilla and fennel. Notes of cranberry shine through on the bright finish. 89 Points

If you like dark, fragrant and full-bodied wines, you should try this Saperavi from the new doqi label of German-born Burkhard Schuchmann. Also, if you want to learn more about the different styles of Georgian wines, compare this doqi Saperavi, aged in a combination of stainless steel and in French oak barriques, with the doqi Saperavi Qvevri, fermented in qvevri in the traditional Georgian style. And don’t forget to cheer. Gaumarjos! To your victory!

#WineWednesday Spotlight #97: Gotsa Family Wines Tsitska

Gotsa Family Wines Tsitska
Gotsa Family Wines Tsitska

Traditional Georgian wines are like nothing else you’ll taste,writes Wine expert and The Vinguard founder Pamela Busch.

Beyond the strangeness of the varietals, they are often fermented and aged in large egg-shaped amphora known as qvevri (sometimes written as kvevri). These earthen clay vessels were first used 8,000 years ago and are making a bit of a resurgence with producers from Italy to California preferring them to tanks or barrels.

Among the wines Pamela tasted at a recent San Francisco event organized by The Georgian Wine Association and The National Wine Agency of Georgia, one of the highlights was the Gotsa Family Wines 2014 Tsitska:

Beka Gotsadze grandfather founded Gotsa it in the 19th Century and he has shepherded it into the modern age with terrific traditionally made wines. It has been organic since 2007 and will be Demeter certified in 2018. Tsitska is a thick-skinned ancient white grape. This wine did not have any skin contact but still has a little girth – not much – think Marilyn Monroe in Some Like It Hot. Fermented and aged in amphora, it has a clean minerality with saline, Meyer lemon and a touch of honey in the nose.

Follow Pamela over at The Vinguard and check our webshop for more Gotsa wines.