Mon Chérry…

Forced French puns aside, in the 11th hour brainstorming that usually precedes a newsletter to the trade, it occurred to me — cherries! Marasca cherries, which grow up and down the Dalmatian coast (including Slovenia and Southern Hungary) became famous all over Europe once distilled into Maraschino. Most of this production eventually moved to Italy after the destruction of WWII, but famous producers like Luxardo (1821) were all founded in Croatia. Cherry festivals can also be found all over Croatia and neighboring Slovenia. Whether you’re in Istria/Slovene Istria (Piquentum, Coronica, Santomas), Goriška Brda (Kabaj), the Kras (Štoka), Dolenjska (Martinčič) or Štajerska (Črnko), cherries abound. Sour, bitter and sweet, they also play a role in the cuisine as fresh soups, desserts, added to stews, jams, syrups, etc… Granted, I know I’m not breaking new ground by attaching cherry flavors to wine. It’s less about the wines tasting like cherries (although some really do), but a similar balance between bitter, sweet and sour. Whether it’s skin contact Ravan (Friulano), Rebula (Ribolla Gialla) and Sivi Pinot (Pinot Grigio), salty barrel aged Malvasia Istriana, bloody Teran, sweet and sour Cviček, bright and aromatic white field blends, or tart Refošk, there’s a kinship at play. … Continue reading Mon Chérry…

Istria, the new Tuscany

Olive tree groves, vineyard-dotted hills, truffles and medieval hilltop towns: we’re not describing Tuscany but Istria, a heart-shaped peninsula — the largest in the Adriatic Sea — located south of Trieste. Long ruled by the Venetians and later the Hapsburgs, it is now shared by three countries: the largest part (89%) is in Croatia, the northwestern part lies in Slovenia, and a very tiny portion belongs to Italy. While they both enjoy a rich food and wine culture and a beneficial Mediterranean climate, Tuscany and Istria are not completely similar: more than 80% of Tuscany’s production is in red wine while about 80% of the wine produced in Istria is white. Its most significant grape variety is Malvasia Istriana (also the second most important Croatian white grape after Graševina). This ancient grape is believed to have been introduced by the Venetians from Greece. Young Malvasia, simply vinified in stainless steel, produces fresh and crisp delicious wines, ideal partners for grilled sea bass, squid, sardines, and langoustines from the Adriatic. On the other hand, barrel aging and a few days of skin contact can produce a more full-bodied and age-worthy style, perfect accompaniment to Istrian pasta with truffle, black risotto, and … Continue reading Istria, the new Tuscany

Wine Without Frontiers

The start of an email correspondence. I remember Miha Batič, one of our Slovenian producers, telling me that his Great-Grandfather was Austrian, his Grandfather was Italian, his Father Yugoslavian, and now he is Slovenian. They’ve been working the same land and living in the same house since 1592. While borders and nationalities change, the vineyards have remained the same. To this end, Italian and Slovenian producers are in the process of creating the first ever Trans-Border DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) that celebrates the Carso (Italian) or Karst (Slovenian) region. For instance, there are already joint community initiatives such as Scenarios and Flavours from the Karst Plateau without Frontiers based in Trieste that functions much like a “Doctors Without Borders” for food and wine. Concerning wine, they focus on the grape called “Terrano” (Italian) or “Teran” (Croatian and Slovenian) coupled with the iron rich “Terra Rossa” (red earth) unique to the region. These are red wines with off the charts acidity, enough minerality to meet a healthy diets monthly quota, and often a slightly tangy wild berry flavor that make it an incredible wine of place. It’s a killer with Prosciutto. With this in mind, I’ve had many buyers admit … Continue reading Wine Without Frontiers

Coronica: Full Circle

Moreno Coronica in his vineyard with the typical Istrian Terra Rosso. We have just gotten back from the Blue Danube company trip to Hungary, and there are so many highlights to share. However, this must be postponed because of the 2008 Coronica Istrian Malvazija from Istria, Croatia. Why? The reason is the season. Let me explain. Istrian Malvazija is primarily grown in Slovenia and parts of northern Italy but is most at home on the large Croatian peninsula of Istria at the north end of the Adriatic where Croatia, Slovenia and Italy meet. Wines from this grape vary greatly in style. Many are made in a fresh, reductive form, akin to the commercial white wines of New Zealand, pleasant but undistinguished. Others are macerated, or made like red wine where the skins are left with the juice during fermentation, resulting in deeply colored, even orange wines with red wine structure, tannin and all. Quality varies radically among wines of this already challenging-to-appreciate style. When bad they can be undrinkable, but the best examples are unforgettably good. In July 2009 we tasted the 2007 Coronica Malvasia during a tasting of potential imports. We all immediately noticed that there was more to … Continue reading Coronica: Full Circle

Albona: San Franciscos Istrian Restaurant

The potato gnocchi, which are a good deal different that what you might be used to. When it comes to Italian restaurants in San Francisco’s North Beach neighborhood, the choices are nearly endless. When it comes to Italian restaurants in the area that are actually good, the list tightens up a great deal. So enters Albona, which is best described as the Italian restaurant in North Beach that is pretty much not Italian nor in North Beach. A simpler way to say that is to call it an Istrian restaurant. The menu Istria is a peninsula that sticks off the far western corner of Croatia. This wasn’t always the case as the region has been under flags of Venice, Italy, and even France for a spell. This is reflected in the cuisine a great deal. While it’s easy to call it “Italian-esque” and leave it at that, this would do a heavy disservice to what makes the food unique. It’s a crossroads of Central European, Mediterranean, and Slavic foods and you taste that with every bite. Take for instance the strudel. Yes, that’s right, a strudel. Try and find that on an Italian menu! This dish which is oft considered … Continue reading Albona: San Franciscos Istrian Restaurant

Malvasia and more from a leader in Istrian wine making

Line-up of the bottles at the Kozlovic tasting. We drive through Slovenia toward Istria, the area just below Trieste, Italy, that was part of Italy for twenty-five years until the end of World War II. As we approach Croatia, the Germanic-looking houses and barns and the typical hay drying racks–a ladderlike wooden rack open to the air but protected beneath a roof–disappear, and we no longer see maypoles in the little towns we pass. Our destination is Porec, about a third of the way down the western coast of Istria. It’s a pretty resort town with bars and restaurants lining the waterfront street on the land side, and luxury power yachts lining it on the water side. We’re here to join a group from Vinistra, the Istrian wine trade show that is going on this weekend, on a pleasure tour by boat. Our hosts are three prominent producers, Kozlovic, Degrassi, and Matosevic, who have been working together to build an Istrian wine brand closely linked to tourism in the area. As the boat makes its way south along the coast to Rovinj, a beautiful medieval fortified town crowned by a church, we sit on the top deck in the frigid … Continue reading Malvasia and more from a leader in Istrian wine making

The Philosophy of Kozlović Part 2

Over a summer, two travelers drink their way through the wines of Mediterranean Europe Malvazija is always best served cold. This is a continuation from Part 1 where we discussed the history and thinking behind the wines. Now, let’s get in to the wines properly. We started with the 2006 Malvazija which is the core wine the Kozlović production. The nose has this nice, soft, lilting grapey set of aromas to it. The body is bright and tones of grapefruit come through on top of everything else. The finish is nice and smooth. Gianfranco amongst wines There is dryness, but it works wonderfully to refresh you. As described elsewhere the color is really lovely on this wine. It’s a nice, pale, beckoning yellow that sits well in your glass on a hot day. We then moved in to the 2004 Santa Lucia. This is a Malvazija that has a great meaty nose that speaks of pršut, the ham that they eat with great abundance in Croatia. There is light fruit throughout it and a touch of sweet melon aromas as well. It is an incredibly fresh wine, bright and like a meal for the nose. The wine is mixed with … Continue reading The Philosophy of Kozlović Part 2

The Philosophy of Kozlović Part 1

Over a summer, two travelers drink their way through the wines of Mediterranean Europe The valley of Kozlović winery with the Momjan fortress above. The last stop on our whirlwind tour of Istrian wines was Kozlović. The location that the family has settled in is spectacular one, near the village of Momjan. While the village is typical of the type you see in Istria, it has a nice standout feature which is the ruins of a fortress up on a hill. Like something out of medieval fairy tale, this stony skeleton floats about the small valley where the family built their current cellar in 1904 on a hill, overlooking some of their vines. Gianfranco Kozlović opens a bottle. Even when you strip away the setting and just focus on the wines, you see that this is a family that knows what it is doing when it comes to the grape. Their Malvazija can be gotten here and is getting to be recognized as a quite stellar make of this Istrian varietal. But there at the helm of everything is Gianfranco Kozlović. He is a character who loves his wines and loves the process of making wines. His various philosophies and … Continue reading The Philosophy of Kozlović Part 1

Tasting Degrassi at the Top of Istria

Over a summer, two travelers drink their way through the wines of Mediterranean Europe The Degrassis in their awards room. In the very top northwest corner of Istria is a small little tip that juts out in to the Adriatic and is where the two very small towns of Bašanija and and Savudrija. Bomarchese Malvazija It is here that the winery of Degrassi calls home. Of course, they don’t grow any of their vines here, those 15 hectares are around Buje which is much further inland to the east. But here are their cellars and tasting room. They have been doing business in this location since 2006, although the company has been around for the last 11 years. After a brief glance around, it is easily seen that the family has very good taste with everything appointed in handmade furniture and nice, dark fixtures. It’s also here that we learned the difference between Refošk and Teran, which are the same grape. Is the stem of the vine is red, is is Refošk. If the stem is green, it’s Teran. There were also some geographical distinctions in the past that have since faded away, leaving just the confusion about the name … Continue reading Tasting Degrassi at the Top of Istria

The Wine Half of Žigante

Over a summer, two travelers drink their way through the wines of Mediterranean Europe Duvilio, the man and his bottle. When visiting Istria, the most common encounter with the name “Žigante” is in the form of truffles. This is one brother, Gian-Carlo, in the Žigante family who has invested himself heavily in truffle production for the area and they are indeed good truffles. Then there are the other brothers, Duvilio and Denis, who have invested themselves in to the wine making craft and as we found out are making some very good examples of wines from the region. Malvazija 2003 and 2004 The truffle thing is relatively new product for the Žigantes, seeing as how their family has been making wine for about 300 years. In 1997, the business came to fruition and started producing a greater volume of wine up on the top of hill near the village of Kostanija. They produce from 14 hectares that are solely owned by the family and a few other growers around the immediate area. Even still, they produce just 50,000 bottles a year, seemingly leaning towards growing a lower yield from the vines. Duvilio is quite a character that opens up a … Continue reading The Wine Half of Žigante