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

No Escape from Balkan

After a long hiatus, new Balkan wines from Croatia, Slovenia, and Bosnia & Herzegovina are finally here the second week of July. After looking over previous trip photos, putting together a fairly impressive Balkan playlist (currently listening to Dubioza Kolektiv), cooking some homemade Burek, and adding Ajvar to my morning eggs, I started to realize how much I missed these wines. The combination of salty, herby, oxidatively alive and zero to full tannins that both go with seafood sets these wines apart. We’ve even added some sparkling, sweet, Amfora, and some wines with 10+ years of age on them for good measure. Štoka Family Starting near the Italian and Croatian border in Slovenia, the Štoka family has been farming for over 200 years. The reds are sanguine, high acid, seemingly Marasca cherry infused and pungent despite being low in alcohol. They make you want rare meat, charcuterie and basically anything cured or pickled. If you over do it, please consider making some “Istarska Supa.” Moreno Coronica Directly south on western coast of Istria near the town of Umag is the Coronica winery. Moreno’s grandfather was Austro-Hungarian, his father was Italian, he was Yugoslavian, and now his children are Croatian. It’s … Continue reading No Escape from Balkan

#WineWednesday Spotlight #95: Šipun Žlahtina

The Šipun Žlahtina got a good review from the August issue of The Wine Enthusiast Magazine: This wine from the island of Krk is straw-colored, with aromas of apple blossom, green apple and lemon zest. It is well weighted in the mouth, with flavors of apple and citrus blossom and a creamy finish. 88 Points Žlathina is a white grape variety native to the island of Krk and it is, with the rare Sansigot, the main focus of Šipun‘s winemaker Ivica Dobrinčić. What Ivica particularly likes about Žlathina is its difficulty in accumulating sugar. Even in very hot years, Žlahtina wines are fresh and quite low in alcohol (only 11.5% for the Šipun Žlahtina 2015 vintage). I opened a bottle of Šipun Žlahtina for our 4th of July party and it was a real crowd-pleaser. Aromatic, with honeyed and peachy aromas and low in alcohol, this is a great wine to enjoy when it’s hot outside.

Unexpected reds from Istria and Kvarner Croatia

Dalmatia is beautiful, but it receives more than its fair share of attention. Croatia’s Istrian Peninsula and Kvarner region, while perhaps less dramatic than Dalmatia, make up one of Europe’s most diverse landscapes. As one drives, the panoramas oscillate between mountain vistas, windswept limestone beaches and misty vineyards. You can wash down scampi on the island of Krk with a light briny Žlahtina for lunch, and after just an hour and a half drive west into Istria, eat for dinner hand rolled Fuzi buried in white truffles with sappy red Teran. It is one of our favorite areas to return. Around every corner is a new dish and in every cellar a new wine. We have just received a shipment from Slovenia and Northern Croatia. Among the wines are two distinctive new reds: Coronica Crno from Coastal Istria and Šipun Sansigot from the island of Krk in the gulf of Kvarner. The rare Sansigot is the latest release of Ivica Dobrinčić of Šipun on the island of Krk. In addition to making wine from the half dozen hectares of vines he farms, Ivica also operates a grape vine nursery aimed at re-propagating ancient native varieties. Ivica says most of the 20 … Continue reading Unexpected reds from Istria and Kvarner Croatia

Top Croatian Wines in the USA: Indigenous Grapes Grow Sales

Cliff Rames, founder of Wines of Croatia and sommelier, writes about indigenous Croatian grapes making the most impact in the United States market for Total Croatia. On January 21, 2016, I asked the top three American importers of Croatian wines to reveal which Croatian wines were best sellers in 2015 and provide clues about what new and exciting developments await in 2016. So grab a glass of your top Croatian wine and check out revelations below, listed alphabetically by producer, with tasting notes and added commentary by the importers about what made the wines successful in the U.S. Here are the wines we import: Bibich R6 2012 (Red) 34% Babić; 33% Lasin; 33% Plavina “This northern Dalmatia wine shows more smoke and Mediterranean herbs than heavy, overbearing fruit,” observed Eric Danch, Northern California Sales Manager at Blue Danube Wine Company. “There’s immediate life and levity without compromising its unique character. It’s a wine that can be readily be devoured at a casual dinner party and yet capture the attention of wine professionals.” Miloš Plavac 2010 (Red) 100% Plavac Mali “Plavac Mali has a much thicker skin than any of the three native grapes in the Bibich R6,” noted Danch. “The … Continue reading Top Croatian Wines in the USA: Indigenous Grapes Grow Sales

Croatian Wine Tasting at Bistro SF Grill

If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, you must go visit Bistro SF Grill! It is a cozy, intimate spot in San Francisco’s Lower Pacific Heights neighborhood. Co-owners Gino, Hasim, and Seni make you feel right at home with their slightly Balkan influenced menu and wine list; all three are originally from Bosnia-Herzegovina. We had the pleasure of spending an evening with them this week to celebrate our latest arrival of Croatian wine. The guys put together a flight of 5 wines for guests to choose which included: Bibich Debit, Šipun Žlahtina, Bibich G6 Grenache, Miloš Plavac Mali, and Dubrovački Crljenak Kaštelanski (aka Croatian Zinfandel). It was a fun night of exploration, good conversation, and wine! The experience is not complete without one of their fabulous burgers. I highly recommend the Balkan Burger, which is a lamb patty between pita bread with mint yogurt sauce.

The Captain of Krk and an Island Hvar Hvar Away…

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. 2013 Šipun Žlahtina, Island of Krk, Croatia… 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, … Continue reading The Captain of Krk and an Island Hvar Hvar Away…

Island Whites

Somewhere in Croatia (photo: Michael Newsome) The coast of Croatia is a rugged mountainous seascape of 1000 islands. From the barren Kornati to the forested shores of Korčula, these are the jewels of the Adriatic. 3,500 miles of craggy untamed limestone coast, awesome in the truest sense. Only 66 of the islands are inhabited. Krk (Ki-rrk), Hvar (huh-var), and Korčula (Core-chew-la) are three of the largest, and most important wine wise are still very much wild. Each is home to their own autochthonous (formed in its present position) grape varieties—found little or nowhere else on earth, under conditions unique to each island, capable of expressing their position and the culture of those who farm them. The soils vary but are all limestone based. Conditions tend to be wet in winter and hot and dry in summer. Each of these producers is working small plots by hand, the dry windy growing season rarely requires vineyard treatment. Krk, Croatia’s northerly, largest island has long been famous for wine. Less of the Dalmatian islands are under vine today than historically. The 250 hectares today are a shadow of the 2,500 under vine during Roman occupation. Within Krk’s Kvarner Valley winemaker Ivica Dobrinčić maintains … Continue reading Island Whites

Visiting Croatia with Eric and Michael: Šipun Winery

For part of the month of April, two of our sales managers, Eric and Michael, were able to taste around Croatia searching out more deliciously unique wines to bring back for your drinking pleasure. Here is from Michael one of several parts of that trip: Crossing the bridge to Otok 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 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 man full of passion for the grapes he grows to make wine from as well as many others. At Šipun, two main wines are produced from the local varieties of Žlathina and Sansigot. But Ivica doesn’t stop there. He has a vineyard planted for the express purpose of preserving … Continue reading Visiting Croatia with Eric and Michael: Šipun Winery

Sansigot: A Story of Grape Rescue on the Island of Krk

Historically, politics and wine make a bad pairing—and the combination certainly hasn’t favored the survival of indigenous grape varieties. Think of the vinepulling and planting schemes around the world that largely promoted high yields or courted commercial trends. Communism, in some countries, presented a different challenge: populations migrated to the cities or left altogether, viticulture languished, and vine varieties dwindled to a select few. The Sansigot grape, traditionally grown on the island of Krk just off the Croatian coastline, was one of Communism’s casualties until Ivica Dobrinčić of Šipun winery set about reviving the diversity of grapes that once grew on the island. Sansigot is a black variety that, before the 1950s, made up about 20 percent of black grapes growing on Krk. It has also grown on the tiny island of Susak to the southwest, where it is described as yielding “deeply colored, full-bodied wines” (Robinson, et al, Wine Grapes). On Krk, Sipun and one other winery make a varietal Sansigot that is light-bodied, with a delicate floral aroma and low tannins—a difference Ivica attributes to the separate location and new winemaking technology. During Communism, industrialization was the national priority, with the result that people moved to the cities … Continue reading Sansigot: A Story of Grape Rescue on the Island of Krk