Savor This: Croatian Food & Wine Featured in Saveur Magazine!

Just when daydreams of summer sailing, bathing in the crystal waters of the Adriatic Sea, and feasting on fresh fish in a favorite island café seem within reach, Saveur magazine has devoted its entire April 2014 issue (#164) to seafood, with seven full-color, mouth-watering pages about Croatia’s coastal food and wine culture.

Saveaur April 2014

In an article titled “Splendor of the Isles”, contributing author Brendan Francis Newnam dishes out tasty antidotes about life in the seaside villages of Dalmatia (much of the article is about Murter island) and offers enticing descriptions and photographs of the local cuisine, with accompanying recipes for staple dishes such as Blitva (Swiss Chard and Potatoes), Brodet (Croatian Fish Stew), Crni Rižoto (Black Cuttlefish Risotto), Riba na Roštilju (Grilled Fish with Lemon) – and more!

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For a half-page sidebar entitled “Croatia’s Best Bottles”, writer Alex Halberstadt interviewed Wines of Croatia founder, Cliff Rames, and recommends six wines (all imported to the U.S.) to pair with Dalmatia’s island fare: Enjingi Graševina, Carić Bogdanjuša, Coronica Malvasia, BIBICh R6, Suha Punta Tirada Babić, and Miloš Plavac.

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This is the first-ever mention of Croatian wines in Saveur, and it is definitely worth picking up a copy for the beautiful photographs. Hopefully next time the magazine will dedicate a few pages to the fantastic cuisine of continental Croatia and the food friendly wines of Slavonia, Baranja, and Plešivica!

Saveur is a gourmet, food, wine, and travel magazine with a circulation of approximately 330,000. The April 2014 issue is now available on newsstands in the U.S., and it will be available on the Saveur website sometime in the next few weeks.

 

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Sunday Snapshot: Babić of the Mountains

By Cliff Rames © 2014

Several years ago I had the distinct opportunity to visit the vineyards of Stipe Gašperov, which lie in a very remote, rugged and starkly barren region in the mountains behind the seaside resort town of Primošten. Here Mr. Gašperov somehow managed to plant and cultivate babić grapes in a moonscape-like terroir of limestone and red soil. The vines in places are literally planted in small crevices or holes in stone. It’s no wonder then that his wine is called “Kamena Suza”, or tears of a stone.

I’m not sure whatever happened to Mr. Gašperov and his moonscape wines, but here is a glimpse of his babić vines in the far-out hills of Primošten Burnji. :-)

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BIBICh: A Debit for Every Occasion

By Cliff Rames © 2014

Every once in a while something fine and rare occurs that makes you stop and appreciate the wonders of the universe: Haley’s Comet; double rainbows; black diamonds; a Honus Wagner baseball card; the aurora borealis; a Led Zeppelin reunion; snowy owls;  mammatus clouds; old vintage Riesling; a taxi in NYC on a rainy day….

And then this happened: on the first day of spring, Pioneering Croatian winemaker Alen Bibić of BIBICh Winery arrived in the United States to personally conduct a tasting of his wines from the Dalmatia region of coastal Croatia.

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Although it was Mr. Bibić’s fourth visit to the U.S. in eight years, what made this visit extraordinary was that it resulted in the first-ever tasting in New York City – and America – of a flight of seven wines made from the debit grape variety across a full range of styles.

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The purpose of the tasting – held at Café Katja on March 20, 2014 and organized by Blue Danube Wine Company with the clever and whimsical #Danubia hashtag – was to highlight the “flexibility” and multi-layered personality of the debit variety and dispel antiquated notions (still held by some winemakers in Dalmatia) that debit is a simple variety meant for table wines and not worthy of merit or aging.

Debit is a late-ripening white grape variety that grows throughout the hot, arid region of Dalmatia and islands of coastal Croatia. It is believed to have migrated to Dalmatia from Puglia, Italy (where it no longer exists) many centuries ago (Dalmatians also refer to debit as “puljižanac”, which means “of Puglia”), and Mr. Bibić suspects that historically debit may have originated in Turkey. Despite the similar name, debit and pagadebit are two genetically different varieties.

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But it is in the mountainous area of northern Dalmatia around the charming port town of Skradin where debit finds its sweet spot. This is where Mr. Bibić’s vineyards thrive in stingy, limestone-laced soils among olive groves, fig trees, scrub oak, wandering goats and wild Mediterranean herbs.

BIBICh Lučica vineyard (Copyright © Cliff Rames)

BIBICh Lučica vineyard (Copyright © Cliff Rames)

Ever since inheriting vineyards from his grandfather, guiding the family winery through troubled times marked by war, economic challenges, and now integration into the European Union, Mr. Bibić has stood firm in his mission: to champion and pay homage to the native grape varieties in his vineyards by allowing them to express the best of their character in his wines. Often that means stepping aside and letting the wines “make themselves”. To accentuate this point, Mr. Bibić referred to himself more as a switchman on a railroad rather than a winemaker. “The train doesn’t stop”, he said of the winemaking process. “It just goes. I just help to direct it in the right way”.

When I mentioned to the guests gathered at the tasting that Mr. Bibić was the first Croatian winemaker to export debit wines to the U.S., Mr. Bibićh interjected: “Actually I am not the first to export. Our wines from Dalmatia have been made for centuries and in ancient times were exported all over the world by boat”. Today, most of the BIBIĆh winery’s production is exported, and the first debit wines arrived in the U.S. in 2007.

Alen Bibic (Photo by Cliff Rames)

Alen Bibic at #Danubia (Photo by Cliff Rames)

Mr. Bibić’s portfolio of wines now includes about 17 labels (not all are exported to the U.S.), including many delicious reds made from local native grapes such as babić, plavina, and lasin. He also produces some incredibly tasty syrah and grenache.

But on this visit to NYC it was debit that he wanted to showcase: “This was the wine my grandfather drank, the white wine that our ancestors in Dalmatia always had on their tables”.

And although he dismisses the notion that he is a pioneer – but rather a guardian of tradition, anyone who has spent time with him (including Anthony Bourdain of No Reservations) cannot help but be amazed and impressed by Mr. Bibić’s level of knowledge and passion, his sincere hospitality toward visitors to his winery, his seemingly endless energy (I mean, when does this man sleep?), and his dogged determination to pay tribute to his homeland by showcasing through his wines local native grapes and the distinctive terroir of his vineyards.

In true style, Mr. Bibić makes it seem easy – and his wines, which get better with each vintage, go down the hatch even smoother.  Judging by the reaction of the guests at the #Danubia tasting, debit just gained some new believers.

© Cliff Rames

© Cliff Rames

1. BIBICh Brut Sparkling Debit (NV): Made from debit grapes harvested a little early, this wine is light and leesy, creamy yet vibrant, elegant and refined, with subtle citrus, white flower, salty minerals, and bitter almond notes. Not simple nor overly complex but pleasant, clean, and layered with bright fruit, a tight mineral structure, and a breezy, refreshing finish. Bring on the oysters! (Not yet imported)

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2. BIBICh 2013 Debit: Pale straw colored, distinctly marked by a chalky minerality, crisp citrus, green apple, and white flower notes, and a pithy, salty bitter finish that make it a perfect foil for most mild seafood dishes. $16

3. BIBICh 2011 R5: An equal part blend of debit, pošip, maraština, pinot gris, and chardonnay aged for one year in a mix of new and used American oak. This is a winemaker’s cuvee that Mr. Bibić says reflects his personal taste (“This wine says Alen Bibić”, he noted). It is mildly and pleasantly oxidative with a rich golden color, slightly oily texture, and a Sherry-like character marked by notes of brown butter, hazelnuts, apricot, roasted Mediterranean herbs, and a slightly wild, briny mineral presence. Both rustic and refined, this is a wine to contemplate on its own or enjoy with Asian-inspired dishes. $19

© Cliff Rames

© Cliff Rames

4. BIBICh 2010 Lučica: A single-vineyard debit from vines planted by his grandfather that are now 54-years old. This wine was fermented in American oak barrels and then aged in wood for one year. While 2010 was a cooler, rainy vintage that caused vinous troubles elsewhere in Croatia, you would not guess it by the rich, oily and lush character of this wine, expressed in complex notes of candied orange peel, apple cider, roasted nuts, brown butter, sun-drenched Dalmatian stones, and oyster brine.  Do not serve it too cold! $35

5. BIBICh 2011 Lučica: The warmer, drier 2011 vintage imparts similar but deeper, richer tones (in comparison to the 2010) to this single-vineyard debit: Apricot, bruised apple, candied citrus, honey, salted caramel, roasted nuts, and powdered limestone. Oily and savory, with a slight tannic bite and long, harmonious finish, this wine is captivating in its ability to juxtaposition funkiness and elegance. A unique and compelling drinking experience! (The 2011 is not yet available for purchase; 2010 is current)

Bas de Bas (© Cliff Rames)

Bas de Bas (© Cliff Rames)

6. BIBICh 2006 Bas de Bas Bijelo: 90% debit (with a 10% field blend of other local grapes varieties), this is wine the way Mr. Bibić’s ancestors would have made it (“a white wine that drinks like a red”): three months skin maceration and then fermentation in large limestone vats called “Kamenica”, followed by extended aging in mixed oak casks. An “orange” wine that is powerful without the punch of high alcohol – it’s only 12.5% ABV.  Richly textured with a firm structure provided by grape skin tannins and layered with a complex array of aromas such as dried peach, orange pith, fresh fig, roasted herbs, caramelized parsnip, and Himalayan sea salt. Bas de Bas is produced with no added sulfites. $60

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7. BIBICh Ambra Prošek (NV): Dalmatia’s traditional dessert wine is prošek (for more about prošek, click here), and Ambra is made from debit grapes that were dried on straw mats for 3 months, fermented with native yeasts, aged for years in oak vats, and then blended as the barrels become ready. Dark amber in color, Ambra is vibrant and nimble (despite its sweetness), with delicious, long-lasting flavors of dried fig, caramel, candied orange, honeyed nuts, and a savory note akin to roasted herbs and spicy tobacco. A little goes a long way, and this wine is an awesome value at $50.

Cliff and Alen

Cliff and Alen

Sneak Peek: Dalmatian Winemaker Alen Bibić Visits NYC

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Mr. Bibić kicked off his first day in New York City today with an epic tasting of seven debit wines, in styles ranging from sparkling to sweet and everything in between. A full report will come tomorrow. In the meantime here is a sneak peek snapshot of the man in action, and a link to the post that always sums up any wine tasting experience with Mr. Bibić: “Holy S*** That’s Good!” :-) 

Alen Bibic (Photo by Cliff Rames)

Alen Bibic (Photo by Cliff Rames)

Wine Review: Miličić 2007 Plavac Mali “Selekcija”

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Wine:  Miličić 2007 Plavac Mali “Selekcija” (Vrhunsko vino)

Producer: Miličić

Region:  Dalmatia

Sub-Region: Pelješac Peninsula

Grape Varieties: Plavac Mali

Alcohol by Volume: 13.7%

Residual Sugar: N/A

Price: 65 Kuna (in Croatia; Approximately $13)

Bottle Size: 750 ml

Imported By: N/A

Tasting Note: At 7 years old, this wine is dark ruby colored yet translucent, with elegant hues of garnet beginning to betray its age. Bold, seductive notes of dried fruits – black cherry, fig, and plum – combine to deliver a sweetly enticing nose that’s balanced and alluring, earthy and briny, sweet yet savory. Tertiary notes of leather, black olive, and iodine lurk beneath and linger with the aroma of stewed black fruits long after the glass is empty. The wine is labeled dry, yet I suspect there is a gram or two of residual sugar due to its slightly sweet attack and round finish that avoids being cloying due to a juicy dose of acidity. At 13.7% ABV, this is a pleasantly restrained and refined Plavac Mali, completely balanced, richly extracted, and easy to drink with dusty, fine tannins and a long, long mouth coating finish. Excellent! Bring on the mussels and squid ink risotto!! ~CR

Photo: Cliff Rames

Photo: Cliff Rames

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Call for Entries: IceWine du Monde 2014

The Czech Tourist Authority, in association with the Czech Association of Sommeliers and the International Organisation of Vine and Wine (OIV), has announced the 4th Annual IceWine du Monde competition, which will be held in the historical chateau complex, Lednice, in Moravia, Czech Republic, from August 29 – 31, 2014.

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According to the IceWine du Monde website, the goal of the event is to “conduct an evaluation and comparison of ice, straw and other sweet wines from various countries of the world on a high professional level”.

The competition is designated for sweet wines with a residual sugar content of minimum 45 g/l. The competition is not designated for fortified wines.

Wineries in Croatia that produce “Predikatno vino”, i.e.: Ice wine (ledeno vino), late harvest (kasna berba), botrytis selection (izborna berba;  izborna berba prosušenih bobica), Prošek, or other sweet wines that meet the criteria are invited and encouraged to participate.

The deadline for winery registration is March 31, 2014, and the deadline for the entry of wines is August 08, 2014.

For more information and complete instructions for registration, please click on this link: http://www.icewine-du-monde.com/index.php?art=35 or contact Alena Badžgoňová at alena@icewine-du-monde.com.

Cheers and good luck!

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Sunday Snapshot: Zagorje

Zagorje is a wine growing region nestled in the cool, green rolling hills of northern Croatia, just beyond the capital city, Zagreb, and Medvednica mountain. Slovenia lies to the north.

The region is noted for the cultivation of cool climate grapes, about 90% of which are whites varieties such as graševina, pušiplje (aka moslavac or šipon), kerner, gewürztraminer, müller-thurgau (aka: rizvanac), yellow muscat, pinot blanc, pinot gris, riesling, sauvignon blanc, and sylvaner.

Red varieties include blaufrankisch, gamay, pinot noir, portugieser, cabernet franc, and cabernet sauvignon.

Enjoy the view – and try to taste these refreshing and food-friendly wines if you can! Cheers!

photo © Cliff Rames

photo © Cliff Rames

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