USA Today: The #5 “Best Wine Region to Visit” is Croatia

(Photo: Copyright © Cliff Rames)

(Photo: Copyright © Cliff Rames)

Okay, we already knew it. Anthony Bourdain discovered it (literally, he fell off his chair in wine-fueled amazement). And now the readers of USA Today have confirmed it: the wine-growing regions of Croatia are awesome – among the best in the world.

This week the results of a USA Today and 10Best.com Readers’ Choice survey of the world’s “Best Wine Regions to Visit” were revealed. From a selection of 20 excellent nominees, Croatia (which at one point during the month-long voting period surged to the #3 position) finished at #5 – outranking other iconic regions like Napa Valley and Tuscany (to view the Top 10 Best and read the full announcement, click this LINK).

USA Today screen shot

While the survey simply listed “Croatia” as a whole wine region, the country actually has an array of diverse and uniquely beautiful wine growing areas, from the warm Mediterranean climate and seaside vineyards of Istria & Kvarner and Dalmatia, to the lush, rolling pastoral hills of continental Slavonia & the Danube and the Uplands. All are beautiful and all are worthy of attention and love.

photo © Cliff Rames

photo © Cliff Rames

So grab your corkscrew, walking stick, Lonely Planet – Croatia travel guide and designated driver, and book your Croatian wine tour today by contacting one of our friends from the list below. All specialize in custom foodie fun and vinous adventures in Croatia, our all-time favorite and best wine region to visit – now and always!  :-)

Happy trails – and cheers!

Wine & Culinary Tours in Croatia:

Art of Wine (http://winetastingcroatia.com/)

Culinary Croatia (http://www.culinary-croatia.com/wine-tours.html)

Eat Istria (http://www.eatistria.com/)

Secret Dalmatia (http://www.secretdalmatia.com/)

Tasteful Croatian Journeys (http://www.visitcroatia.com/)

Zagreb Bites (http://www.zagrebites.com/)

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USA Today/ 10Best.com Top 10 Best Wine Regions to Visit:

1. Alentejo, Portugal
2. Okanagan Valley, British Columbia
3. Maipo, Chile
4. Marlborough, New Zealand
5. Croatia
6. Napa Valley, California, USA
7. Tuscany, Italy
8. Oregon
9. Hunter Valley, Australia
10. Virginia

(Photo © Cliff Rames)

Vineyards on Brač island in Dalmatia (Photo © Cliff Rames)

Croatia’s 2014 Dalmacija Wine Expo: Three Things I Learned

By Cliff Rames © 2014

Sensory overload. That is how I would describe any one of my whirlwind visits to Croatia.

I mean it in a positive way. The country is simply brimming with vinous, culinary and natural delights. Gnarly old grapevines improbably clinging to sun baked seaside slopes. Nearly 1,200 islands sprinkled like seashells on the impossibly blue Adriatic. Countless villages and hamlets of seminal charm nestled in coves and on mountainsides. Fresh caught seafood and farm-to-table produce so succulent and cooked to perfection. The warm faces of family, old friends and new acquaintances (and an occasional donkey).  Swoon-worthy views and secret spots where you can enjoy the sights and sounds of nature that – to this New York City boy – are so intimate, pure and wonderful.

Dingač (Photo © Cliff Rames)

Dingač (Photo © Cliff Rames)

And then there is the wine. Indigenous grapes, local producers. Most of it delicious and distinct. So this is what all this beauty… this land…this Croatia tastes like, you may be inspired to declare.

On exceptional occasions the experience of tasting a truly great wine may incite tears. That’s okay. I have no shame when it comes to crying. Heartbreak. Joy. Bitter disappointment. Serendipitous wonder.  Unconditional love. Betrayal. People being unselfishly kind. People being selfishly mean.  A great joke. A cruel twist of fate….Whatever the reason, flowing tears – like great wine – soothe and fortify the soul.

Luckily I managed to keep a dry eye when I recently found myself surrounded by so many great wines and winemakers eager to share their stories. There the saturation was complete, the proverbial glass overflowed, the senses electrified with discovery. Yet composed I remained. Reflective even.  Like when you hear a beautiful piece of music. You forget yourself. Become untethered from earthly bounds. Surrendering to the sound. Absorbing the vibrations. Wrapping yourself in the fuzzy blankets of the universe.

dwe2014

So it was at the annual Dalmacija Wine Expo (DWE), held in Split on April 24-25, 2014 at the hotel Radisson Blu. Attending for the first time, I eagerly attended as many workshops, side events, press trips, and after parties (there are usually several occurring simultaneously) as humanly possible. But mainly I wanted to taste, taste, taste – and listen. See what new styles, trends, and labels were emerging on the ever-dynamic, never more exciting Croatian wine scene.

While I couldn’t possibly taste everything (apologies to any wineries I may have missed), I attempted to gather a cross-section of examples from as many different appellations and native grape varieties as possible. Bravo to the DWE organizers who made it easy: there was a whole table dedicated to wines made from indigenous varieties, complete with little take-away info cards. Well done!

Looking back now, three things stand out in my memory as highlights – or perhaps revelations – from those two awesome days at the DWE.

1. The quality of Plavac Mali wines is improving but stylistically a work in progress. One interesting feature at the Expo was a workshop, presented by Saša Špiranec, called “The Potential of Plavac Mali from the 2011 Vintage”. Filling out the flight of 14 wines were Plavac Mali examples from an equal number of wineries and six distinct growing areas in Dalmatia: Komarna, Konavle, Hvar, Brač, Pelješac, and Dingač (I include Dingač as its own growing area even though it is a sub-appellation of Pelješac).

(Photo courtesy of Dusan Jelic)

(Photo courtesy of Dusan Jelic)

2011 in Dalmatia was very warm and dry, conditions that made for excellent ripening, and good concentration of sugars, phenols and flavor. As a result, most of the 14 wines registered between 14-16% ABV. But the bold, concentrated fruit, ripe and structured tannins, acidity, and oak treatment created balance and integrated the high alcohol. But no doubt, these were big wines that – 14 glasses later – knocked any remaining wind out of my jetlagged sails.

Styles ran the gamut from traditional, to New World, to experimental. My favorites were of course the styles that I felt were a “true” expression of Plavac Mali. And what is a “true” expression of Plavac Mali? Of course this is a very subjective subject, as demonstrated by this tasting. Nonetheless I would wager that it is a style rooted in old school taste: a little bit rustic and rough around the edges, with a bright, translucent cranberry red/ruby color; a nose reminiscent of brambly red and black fruits, dried fig, black olive, sunny Mediterranean herbs, and freshly shucked mussels; ripe, firm and gripping tannins; and a tiny touch of earthy funk.

Examples of this style that I liked were Carić Plovac Ploški (Hvar); Stina Majstor (Brač); Korta Katarina (Postup/Dingač); Goranko Poljanić (Dingač); and Rozić Plavac Mali Mili (Pelješac).

redesigned Plova Ploski label

What I did not prefer were the wines that seemed to be trying to be something other than Plavac Mali. For example, many of us in the seminar agreed that the Maestral Plavac Mali 4 Bofora (Pelješac )  tasted like young Bordeaux. A couple others were so deeply colored and concentrated that one wonders what happened, like when you come across a jet black Pinot Noir.

However, some of the newfangled styles were quite pleasant and would certainly appeal to fans of bolder, richer wines. These included: Volarević Plavac Mali Syrtis (Komarna); Crvik Plavac Mali Pomet (Konavle); Marlais Plavac Mali Škrapa (Pelješac ); and Saints Hills Sv. Lucija (Dingač).

(Photo courtesy www.vivino.com)

(Photo courtesy http://www.vivino.com)

On a positive note, unlike Plavac Mali of a few years ago, none of the examples we tasted showed signs of fault or excessive evidence of the Dalmatian curse, Brettanomyces , that unwelcome bad yeast that kills off fruit flavors and infuses a wine with an unpleasant horsey or dirty cellar smell.  I was especially pleased to taste the Skaramuča Dingač, which in previous vintages suffered from a Brett infection but was now focused and clean (but with perhaps a touch too much oak).

2. The Šibenik wine-growing region is on the rise. To be clear, this wine-growing region in slightly cooler northern Dalmatia is not new to the scene. Like elsewhere in Croatia, vines have been cultivated here for thousands of years (my grandfather once had vineyards around Tisno and Murter) and wine is a deeply embedded tradition and an essential part of daily life. Yet the region – which includes the Skradin and Primošten areas – is often overlooked and overshadowed by the more well-known and glamorous appellations and islands such as Hvar, Pelješac, Dubrovnik, and Korčula.

(Photo © Cliff Rames)

Alen Bibić (Photo © Cliff Rames)

Yet in 2006 it was BIBICh winery in Plastovo that lead the first wave of Croatian wine imports to the USA. Today, winemaker Alen Bibić’s wines are among the most sought-after Croatian wines on the U.S. market and often sell out each vintage. Mr. Bibić has also made a mark for himself as a champion of Dalmatia’s lesser known – and sometimes disparaged – indigenous grapes, such as Babić, Debit, Plavina, Lasina, and Maraština, as well as international varieties (Grenache and Syrah) normally not associated with Dalmatia.

Inspired by the BIBICh success story, other small family wineries in the neighborhood began to take seriously the idea that they too could be commercially successful, quality wine producers. It was these wineries and wines that caught my attention at DWE, particularly two family estates that share a common surname, Sladić.

I was first introduced to the wines of Juraj Sladić about 5 years ago and was very impressed by his potential and passion. Since then his lineup has expanded and quality has improved. His 2012 Debit – a local white variety that was once dismissed as nothing more than industrial jug plonk – was tight and zesty, with lemon pith, bitter almond, crushed limestone and a palate-tingling finish. The 2013 Maraština was very aromatic and juicy, with exotic fruit notes of pear and gooseberry laced with crunchy minerals. And his 2013 rosé (see below) was a delight (a full review will follow in my next post).

(Photo © Cliff Rames)

(Photo © Cliff Rames)

But it was the charms of the 2011 Lasina to which I completely succumbed. “The Pinot Noir of Dalmatia!” I exclaimed in my notes. An unfiltered beauty macerated for 14 days and aged for one year in once-used oak, it was lightly colored and splendid with aromas of strawberry, forest floor, dried flowers, and woodsy spice. The 2012 Cuveé (50% Plavina/50% Lasina) was also lovely, with sour cherry, sun-kissed oregano, and sweet dark chocolate notes on a frame of mild tannins and refreshing acidity.

Adding to my inspiration to highlight this region were the wines of Marko Sladić. With vineyards in the Plastovo/Skradin area (like BIBICh and Juraj Sladić), Marko makes wine from many of the same varieties yet has a style – and labels – that are distinct. His 2013 Maraština was juicy and round, with simple, refreshing notes of citrus, green fig, chamomile flowers, and a hint of hazelnut. A 100% Plavina rosé was lively and delicious with discreet strawberry, rhubarb, and hibiscus flower notes and a well-structured sea mineral finish. The 2012 Plavina red was juicy and youthful, packed with red fruits (raspberry, cherry, pomegranate), soft tannins and a tartness on the finish that makes this a wonderfully food-friendly wine. His colorful, coyote labels are pretty cool too!

(Photo © Cliff Rames)

(Photo © Cliff Rames)

But it was a new name in the region that really got me excited: Birin, a young winemaker who is creating magic in a backyard garage near the resort town of Vodice from grapes grown in his family vineyards. His 2013 Debit was clean and bright, laser-focused and crystalline with zippy citrus and crushed seashell minerals. A 2013 Maraština was lovely with pear skin, green fig and exotic fruits on a long mineral finish.

More thrillingly, the Birin 2012 Babić was electric – wild and coiled with tight red and black fruits and blazing acidity. While still very young and precocious, it was exhilarating to taste and even more inspiring to speculate about how it will develop over the next year or so. A winemaker to watch!

(Photo © Cliff Rames)

(Photo © Cliff Rames)

(Photo © Cliff Rames)

(Photo © Cliff Rames)

Speaking of Babić, anyone who has been following my posts over the years knows, it is one of my favorite varieties and potentially one of the best indigenous reds in Northern Dalmatia if not all Croatia. Benchmark producers include Gracin, Piližota and Vinoplod.

One interesting note: at DWE I tasted an unusual blend of Babić and Plavac Mali jointly produced by Babić master Leo Gracin of Primošten and Dingač winemaker Vedran Kiridžija. They call it Kontra, which in Croatian means opposite or against. It was somewhat Port-like with full, rich, mouth-gripping black fruit and earth flavors and a long finish.  I’m not sure what they are trying to achieve with this unorthodox blend (in which I felt that the Plavac Mali dominated) of two very distinct grapes, vineyards, and terroirs – sort of like blending a Grand Cru Bordeaux with a Grand Cru Burgundy – but I’m sure it will find its fans and is just another example of how progressive, creative and dynamic the Croatian wine scene is at the moment.

(Photo © Cliff Rames)

(Photo © Cliff Rames)

So keep an eye on this under-the-radar region. There is a lot of interesting stuff fermenting there!

3. Rosé from Dalmatia could be the next Big Thing. At this writing it is the first week of summer. Long days, balmy nights. The heart of rosé season. In the last week I have with gusto consumed five bottles of rosé. Each different: one from Bordeaux, one from Provence, one from Spain, one from the Finger Lakes, and one from Croatia.

Croatia? Yes! True, a few years back, it was difficult to find a good quality rosé from Croatia. Among older drinkers there has traditionally been the attitude that rosé is “not real wine”. But thanks to a new generation of wine makers and consumers, I am delighted to report that Dalmatia is quickly becoming a source of pleasing, well-made and food-friendly rosés made from indigenous varieties such as Babić, Crljenak Kaštelanski, Lasina, Plavac Mali, and Plavina (although be aware that most are not exported; you have to go to Croatia to enjoy them).

(Photo © Cliff Rames)

(Photo © Cliff Rames)

When you think of the climate and landscape of Provence, France – the homeland of quality rosé, in many ways Dalmatia is similar: Hot, parched summers; rocky hillsides alive with cicadas; scrub pine forests tumbling down to the shores of a sequined sea; olive groves, fig trees, wild herbs, feral goats, boars and cats; lavender scented air; ancient stone houses with tended gardens and patios; outdoor tables adored with fresh tomatoes, olive oil, baguettes, domestic cheeses and charcuterie, wine from the nearby vineyards.

Most of the Dalmatian rosés I tried at DWE were excellent and evoked visions of “the Mediterranean life”. Of friends gathered in the shade of a grapevine arbor to sop up virgin olive oil with crusty bread, salute happiness and success with chinking glasses, tell stories and jokes, sing songs of glory days and lost love, and finally, sit in reflective silence, nap, daydream….

(Photo © Cliff Rames)

(Photo © Cliff Rames)

The best of these Dalmatian rosés (called “Opolo” by some producers) were salmon to pale pink colored. Full of bright fruit flavors (raspberry; cherry; cranberry); hibiscus flowers; saline minerality, and good cheer. My favorites were produced from Plavina or blended with Lasina or Babić (Juraj Sladić; Marko Sladić). But others were made from Crljenak Kaštelanski (Vuina) and Plavac Mali (Jako Vino; Miloš; Saints Hills; Senjković). All were lip-smacking good.

Which leads me to think: If Dalmatian wine producers continue to make such high quality, tasty rosés, and if tourists and other wine lovers discover them and enjoy them as much as I, then perhaps Dalmatia can become a new boat on the rising tide of rosé’s current popularity. Of course the quantity of production can never match that of Provence or Bordeaux. But who cares. In the vastness of the blue sky even a hummingbird can fill the world with wonder.

(Photo © Cliff Rames)

(Photo © Cliff Rames)

(Photo © Cliff Rames)

(Photo © Cliff Rames)

(Photo © Cliff Rames)

(Photo © Cliff Rames)

(Photo © Cliff Rames)

(Photo © Cliff Rames)

Zlatna Žlahtina 1999: Golden Grape or Faded Glory?

By Cliff Rames © 2014 

A few weeks ago I was rummaging around my father’s wine cabinet and found a forgotten, dusty bottle of white – a 1999 PZ Vrbnik Zlatna Žlahtina from the island of Krk in the Kvarner wine growing region along the northern coast of Croatia. Since my father rarely drinks white wine and didn’t even know the bottle existed or where it came from, he let me have it. For “research” purposes. 

Photo: Cliff Rames © 2014

Photo: Cliff Rames © 2014

I was skeptical. A 15-year old Žlahtina? I mean, I’ve opened 3-year old Pinto Grigio wines that were an oxidized mess. Also this particular bottle was never properly stored, languishing for most of its life on a shelf in my parent’s sunny dining room.

Sure, Žlahtina – a variety native to the Primorska/Kvarner region where it thrives in the fields around the hamlet of Vrbnik (Vrbnička Polja) and whose name implies nobility – is a wine celebrated for its light, fresh, early-drinking character. A perfect foil for the local northern Adriatic seafood-based cuisine, Zlatna Žlahtina (golden Žlahtina) even has a poem written about it:

900 years since the foundation of the town
900 years of prayer and work
A belief in God during dry
and plentiful years,
Holy Sunday,
Vineyards salted by the blue sea
A song of joy, A tear of sorrow
A green vine-stock sprung in rock and thorn:
Oh what joy in the first, golden grape!

Dying of curiosity one warm June afternoon I prepared a light salad with Adriatic sardines and popped the cork. What did I expect to find? A golden elixir? An oxidized, flat and defeated wine with little fruit and no purpose?  

Photo: Cliff Rames © 2014

Photo: Cliff Rames © 2014

Previous experience with old Croatian white wines has taught me a lesson or two and even surprised and delighted me, such as the 1963 Graševina from Kutjevo and the 1987 Trnavački Traminac Arhivsko Misno Vino that I wrote about in the book, Every Wine Tells a Story. As much as I was prepared to be disappointed, my gut told me that I should not underestimate a variety that is “salted by the blue sea” and thrives in “rock and thorn”.

Photo: Cliff Rames © 2014

Photo: Cliff Rames © 2014

Pouring it into my glass I immediately suspected that I was about to be taught another lesson. The wine was not deeply golden or brownish – first signs of oxidation – but rather still bright yellow. No sediment and no cloudiness. A quick whiff of the nose dispelled any remaining skepticism: The bouquet was fresh and lively but laced with tertiary, Sherry-like notes of bitter almond, raw honey, apricot, candied orange peel, and honeysuckle. Age however took a slight toll on the mouth feel, with some of the structure gone soft and the mid-palate a bit hollow. But the acidity was still vibrant and a savory, salty minerality propelled the flavors forward, giving the wine vitality, wisdom, and beauty.  

The French have a great expression: “Voilà!” meaning “there you go, there you have it”. Often used with satisfaction when something is presented, it seems to also carry an implication that the result could not have been any other way.

And so it was with this lovely golden Žlahtina. At 15 years old could not have been any other way but perfectly delightful, drinkable and still full of life – a “song of joy” indeed!

Photo: Cliff Rames © 2014

Photo: Cliff Rames © 2014

Wine: Zlatna Žlahtina

Vintage: 1999

Producer: PZ Vrbnik

Region: Kvarner

Sub-Region: Vrbnička Polja, Krk island
Grape Varieties: Žlahtina

Alcohol by Volume: 11.5%

Residual Sugar: N/A

Price: N/A

Bottle Size: 750 ml

Imported By: N/A

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!

Saveaur 2

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.

photo 1

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.

danubia

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)

debit 2011

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)

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