A Bit about Babić (the Grape) – Part II

Text and photos by Cliff Rames (unless otherwise credited)

(for Part I of this report, please click here)

Anyone who has traveled along the north central coast of Croatia and stopped to have a snack and glass of the local vino may inevitably come upon variations of Babić wines – usually presented as “house” wines at cafes or available at shops in one liter bottles with a beer cap closure – that left much to be desired.

These wines are usually produced from Babić grapes that were grown in the easier-to-cultivate lowlands and fertile fields. Sometimes blended with other local grapes such as Plavina and Vranac and classified as table wine (“Stolno vino”), “field Babić” wines are commonplace and are mostly consumed by locals, often mixed with water to make a traditional beverage called “bevanda”. At present this simple Babić offers little to get excited about and is unlikely to find much appeal outside the local market.

Photo courtesy of Vinoplod

But the “Kvalitetno vino” (Quality Wine) and especially the “Vrhunsko vino” (Premium Wine) categories have recently gotten more interesting, with a spike in quality and winemakers with a vision for the future where Babić will take a place among the world’s great wines. Many obstacles lie ahead, of course, and the modern wine market is a cruel place. But I think Babić possesses enough character, “drinkability”, and uniqueness as a quality wine to warrant the attention and investment in its future.

The challenge for any serious-minded grower is this: left to its own devices, Babić will wildly over crop (i.e. produce high yields), especially when planted in the wrong spot – like the lowlands and fields. But planted in the right spot, under the right conditions, Babić can excel as a high-quality, terroir-driven, uniquely complex wine. Essentially its behavior changes from that of a wily teenager to that of an elder statesperson; its body transformed from thin and anemic to full-busted and round.

Babić vineyard
Babić vineyard

Quality-conscious Babić growers know that in order to achieve great fruit for great wine, Babić must be planted away from the fertile fields and up on the mountains in “škrt” (“stingy) soil. To do this, one must climb the jagged slopes above theAdriatic Sea, smash open the ubiquitous limestone crust of the earth, find little patches of škrt soil between the rocks, bore a hole into which one vine is planted, and repeat until a vineyard is established.

"Kamena Suza" - Tears of the Stone
"Kamena Suza" - Tears of the Stone (photo courtesy of Stipe Gašperov)
Vineyards of Stipe Gašperov

Because the grapevines struggle to survive in nutrient-poor and stony earth, they eventually succumb to the gravitas of their situation and become submissive; their wild nature subdued and poised; their berries intensified with the characteristics and flavors of the terroir: deep, dark color; brooding, complex aromas of brambly black fruit, dried fig, and roasted herbs. While some of these aromas can be rustic and earthy, on the palate the wine can be smooth and refined, juicy and long-lasting.

As with all hot climate wines, another key to producing great Babić is slow ripening and maintaining the freshness of thier acidity. In this regard, Babić has a slight advantage over Plavac Mali, which often struggles to balance acid and sugar levels due to an extremely uneven ripening process that can result in overripe, shriveled berries together in the same cluster with green, unripe berries.

Still ripening...

Luckily Babić has a tendacy to ripen more evenly and is capable of retaining acidity as it makes the journey toward phenolic ripeness. The danger though is that the fruit will raisinate in the blazingly hot Dalmatian sun and drought conditions that are typical in the region, cooking the fruit and sending alcohol levels in the finished wine to unattractive heights.

Recent improvements in vineyard management and winery techniques by local winemakers are beginning to deliver exciting results and reveal the potential of Babić as a wine of quality and character. Leading this “Babić Renaissance” is a handful of pioneering producers, such as Alen Bibich (“R6“), Leo Gracin (“Suha Punta”), Vinko Piližota, Stipe Gašperov (“Kamena Suza“) and Josip Žuvan (“Babić Žuki“). Even Vinoplod winery, the local cooperative in Šibenik, has initiated steps to improving quality and is increasingly become a source of very good Babić, especially their “Vrhunsko“ (Premium) and “Barrique” (barrel aged) labels.

Gracin Rosé of Babić "Opol"
Stipe Gašperov (photo courtesy of Gašperov winery)

The bottom line is, as mighty Plavac Mali ventures out into the world in search of love and new consumers to subjugate, back at home stately Babić quietly makes prepations for her own grand entrance. And one should never underestimate the determination and seduction of a good Queen!

In my next report, we’ll visit the mother of all Babić vineyards, Bucavac.

Bucavac

Note to consumers: Very little Babić wine is currently exported. However, there are two wines on the U.S. market that are noteworthy. The first is Piližota Babić, the only 100% Babić wine on the U.S. market (actually Piližota offers two labels, the so-called “black label” Babić and the “white label” Babić. The black label is a premium wine that is oak aged and costs about $24, while the white label is the entry-level offering costing about $18). Piližota Babić is imported by Vinum USA and is available from Madison Wine Cellar and Murray Hill Wines.

The second wine is the Bibich R6, a red blend that contains 34% Babić, 33% Lasina, and 33% Plavina). It is available via Oenocentric imports and Blue Danube Wine Company and retails for about $20.

(Photo courtesy of Madison Wine Cellar)

Tasting Note: Piližota 2007 Babić (black label)

After nearly four years, the wine shows positive signs of development with its dark cherry red color and garnet hues. Yet on the nose it still bursts with aromas of tight black berries, brambly black fruits, dried plum, chewy fig, black olives and sweet oak. With these aromas and its hint of “barnyard”, there no mistaking this beauty as a Dalmatian wine. On the palate it is smooth and round, marked by a vivacious freshness akin to sun-ripe blackberries bursting in your mouth. While a tannic grip lends additional structure, it is sweetly pleasant and refined. Rustic yet elegant, this Babić finishes long and smooth, leaving you with the lovely taste of dried plums and figs – perhaps slightly dusted with cocoa – and dreams of pan seared cutlets served with olive oil and garlic doused chard at a seaside restaurant in Primošten.

Related Links:

http://secretdalmatia.wordpress.com/2010/03/16/babic-of-primosten/

http://secretdalmatia.wordpress.com/2009/02/26/culinary-croatia-wine-tours-of-croatia-1/

A Report from the 2011 Zagreb Wine Gourmet Festival – Part 3

Text and photos (unless otherwise noted) Copyright © Cliff Rames 

Museum of Contemporary Art Zagreb (photo by Igor Franic)

In Part 2 of this 3-part report, we went inside the festival to explore the venue, meet the VIP guests, and hear about the round table workshop. In Part 3, we provide some general observations about the wines, offer some “names to watch out for”, and mourn a missed opportunity to leave the festival in style. Živjeli!

[Note: The views presented here are strictly my own and are in no way intended to reflect the views of the festival organizers or its sponsors and partners]

Photo by Siniša Škaberna

The Wines

Let me begin by saying, two days was not enough time to taste everything, even if it were not for the crowds and the less-than-ideal tasting conditions. Perhaps the organizers would consider extending the festival by one day next year? Just an idea….

Based on what I succeeded in tasting (see special note below), it was clear the quality of Croatian wines continues to rise. While a few of clunkers could be found here and there, a greater number of delicious treasures could be discovered and enjoyed at nearly every table. Overall the wines were well-made, full of character, expressive of a unique terroir, and very drinkable.

It was also great to see so many of the well-established, bigger wineries investing in new winery technology, newly designed packaging, and updated marketing strategies – thereby demonstrating an understanding that they cannot rest on their laurels if they are to survive in the current market environment.Agrokor Vina, a conglomerate that owns several wineries and nearly 1,700 hectares of vineyards, has recently invested heavily in redefining its brands and market presence. The results are now in bottle: many of their brands are very approachable, value-driven, quality wines with attractive packages offered at affordable prices. This could easily propel Agrokor to the lead as a producer of competitive, value-driven gateway wines, especially for the export market.

Not to be outdone, many of the traditional industry-leaders and well-established wineries have stepped up their games, becoming more active with social media, introducing new wines and labels, and taking steps to ready themselves for the international market.

Krauthaker wines

These key players include: Krauthaker (the man who put premium Graševina on the map and whose TBA Graševina landed a much-celebrated place on the wine list of Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck  in London)….

Photo courtesy of Feravino winery

Feravino (their new “Dika” and “Miraz” Graševina labels are very approachable and tasty); and Kozlovic (his 2009 Malvazija was the stand-out favorite of Decanter’s Sarah Kemp)… 

  
 

Matošević wines (photo by Jeff Tureaud)

Matosevic (watch out for his new “Grimalda” wines, a red “Super Istrian” blend and a white Malvazija/Chardonnay/Sauvignon Blanc blend); Kutjevacki Podrum (their “De Gotho Aureus” 2009 Chardonnay just took the silver medal at the 2011 Chardonnay Du Monde competition in France)….

Kutjevo award-winning Chardonnay

Then there’s: Bura-Mokalo (this dynamic duo of a brother/sister winemaking team are the early pioneers of “cult” Plavac Mali wines; watch out for a new Zinfandel release this year); BIBICh (his new limestone “kamenica”-fermented, long-macerated Debit may take the orange wine category to new heights)….

Winemaker Ivo Carić

Caric (produces a lovely, fresh, seafood-friendly white from Bogdanuša, an indigenous variety native to Hvar island; also produces an interesting Beaujolais-style young Plavac Mali called “Novello”; just introduced some very cool new labels too!); and Zlatan Otok (their first-ever commercial production of Crljenak Kašelanski has been scoring very well and is making history as the first-ever commercial production of the “original Zinfandel”).

Even more exciting was to see a new generation of rising-star winemakers who are truly making names for themselves with wines that are clean, well-made, expressive of place, and cleverly and attractively packaged.

Piquentum Malvazija label

Names that come to mind as examples in this category are: Dimitri Brečević (his “Piquentum” Teran and Malvazija wines from Istria are generating a lot of excitement); and Benvenuti (making some very impressive sweet wines from Malvazija Istriana and Muscat of Momjan under the “San Salvatore” label).

Winemaker Marko Geržinić (Photo courtesy of http://www.Facebook.com/tasteofcroatia)

Then there’s: Marko Gerzinic (noted for his beautiful stainless-steel fermented Teran and consistently good Malvazija); Franco Radovan (his young Malvazija wine is incredibly pure and fresh; cute label too!)…

Bruno Trapan

Bruno Trapan (with cigar in hand, this young upstart winemaker has rocked the domestic wine scene with a number of recent awards and high scores, especially for his macerated and mature Malvazija wine, “Uroboros”; he recently opened a brand new winery and tasting room in the style of a train depot, called “Wine Station Trapan”)….

Bire Grk

Watch out for the “other” white wine of Korčula island (more commonly known for the Pošip grape), made from the indigenous Grk variety (producers Cebalo and Bire are pioneers of Grk wine and are working hard to revive interest in the grape and the quality of the wines); and Grabovac (one of the only producers of sparkling wine in the Dalmatia region, Grabovac is noted for their unique wines made from Kujundžuša and Trnjak – two obscure native grape varieties from the Dalmatian hinterland).

Other names to watch out for: Roxanich (a winery with a rockin’ name, owner Mladen Rožanić is considered the father of the “Super Istrian” red blend; he also makes a wonderful extended skin maceration, wood-aged “Antica” Malvazija that is almost an orange wine;); Moreno Coronica (his ’07 “Gran Teran” is a profound expression of Istria’s native son red grape); Velimir Korak (making elegant Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in the cool Plešivica region); Boris Drenški “Bodren” (for award-winning TBA and ice wines)…

Clai Sveti Jakov Malvazija (image courtesy of Clai winery)

Giorgio Clai (an organic/biodynamic winemaker who produces somewhat inconsistent yet fascinating, terroir-driven wines); Moreno DeGrassi (his “Terre Bianche” blend of Malvazija, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier was the fan favorite at the Gala Dinner).

More names to watch: Leo Gracin (“the Professor”; a consultant and winemaking pioneer of the indigenous Babić red variety of northern Dalmatia; his 2008 vintage was another favorite of Decanter’s Sarah Kemp); Frano Milos (long considered a “traditionalist” among Plavac Mali producers, the increasing involvement of his very attractive, twenty-something son and daughter in his marketing and social media activities has injected new energy into his brand; his “Stagnum” Plavac Mali is a cult favorite)….

Luka Krajančić (photo by Željko Tutnjević)

Luka Krajančić (his Pošip “Intrada” and “Sur Lie” is taking the native Pošip white grape from Korčula island to a whole new level; world class juice!)….

(image courtesy of Saints Hills winery)

Finally, there’s Saints Hills , whose “Nevina” and “Dingač” wines are well on their way to achieving cult status (Ernest Tolj’s winery now stands poised to release a new and exciting Plavac Mali rosé this spring, “St. Heels” with a sexy, craftily cheeky and irreverent label depicting a pair of women’s high heel shoes. We also eagerly await the first-ever vintage [2010] Plavac Mali wine from the new “St. Roko” vineyard at Komarna).  

Saints Hills St. Roko vineyard at Komarna

[Special Note: To all the winemakers I didn’t meet, I’m sorry! It was impossible to make it to every table, and my selection of who to visit was completely random, subject to the surges of the crowd, and dependent upon how much time I had between meetings in the café. I didn’t mean to miss this opportunity to meet you and taste your wines. For what it’s worth, I am very aware of whom I missed, and I hope to one day have another chance to visit you and taste your wines.]

The Food

Okay, how can I put this diplomatically….? I spent most of the time at ZWGF starving.

Starving is an odd way to pass the time at a festival that touts the word “gourmet” in its title. The fact is, there was very little to eat, at least I couldn’t find much. Yes, there were the 16 food vendors with their tooth-pick-harpooned nibbles and bites, and the 15 Kuna sandwiches at the café bar….But it was the “gourmet” part that I needed – and was so sadly missing.

Okay, yes – there was the cooking demonstration tent. A couple of us, lured by the scrumptious aromas coming from within, tried unsuccessfully to grab a plate or two of the gourmet dishes prepared by guest chefs. These small plates were randomly handed out to lucky mouths in the audience (the system for receiving one of these tasty-looking offerings seemed to entail being in the right place at the right time) – but not to us.

Mouths watering and defeated, we went to the information booth to ask about our dining options in the vicinity. The friendly (English-speaking)information desk girl told us to go to the shopping center across the highway, where (we were told) there were surely some fast food places….

Having learned my lesson, the next morning I really filled-up at the breakfast buffet in the Westin Zagreb hotel. For an inclusive hotel breakfast, it was really quite an extensive and satiating spread. 

The Slide

It was not until the festival was over that I realized my greatest disappointment of the trip: I had missed “the Slide”.

The Slide? Is it an art exhibit? A secret restaurant?  

Nope. It’s a huge metal tube that corkscrews all the way through the center of the Museum of Contemporary Art Zagreb, traveling down from the 4th floor to street level. Given the opportunity, a person could slip into the shiny tube and slide all the way down to the bottom, where he/she would be spit out onto the sidewalk outside the museum. The slide looks like this:  

(Photo courtesy of http://gallery-photo.net)

Riding that slide down and out would have been the grandest and most memorable exit from any wine festival ever, anywhere, anytime! Period.

Maybe the museum is not such a bad venue after all. Maybe the organizers will decide to hold ZWGF there next year.

The crowds? Who cares! The hunger? Never mind!

A good whirl on that giant silver slide would have made all of those things just a second thought…a pesky inconvenience…the price of greatness!

In fact it should be mandatory. Everyone should be asked to leave the festival on the slide. What a hoot that would be!

In a recent article for Wine Spectator, Matt Kramer wrote that “terroir” is no longer enough to sell wine; most wine regions today hold some claim or another to terroir. What we need more of (writes Kramer) is “narrative”. The question then becomes, what “stories” do the wines or wine-producing regions have to tell?

Photo courtesy of http://www.fightpink.org

As silly as it may seem, I mention the slide here because (for me) it suddenly became such a wonderful component of Croatia’s somewhat quirky and complex wine story – a memorable detail that sets ZWGF apart from many other wine expos and festivals.

Despite a few minor glitches and lessons learned, ZWGF demonstrated that Croatian wine producers are ready and able to join hands with the world of wine and take the plunge into the future. While the journey has just begun, the twisting way forward – if smartly navigated with poise and passion – promises to be a lip-smacking, exhilarating ride.

Discovering Croatian Wine: Miklaužić, Moslavina & Škrlet

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I don’t suppose a road can be defined as two dirt tracks just wide enough for a tractor; nor a rutted path that weaves and bobs through a black forest in the middle of nowhere.

Courtesy of Miklaužić winery

But it was on such a “road” that I found myself, in a little 4-cylinder Fiat with wheels the size of Frisbees, one starry evening last November, following Marko Miklaužić up to the outpost of his winery in the Voloder-Ivanić Grad wine-growing hills of Moslavina, Croatia.

 

With the car lurching and shuttering as it plunged through muddy depressions, roiled over the humps of protruding boulders, and squealed as tree branches from the edges of the forest clawed across sheet metal, I pressed on.

Occasionally it crossed my mind that I had no idea who this man in the car in front of me really was (I had only met him minutes earlier in front of a small supermarket in town, after which he told me to follow him), and I certainly had no clue as to where on earth he was taking me.

But none of that mattered. I was on another grapey adventure. This time to investigate a little-known white grape called Škrlet.

Skrlet

(On a side note: I am always amazed by how fast Croatians drive. That evening, on that suspect road, was no exception. Marko’s tiny red taillights often came close to escaping me, and I drove in fear that he would leave me behind, where I would surely get lost and careen into a gully or river, never to be found. So I pushed my little rental car as hard as I dared, and we finally pulled up in front of a rustic, wooden building and parked.)

Photo courtesy of Miklauzic winery

Outside the Miklaužić winery the continental night air was sharply cold, and I could see my breath as Marko sorted through keys to open the door. Millions of stars were sprinkled like white freckles across the dark skin of night.

Coincidentally, freckles are what lured me to Moslavina. Not the freckles of stars or pretty Croatian girls (although who could resist those!). Rather, the freckles – or more precisely the Scarlet Fever-like rash spots – of the Škrlet grape.

Škrlet

Native to the Moslavina (Moslavačko) region of north-central Croatia, just southeast of the capital city, Zagreb, the Škrlet grape is relatively unknown outside of Croatia. Actually, beyond its primary growing areas around the towns of Kutina, Čazma and Voloder-Ivanićgrad, as well as the town of Sisak in the Pokupje region, I would hazard to suggest that there are few Croats who have ever heard of or tasted Škrlet.

Photo courtesy of Vinopedia.com

Derived from the German word “scharlach”, meaning a speckled or dotted surface (hence, the name also given to the rash-giving illness, Scarlet Fever), Škrlet is distinguished by the fact that – when ripe – its berries can become speckled with purple or reddish dots on its golden-orange skins.

Tasting room, courtesy of Miklaužić winery

After a tour of the winery and cellars, Marko and I settled down in the warmth of the tasting room and chatted as I tasted through a few examples of his Škrlet wines. He told me about the spring hail that knocked out about 80% of his red grape (Frankovka, Merlot & Pinot Noir) harvest. With a shrug of the shoulders, he mentioned how he didn’t have hail insurance, which reportedly costs about $1,000 per hectare.

Miklaužić vineyards, courtesy of winery

Luckily, the 7 hectares of Škrlet vineyards were unharmed. In a typical year, Miklaužić winery produces about 100,000 bottles of wine from its 27 hectares of vines (17 in ownership/10 leased). Of this amount, Škrlet accounts for about 25% of his production, or 25,000 bottles.

Marko Miklaužić, courtesy of winery

Škrlet is an easy-drinking wine that is best consumed in the first year and no later than two years of the vintage. Most often it is made into a fresh, crisp, youthful style, but sometimes you can find riper, off-dry versions.

Younger styles – like the 2008 “Kvalitetno” version I tasted – tend to be light straw yellow in color with flashes of green highlights. On the nose Škrlet shows aromas that are often suggestive of green apples, pears, citrus, chamomile tea, thistles, field grass and hay – aromas reminiscent of a spring pasture. 

On the palate, it is light to medium bodied, with an alcohol content ranging from 9.7% – 12.5%. A prominent feature of the palate experience is the bright, zesty acidity with a slightly bitter note of the back palate, which makes Škrlet a wonderful, palate-cleansing and food-friendly wine. While the finish is rather short, it is nonethelass pleasant with flavors of juicy green apple and lemon with green herbal notes. 

Courtesy of Miklaužić winery

Riper, late-harvest versions, like the wine from Mikša winery, show more red apple, apricot and dried hay characteristics – sometimes with a hint of elderflower – while retaining a nice, balanced dose of acidity.

Škrlet is best served chilled with dishes that feature poached white fish, poultry, and green vegetables such as asparagus, leeks, lettuce, snow peas, and zucchini.

Courtesy of Miklaužić winery

Currently there are just a handful of producers making wine from Škrlet in the region, with much of the small production consumed locally. Consequently, availability of the wine outside the borders of the Moslavina and Pokupje appellations is limited. At the moment none is exported.  

However, increasing interest among domestic and international wine connesuiers toward wines made from indigenous varieties, as well as recognition among some wine critics that Škrlet is an interesting grape variety that has the potential to deliver wines of good quality and universal appeal, has resulted in increased plantings, which will presumably result in wider distribution of this unique and off-the-beaten-path wine. Another plus, accorsding to Marko, is that Škrlet is very resistant to disease and rot – quite a necessary trait in a region that can be wet and cold, not to mention remote.    

Courtesy of Miklaužić winery

In addition to Miklaužić winery, other producers of Škrlet include Juren, Kezele, Košutić, and Mikša in Moslavina, and Trdenić in Pokupje. Other regional synonyms for Škrlet include Ovnek žuti, Ovnek Slatki, Škrlet Tusti, and Škrtec.  

Photo courtesy of http://vinopija.wordpress.com

Sometimes when in search of off-the-beaten-path wines, one must take the road less traveled. In the case of Škrlet, that road – for now – may be a little hard and bumpy and inaccessible to most of us, but it is definitely worth the trip.

After all, isn’t that part of the wonder and magic of wine? Finding that next tasty discovery, revealed to you when you least expect it, one that transports you to places where tour buses can’t roam? For me that’s one of the most exciting things about discovering the wine roads and native grapes of Croatia. To find them you must travel down paths where few have ventured before. For the intrepid (and thirsty) explorer, the other end of the path often reveals hidden treasures and unspoiled beauties that wait like lovely, freckled princesses.       

Related Links:

www.vinarija-miklauzic.hr/

www.winesofcroatia.com

www.Facebook.com/winesofcroatia

www.Twitter.com/winesofcroatia

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Tasting Report: Clai 2008 Malvazija “Sveti Jakov”

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Translated and edited by Cliff Rames from the original review by Z.B. Carlos on http://www.vinskaprica.com: http://vinskaprica.com/clai-malvazija-sv-jakov-2008

Note from the editor: We are pleased to report that three prominent Croatian wine professionals, Željko Bročilović Carlos, Darko Baretić, and Zoran Vodopija, have initiated a blog called “Vinska Prica” – or Wine Story – in which they will regularly contribute wine reviews and other wine-related content that celebrates the wine and culinary culture of Croatia. Below is a review (published on August 19, 2010) of the 2008 Malvazija “Sveti Jakov”, translated (a rougher, less cohesive translation is automatically available for all posts on their website) and presented for your information and enjoyment.

                                                                     ************

Producer: Giorgio Clai

Region: Western Istria wine-growing region of north coastal Croatia.

Vintage: 2008

Type: Dry; White

Grape Variety: Malvasia Istriana

Alcohol: 14.5 %

Rating:   87-91

Tasting Date:  July 29, 2010

Winery Link:  http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=360309587799&ref=ts

Introductory Comments

I must preclude this review by saying that few words or descriptions can fully capture the style or characteristics of this wine. You must simply try it and experience it yourself! What you will find in the glass goes so much deeper than words can describe and stands as a sort of homage to nature and a love of the grapevine and the land in which it grows.

Giorgio Clai

If there is anyone who can speak about the identity of the local terroir and has an intimate attachment to and relationship with the land on which he lives, it’s Giorgio Clai. It is also important to say – in just one short sentence: Giorgio and Vesna are simply great people. In this very public way I would like to express to them my thanks for their hospitality and taking the time to meet me. I can now live knowing that it is my privilege to consider them friends. Thank you Vesna and Giorgio.Tasting Notes

On the nose the wine is clean and very intense, infinitely complex, and fine, yet it still shows youthfulness and vibrancy. While I’m not a big fan of high alcohol white wines, there is nothing about the aromas of this Malvasia that troubles me. The bouquet is dominated by an enormous fruitiness, especially peach and apricot, followed by citrus, ripe pineapple – a tropical fruit basket.

Once the wine opens up a bit, trace notes of Mediterranean herb (rosemary) and acacia flowers emerge, along with nuances of quality wood and spices. All the while there is an unobtrusive note of macerated grape skins that is nicely integrated and discreet.

On the palate the wine is dry yet broad in a warm and almost oily way (due to high alcohol), with a fully body, fresh character, and very long finish. Gentle tannins (from extended skin maceration) lend structure and bind together the wine’s incredible complexity and intensity of fruit. These fruit flavors dominate and last for a full minute after tasting them.

It appears that Malvasia Istriana reacts well to extended skin maceration. Certainly extended maceration is one of the more successful techniques that distinguishes this variety. Even if you’re not a supporter of this style, the elegance and precision of this wine will not leave you indifferent.

The Clai 2008 Malvasia “Sveti Jakov” is a wine of excellent quality. Tender and harmonious, it seems to have been created as a companion piece to series of delights. But I have to admit, after a stressful day I much prefer this wine as an “object of meditation” rather than a quick quaff.

If there is any criticism of this wine, it is only that the wine is exceptionally strong and high in alcohol. Fans of this style will run into trouble if they drink too much of it, which you will be tempted to do.

www.WinesofCroatia.com

www.Facebook.com/winesofcroatia

www.Twitter.com/winesofcroatia 

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Juraj Sladić: A New Generation Winemaker from Croatia

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Translated and edited by Cliff Rames from the original article in Novi-Tjednik: 

http://www.novi-tjednik.hr/gospodarstvo/gospodarstvo/4949-sladi-mlai-iz-metropole-u-plastovo-radim-vrhunska-vina-i-pri-tom-uivam.html

“I make high quality wine, and along the way I have fun too.” –Juraj Sladić

In the village of Plastovo, the Sladić family (http://www.vinasladic.com/) has been making wine for generations. With the passage of time this time-honored tradition has been handed down from family member to family member. Now the time has come for a new beginning, a fresh infusion of youthful energy. 

Juraj (left) and Ante Sladić (photo courtesy of Novi Tjednik)

For Marinko Sladić, the current winemaker at the Sladić estate, the time has come to pass the torch, and the decision about who shall inherit the land is easy: Juraj, his eldest son, has been helping out in the vineyard and cellar for years.

For Juraj, a student of the University of Agriculture in Zagreb with just one exam left before graduation, there is no doubt: he is ready to return to his family’s vineyard and make his father proud.

Photo by Cliff Rames

“As soon as I learned to walk, my father led me to the vineyards, and I immediately gabbed onto a hoe”, Juraj remembers with a smile.  

He openly admits that attending the University of Agriculture wasn’t his first choice; he wanted to study languages.

Knowing that his father carried all the weight of the family’s wine production responsibilities on his shoulders, Juraj decided to listen to his wisdom and do something that would eventually help him.  

Soon Juraj found himself sitting in a University classroom listening to lectures about fermentation, bottles and casks, and grape varieties. Before he knew it, he was daydreaming about the labels that would one day grace his bottles and celebrate the family’s Debit and Plavina wines.

Photo by Cliff Rames

“I wanted to take the family tradition to a new level, higher heights. So I decided to study agriculture. This job is a dream come true. It combines heavy physical work, which actually relaxes my mind. Besides that, it’s a profession in which you can travel a lot and meet many different people.”  

Juraj then showed off the new label that he conceptualized and designed with his younger brother, Ante. It is for a wine that will be called “Juran”.  

Logo courtesy of Juraj Sladić

His brother Ante has chosen a similar path. Once he finished electrician school, he plans to turn his attention to winemaking.

We were curious to find out who learn from whom, sons from father, or father from sons.

“From my father I learn the practical, hands-on stuff”, say Juraj. “From me he learns the theories.”

Younger brother Ante then adds: “I learn from them both and keep quiet”.

Photo by Cliff Rames

The Sladić family jewels are four indigenous grape varieties – Debit, Maraština, Plavina and Lasina – that number 8,000 vines in total. Juraj, beaming with boundless enthusiasm and love, drew a map and showed us where each and every one grows.

Maraština

“Maraština grows in the youngest vineyard; we plan to fully convert this vineyard to natural growing techniques. As for Debit, we are determined to return it to its former glory. Over the last 50 years, Debit became an underrated and underappreciated variety because of the way the big wineries treated it, basically making cheap blends from it”.   

Debit grapes

In regard to the red varieties, Jure tells us how Lasina was nearly a forgotten variety, yet it shows great potential.  

Lasina (photo courtesy of http://www.Hrvastina.hr)

The quality of Sladić wines was given credibility when Croatian-American sommelier, Cliff Rames, recently tasted them and gave a positive review to the 2009 Debit.  (Editor’s note: the review is included below.) Now bottles of Sladić wines are highly sought all over Croatia, from Rijeka to Split. 

A happy man. (Photo by Cliff Rames)

Even though Sladić wines seem to shine with something special, this is not an accident, but clearly the result of three generations’ worth of love and passion invested in the vineyards and the final product.

 

Photo by Cliff Rames

Sladić 2009 Debit  

“A nice example of what a fresh style Debit should be – light, refreshing, with just enough aromatics to make it interesting but not enough to interfere with delicate seafood and other light foods that it can accompany. The crisp acidity and bitter note on the finish made it an excellent palate cleanser, and the combination of sea salt, citrus and floral notes make this a very attractive and delicious wine. A clean, straightforward and very refreshing style that should be served very cold. Best when paired with oysters, white, delicate fish, and green salad with fresh goat cheese.” (Cliff Rames)

Master Sommelier, Fred Dexheimer, also shared his tasting notes of the Sladić 2009 Debit on Twitter: “Indigenous central coast grape of Croatia. Seashell, lemon a touch of bitterness. Can taste the sea! Albarino-like!”

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