Anthony Bourdain in Croatia: “Holy S*** That’s Good!”

By Cliff Rames © 2012

”I can’t believe it took me this long….Season 8. It took me to get here. This is f****** awesome.”

Unless you have been hidden away on one of Croatia’s many uninhabited islands (there are over 1,100 of them), by now you have probably heard that Anthony Bourdain of the widely popular Travel Channel TV show, No Reservations, kicked off Season 8 by visiting Croatia.

(Photo courtesy of the Travel Channel)

The episode he filmed in Croatia, called “Coastal Croatia”, was shot over a week’s time back in October 2011 and made its world premier this week on the Travel Channel (Monday, April 23, 2012, 9pm EST).

Reaction to the episode, based on the early buzz and online chatter, has been ecstatic and overwhelmingly positive. Love him or hate him – Bourdain can be a divisive, acerbic personality with a raw, uncensored sense of humor – the “Coastal Croatia” episode is an extremely entertaining, informative, and well-produced piece of travel journalism. It is also quite infectious viewing; I still find myself watching it over and over again. You can too, thanks to the Travel Channel, which now has the full episode online here.

Certainly Anthony Bourdain’s own reactions to his experiences in Croatia fueled much of the elation mirrored by his viewers as we watched him suck on briny oysters and garlicky mussels; hunt for Istrian truffles with “Shotzy the Wonder Dog”; skewer sashimi tuna; gorge himself on shark liver pate, fish tripe and lobster; drizzle “amazing spicy Croatian olive oil”; carve succulent slivers of Paški cheese; savor slow-simmered Skradin risotto; and swirl and swallow several liters of local wine. Often Bourdain could not contain his amazement and surprise, exclaiming over and over again, ”Holy s*** that’s good”.

(Photo courtesy of the Travel Channel)

And over and over again I found myself cheering Bourdain on, perched on the edge of my seat in anticipation of his next move or discovery, and of course wishing I was there too.  🙂

Bourdain is now famous for his often hilarious, sometimes offensive yet always entertaining one-liners. Rather than repeat them here, many of the Bourdainisms from the Croatia episode have already been documented for your enjoyment in this post by Eater.com.

Bourdain’s “Coastal Croatia” travels began in Istria, where he visits Rovinj and Motovun. Our friends at Taste of Croatia have graciously mapped out Bourdain’s itinerary for you here.

In one scene at a seaside restaurant, Konoba Batelina, the wines of Bruno Trapan are on table, clearly being enjoyed by the group. While Bourdain had planned to visit Trapan winery, in the end he had to bypass it due to time restraints. Which is too bad, because Bruno Trapan is quite a rock star among Croatian winemakers and has many admirers at home and abroad. His boundless energy, wild enthusiasm, intense passion and maturing skill as winemaker would have been quite a match for Bourdain. I’m sure having the two of them in the same room would have resulted in a revolution of some sort.  🙂

The Dynamic Duo: Istrian winemaker Bruno Trapan and Dalmatian winemaker Alen Bibich. (photo by Cliff Rames)

The journey then continued to Dalmatia, where Bourdain visits Boškinac hotel and winery on Pag island in central Dalmatia – “an amazing, crazy-ass spot”. There he is treated to Boris Šuljić’s delectable cooking – a multicourse extravaganza that – I know from my own visit there last year – is one of the finest culinary experiences in Croatia. All dishes were paired with Boškinac’s “awesome” wines, which are produced from Šuljić’s vineyards in the fields across from the hotel. I am especially fond of his Gegić, a fresh, salty white wine from the locally indigenous grape of the same name. The Boškinac red blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot is widely considered to be one of the best Bordeaux-style wines in Dalmatia.

Bourdain at Boškinac hotel & winery (photo courtesy of Boris Šuljić)

From Pag, Bourdain traveled to BIBICh winery in Skradin, where, simply put, he seemed to have the time of his life, asking, “Why, oh why, is there so much amazing wine in this country?”

(photo by Cliff Rames)

Not surprising at all. I have visited BIBICh many times over the years and despite my futile efforts to remain faithful to a spit bucket, maintain dignified self control, and sustain a guise of “professionalism”, I have never left sober or unfazed by the man’s charm, incredible hospitality, and deliciously fascinating array of family wines.  🙂

I also regularly recommend BIBICh to travelers in the area, and I have never heard a bad report from anyone who has visited him. Alen BIBICh has always been miles ahead of the game in regard to an understanding of wine tourism, wine marketing, and wine exports (he exports the bulk of his production and was one of the first Croatian wine producers to find success in the United States, where his R6 Riserva red is a best seller).

Often the unsung hero behind BIBICh’s success and ability to please any number of visitors or VIP guests is his wife, Vesna. The woman is a culinary genius, and she possesses a superhero’s ability to whip up on short notice a gourmet tasting menu that is not only delicious but perfectly complements the wine that Alen is pouring. It is simply astounding, and anyone who has ever had the privilege to enjoy some time with Alen, his wines and Vesna’s food pairings will never forget it and may also find him/herself exclaiming, “Holy s*** that’s good!”

One of Vesna Bibich's culinary creations (photo by Cliff Rames)

A few viewers have been asking about the food that Bourdain ate on the show. Many of the dishes are local specialties with recipes that vary by region and village-to-village. You can get some ideas from the Taste of Croatia book by Karen Evenden. Esquire also just posted a recipe for the grilled sardines, and you can view that here. Croatian Cuisine also offers a smart phone app that contains many traditional Dalmatian recipes.

Ante Pižić, the gentleman who prepared the Skradin risotto at BIBICh winery, will not reveal the recipe, saying only that it is a family secret dating back over 200 years. He did however tell me that tradition dictates that only male members of the family can prepare it, and the whole process takes four days, 12 hours of which are spent over a fire, cooking and stirring. The Slow Food movement is a traditional way of life in Croatia.

Skradin risotto

No doubt, Anthony Bourdain No Reservations “Coastal Croatia” is by far one of the best promotional pieces for Croatian tourism, food and wine to emerge in a long time. It is also a perfect example of how smartly done, “hip” marketing can resonate across the globe and lead to practical benefits. Word is, since the episode aired the phones of Croatian wine importers in the U.S. have been ringing off the hook.

To commemorate the occasion, Blue Danube Wine Company tapped into its cellar reserves and released two older vintages of BIBICh wines, the 2004 Sangreal Mertlot and the limited release 2006 Sangreal Syrah. Needless to say, BIBICh wines are now hot, and we are happy to report that Blue Danube just received a new shipment and several new vintages are now available in the U.S. (unfortunately Boškinac wines are not exported at the moment).

Perhaps – and hopefully – this is a tipping point for Croatian wines. Certainly Boris Šuljić and Alen Bibich have gained some well-deserved attention and recognition for their talents. As for the many excellent Croatian winemakers not featured in this program: I firmly believe in the old adage: “A rising tide lifts all boats”….

While No Reservations has generated a lot of buzz and attention for Croatia and its food and wine scene, it would be foolish for any of us to rest our laurels. With his show, Anthony Bourdain has blown open the doors of imagination, of possibility, of opportunity. Now comes the hard work of delivering on the promise and sustaining the momentum….

(Photo courtesy of Alen Bibich)

Yet for now we can certainly bask in the glow and smile, knowing that many more people will soon be discovering Croatian wines and enjoying what we have always known: the wines are great, the winemakers all have great stories, and Croatia is an amazingly beautiful country with a rich food and wine heritage.

In the words of Anthony Bourdain,”this is world class food; this is world class wine; this is world class cheese…. If you haven’t been here yet, you are a fucking idiot”.

And even if you are not an “idiot” or have already been to Croatia, then perhaps – like me – you watched Bourdain as he relished in the marvels and beauties of Croatia and knew one thing for sure: that you must go back as soon as possible!

I have a feeling that the Croatian National Tourism Board was just handed a brand new marketing slogan: “Croatia – Holy S*** That’s Good!”  🙂

(Photo courtesy of the Travel Channel)

Images from the Wine Roads of Croatia #6 – BIBICh

“Palate Paradise”

Tasting room, BIBICh winery, Plastovo, Pirovac-Skradin wine-growing hills, Northern Dalmatia sub-region, Coastal Croatia.

The BIBICh winery tasting room is a “must visit” stop along the wine roads of Croatia. Alen Bibić, proprietor and winemaker, offers customized tasting tours during which guests are treated to perfect pairings of scrumptious local specialties (prepared by Alen’s wife, Vesna, who is a culinary genius) with BIBICh wines especially selected by Alen. It is a magical experience that is highly recommended. In fact, wine blogger Mattie John Bamman, after his recent visit to BIBICh winery, wrote that it was ‘the best culinary experience” of his 5-week press trip.

Also watch for BIBICh winery in the new season of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations, scheduled to air in spring 2012. Mr. Bourdain visited Alen a few months ago, indulged in the tasting menu, and reportedly had a blast – some of which (lucky for us!) was captured on camera for the show.  🙂

Wines produced by BIBICh include R7 Riserva (a blend of babić, lasin & plavina); Debit; Debit Lučica; R5 Riserva (a blend of debit, maraština, pošip, pinot gris & chardonnay); G6 Grenache; Sangreal Shiraz; Sangreal Merlot; Harlekin (a blend of syrah, babić, & plavina); and Ambra, a dessert wine made from dried grapes. BIBICh also produces excellent brandies and grappa, extra virgin olive oils, and other local delicacies.

To inquire about visits to BIBICh winery, please contact the winery directly at vinabibich@vip.hr. You can also book a customized tour and tasting through Culinary Croatia.

BIBICh wines are imported to the U.S. by Oenocentric.

Related links:

http://comeforthewine.blogspot.com/2011/10/croatia-series-part-1-bibich.html

http://www.vinologue.net/crush/vina-bibich-the-wines-of-bibich/

 

End of an Era: Gary Vaynerchuk Retires from Wine Videos

By Cliff Rames

The day he announced it, the earth shook.

As it happened, I was home grilling fresh squid on a wood fire. Suddenly the ground shivered and rolled like a small ocean wave had just passed underfoot. I felt momentarily dizzy. Then it was over.

My lunch on the day of the big quake

At that moment I thought sun stroke had cause the vertigo, not a 5.8 magnitude earthquake that rattled much of the northeast United States. As I later discovered, other than some minor damage in Virginia and a famously tipped-over chair in Washington D.C., the east coast earthquake was no big deal – despite my panicked neighbors and the media hype.

Earthquake damage in Washington DC (photo courtesy of http://www.famousDC.com)

But what was a big deal was the news that I discovered as I surfed the earthquake coverage on the web. That same afternoon Gary Vaynerchuk aired Episode 89 of Daily Grape, the video blog that took the place of Wine Library TV. Under a headline that read “The Final Grape”, Gary announced that he was fully retiring from online wine video production.

The Final Grape

Talk about the earth shaking! As things like this often do, the news made me reminisce and think about Gary’s impact on the wine world and Croatia in particular.

As many of you know, during the five-year lifespan of Wine Library TV (WLTV) Gary produced two episodes devoted to Croatian wines, numbers 553 and 798.

Episode 553 aired on October 7, 2008, a time when few people knew that Croatia produced wine (Wines of Croatia was founded a few months later). As it turned out, the star of that episode was Zlatan Otok 2004 Plavac Mali Barrique, the wine that brought “thunder” to WLTV and Gary called “sensational”.

You can watch WLTV Episode 553, “A Croatian Wine Tasting”, here:

In late 2009 I happened to meet Gary at a wine tasting and told him about my work with Wines of Croatia. It was evident that he was very interested in Croatia, and he promptly invited me to be a guest on his show.

Episode 798, “Tasting Wines from Croatia”, aired on January 11, 2010. You can catch it here:

The response to my appearance on WLTV was overwhelming. I received dozens of emails of support and inquiry, and the number people following the Wines of Croatia page on Facebook doubled overnight. For this I am forever grateful to Gary. With that gracious invitation, he provided me a golden opportunity to share my love and passion for Croatian wines with a far wider audience than I was able to reach on my own.

Sadly, on March 14, 2011 Gary ended WLTV at Episode 1000, a milestone number and a respectable achievement. At the time he said that he was taking a break to work on new initiatives but that his regular appearances on WLTV were more or less over.

But then rumors of a new project surfaced, and on March 14, 2011 Daily Grape was launched. Suddenly all seemed well again in Garyland. The next chapter in a seemingly unstoppable quest to dominate wine-related social media content had begun.

Daily Grape

Over the course of 89 Daily Grape episodes, Gary introduced his viewers to an array of funky grape varieties and geeky wine regions. He paired wine with doughnuts.

He also initiated a new feature called “Behind the Grape” which included guest appearances by heavy-hitter wine gurus such as Andrea Robinson MS, Cameron Hughes, Dr. Stephane Vidal, Evan Dawson, Daniel Johnnes, and an excellent appearance by “The Juiceman” and Master Sommelier, Fred Dexheimer.

GaryVee & FredEx

But the highlight for me was the much-anticipated episode devoted to Plavac Mali, Croatia’s most-important native red grape. Although his review of the wines didn’t knock off any socks, the important message was that Plavac Mali has arrived and the wines are unique and people should pay attention.

Plavac Mali (photo by Cliff Rames)

You can see Daily Grape Episode 86, “Plavac Mali from Croatia”, for yourself HERE (sorry the embed function wasn’t available for this episode).

On August 23, 2011, after a few weeks’ vacation with his family, Gary returned to Daily Grape to announce – with little fanfare and obviously toned-down energy – that the end had arrived. Daily Grape Episode 89 would be his last.

As I watched Gary explain his decision, the ground of my perception of the wine world heaved and shook. Can this be? Who – if any one – can fill the void left behind by Gary’s absence from wine videos? Will he still be around to inspire? To provoke debate, ire, laughter? Will anyone ever again be able to get away with saying a wine smells like a “zebra”? Or dare to find out what wine pairs with Lucky Charms, Captain Crunch and Cinnamon Toast Crunch breakfast cereals?

Alas, I know we must go on. But today I feel that the broadband universe is a much lonelier place; the virtual wine world a tad less cool and sassy….

Say what you want about Gary (his style and personality have been the source of much divided debate), he undoubtedly made an impact on the wine industry. Over the years his internet broadcasts reached countless viewers in the U.S. and abroad (I can attest, Gary has near rock star status among many wine geeks in Croatia).

More important, he introduced a new generation of wine consumers, many of them from the coveted “Millennials” demographic, to the magic of vino and grape varieties with crazy names like Debit, Graševina, Malvasia Istriana, Plavac Mali and Teran. If it were not for Gary, many “Vayniacs” and others would still be in the dark about Croatia and its wines. For that he deserves credit and a huge note of thanks from everyone involved in producing, importing and promoting Croatian wines.

Gary Vee Drinking Happiness

Love him or hate him, one could not ignore Gary while at the same time claiming to be serious about understanding contemporary trends in social media and wine marketing and consumption. Whenever Gary “sniffy-sniffed” and described wine, tweeted, or posted a Facebook comment, online conversations erupted and debates simmered and sometime exploded.

And presumably somewhere along the way, a bottle of wine was sold. After all, Gary transformed Wine Library from a $4 million mom & pop wine shop into a $45 million internet sales-driven business, as well as a physical destination for Gary gawkers, Wine Library TV pilgrims, “Cinderella Wine” value hunters, and serious wine geeks.

After my January 2010 appearance on Wine Library TV, the wine that Gary most liked on the show – Clai 2007 Ottocento Crno – disappeared from the shelves of the Whole Foods store on the upper West Side of Manhattan. I know this because that is where I got the bottle that we tasted together. There had been about 10 bottles on the shelf when I purchased it. When I went back a couple days after the episode, the Clai was sold out.

(photo by Cliff Rames)

Today it is hard for me to conceive a world void of my regular fix of Gary Vee on TV. Yet in my disappointment and sadness, I sense that there is reason to be excited. Gary will surely explore new avenues for his intense ambition, energy and creativity. “It was never in the cards for me to spend my entire career for me to be a wine critic”, he said. “I love wine but I am an entrepreneur first. I am ready to do some new things.”

No matter what he decides to do next, it is clear that Gary Vaynerchuk has forged a stunning trajectory towards success. While he said that he hasn’t completely closed the door to doing occasional video blogs in the future – which would be great, it doesn’t matter. He had a great run, and we have many episodes in the WLTV and Daily Grape archives to revisit from time to time. What comes next is (for now) just happy fodder for the imagination.

And to Gary I say this: Thank you for all the fun, the passion, for keeping it real, and for leading us off the beaten path to mysterious wine lands, where much vino was shared among friends and strangers alike. I wish you nothing but happiness, continued success, good health, a lot of love, and of course many more bottles of Croatian wine!

I look forward to seeing you again somewhere out on the field of dreams.

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!”

www.WinesofCroatia.com

www.Facebook.com/winesofcroatia

www.Twitter.com/winesofcroatia

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