[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]
Okay, I know: It was too crowded. Too packed. Too small. Too hot and noisy. All those dead-end alleys stuffed with herds of winos, unable to move or escape. Winemakers unable to hear or speak with the guests; sometimes unable to access their stock of fresh bottles when faced with empties; unable to retreat to the bathroom…..
And yes, the coat room would completely filled-up by noon, forcing many guests to carry their heavy winter coats (it was cold in Zagreb!), scarves and bags around the tasting room floor.
And the last shuttle bus of the festival, in the cold night after a long day of tasting, apparently never showed up – forcing several guests (including me) to chase down taxis back to the hotel….
It’s all been said already.
But let me add this nugget: The festival was a victim of its own success.
The Museum of Contemporary Art Zagreb, where the festival was held, is a lovely facility that was barely adequate to accommodate the crowd that turned out to discover the wines within. Interest was obviously high, and it seems likely that the organizers underestimated the potential number of attendees. While open to the public, tickets were not cheap (150 Kuna, or about $30 – a lot of money for many Croatians), thereby screening out many (although not all) individuals who might otherwise see the event as a great way to have a drinking party with pals and buddies. Nonetheless, hundreds of people paid the money in exchange for a chance to taste some awesome juice and meet the faces behind the labels.
A recommendation for next year: Reserve 2-3 hours in the morning exclusively for accredited members of the trade and media to walk through, taste, chat with winemakers, and network with like-minded peers without the throng of public attendees (who could be admitted afterwards). Many tastings and expos I have attended over the years are organized in this fashion. It seems to work well.
To their credit, the organizers DID on the first day try to offer a solution by scheduling a 3-hour “by invitation only workshop” for “foreign wine journalists and wine buyers”. I was invited but honestly forgot about it in the swirl of activity and meetings. I also wonder who attended it, since most of the action and winemakers were out on the public floor.
The Café Bar
A refuge from the sensory overload and crushing grind of the tasting hall was the museum’s little café bar, a quiet place where exhausted refugees huddled to recharge their palates by drinking coffee, sparkling water – and beer. The little café was also a popular spot to hold business meetings (I had about 6 of them there), as well as a reliable source of fast, cheap eats in the form of sandwiches at 15 Kuna each (more about the general food situation in Part 3).
The VIP Guests
Each year the ZWGF seems to become a little bit less insulated and more outward focused. And that’s a great thing, as Croatia is an exciting emerging winemaking country that should be blowing its trumpets and utilizing all its tools and resources to draw attention to its fabulous winemaking history and culture.
This year was especially exciting, as the guest list included many interesting and important VIPs from the international wine trade and media. Among the VIP guests were Sarah Kemp and Christelle Guibert, respectively the Publishing Editor and the Tasting Editor from Decanter magazine; Gabriella and Ryan Opaz, founders of Catavinoand the European Wine Bloggers Conference; Peter Moser, Editor-in-Chief of Falstaff; Dr. Josef Schuller, Master of Wine; Lynne Sherriff, Master of Wine and Chairwoman of the Institute of Masters of Wine; and Nicolas Joly, legendary French winemaker and current godfather of the biodynamic movement, who conducted a fascinating seminar called “Biodynamics in Wine Growing”.
[One note for the record: Somewhere in the official ZWGF press materials and program booklet, I am listed as “Master Sommelier”. I am NOT a Master Sommelier but rather a “Certified Sommelier”. Out of reverent respect for the brilliant and hard-won achievements of real Master Sommeliers, my conscious demanded that I make this correction. I am, however, a master at consuming large amounts of wine; a master of procrastination; and master at a few other nasty habits. Yet a Master Sommelier I am not – but I hope to become one when I grow up.]
The Round Table Workshop
Another really interesting event at the festival was the Round Table Workshop, scheduled for the morning of Friday, February 25th. Unfortunately, the space for the workshop was again inadequate for the large number of people in attendance. It was also very noisy (one side wall was open and funneled all the noise from the main tasting hall into the workshop room). I found out afterwards that a number of people in the rear of the room could not hear the presenters, despite attempts to use a microphone, and left in frustration.
That is a pity, because the subject of the round table – “Perspective and real Potential of Croatian Wine and Wine Tourism” – was very important and interesting. Presenters included an eclectic mix of trade professionals: Saša Špiranec, Croatian wine reviewer and writer, gave an overview of Croatia’s wine regions, annual production, and grape varieties; Sarah Kemp provided perspective on the world of wine and how Croatia could become a player on the international market; Mr. Tony Hodges, Chairman of the London-based P.R. firm, brandstory, spoke of the power of storytelling in marketing; Duro Horvat, Managing Director for Agrokor(one of Croatia’s largest wineries), and winemaker Ivica Matošević provided some perspective from the viewpoints of their respective large and small wineries; Mr. Matošević also spoke of his marketing success as president of the Association of Winegrowers and Winemakers of Istria, Vinistra; and Ryan Opaz from Catavino spoke about the importance of social media in the wine trade.
The subject of my piece of the round table presentation was entitled, “The Openness of the U.S. Market to New Wine Regions” – like Croatia. You can watch a video of my presentation here on YouTube.
According to the ZWGF website, the festival featured over 130 exhibitors and included “crème de la crème” among Croatian wine and culinary stars (the official ZWGF roster included 76 Croatian wineries).
Over 500 wines from eight Croatian wine-growing regions were presented, as well as a selection of wines from Austria, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Germany, Italy, Montenegro, New Zealand, Slovenia, and South Africa.
In addition, about 16 vendors of food products and delicacies were among the exhibitors. From them I was able to secure a few slivers of prosciutto and salami when I was starving (which was always), washing them down with a cube or two of bread dipped in olive oil.
Next: The wines….
End of Part 2. Part 3 will follow very soon. Stay tuned!
Much has already been written and posted about the 35th Annual Zagreb Wine Gourmet Festival (ZWGF), held February 24-25 in Zagreb, Croatia, but a little more attention for such an important and well-attended event can’t hurt. So, without further adieu, and recognizing that the window for timely discourse is quickly closing, here are a few short observations from the ZWGF, presented here for posterity and – hopefully – your enjoyment.
[In full disclosure, I must state here that the organizers of ZWGF funded my trip to Zagreb. In return, I agreed to be a presenter at a round table discussion regarding the international potential and marketing of Croatian wines (see below). 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].
The Organizers & Sponsors
At several points during the two days I spent at ZWGF, I unexpectedly found myself being asked by a number of guests to explain who had organized the event.
Apparently, this question was the catalyst of some minor confusion, which I suppose is understandable, since most of these guests were non-Croatian speakers who had only recently touched down in Zagreb for the first time. Since many of them knew me as the chap behind Wines of Croatia, and ZWGF was clearly not a “Wines of Croatia” event, then the question of who did organize ZWGF was somewhat reasonable.
So, here’s the story: ZWGF was sponsored by a consortium of public/private partners, some of which were government ministries and agencies, along with a few private corporations.
To their credit, the organizers DID print a list of the sponsors and partners on the back cover of the official ZWGF program booklet. The primary sponsors included: The Croatian Ministry of Tourism; the Ministry of Agriculture; the City of Zagreb; the Tourist Office of the City of Zagreb; the Croatian National Tourism Board; Privredna Banka Zagreb; PBZ Card – American Express; and Generali Insurance. Media sponsors were Gloria and Jutarnji List. More information can be gathered at the festival’s website.
As for the grueling work of actually organizing such a monumental event, that job went to Laniva d.o.o. “1001 delicija” and in particular, the dynamic duo of Ingrid Badurina Danielssson and Irina Ban, who also received assistance from sommelier Željko Bročilović Carlos. Without doubt, the task of organizing such a large event was surely enormous.
While there were a few minor glitches and complaints to be found here and there, in general the event was well executed and presented. The sheer number of Croatian winemakers, wines, international guests, break-out sessions, and visitors could have easily overwhelmed a less capable team. Bravo to you, Ingrid, Irina and Željko!
The Gala Dinner
To celebrate the official start of the festival, about 200 invited guests gathered on the evening of February 24, 2011 in one of the stunning ballrooms on the 17th floor of the Westin Zagreb hotel for the Gala Dinner. Large glass windows provided us a bird’s eye view over the Zagreb skyline and added to the festive spirit of the occasion, and the selection of amuse-bouche appetizers prepared by Chef Deniz Zembo of Le Mandrać restaurant set the stage for a an evening of culinary exploration and delight.
The 5-course dinner was a classy, delicious affair full with delicacies and dishes prepared by a stellar team of chefs from Croatia, Slovenia, Italy, France (via the French Mission to the International Organizations, Vienna), and Sweden, each presenting one of the courses.
The detailed list of chefs and the full menu with wines are available here.
My favorite dish of the night was the “Stracotto” of Boškarin Beef with a potato and truffle cream, served with a whole salted, roast onion. This fabulous dish was prepared by Chef Robert Perić of LF Catering in Pula, Croatia, and was notable for two reasons:
1) Boškarin beef is an ancient, protected breed of ox native to the Istria region of Croatia. The animal is marked by long, lyre-shaped white horns and a huge, thick neck. Once a beast of burden used to pull plows, modernized farming and an impure gene-pool nearly drove the ox to extinction (in 1994, there were only 112 remaining animals). Luckily, swift action by an alliance of Istrian cattle breeders and government agencies saved the Boškarin, and the ox is making a comeback as an indigenous agro-tourism curiosity and source of flavorful, “slow food” meat from animals raised on mother’s milk and Istrian meadow grass.
2) The whole salted roast onion (see photo above). What a curious creation! The onion was roasted in its skin, dusted with a crackle of sea salt, and served with the skins still attached. It was the most unusual, profoundly scrumptious thing that I tasted in recent memory.
The ONE criticism of the night (and I am not the only one who was disturbed by this fact) is this: Only three of the six wines that were paired with the appetizer and 5-course dinner were from Croatia. The other three were Italian.
Being the certified wine hound that I am, I normally would not mind being served a little Franciacorta sparkling wine or Italian red with dinner, and the Italian selections were certainly tasty.
But here’s the issue: This was the Gala Dinner for the Zagreb Wine Gourmet Festival, attended by some of Croatia’s most important winemakers, members of the government, President Josipović (see below), and – more importantly – international VIP guests who were there to discover what all the chatter about wines from Croatia is about. Yet there they were, being served Italian Chardonnay with the artichoke and scampi risotto, and (gasp!) Feudo Antico-Abruzzo rosso with the proudly Istrian Boškarin beef entreé (instead of, let’s say, a nice Istrian Teran).
Forgive me, but really – it should have been an all Croatian wine line-up. Why so many worthy Croatian wines were passed over for the wine pairing in favor of Italian wines, we’ll probably never know. But it’s missteps like this that make the difficult job of promoting Croatian wines in the world even harder. To make others believe that Croatian wines are fabulous and worth seeking out, we Croatians have to believe it first – and shout it from the mountain tops at every opportunity!
Thankfully, my stellar line-up of companions at Table #3 distracted me from dwelling too long on this missed opportunity to showcase Croatian wines with world-class cuisine. “Thank you” to Ivica Matošević, Moreno DeGrassi, Frank Dietrich, Stetson Robbins, Daniel Pedisich, Dee Radovich, and Siniša Škaberna for being such great dinner companions! It was a blast!
At one point during the dinner reception, there was a commotion in the room, and I turned to see Croatian president Ivo Josipović standing about two meters away from me, with a flute of Franciacorta poised in hand.
Having never met the president before, it seemed like a good time to thank him for his symbolic support of initiatives by Croatian winemakers to garner government funding for wine marketing activities.
Disregarding any obvious or implied protocol, I began the difficult task of elbowing my way over to him, smiling at a few security agents on the way. The president (I noticed) was being chaperoned by the indomitable Ingrid Badurina, who (happily for me) noticed that I was circling about, vying for the president’s attention; she halted him with a tug on the elbow and introduced me (thank you, Ingrid!).
It was obvious that the president’s mind was a million miles away, occupied with complex Affairs of the State – or perhaps a particularly lifting refrain from some distant piano concerto (he’s a classically trained pianist and composer). I quickly spit out a few words to draw his attention to the herculean task of promoting Croatian wines in the world. He nodded and smiled, murmured a few words of understanding and support, took my card, glanced at it, and stuck it in his pocket. Then in a blur he was whisked away by another guest (who surely needed to advise him on more urgent matters of the homeland).
So it goes.
Wine of the Year
The gala dinner program included a number of small side events, one of which was the announcement and presentation of the “Wine of the Year”. This year’s award went to the Tomić 2007 Plavac Mali “barrique”, a red wine made by winemaker Andro Tomić, whose vineyards and winery are on the southern Dalmatian island of Hvar.
End of Part 1. Part 2 will follow very soon. Stay tuned!
Croatian wine is making a concerted effort to reach UK wine glasses. Last month, the Fine Wine Croatia group, around 30 producers working together, came to London to show their wares.
The wines had been carefully selected to avoid overwhelming UK journalists and other members of the wine trade with too many different indigenous varieties, which I found pretty frustrating as I would have preferred to have tasted a little more widely, although the proliferation of wines made from Malvazija Istarksa (or Malvasia Istriana), the most widely planted white variety that makes up about 10% of the Croatian vineyard area (total c 32,500 ha/80,310 acres) and about 60% of the plantings in Istria, did show, for example, just how many different styles of wine can be made from it, even among the dry wines. On the whole, based on this tasting, I’d say that Malvazija Istarksa has greater potential for quality than Graševina (aka Welschriesling).
It is extremely difficult to summarise a country’s wines when the regions and winemaking styles are so diverse and when winemakers are testing international markets, but I found the more distinctive whites, generally those made from Malvazija Istarska but also the single example of Pošip, fell somewhere between Friuli and Slovenia in overall character, with a touch of Hungary thrown in – plenty of extract (like Riesling) and with a spectrum of flavours that ranged from crisp and mineral/non-fruity via fresh and more herbal to the weightier more textured wines. The acidity was generally fresher than in other varieties I have come across that share the Malvasia name, in Italy and Greece, for example.
Among the reds, I preferred the wines made from or based on Teran to those made from Plavac Mali, though it is clear to see that for these distinctive dark-skinned varieties, full grape maturity is essential and not always achieved in either – to avoid green flavours in the former and astringent tannins in the latter. According to Ivica Matošević, site selection and green harvesting are critical for Teran (also known as Refosco d’Istria but not the same variety as Italy’s Refosco dal Pedunculo Rosso) to control the variety’s natural tendency towards high yields and consequent poor ripening. This is why he currently blends Teran with Merlot, though he now has some better sited vines that he hopes will produce the sort of fruit he is looking for.
Overall, the reds, especially the more interesting ones based on indigenous varieties, seemed to be more of a work in progress than the whites – or perhaps I just mean that they were very ‘local’ in style – lots of character, a bit up and down in quality, and often needing just a touch more refinement (in terms of refining the fruit rather than ironing out the character). Rather like untamed northern Italians or some corners of south-western France.
I’d particularly like to have tasted more wines from the white-skinned Pošip variety and from the dark-skinned Babić.
This time last year, Richard Hemming visited Croatia and reported on his findings in Richard goes to Croatia. See that article for more background on the landscape, including pictures.
The wines are grouped by variety (or by colour where there weren’t many examples) and alphabetically by producer (sur)name within those groups. Here and more generally in the tasting notes database, we have English translations for the regions of origin that would be too opaque for anyone not familiar with Croatian (eg Western Istria instead of Zapadna Istra), but we have kept the Croatian names for subregions such as Kutjevo.
Coronica Malvazija Istarska 2009 Western Istria 16 Drink 2010-2011
Lemony, a little grassy/herbal. Sour and stony in a fine textural way. Has that delicate graininess of so many Italian whites. Tight and fresh. Invigorating. (JH) 13.6%
Kozlović, Santa Lucia Malvazija Istarska 2006 Western Istria 16 Drink 2009-2011
One year in barrique. Deeper gold than their unoaked, younger wine. Honeyed oranges. Intense, and smells as if there is botrytis there. Developed and oaky – oak pretty much obscures the variety. But the finish is very tangy and rich. Just a little too broad to be fine. Full of flavour though. High alcohol but not too intrusive. (JH) 15%
Matić Malvazija Istarska 2008 Western Istria 16 Drink 2010-2011
Intensely herbal and grassy. Towards boxtree. More Sauvignon Blanc-like but there’s also a light and attractive peachiness. Crisp, clean and modern but less distinctive than some. (JH) 13.1%
Matošević, Alba Barrique Malvazija Istarska 2008 Western Istria 16.5 Drink 2010-2012
Pretty tight, some citrus, touch of creamy oak and oak sweetness on the palate. Fine boned, taut and zesty without that much fruit flavour but that same herbal note as in the unoaked wine. Oak is subtle and balanced and gives a creamy oatmeal palate. Elegant but less distinctive than the acacia-aged wine. (JH) 13.5%
Matošević, Alba Robinia Malvazija Istarska 2004 Western Istria 17 Drink 2006-2012
Keeps fresher in acacia barrels, apparently and it does seem younger. Really fine honeyed nose. Honeyed but not at all oxidised. Slight woody/cedary flavour on the palate. Reminds me a little of mature Chenin with a herbal element. Crisp and dry and rich in the mouth without any fat. (JH) 13.1%
Matošević, Grimalda 2008 Central Istria 16 Drink 2010-2011
50% Chardonnay, 25% Sauvignon Blanc, 25% Malvasia Istarska.
He did the blend because he found similar notes in the varieties – citrus, herbal, mint. Slight mintiness here. Very fresh, doesn’t have quite the subtlety of the varietal Malvasia Istarskas. (JH) 14%
Roxanich, Antica Malvazija Istarska 2007 Western Istria 17 Drink 2010-2013 Skin maceration) 80 days, aged in large wooden vats (70hl and 35hl) for 30 months, bottled without filtration.
Deep gold and bright. Some bruised apple notes, complex, rich, orange and apricot. Powerful, dry, very clean and refreshing even with that amount of tannin. Opens up to more perfume and herbs. Slight phenolic bitterness on the finish but it’s attractive if you are ready for it. Honeyed as it warms up. But still has good freshness. Highly distinctive in this line-up. (JH) 14.1%
Belje Graševina 2009 Baranja 16 Drink 2010-2011
Fresh and citrussy but tastes off dry and quite full in the mouth. And then a tart lemon finish. Modern, bright and clean. (JH) 14.1%
Belje, Goldberg Graševina 2008 Baranja 16 Drink 2010-2011
Much deeper gold. Not much on the nose – a touch of honey. Rich, slightly sour, off dry. Silky and fills the mouth. Apricot flavours. Slightly bitter on the finish but pure and dense. (JH) 14.8%
Feravino Graševina 2009 Feričanci 16.5 Drink 2010-2012
Fine limey Riesling nose, a little mineral. Dry, tight, fresh, clean and zesty. Fine and fresh. Tight and energetic with a light grapiness on the palate but mainly crisp citrus. Persistent too. (JH) 13.6%
Galić Graševina 2008 Kutjevo 15 Drink 2010-2011
Pretty neutral nose. More full bodied and richer than the Mihalj but still rather simple. (JH) 12.8%
Krauthaker Graševina 2009 Kutjevo 15.5 Drink 2010-2011
Slightly grassy. Like a dense Sauvignon Blanc. Crisp and fresh and modern. Citrus on the palate, dry and fresh. Slight phenolic dryness on the finish. (JH) 14%
Krauthaker, Mitrovac Graševina 2009 Kutjevo 15 Drink 2010-2011
More mineral than their straight Graševina and even a little smoky. Off dry, concentrated but a little harsh with a bitter aftertaste. Concentration is there but (tasted on the warm side) not much pleasure. (JH) 14.5%
Kutjevo, De Gotho Graševina 2008 Kutjevo 15 Drink 2010-2011
Lemony Riesling nose. Mineral and citrus. Sort of woody (not oaky) on the palate though it is produced in stainless steel. Bitter aftertaste. (JH) 14%
Feravino Pinot Blanc 2008 Feričanci 16 Drink 2010-2011
10% fermented in barrique. Fresh, clean and dry and a fine example of the variety. A very slight textural grip and a depth unusual for Pinot Blanc. (JH)
Korta Katarina Pošip 2007 Korčula 17 Drink 2010-2012
Clean and delicately limey citrus. Rich and creamy and full bodied but with very good acidity. A distinctive variety. Fine grip but smooth. Rich, lightly honeyed, dense and powerful but still fresh. Complex, fresh, dry and long. (JH) 14.7%
Kozlović Muškat Momjanski 2008 Western Istria 16.5 Drink 2010-2011
Labelled polusuhi, ie off dry. Intensely grapey floral nose. Rose petals too. With a fine tannic grip to freshen it up given the moderate acidity. Medium but not at all cloying with that slight phenolic structure. Highly aromatic – maybe OTT for some. (JH) 12.2%
Roxanich, Milva Chardonnay 2007 Western Istria 16.5 Drink 2010-2014
Deep gold. Shorter maceration than for the Malvazija Istarska. Slightly reductive, honeyed. Really nutty and full of flavour. Chardonnay but not as we know it. Quite tannic but not unnecessarily so. Fresh on the finish and very concentrated. A very distinctive style. (JH) 13.7%
Tomac, Amfora 2007 Plešivica 15.5 Drink 2010-2012
50% Chardonnay plus about seven other locally grown varieties. Pale gold. Spicy orange and apricot. Not totally clean on the palate and rather astringent. Interesting rather than pleasurable. (JH) 12.5%
Arman Franc, Barrique Teran 2006 Western Istria 17 Drink 2009-2014
Very deeply coloured. Elegant and subtle dark fruit aroma. A touch smoky. Firm and juicy and dense. Firm but ripe tannnis. Finesse and freshness. Still so youthful. (JH) 12.5%
Coronica, Gran Teran 2007 Western Istria 16 Drink 2010-2012
A little leafy, and pretty dry. Fresh but could perhaps do with a little more ripeness to balance the tannins? Very juicy and fresh and fruit gets sweeter at the end but tannins slightly prominent for its age and only moderate fruit weight. (JH) 13.5%
Istravino, Dajla Teran 2007 Western Istria 16.5 Drink 2010-2012
Leafy with both red and black fruit. Fine freshness, balance and good fruit. Not complex but a real whole and very youthful with a long fresh aftertaste. Tannins are present but add freshness rather than astringency. (JH) 12.5%
Matošević, Grimalda 2008 Central Istria 16.5 Drink 2010-2012
85% Merlot, 15% Teran. Zesty and lightly peppered red fruit. Really juicy: dry and fresh and jumps out of the glass with energy. Structured without being tannic. Mouthwateringly fresh. (JH) 13.8%
Roxanich, RE Teran 2007 Western Istria 16.5+ Drink 2011-2015
Quite reductive at first on the nose. Very tight and fresh, maybe could do with a little more flesh but there is an elegance and a naturalness that shines through. Aged in big oak. Dry and demanding tannins but not harsh. Needs food. (JH) 13.4%
Korta Katarina, Plavac Mali 2007 Pelješac 16 Drink 2011-2013
Bright mid garnet, wild red fruits, spicy, dry and tense. Tannins still have a firm grip and the texture is rustic but the flavour lively. (JH) 14.7%
Miličić, Dingac Plavac Mali 2006 Pelješac 15.5 Drink 2010-2012
Quite perfumed, almost floral nose. Much softer than the Postup Mare wine. Smooth and flavourful though perhaps a little sweet-tasting on the finish (as opposed to savoury). (JH) 14.5%
Postup Mare Plavac Mali 2006 Pelješac 14 Drink 2012-2014
Odd and marked green bean nose, still very grippy tannins. No fun with high acid to exaggerate the tannins. Needs a good steak to make it more palatable but that wouldn’t really improve the aromas. (JH) 15%
Saint’s Hill, Dingač Plavac Mali 2007 Pelješac 16.5 Drink 2009-2013
Mid garnet. Sweet. soft, blueberry/blackberry fruit. Contrast between sweet almost toffeed fruit and dry but smooth/savoury tannins. Fresh and flavourful but a bit hot on the finish. Distincitve, a little rustic and then a sweet/sour aftertaste. (JH) 15.5%
Zlatan, Barrique Plavac Mali 2007 Hvar 16 Drink 2011-2013
Bright mid garnet, wild red fruits, spicy, dry and tense. Tannins still have a firm grip and the texture is rustic but the flavour lively. (JH) 14.7%
Zlatan, Grand Cru Plavac Mali 2007 Hvar 17+ Drink 2012-2017
Mix of French and Slavonian oak. This is more selective than the Barrique version. Smoky, savoury nose. Powerful, dry and very fine fruit. Firm but not harsh tannins. Needs a lot more time but has all the components to age well. (JH) 14.5%
Enjingi, Venje Barrique 2003 Kutjevo 14 Drink 2008-2011
Zweigelt, Crni Pinot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Frankovka blend. A slightly stinky reductive aroma. Then very sweet and a bit leafy. Very strange and too sweet-tasting. (JH) 14.2%
Feravino Frankovka 2008 Feričanci 16.5 Drink 2010-2012
Frankovka = Blaufränkisch. 50% new oak. Half French, half Slavonian. Pure sweet ripe red fruit. Distinctive fresh fruit with a lovely bite on the back palate, almost a note of citrus. Perhaps a little rustic but in an attractive characterful way. Zesty and fresh. (JH) 13.7%
Feravino Zweigelt 2008 Feričanci 15.5 Drink 2010-2012
Aged in Slavonian oak. Sweet coconut aroma on the nose with lots of dark berry fruit. Straightforward but that coconut sweetness is too much for my taste. (JH)
Galić Pinot Noir 2008 Kutjevo 14 Drink 2010-2011
Sweet fruit, a little toffeed and then hot on the finish. Fresh enough but not much fun. (JH) 13.5%
Roxanich, Superistrian 2006 Western Istria 17 Drink 2010-2015
Merlot 40%, Cabernet Sauvignon 40%, Borgonja (Gamay x Pinot) 20%. 36 months in big oak. You can certainly smell the cassis of the Cabernet here. Sweet dark fruit, a touch leafy, rich and dense and masses of fruit. Lovely freshness, very youthful, very clean and pretty sophisticated. Bright and healthy and youthful. (JH) 13.5%
Suha Punta Babić 2007 Primošten 16.5 Drink 2010-2012
Distinctive yet hard-to-describe aroma: peppery, dry and dense. Seems to have quality potential. Spicy and tense and yet has lovely crunchy berry fruit. Bags of flavour with that peppery aftertaste. I’d like to taste some more examples of this variety. (JH) 14%
One of the more interesting events at the recent Dalmacija Wine Expo, held May 13-15, 2010 in the seaside resort town of Makarska, Croatia, was the “Perfect Match” wine and food pairing competition.
Some of the most experienced chefs from some of Croatia’s best restaurants in Dalmatia joined together to prepare a selection of traditional gastronomic delights that are representative of Croatia’s seaside cuisine.
These dishes were then paired with various wines from the different wine regions of Croatia. Then a panel of 30 judges, which included chefs and journalists, rated the pairings and chose the top 5 perfect matches.
Below are the results of the match up, one in each of five wine-style categories. Most interestingly is the fact that one winning “perfect match” (#1) was a pairing between a traditional coastal seafood dish and a wine from the continental (inland) region of Croatia. Another winning match was a wine made from an international variety and not an indigenous grape, paired with a domestic specialty from the Dalmatia region.
As they say, sometimes the best marriage is one of opposites!
1. In the category of fresh, young, light-bodied wines, the winner is:
Cmrečnjak Silvanac Zeleni ’09 (Sylvaner) paired with cuttlefish salad with an emulsion of olive oil and citrus. (Runners-up in this category included Grabovac 2009 Kujundžuša & Štampar 2009 Sauvignon Blanc.)
2. In the category of fresh yet mature, full-bodied wines, the winner is:
Kunjas Pošip ’08 paired with marinated Bonito fish with roasted pine nuts, shallots & raisins. (The runner-up in this category was Grk Pillos Bire 2008.)
3. In the category of mature, full-bodied white wine & rosé, the winner is:
Grabovac 2008 Chardonnay sur lie Grand Reserva paired with homemade pasta tossed with shrimp and asparagus. (The runner-up in this category wasKrauthaker 2008 Chardonnay Rosenberg.)
4. In the category of mature yet soft red wines with predominately fruity character, the winner is:
Kunjas 2008 Pagadebit paired with lamb, fava beans and peas.(Runners-up in this category included Crvik Canavia 2008 Merlot; Festigia 2008 Merlot; & Plavac P.Z. Kuna 2008.)
5. In the category of mature, full-bodied red wine, the unanimous winner is:
Saints Hills Winery 2008 Dingač (Plavac Mali) paired with veal cheeks a’la pašticada (a traditional piquant sauce made with tomatoes, red wine, Prošek, Mediterranean herbs and spices).
Now imagine we are by the Adriatic Sea in an outdoor café filled with friends and lovers; a full moon is shining; the evening breezes are cooling our sun-warmed skin; live Klapa music is playing (it’s ok to sing along!); and all of the food and wine mentioned above is spread out before us on the table….Perfect indeed!
Text and photos by Cliff Rames, Wines of Croatia (unless otherwise noted)
17th annual Vinistra wine expo was held April 29 – May 2, 2010 in Poreč, Croatia. Organized by the eponymous regional association of winegrowers and winemakers, Vinistra (http://vinistra.com/), this year’s expo featured 130 exhibitors and 535 wines.
Without doubt most of the wines I tasted were serious, well-crafted products that came very close to delivering authentic, world-class representations of Istria’s unique terroir. Taste after taste I was struck by the consistency of quality and the emergence of a distinct “Istrian style”, particularly in regard to Malvazija and Teran, the two distinctly indigenous grapes in the region.
Malvazija Istarska (Malvasia Istriana): As Croatia’s second most widely-planted grape variety (after Grasevina), Malvazija is certainly one of the most important players in Croatia’s impressive portfolio of native varieties. Vast improvements in wine making over the last 10-15 years, as well as the successful promotional initiatives and quality control program implemented by Vinistra, have resulted in Malvazija emerging to the forefront as one of Croatia’s most recognized and respected wine offerings.
Malvazija has definitely arrived on the scene, and my impression is that most producers are successfully achieving excellent expressions of the grape in three distinct styles: fresh and early drinking; mature and heavily extracted; and sweet.
The majority of Malvazija on display at Vinistra reflected the fresh, early-drinking style that is more approachable to the average consumer: dry, crisp, lighly aromatic with notes of citrus, apple, green herb, and raw almond – a real palate cleanser and perfect pairing with the regional delectable seafood dishes.
I was particularly surprised by the wines of Franko Radovan, a producer with whom I was previously unfamiliar. His fresh 2009 Malvazija was focused and lean, showing a pure fruit, refreshing and vibrant character with a stiff mineral backbone for structure. If I had to describe his winemaking style in a word, it would be “precise”. Cool label, too!
Less present but hard to ignore was a small number of fascinating Malvazija wines in the mature (“zrela”) style. I found these “yellow wines” to be complex (hence easily misunderstood) creatures, showing a highly extracted and viscous expression of the grape that is unique, deeply fascinating and delicious. If I had to categorize the style of these mature Malvazijas, I would struggle but be tempted to compare them to Vernacchia di San Gimignano from Tuscany (for the tamer versions) or the white wines of the Jura or Savennières (for the more extreme versions).
Oak and acacia (or a combination of the two) are the typical woods used for barrel aging Malvazija. I find acacia wood and Malvazija to be an intriguing combination, and when controlled and done right it is a marriage made in heaven: the bride voluptuous and sexy in veils perfumed with acacia flowers, dried honey, orange zest and spiced pear. Too much acacia and the wine will become distractingly smoky with a distinct bacon aroma. Standouts in my tastings included Roxanich 2006 “Antica”, Trapan 2008 “Uroborus” (a Gold Medal winner with 85.5 points), and Kozlović 2001 “Santa Lucia”.
The only sweet Malvazija I managed to tasted was the Benvenuti 2009 (a Gold Medal winner with 86 points), which was pleasant and easily drinkable. However, to my taste it did not offer the same depth of character, structure, sizzling acidity and luscious fruit that the fabulous 2007 Benvenuti sweet Muscat “Momjanski” (also a Gold Medal winner with 88.17 points) delivered.
One curious note: the oldest Malvazija to receive a medal in the adjunct World of Malvazija competition (see below) was the vintage 2000 Kabaj from Slovenia, which received a Silver Medal. The oldest Croatian Malvazija was from Matošević, the 2005 Alba Robinia, which ranked in 6th place and also received a Gold Medal. The majority of Malvazija medal winners were wines from the 2009 vintage, including the #1 wine, Ma-De-Ba-Ko (see below).
Teran: A difficult variety to nurture and harness, in the right hands Teran will produce a deliciously food-friendly and serious wine. But poor viticulture practices and inattentive winemaking can result in astringent, overly-acidic and thin wines best mixed with the local olive oil and utilized as vinaigrette for salad.
To my great satisfaction, none of the Teran wines I tried at Vinistra fell into this condemning category. Most were well-balanced and firmly-structured, with a striking harmony between the black cherry and black raspberry fruit character, a savory, cured meat wildness, refreshing acidity, and rustic yet not over-bearing tannins.
Simple Teran wines are typically pleasantly ruby red in color, translucent and unpretentious, somewhat like basic Chianti. However, I was intrigued by how many of the Terans I tried at Vinistra were showing a more serious dimension: these were very richly colored – nearly black and opaque – wines, with a mouth-filling presence, and a brambly black fruit, savory meat, smoky quality.
However, many of the Terans I tried were still tightly wound-up and unrestrained – really wild beasts, which I surmised may indicate some potential for cellar aging, at least for 3-4 years. Even so-called “Table Wine” versions, like the “Piquentum Teranum” from Vinski Podrum Buzet, were richly satisfying stuff.
Istria is often called the “Tuscany of Croatia”. Could Teran become the Sangiovese of Istria? And could the better versions from specific Terre Rosse locations achieve a Vino Nobile di Montepulciano comparison? Hmm…I’m not sure. I find that there is also Northern Rhone Syrah quality to some of these wines with their gamey, black pepper notes.
However you want to see it, one can’t deny that something special is happening here with Teran. I believe that Teran is well on its way to becoming a world-class product from a region that until now has been primarily known for its white wines (Malvazija, Muscat and Chardonnay).
Teran from Istria is definitely a WTW (“Wine to Watch”) in my book. Excellent examples include Arman (Teran Barrique), Cattunar, Istravino, Legović and Tomaz.
World of Malvazija Competition
During the week prior to Vinistra, the organizers hold the annual World of Malvazija (“Svijet Malvazija”) competition, whereby Malvazija producers are invited to submit their wines, which are then tasted blind and rated by a panel of judges. The winners are announced just prior to the start of Vinistra.
The somewhat surprising World of Malvazija first place award (with 88.2 points) for dry Malvazija went to the newly released “Ma-De-Ba-Ko” 2009 Malvazija. This is quite an honor for a wine that has not yet reached the consumer market. But with its distinguished pedigree (it is a joint project between four winemakers, Matošević, Degrassi, Kozlović & Joe Bastianich), and the marketing resources and prowess that comes along with the Bastianich name, it was probably an inevitable result.
I found the wine to be very light and easy drinking, not heavily extracted or alcoholic, if somewhat simple and clinical. Plans are to send 10,000 of the 15,000 bottle production to the U.S. (via Dark Star Imports in NYC), where it will retail for about $15. Perhaps Ma-De-Ba-Ko Malvazija will serve as a quality “gateway wine” that Croatia needs for export, a wine that will open doors for consumers to enter the world of the Wines of Croatia. Let’s hope!
While it would be impossible to report on every producer present at Vinistra, I feel compelled to mention three here, for different reasons:
I had heard about the two Benvenuti brothers even before I arrived at their booth. “All the girls love them”, they said. “They are so handsome – like models!”
I must say, after trying their wines, I’m in love with them too. Okay, maybe not them physically (as handsome as they really are), but their wines, especially the luscious Muskat Momjanski dessert wine (which by the way just won a Silver Medal at the Decanter World Wine Awards).
I mention Giorgio Clai not for his participation in Vinistra but for his absence. Where was he? I was shocked to learn that he did not have a booth at Vinistra, apparently because of some rules regarding wine classification. While his extreme winemaking style may not be to everyone’s taste, few people can disagree that the man is a great winemaker and an asset to the Croatian brand. Let’s hope that whatever conditions prevented him from representing his wines at Vinistra are rectified next year.
On a positive note, I had the great honor of meeting Mr. Clai on the floor of main hall, and he was as charming and friendly as can be. Unfortunately I did not have time to take him up on his invitation to visit his winery near Bijele Zemlje, which I’m certain would have been quite an amazing experience. Rumor has it that there are some interesting new wines cooking in his cellar.
While present at Vinistra with a highly-trafficked booth, Roxanich strangely did not receive a single medal and was not mentioned in the official Vinistra catalogue of awarded wines. This is especially relevant given the fact that Mr. Rožanić just received two 2010 Decanter World Wine Awards medals, a Bronze for his 2006 Merlot, and a Commended for his 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon.
I’m not sure what the story is behind the Roxanich’s lack of Vinistra awards, but I suspect it might be another classification issue. If anyone knows the answer to this Vinistra mystery, please let us know (I have also sent an email to the winery requesting their perspective).
A unique and charming touch to this year’s show was the inclusion of Serbia, Montenegro, and Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH) as “guest regions”. These up-and-coming wine countries also have a number of interesting indigenous varieties, and the quality of their wines is definitely on the rise.
Producers from Serbia included Božidar Aleksandrović, Miodrag Radovanović, Miroslav Kovačević, and Word of Wine by Živojin Đorđević. Montenegro was represented by Plantaže, Tažex–biotehnički institut, Burić, and Vučinić.
From BiH, guest wineries included Josip Brkić, Zdravko Rožić, Manastir Tvrdoš, and Radovan Vukoje.
I certainly appreciated the spirit with which these formal arch-rivals were invited to come together under one room to celebrate their common love of wine. It reminded me of the old quotation: “Water divides nations, but wine unites them”.
In the End
Vinistra was a great experience, and I am thankful to the organizers for inviting me to participate in the round table discussion.
Of course the biggest honor and thrill for me was meeting many of the region’s top winemakers and their teams, all of whom were friendly, generous with their pours, and eager to share their insights, knowledge and – more often than not – fabulous senses of humor.
Fact is, I spent more time talking than tasting, which was fine except that now I regret not trying wines from the other 80 or so exhibitors I missed. Without doubt, two days at Vinistra was not enough. Maybe 18 will be a luckier number!