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

(Photo: Copyright © Cliff Rames)
(Photo: Copyright © Cliff Rames)

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

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Are You Pro Prošek? 12 Reasons Why You Should Be

By Cliff Rames © 2013

Suddenly the sweet fruits of Croatia’s July 1st ascension to the European Union have turned to sour grapes. At least when it comes to wine.

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(Photo:Simon Dawson/Bloomberg)    

Not just any wine, mind you, but one with a centuries-old tradition that is a strong symbol of national pride and family life, as well as a trusted elixir that locals depend upon to treat ailments and celebrate important milestone events in their lives.

Are we talking about Prosecco? Heck, no.

I mean no disrespect to Prosecco. It’s a delightful wine. Simple, bubbly, festive. A popular patio pounder for summer days by the pool. An ingredient in trendy cocktails. Italy, through the venerable Consorzio di Tutela del Prosecco di Conegliano Valdobbiadene (the Consortium), deserves to be proud and should protect it. It’s a cash cow, a wildly successful product that supports multiple Italian winemaking regions and helps to keep many wholesalers, advertising and public relations firms in business.

Sounds completely harmless, right?

Not exactly. As the Wall Street Journal recently reported in an article entitled, “A European Name Game Uncorks a Tempest in a Wine Cask”, Croatia’s right to continue using the traditional name “Prošek” for a small-production dessert wine made from sun-dried grapes is under attack. The European Union, prodded on by the Consortium, fears that the two names are too similar and that consumers (you and I) will be confused, thus harming the Prosecco brand and endangering a 300-million-bottle-a-year industry.

So how can one obscure, tiny-production, barely-exported sweet wine called Prošek pose such a threat to mighty Prosecco? Simply put, it doesn’t. But pride, mistaken perceptions, protectionism, and the demands of the powerful often align to trump common sense.

In an attempt to expose the absurd nature of this mess, cut away all the confusion, and clarify the debate, here are 12 ways in which Prošek can be easily differentiated from Prosecco – and visa versa. The bottom line is, consumers have nothing to fear – nor do Prosecco producers or the European Union.

I realize that at this stage in the game these arguments may be mute. But for the sake of posterity perhaps there is some value in showing why Croatia should be able to keep on calling its Prošek “Prošek” – as it has done for centuries – while also distinguishing and respecting Prosecco’s rightful place in the world of wine.

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1) Custom and Tradition

The method for making Prošek is ancient and apparently dates back to the arrival of the Greeks to the Dalmatian islands in the 4th century B.C. However, the first written mention of Prošek occurred in 1556, when the Croatian poet Petar Hektorović in his famous work, Ribanje i Ribarsko Prigovaranje (Fishing and Fishermen Talk), lists the local sweet wine among the provisions he and two companions pack for a three-day fishing expedition on the Adriatic Sea.

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As on Petar Hektorović’s boat, in the Dalmatia region of Croatia a bottle of Prošek is never far from hand. A straw-wrapped jug of homemade Prošek can usually be found hiding in the pantries and cellars of every household and, if you are lucky, a taste is offered (alongside a plate of dried figs and biscuits) when you arrive as a guest.

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(Photo courtesy http://www.pz-vrbnik.hr)

Croat families proudly pass down Prošek recipes through the generations. It is often used as an ingredient in traditional holiday cookies and cakes. Parents set aside bottles from the vintage in which a child was born and then customarily open them on the child’s wedding day. Prized bottles are gifted from one family to another at Easter, Christmas and other special occasions. New mothers slurp a spoonful after giving birth to help them mend and regain strength. Suffers of anemia and other ailments are urged to sip some Prošek to bolster the blood.

Old wives’ tales? Perhaps. But these stories serve as seminal evidence of Prošek’s deep-rooted contribution to Croatian culture and its firm place in the social lives of Croatians throughout the centuries.

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(photo courtesy of tportal)

Prosecco too has an impressive history, with some vineyard sites in the Conegliano Valdobbiadene zone estimated to be over three hundred and some even a thousand years old. Yet the first written reference to the wine did not arrive until 200 years later (in 1754), when (according to Wikipedia) a fellow named Aureliano Acanti wrote, “And now I would like to wet my mouth with that Prosecco with its apple bouquet“.

This dated but cute quip could easily serve as a contemporary marketing slogan for Prosecco. Indeed today’s consumer identifies with Prosecco as a metropolitan, early-drinking, affordable and pleasant everyday quaffer. According to a report in Meininger’s Wine Business International, consumers do not identify with, or care all that much about, Prosecco’s history, background story, or protected DOC status (granted in 1969) and much-heralded DOCG status (approved in 2009). They do care about access to low-priced, easy-to-understand and appreciate alternatives to pricier sparkling wine.

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Prosecco is a product of the modern world. Modern technology (the Charmat tank, autoclaves, sterile filtration, bottling under pressure) has enabled Prosecco to be produced in mass quantities and become the very successful and ubiquitous export product it is today.

Unlike Prošek, wine lovers buy bottles of Prosecco for casual consumption and instant refreshment – not to tuck away for decades or until their children get married. In fact, consumers are advised to purchase Prosecco young and avoid bottles that have been too long on the shelf. Conversely, an intact bottle of Prošek from 1899 was recently discovered in the cellar of a wine bar on Hvar island.

How do you like them apples?

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2) Pronunciation

The two names – while similar – are written and pronounced in completely different ways. “Prošek” is enunciated as “Pro-shek”, while “Prosecco” is pronounced “Proh-sec-coh”. Two syllables versus three. A “sh” sound as in “Shirley” versus a “sec” sound as in “secular”.

3) Grapes

Prošek is produced from any one or a blend of several different varieties – white and red – indigenous to coastal Croatia. Permitted white varieties include bogdanuša, dubrovačka malvasija, grk, malvazija istarska, maraština, plavac mali, prč (aka parč), pošip, tarpinka, trbljan, vugava, and žlahtina. Red varieties are primarily babić, lasina, plavina, and plavac mali.  

Plavac Mali (Photo: Cliff Rames)
Plavac Mali (Photo: Cliff Rames)

Prosecco is most often produced from the glera grape variety (previously known as prosecco), but small amounts of bianchetta, charnonnay, perera, pinot noir, and verdiso are permitted.

(Photo courtesy of wine-searcher.com)
Glera (Photo courtesy of wine-searcher.com)

4) Area of Production

Prošek is produced all along the Adriatic coast of Croatia but mainly in southern Dalmatia and on many of the islands where vineyards thrive in limestone soils among olive, fig, and pine tree groves. As winemaker Alen Bibić observed to the Wall Street Journal, when you sip on Prošek, “you can feel the Mediterranean”. Dried fig, raisin nectar, candied orange peel, and roasted nut characteristics reflect the wine’s sun-baked, seaside terroir.

Prosek-Region

Prosecco is clearly a product of Italy, where it is produced throughout the Veneto, Friuli Venezia Giulia, Conegliano, and Valdobbiadene regions in the northeast corner of the country. Much of the growing area lies in the foothills between the Dolomites and the Adriatic Sea, with the highest vineyard elevations located in the Valdobbiadene zone, particularly in Cartizze. The clean, zippy green apple, fresh melon, and citrus character of the wine reflects its pristine Alpine terroir.

prosecco-map

5) Production Amounts

Traditional Prošek is typically made by small, family-owned wineries, of which 27 are registered producers (I do not count the non-traditional, industrial Prošek produced from cooked musts and caramelized sugar, such as the supermarket products from Dalmacijavino and Vinoplod) with an annual production of 15,000 liters – or 30,000 500 ml bottles. For example, BIBICh winery produces about 5,000 bottles a year of the multi-vintage BIBICh Ambra, while in a good year Andro Tomić of Bastijana winery produces up to 4,000 bottles of his acclaimed Hektorovich Prošek.

Andro Tomić
Andro Tomić

Over 3,000 registered wineries produce Prosecco in Italy, and over 2,400 are members of the Consortium. The Prosecco DOC zone contains 19,700 hectares of vines planted to allowable varieties, and the Consortium reports that another 5,650 hectares are registered within the DOCG  growing area (for a grand total of 25,350 hectares). Wine production amounts total approximately 225,000,000 liters – 300 million bottles a year.

By comparison, the total area planted to all varieties across every winemaking region in Croatia equals 24,000 hectares, with approximately 10,000 hectares under vine in Dalmatia where Prošek varieties are cultivated as a minor component of the grapes reserved for still dry wines. Total wine production in Croatia amounts to 60 million liters – or 80 million bottles – of all types.

At 15,000 liters, Prošek production equals less than 1% (.025%) of the total amount of wine made in Croatia and .006667% of Prosecco production.

6) Winemaking Techniques

Prošek is made from grapes harvested with a sugar level of 100° Oechsle (approximately 23.5 Brix, or the equivalent of the German Auslese classification). Once harvested, the clusters are laid out on straw mats to dry in the sun for 3-4 months or until the grapes  shrivel and achieve a sugar concentration of 120° Oechsle (28 Brix, or the equivalent of Beerenauslese). The grapes are then crushed and the must is macerated for 2-5 days, when the juice is pressed off the skins. Yeast must be selected based on its ability to function in a thick must with a high concentration of sugar. Fermentation can be extremely slow – often lasting up to a year or longer. Once the wine has finished fermenting, it is then aged in wood casks (usually older, neutral wood) for a minimum of one year. Most producers do not filter the wine. Typically it takes about 1 kilogram of dried grapes to produce 750 ml of Prošek.

Traditonal Dalmatian grape press (photo: Cliff Rames)
Traditional Dalmatian grape press       (photo: Cliff Rames)

Grapes for Prosecco are harvested with low sugar levels and high acidity. The (usually) non-vintage wine is produced using the Metodo Charmat (tank method), whereby the secondary fermentation takes place under pressure in large steel tanks called autoclaves and not in the bottle, as with Champagne (Méthode Champenoise). The idea, as described by Tom Cannavan in Wine-pages.com, is to “capture the fresh fruitiness” of the glera grape and highlight the wine’s distinctive “icing sugar and lemons” character. The wine is then bottled under pressure to retain its carbonation and quickly shipped off to market.

metodo-Charmat

7) Wine Styles

Prošek is a still wine with a minimum alcohol content of 15%-22% that has been aged in wood for at least one year. Residual sugar content ranges from 70-150 grams per liter (g/l). Prošek is dark, thick, unctuous, and sweet, with flavors of dried fig, raisin nectar, coffee, toasted hazelnuts, burnt toffee, candied orange rinds, honey, vanilla, and carob.

Prosecco is a sparkling wine with an average alcohol content of 11% and no wood exposure or influence. Depending on the level of carbon dioxide, Prosecco can be either Spumante (3.5 bars of pressure) or Frizzante (1.0-2.5 bars of pressure). Styles include Brut (0-13 g/l residual sugar), Extra Dry” (12–17 g/l) and “Dry” (17–32 g/l). Prosecco is light, bubbly, delicately perfumed with notes of citrus, apple, melon, and spring flowers.

8) Wine Color

Depending on the types of grapes used and the age of the wine, the color of Prošek can range from deep gold to amber, neon orange, maple syrup, and dark brown.

Prošek (Photo: Cliff Rames)
Prošek (Photo: Cliff Rames)

Prosecco is simply straw-colored or light to medium yellow with a watery white rim.

Prosecco
Prosecco

9) Bottle Shape

While there is no standard bottle shape for Prošek, traditionally it is stored in large straw-covered jugs or demijohns for home or non-commercial use. When available for commercial sale, dessert wine bottles of 375-500 ml are the norm. These vessels are often fancy and oddly shaped and include short, small jug-like bottles (BIBICh Ambra) to tall clear cylinders and tapered obelisks.

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one type of Prošek bottle

Prosecco is typically packaged in the easily-identifiable and customary sparkling wine bottle, which is similar in shape to the Champagne bottle and includes the mushroom-shaped cork and often a metal cage under a foil wrap. Prosecco can also be packaged in aluminum cans similar to those used for beer.

Prosecco bottles
Prosecco bottles
Prosecco in cans
Prosecco in cans

10) Serving Glass

Customarily Prošek is served in a small, tulip-shaped dessert wine glass. However, there is no “official” serving glass; any small, flared-rim vessel will do.

Prošek (Photo: Cliff Rames)
Prošek (Photo: Cliff Rames)

The most commonly used glass for Prosecco is the Champagne flute.

Prosecco flutes
Prosecco flutes

11) Availability on Export Markets

Ask yourself this: When was the last time you saw a bottle of Prošek in your local wine shop? Most likely the answer is, never. Because of the tiny production, very little of Croatia’s famous dessert wine is exported. In the U.S. BIBICh Ambra Prošek is imported by Blue Danube Wine Company but in such limited quantities that it quickly sells out. If you are in the NYC area, Bin 56 wine bar in Huntington, NY serves BIBICh Ambra Prošek. Grab a glass while it lasts!

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© 2013 Croatian Cuisine & Lifestyle

Needless to say, Prosecco is ubiquitous and warehoused in wine shops everywhere. It is often the best selling sparkling wine in wine bars and restaurants. To highlight this point (according to Shanken News Daily), in 2012 the top six Prosecco brands in the U.S. collectively represented 1.6 million cases (19.2 million bottles) of wine, with an annual sales growth of about 35%.

That’s a lot of bubbly.

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12) Price

Prošek: A 500 ml bottle of BIBICh Ambra Prošek retails for about $50.

Prosecco: Retail prices in the U.S. for a 750 ml bottle range from $10 to $20 for DOC bottles, and a bit more for DOCG labels. 

(Photo courtesy www.pz-vrbnik.hr)
(Photo courtesy http://www.pz-vrbnik.hr)

***

Conclusion

Similar-sounding words and spellings abound in the English language – and presumably in other languages. Take, for example, the head-spinning number of wine grape varieties that begin with the letter V: Verdejo, verdelho, verdello, verdicchio, verdiso, verduzzo, vermentino, vernaccia, vespaiola, vespolina, vignoles, vinhão, viognier, viosinho, viura, vugava…. Yikes!

Yet no one seems to be getting too excited about that muddled madness. Governments are not demanding new rules and regulations to sort it all out. Why? Because they are just names and we humans are able and accustomed to figuring out the subtle variances. I know a guy named Dana and a girl called Dayna. I would have to be a dope to confuse the two.

Then there’s McDonald’s and McDoogal’s. One is a famous hamburger conglomerate, the other an Irish pub in Kokomo, Indiana. Each has its loyal customers. And I think it’s safe to say that not one of us is foggy about which assembles Big Macs and which tops off Guinness on tap. 

Slovenia, Slovakia, Slavonia. The first two are each sovereign countries, the latter a wine-growing region in Croatia. All three manage to survive, despite their names sounding alarmingly alike. And I suspect that few travelers would accidently board planes for Slovenia when they meant to go to Slovakia.  

Prošek and Prosecco. The first: a hand-made, limited-production, sweet dessert wine that will never be exported in large quantities and most likely attracts only consumers who have heard of it and seek it out. The latter: a mass-produced, widely distributed, usually dry to off-dry sparkling wine that is synonymous with summer, quick refreshment, and good cheer.

Simply put, the two wines have NOTHING in common, like apples and oranges. Cannot they happily co-exist without bureaucrats in Brussels spoiling the brew? 

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In that wonderful spoof of a movie from 1980, Airplane!, an in-flight emergency prompts Dr. Rumack (brilliantly played by the late-great Leslie Nielsen), to ask Ted Striker (an ex-pilot suffering from a fear of flying played by Robert Hays), if he can safely land the jet. Striker responds, “Surely you can’t be serious?” To which Dr. Rumack famously retorts, “I am serious. And don’t call me Shirley”.

Silly, huh?

So let us not call Prošek Prosecco. Or visa versa. Surely we are all sophisticated enough to manage that without getting ourselves tied up in knots and discovering that the bottle we just grabbed off the shelf is not our beloved wine.  

Aren’t we, Shirley?

airplane-the-movie

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A Report: The Croatian Wine Story Presentation in Imotski

 

As it should, the Croatian wine story continues to unfold in wonderful and exciting ways.

Indisputably the best way to experience the story is to visit Croatia and taste the wines in their native setting. Only then, as you inhale and taste their ambient aromas and flavors, do you fully understand their pedigree of origin and expression of terroir. Along the way, hopefully they will warm your heart and soul too.

And so it was on February 17, 2012 in the snow-covered medieval town of Imotski, in the cool dim light of “the Courts” (an event space with stone walls and vaulted ceilings that was built by the Croatian priest and missionary, Don Ivan Turić). There over 40 winemakers, sommeliers, wine enthusiasts and buyers gathered to taste and experience the Croatian wine story as told via a selection of 35 regional wines.

(Photo courtesy of Udruga Mediterra)
Don Ivan Turić (photo courtesy of Udruga Mediterra)

The event was organized by Udruga Mediterra (the Mediterra Association) and co-hosted by Grabovac Winery. Udruga Mediterra is a promotional association founded in 2010 by Miroslav Mirković, who also produced the beautifully-filmed Croatian Wine Story DVD released last year.

“The Croatian Wine Story event is one of the most important wine festivals in Croatia” says Mirković. “In one place we gather some of the most significant Croatian winemakers and present what is new in the Croatian world of wine.”

(Photo courtesy Udruga Mediterra)
(Photo courtesy Udruga Mediterra)

To assess the export potential and price-to-quality value of the wines that were presented, Mirković assembled a panel of judges to taste and score each wine, with winners announced at the conclusion of the event. This year’s panel included judges from Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro. They were:

Franjo Francem, president of the Croatian Society of Enologists
Ante Grubišić, enologist, Croatia
Vito Andrić, a wine journalist, Croatia
Dejan Živkoski, vice president of the Association of Sommeliers of Serbia
Žarko Radonjić, president of the National Association of Sommeliers of Montenegro

(Photo courtesy Udruga Mediterra)

The wines were judged in four price categories:

1) White wines priced 7 Euros or less.

2) White wines priced more than 7 Euros.

3) Red wines priced 10 Euros or less.

4) Red wines priced more than 10 Euros

Here are the top wines in each category, as chosen by the jury:

~Best white wine (7 Euros or less): Enjingi 2007 Graševina Late Harvest.

~Best white wine (more than 7 Euros): Iločki Podrumi 2009 Gewurztraminer.

~Best red wine (10 Euros or less): Badel 1862 Korlat 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon.

~Best red wine (more than 10 Euros): Plančić 2006 Pharos Grand Cru.

The runner-up (2nd place) wine in each category was as follows:

~White wine (7 Euros or less): N/A

~White wine (more than 7 Euros): Bodren 2009 Rajnski Rizling Ledena Berba (Riesling Ice Wine)

~Red wine (10 Euros or less): Josić 2009 Cuvee Ciconia Nigra

~Red wine (more than 10 Euros): Korta Katarina 2007 Plavac Mali.

Guests of the event were also treated to a variety of local food specialties, including Gligora Paški cheese; Bilaja extra virgin olive oil; Marko Polo extra virgin olive oil (Blato1902); and Grbić extra virgin pumpkin seed oil.

Udruga Mediterra’s members include over 60 winemakers and related producers from regional countries such as Croatia, Slovenia, Serbia, Bosnia, Montenegro, Macedonia and Austria. The main objectives of the association are to market regional wines in Croatia and in foreign markets; to develop wine and food brands; to assess the potential of products for export and increase the number of exports; to promote and develop regional cultural-wine tourism; and to educate consumers.

For more photos, please see Udruga Mediterra’s Facebook page.

News Bulletin: Vinistra to Host the First “En Primeur” Tasting of Malvasia Wine in Croatia

 

As part of an ongoing series of events leading up to the 19th annual Vinistra wine expo in May 2012, the Association of Winegrowers and Winemakers of Istria  (Vinistra) announced the first-ever “en primeur” degustation of young Malvasia Istriana (Malvazija istarska) wines from the 2011 vintage.

The en primeur event will be held on Monday, February 13, 2012 at the Regent Esplanade hotel in Croatia’s capital city, Zagreb. It will be open to the trade from 2pm till 4pm and to the public from 4pm till 7pm.

This historical first en primeur exploration of the 2011 Malvasia Istriana vintage will provide members of the trade – such as sommeliers, wine buyers, restaurateurs, and chefs – with the opportunity to assess the potential of the vintage and help facilitate their investment in the wines.

With the example set by this type of event, Vinistra also hopes to further raise the profile and credibility of the Association as a leader of innovative and creative programs that showcase the region’s best wines, terroir and lifestyle.

Ivica Matosević

“The focus of Vinistra has always been on new, innovative and straightforward ways to promote Istrian winemakers and the Istrian way of life”, said Ivica Matosević, president of Vinistra. “I think that with this new approach we can help raise the bar for all the other Croatian wine regions and ensure that we keep pace with the international wine scene.”

Thirty-six Istrian wineries are scheduled to participate and pour their 2011 Malvasia wines, including Agrolaguna, Agroprodukt, Franc Arman, Marijan Arman, Benvenuti, Capo, Cattunar, Commot, Coronica, Cossetto, Damijanić Robi, Damjanić Ivan, Degrassi, Devalentinis, Ferenac, Geržinić, Kabola, Kalavojna, Kozlović, Legović, Matić, Matošević, Meneghetti, Pilato, Poletti, Prodan, Radovan, Ritoša, San Tommaso, Sirotić Dario, Tercolo, Tomaz, Trapan, Vinobile, Vino P&P, and Vivoda.

To register for the en primeur tasting, please go to the Vinistra website or follow this link.

“Cliff Rames: The Champion of Croatian Wines”

In its November 2011 issue, the English-language magazine published, Croatia: a Fortnight in Review published an extensive interview with Wines of Croatia founder, Cliff Rames.

Croatia: a Fortnight in Review is a bi-weekly, subscription-only magazine published inZagreb for English-speaking residents ofCroatia, including ex-patriot, diplomats and foreign business people.

The 3-page interview begins with this: “We could not pass up the opportunity to consult sommelier Cliff Rames, who is arguably the most prolific (and passionate) promoter of Croatian whites, reds, oranges, roses and sparklings internationally, for his take on the status and the future trajectory of the local industry.”

To read the full article (in flip-book format), please see pages 20-22 of Issue #20 by clicking HERE.

We hope you enjoy the interview, and please feel free to comment below.

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.

London Calling: Over 200 Wine Professionals Turn Out for Croatia Tasting

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Adapted (in English) by Cliff Rames from various media reports, including a Vinistra press release: http://dl.dropbox.com/u/10856096/2010-10-14-Predstavljanje%20Wines%20of%20Croatia%20u%20Londonu%20okupilo%20više%20od%20200%20vinskih%20distributera,%20kupaca,%20sommeliera%20i%20medija.pdf

 All photos by VinMedia

Spearheaded by Croatian winemakers Ivica Matošević, Ernest Tolj (Saints Hills winery), and Vlado Krauthaker, Wines of Croatia held its first-ever tasting event in London this past Tuesday, October 12, 2010.

 

The event, attended by more than 200 wine distributors, buyers, sommeliers and journalists, represented the first of many initiatives in a new campaign by individual wineries to promote Croatian wines on the international stage and facilitate the creation of a unified brand concept under the moniker “Wines of Croatia”, which will come to symbolize wines of quality, distinction and authenticity.   

In addition to the wines of Matošević, Saints Hills, and Krauthaker, various selections from the Dalmatia, Istria and Slavonia regions of Croatia were also chosen for representation at the tasting. Included among them were the wines of Agrolaguna, Belje, Kabola, Korta Katarina, Kozlović, Mihalj, Trapan and Zdjelarević wineries.

 

Seizing upon recent momentum and positive coverage of Croatian wines in the media (including by Robert Parker), the Wines of Croatia event was an opportunity for UK-based distributors and journalists to learn more about the country’s wines and network with winemakers and other industry personnel.

Vlado Krauthaker engages guests

The Wines of Croatia team was on hand to tell guests the story of the wines and about the unique assortment of indigenous grapes from which they are made and the beautiful places where they grow. More importantly, the winemakers shared a simple message with those gathered at the event: “Croatia has arrived on the scene. We have something special. Give us a try. We think you will enjoy the discovery”.

Judging by the positive comments and smiles, the message seems to have found a receptive audience. Reactions to the wines included expressions of pleasant surprise, thirsty curiosity and enlightened excitement. And everyone seemed to agree on one point: The time has come for Croatia to emerge on the international wine scene and showcase its wines, especially its small batch and family–produced wines, through a well-organized, smart and attractive marketing campaign.

Tara O'Leary with Saints Hills winemaker & owner, Ernest Tolj

Influential wine journalist, Tara O’Leary, seemed convinced: “Croatia has three very different wine-growing regions with three very different styles of quality wines. All we need is more information in order to activate and engage communication with the public and the wine world, because Croatia is still pretty unknown. On the other hand, events like work well to inform and inspire the wine community. In all these gifts lies the potential of Croatian wines.”

Saša Špiranec (right) and guest

During the presentation, guests were also able to meet and speak with Saša Špiranec, one of Croatia’s premier wine experts and writers. Mr. Špiranec provided information about many of the indigenous grape varieties that were showcased at the tasting – Babić, Graševina, Malvazija Istriana, Plavac Mali, Pošip, and Teran – and explained how the wines from these grapes each reflected a sense of the place from which they came.   

Bruno Trapan (right)

Many of the distributors, wine buyers and sommeliers also expressed an interest to travel to Croatia and provide their clients with a first-hand experience to see for themselves the potential of Croatia’s wine regions.

The London presentation was just one a series of international events planned for the coming months, and it is the first formal event that occurred since the establishment in September of an association for small and family wineries under the banner, Wines of Croatia. The primary mission of this association is the promotion of Croatian wines as part of an overall economic and tourism strategy, as well as to highlight the potential of Croatia’s wine as an export product. 

 

Similar Wines of Croatia tasting events – scheduled for November – are currently being organized for New York and Chicago.

The Notting Hill tasting differed from the June’s “Fine Wine Croatia” tasting in London in that attendees were representatives from wine associations, distributors and buyers, whereas the June tasting focused on wine critics and journalists – who afterwards published some very positive reviews.

Ivica Matosevic (right)

Finally, after the day-long tasting, about twenty influential London distributors, sommeliers, and wine buyers gathered at the Notting Hill Brasserie for a formal wine dinner and presentation, organized by the Croatian Chamber of Commerce. The multi-course meal was accompanied by perfectly paired wines from Matošević, Saints Hills and Krauthaker wineries.

 

From the dinner, Tara O’Leary reported on her blog, Wine Passionista:

“Seared scallops with lobster and prawn tortellini and lemongrass velouté were paired with the Krauthaker Graševina “Mitrovac” 2009, while cep crusted John Dory with a broccoli purée, white beans, pata negra and cep velouté was accompanied by Saint Hills “Nevina” 2009.

The dark spice and tannins of the Matošević “Grimalda” 2009 was perfectly suited to a roast breast of partridge with creamed cabbage, truffle purée and truffle sauce. The youthful Saint Hills Dingač Plavac Mali 2008 stood up well to the succulent slow cooked venison loin with sweet potato purée, confit red cabbage and the valhrona chocolate sauce that made the wine’s mocha mannerisms sing!  Lastly, the luscious Krauthaker Zelenac IBPB (TBA) 2008 dessert wine captured the essence of the evening when accompanied by the apple tarte tatin with crème fraiche and Calvados sauce.”

To read Tara’s full report from London, check out her blog here: http://winepassionista.com/?p=788

 

Next stop on the Wines of Croatia tour: TRU restaurant in Chicago, and the Oak Room in New York. Stay tuned!

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