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.

A Report from the 2011 Zagreb Wine Gourmet Festival – Part 2

Text and photos (unless otherwise noted) Copyright © Cliff RamesIn Part I of this 3-part report, we offered some insights into the story behind the festival’s organization, shared details about the yummy opening Gala Dinner, and revealed who was the winner of the Wine of the Year. In Part 2, we go inside the festival to explore the venue, meet the VIP guests, and hear about the round table workshop….Enjoy!

 [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]

The Venue 

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…..

Photo by Siniša Škaberna

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.

Photo by Igor Franic

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 Catavino and 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”.     

Nicolas Joly

[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. 

From left: Ryan Opaz; Irina Ban; Duro Horvat; Sarah Kemp; Tony Hodges; Ivica Matošević; Saša Špiranec

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.

The Exhibitors

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).

Vesna Clai

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! 

 

Istria Scores with Grimalda, Nevina & Uroboros: Part IV of the Neal Martin Report

 

 

 

 

Editor’s Note: With this report, Robert Parker’s influential “Wine Advocate” journal has published its first-ever review of a selection of wines from Croatia. The report and subsequent scores were written and posted by Neal Martin of www.wine-journal.com and  www.erobertparker.com and are reprinted here with permission.

In  Part IV of his report, we present Mr. Martin’s reviews and scores (based on a 100-point scale) of wines from the Istria region of northwest Croatia, which Mr. Martin tasted in May 2010.  The opinions and reviews contained herein are purely Mr. Martin’s work and are subject to copyright and may not be republished elsewhere without permission of the author.

Tasting Notes: Istria

2008 Matosevic Alba Barrique – 86
This Malvasia from Istria has a fine nose with well-integrated oak, notes of fresh green apple and a touch of hazelnut. The palate is ripe with fresh acidity, quite malic on the finish with lime zest and citrus fruit. Simple but well made. Tasted May 2010.

2004 Matosevic Alba Robinia – 82
The Malvasia ‘04 has slightly lower alcohol comparative to others in the range, with a rounded, rather buttery nose with tropical fruit. The palate has a lively entry, but the middle is disjointed and attenuated towards the finish. Tasted May 2010.

2008 Matosevic Grimalda (White Blend) – 87
The blend being 50% Chardonnay, 25% Sauvignon Blanc and 25% Malvasia Istriana, the White Blend has fine definition on the nose with apple-blossom, pear and candle wax. The palate has a ripe entry, lightly spiced with a hint of ginger and watermelon on the clean, crisp finish. In a word: tasty. Tasted May 2010.

Ivica Matosevic (photo by Jeff Tureaud)

 

2008 Matosevic Grimalda (Red Blend) – 89
A blend of 85% Merlot and 15% Teran, this has a lucid ruby hue. The nose is rounded with boysenberry and mulberry fruit, perhaps just lacking a little definition but clean. The palate is spicy on the entry, good fruit concentration with mulberry, briary and a touch of cloves, crisp and caressing on the finish with a tang of lemongrass on the aftertaste. This is a very fine Croatian red. Tasted May 2010.

2008 Saints Hills Nevina – 88
This blend of Chardonnay and Malvasia Istriana has a lovely, open-knit nose with hints of vanilla and white flowers, though there is some oak to be subsumed. The palate has lively green lemon on the entry, but perhaps just a little too oaky in proportion to the fruit (9 months in new French.) I like the fruit here, but would like to see more of it, so I would afford this another 12 months in the cellar. Tasted May 2010.

 

2009 Nevina (photo of Cliff Rames)

 

2009 Saints Hills Nevina – 89
A lovely fresh nose that disguises the 14.5% alcohol well: fine definition with brioche and pear skin. The palate is well balanced with hints of spice and ginger, showing good weight towards the finish with a faint hint of nutmeg on the aftertaste. This is an absorbing, well made Istrian wine that could actually improve with 6-12 months bottle age. Tasted May 2010.

2009 Coronica Malvazija – 80
This lacks freshness on the nose whilst the palate seems a little ‘soapy’ and far too phenolic. More winemaking than wine. Tasted May 2010.

2007 Coronica Gran Teran – 87
This pure Teran has an attractive nose with bilberry, blackberry, tar and a touch of cloves. Good definition and lift. Supple entry, soft and fleshy but with sufficient tannic structure to maintain balance, plush and very Merlot-like on the finish. Well-crafted. Tasted May 2010.

2008 Matic Malvasia Istriana – 82
There is some under-ripeness on the nose here, dried herbs and undergrowth. It has a soft entry on the palate that is primal and needs more tension. It seems like a case of too rapid ripening and a lack of physiological ripeness. Tasted May 2010.

2008 Benvenuti Malvazija – 82
This has a simple green apple, smoke tinged nose with a touch of kiwi fruit and nettle. The palate has a sharp entry, quite simple and primal with a Sauvignon-like, short, cat’s pee finish. Tasted May 2010.

photo by Cliff Rames

 

2006 Arman Franc Teran Barrique – 87
This pure Istrian Teran (12.5% alcohol) has a lifted, high-toned nose with blackberry, black olive, iodine and mulberry fruit, good definition if not exactly complex. The palate has ripe, chewy tannins, a touch of pepper on the entry, notes of mulberry, boysenberry and cassis leading to a fleshy finish with a touch of sourness on the back palate. Fine, joyful even. Tasted May 2010.

2007 Roxanich Chardonnay/Milva – 76
Spending 30 months in seasoned French oak, this has a slight honeyed, very yeasty bouquet, quite Rhône-like in style. The palate has an oxidative character, which does not work for me. Very nutty and smoky on the finish. This is a chore to taste. Tasted May 2010.

2007 Roxanich Malvasia Antica – 78
This has a striking dried honey, lanolin, waxy bouquet that lacks definition and subtlety, whilst the palate is very oxidative in style, raw and dry on the finish. Tasted May 2010.

photo by Cliff Rames

 

2006 Roxanich Cabernet Sauvignon – 83
The Cabernet ‘06 has a rather fungal, damp soil-scented nose that needs more freshness and vigour. It seems to have spent far too long in wooden vats (36 months.) Soy-tinged entry, dry tannins, a little disjointed with a tannic finish, I think the Merlot has worked much better for Roxanich in this year. Tasted May 2010.

2006 Roxanich Superistrian Merlot – 88
A blend of 40% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon and 20% Borgonja (Gamay), this has a clean ripe nose with ripe strawberry, redcurrant and dark cherries, quite Saint Emilion in style. The palate is well balanced with firm tannins, a lot of dry extract, blackberry, boysenberry, clove and a saline touch towards the finish. It needs another couple of years in bottle to mellow, but clean and harmonious. This is the best wine from Roxanich at the moment. Tasted May 2010.

2007 Roxanich Teran Re – 84
From magnum, this has rather muffled, animally nose with traces of black olive, clove and a touch of leather. The palate is medium-bodied with chewy tannins, a touch of pepper on the entry, rather chewy with the fruit subdued on the dark cherry finish. Again: too long in oak. Tasted May 2010.

photo by Cliff Rames

 

2009 Kozlovic Malvazija – 88
This has a simple, light, quite yeasty nose with a touch of walnut and dried herbs. Moderate definition. The palate is ripe although a little reductive, leading to an innocuous lemongrass finish. Tasted May 2010.

2009 Kozlovic Santa Lucia – 86
This Malvasia comes in with a walloping 15% alcohol. Yellow flowers on the nose, some warm alcohol denuding freshness with dried mango and tropical fruit developing. Considering the alcohol level, the palate is well balanced but the finish is smudged. Tasted May 2010.

2009 Kozlovic Muscat Polushi (Half-Dry) – 84
This Muscat has a clean fresh nose that is reminiscent of a Gewürztraminer, Tropicana notes developing with time. The palate has a nice clean entry, although is needs a little more acidity to balance that residual sugar on the finish. Tasted May 2010.

2009 Trapan Winery Ponente – 89
This is a very fine Croatian Malvasia with a lovely waxy nose: dried flowers and thyme, nice definition. The palate has a rounded entry, with touches of ginger and apricot, good weight with hints of walnut on the pleasantly oxidative finish. Interesting. Tasted May 2010.

Trapan Malvazija Uroboros (photo by Cliff Rames)

 

2008 Trapan Winery Uroboros – 90
Another excellent wine from this Istrian producer, light and floral on the well defined nose: green apple, white flowers, watermelon and a touch of apricot. The palate has a ripe entry, lovely balanced and poise with well judged acidity on the finish. This is a sophisticated, very well-crafted Croatian wine from Bruno Trapan. One to watch! Tasted May 2010.

2009 Trapan Winery Rubi (Rose) – 87
A crisp, lively rose from Trapan from Syrah grapes. Nice lift on the nose, animated and zesty on the palate with subtle strawberry and red cherry notes on the finish. Fine. Tasted May 2010.

2008 Trapan Winery Syrah – 87
This is over-extracted and slightly volatile on the gamey nose: cooked meats, soy and black bean sauce. The palate was very peppery on the entry, firm tannins, black cherries, boysenberry and a touch of soy, nice delineation on the fleshy, Gigondas-like finish. Fine. Tasted May 2010.

2008 Festigia Merlot – 88
This has a fine, vibrant nose of redcurrant, strawberry, spices, a touch of hickory and cooked meats. Good definition. The palate is fleshy and rounded, fine acidity, lighter tannins than its peers, but nicely poised with a fresh, caressing finish. Lovely. Tasted May 2010.

photo by Cliff Rames

 

2008 Festigia Cabernet Sauvignon – 86
This has a lovely, savoury, espresso and dried herb tinged nose with good delineation and vigour. The palate is medium-bodied with firm tannins, black pepper and mulberry, fanning out towards a smoky, peppery, animally finish. Fine. Tasted May 2010.

2007 Istravino Dajla Teran – 86
This is a little reductive on the nose: tarry black fruits, a touch of Wellington boot and dried herbs. The palate is medium-bodied with rounded tannins, a nice gamey element coming towards the finish with wild strawberry and mulberry caressing the mouth. Well made, if just lacking persistency. Tasted May 2010.

2007 Istravino Dajla Malvasia – 83
The nose is well defined with apple-blossom, kiwi fruit and nettle with good definition, but the palate is very simply, quite peachy but lacking definition on the smudged finish. Tasted May 2010.

photo by Cliff Rames

P.S. from Editor: In Part V, we will present Mr. Martin’s notes and scores for wines from the Dalmatia region.

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90-Point Slavonian Graševina? Yes We Can! Part III of the Neal Martin Report

 

 

 

 

 

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Editor’s Note: With this report, Robert Parker’s influential “Wine Advocate” journal has published its first-ever review of a selection of wines from Croatia. The report and subsequent scores were written and posted by Neal Martin of www.wine-journal.com and  www.erobertparker.com and are reprinted here with permission.

In  Part III of his report, we present Mr. Martin’s reviews and scores (based on a 100-point scale) of wines from the Slavonia region of northeast Croatia, which Mr. Martin tasted in May 2010.  The opinions and reviews contained herein are purely Mr. Martin’s work and are subject to copyright and may not be republished elsewhere without permission of the author.

In the previously published Part II of his report, Mr. Martin discussed his perception of the “wrongs and rights” of the Croatian wines he tasted. For your convenience and introduction to the tasting notes and scores presented here, below is an except from the relevant section of text from that post.     

I am convinced that Grasevina can produce fine white wine, indeed I fondly recall an impressive flight at the International Wine Challenge last April. Probably the best thing that anyone did was change the name and banish the associations we have with the much-derided Laski Rizling. Grasevina is easy to pronounce and provides a hook for some lovely, fresh, aromatic Croatian wines that perhaps need to work on their length: abundant flavour on the front palate but not the back-end to really make an impression.  Growers need to watch those yields because they can engender bland, anonymous wines if not kept in check.

(photo courtesy of http://www.vina-kalazic.com

Part III: Tasting Notes of Slavonian Wines

2003 Enjingi Venje Late Harvest White Blend – 83
This Slavonian white is a blend of Grasevina, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris and Gewürztraminer (just the kitchen sink missing!) The nose is simple and quite buttery, lacking a little delineation. The palate has a pleasing waxy entry and nice weight, marred by too much alcohol on the anonymous finish. Tasted May 2010.

 
 

(photo courtesy of http://www.Limun.hr

 

2006 Enjingi Grasevina Late Harvest – 75
This just does not work at all. Simple marmalade tinged nose, the palate lacking definition and complexity on the raw finish. Tasted May 2010.

2003 Enjingi Venje Barrique Red Blend – 80
A strange nose: dark berried fruit, woodbines, smoke, thyme…some sulphide issues just lurking in the background. Sweet entry, a lot of residual sugar here rendering the finish very cloying. Tasted May 2010.

2008 Mihalj Grasevina – 85
This has a simple, primal nose with green apple, nettle and a touch of lemon. The palate is lacking complexity but the balance is good enough, with pear and kiwi fruit on the crisp finish. Fine. Tasted May 2010.

2008 Galic Grasevina – 87
This has a light minerally nose with white flowers, greengage and a touch of white asparagus. Nice definition. The palate has a ripe entry, good weight with touches of lemongrass, citrus fruit, nutmeg and good poise on the finish. Fine. Tasted May 2010.

 
 

(photo courtesy of Vinopija

 

2008 Galic Sauvignon Blanc – 77
Simple grassy nose, primal and simple on the palate. Rather dull. Tasted May 2010.

2008 Galic Pinot Noir – 72
Already showing some maturity, the nose is flaccid and the palate dull and lacking vigour. Tasted May 2010.

2008 Krauthaker Merlot – 83
This has a rounded, slightly honeyed nose with redcurrant jam, small red cherries and a touch of wild strawberry. The palate is fleshy and ripe but lacking structure and freshness towards the finish. Tasted May 2010.

2009 Krauthaker Grasevina – 82
Delivering 14% alcohol, this has a simple nose of cooking apple, pear and nettle with good lift. The palate is medium-bodied with primal, grapey flavours dominating. Not bad, but rather unexciting. Tasted May 2010.

2009 Krauthaker Mitrovac Grasevina – 83
This has a light pineapple, pear and lanolin nose with good definition…light and airy. The palate is quite rounded on the entry with hints of dried honey and melted butter, but the finish is very flabby. Tasted May 2010.

2008 Krauthaker Grasevina Mitrovac – 85
This is better than the 2009, with fresh pineapple and pear on the nose, touches of white flower developing with time. The palate is ripe on the entry with ginger and apricot, rather too much caramel dominating the finish through. Tasted May 2010.

 
 

(photo by Cliff Rames)

 

2009 Krauthaker Chardonnay Rosenberg – 89
Matured in stainless-steel and new oak, the palate is well defined with citrus lemon, apricot and acacia honey with well integrated oak. The palate is well balanced, fruit-driven and generous with hints of dried orange peel, apricot and ginger, though it just needs more clarity on the finish. But otherwise this is a very confident Slavonian Chardonnay. Tasted May 2010.

2008 Zdjelarevic Grasevina – 83
This has a rather innocuous nose of melon, pineapple and crab apple, the palate nicely balanced but short and overtly simple on the finish. Quaffing pleasure but nothing more. Tasted May 2010.

2008 Zdjelarevic Chardonnay – 87
This Chardonnay has a simple, slightly smoky, introverted nose with moderate definition. The palate is ripe and primal, a little tight at first but loosening in the glass. Notes of lime, green apple and lemon zest on the finish that demonstrates good persistency. Tasted May 2010.

 
 

(photo courtesy of Blue Danube Wine)

 

2008 Zdjelarevic Grand Cuvee Nagual (White) – 90
A blend of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, this really is quite impressive. The nose has fine definition with cooking apple, wild nettles and a touch of undergrowth. Hints of linden developing with time. The palate has a ripe entry with fresh lively citrus fruit, an almost sherbet quality on the fresh finish that reminds me of a fine Marlborough Sauvignon. Tasted May 2010.

2008 Kutjevo Grasevina de Gotho – 86
Lovely tropical fruit on the nose with orange-blossom, mango and passion fruit, leading to a phenolic entry on the palate, pear skin and gooseberry flavours mingle with nectarine and pine. It does lack focus, but an intriguing wine. Tasted May 2010.

 
 

(photo by Cliff Rames)

 

2008 Kutjevo Chardonnay de Gotho Aureus – 86
This has a fine nose of apricot, marmalade and dried honey. The palate has moderate acidity with light touches of marmalade, quince and dried nectarines. Good acidity and length, if not the complexity of a great Chardonnay. Tasted May 2010.

2008 Feravino Grasevina – 86
This Grasevina has ripe apple, lime leaf and a touch of damp moss on the nose. Good definition. The palate is fresh on the entry with greengage and a touch of apricot, racy acidity, nice tension if lacking some length. Tasted May 2010.

 
 

(photo courtesy of Feravino)

 

2008 Feravino Frankovka – 77
This is over-extracted and rather volatile on the nose. The palate is sweet, over-extracted and cloying on the anonymous finish. Tasted May 2010.

2009 Belje Grasevina – 90
This is a lovely Slavonian Grasevina, with hints of pineapple, water cress and apricot on the nose with a faint tang of something sweet…toffee popcorn! The palate is ripe with good acidity, vibrant fruit of dried apricot, mellow and nectarine with very good weight on the finish. Excellent. Tasted May 2010.

 
 

(photo courtesy of http://www.belje.hr)

 

2008 Belje Merlot – 86
A clean, soft, quite fleshy nose with wild strawberry, cigar box, smoke and dried herbs. Quite complex for a Merlot. The palate is medium-bodied and does not quite have the complexity of the nose, spicy red-berried fruit, mulberry and a touch of cooked meat/spice, but just lacking a little freshness on the finish to merit a higher score. Tasted May 2010.

2008 Daruvar Grasevina – 89
This has fine definition on the nose with light aromas of acacia, honey, fine lees and a touch of orange-blossom. The palate has a ripe entry with light honeyed nose, lemon peel and quince jelly, viscous towards the sweet finish balanced by good acidity and crispness. This is a well crafted Grasevina. Tasted May 2010.

P.S. from Editor: In Part IV, we will present Mr. Martin’s notes and scores for Istrian wines.

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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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PROWEIN EXPO IN DÜSSELDORF: CROATIAN “FINE WINES” UNCOVERED

Article by Sasa Špiranec

Interpreted and translated by Cliff Rames from the original Jutarnji List article: http://www.jutarnji.hr/sajam-u-dusseldorfu–otkrivena-hrvatska–fina-vina-/665653/?pageNumber=1#page_1

Photos by Mark Miščević/CROPIX

 

Let us brand the Wines of Croatia by saying: “Our wines are not inexpensive, but they are unique and very good.”  Remember: you cannot taste Graševina, Plavac Mali, Malvasia Istriana, Babić, Pošip or Teran anywhere else but in Croatia!   

What are the prospects for Croatian wines on the European and world markets?

This is a question that has recently become a subject of great interest among winemakers in Croatia.  The answer to the question has in fact grown quite urgent: for the first time in a decade and a half, Croatia produced a surplus of wine that cannot be sold on the domestic market. It now appears that export is simply a question of survival.

Judging by the results of this year’s ProWein expo in Düsseldorf, Germany, the outlook appears bright, provided that we do not make any wrong steps in the branding of Croatia as a wine region. We must also rapidly endeavor to facilitate the placement of wine as Croatia’s most desireable, hand-made export product. 

 

 

Interest from the U.S.

For the purposes of presentation, the Croatian Chamber of Commerce and the Ministry of Agriculture have created a visually attractive and visitor-accessible exhibit booth so that numerous Croatian winemakers can showcase their latest products to the most professional wine audiences in Europe.

In Düsseldorf, Croatia’s delegation of wineries were part of a group of 3,300 exhibitors from 50 countries. The number of ProWein visitors from around the globe reached 35,000, with most being importers, sommeliers, wine retailers, wine buyers and journalists.

Representing Croatia were many of the largest and most important wineries, as well as a small contingency of family producers who, while few in numbers, were big in their presence. The wineries present in Düsseldorf were (in alphabetical order): Adzic, Agrokor, Arman, Badel 1862, Benvenuti, Blato 1902, Cattunar, Dalmacijavino, Degrassi, Diwine, Dubrovnik Podrumi, Enjingi, Feravino, Galic, Izvori života, Jurjević, Katunar, Korta Katarina, Krauthaker, Kutjevo d.d., Gospoja PZ, PZ Vrbnik, Roxanich, Suha Punta, Trapan, Veralda, Matošević, Zdjelarević, and Zlatan Otok.

Some of the exhibitors experienced immediate and positive results from their participation: Marijan Arman, for example, reported that this is the first wine fair where he received a purchase order and signed a contract.  Usually, the fair is just the first contact.

Agrokor scored a significant if not symbolic victory, not so much in terms of quantity but for boosting Croatia’s image as an exceptional wine region. Namely, the buyer for a wine shop in Ulm, Germany, after tasting the wines at the Croatian booth, ordered 20 cases of Goldberg Graševina and 15 cases of Dajla Teran. In other words, a solid amount of not inexpensive, premium wine for just one wine shop. Agrokor also entered into an agreement to cooperate with an importer from Dubai.

Frank Dietrich, owner of Blue Danube Wine Company in the U.S., also entered into agreements with Krauthaker, Gracin, Dubrovnik Podrumi, and Roxanich. Other deals were made, and each winery took home at least a few dozen contacts.

Croatian Wine Booth Attracts Interest

The Croatian wine booth at the ProWein expo also attracted numerous journalists, the most significant of whom was Vaterlaus Thomas, editor of wine magazine Vinum, which is published in Germany, Switzerland and Spain.  Also stopping by were Jan van Lissum, the editor of a Dutch magazine, and Daniel Guryča, publisher of a Czech wine journal.  A number of curious sommeliers eager for knowledge about new varieties and wine regions also visited the Croatian booth. Therefore, interest in Croatian wines exists!

It was an interest expressed not in the sense of “ah, you have finally arrived!” after which all the free wine samples would be meaninglessly snatched up and inconsequently consumed. Rather it was an interest based in the belief that Croatia could be the “next big thing” on the market of fine wine. 

The emphasis here is on “fine wine”. The future of Croatian wine regions does not lie in the production of cheap wines. Rather, in the crafting of quality wines that are not expensive yet are also not cheap.

To demonstrate this point, the wine buyer from the wine shop in Ulm, who purchased wine from Agrokor, did not choose the cheapest wine or most favorable deal; he chose the best wine Agrokor had to offer. 

When the future of Croatian wines is debated, typically one hears the cries, “Croatian wines are too expensive!”  This is partly true as a general statement and is mostly valid for wines from Dalmatia, where production is very small due to the geographical limitations of many vineyard areas (such as Dingač). Croatia is a country that produces comparatively small amounts of wine and cannot compete with Australia or Chile – countries known for high-volume, cheap wines that have only just begun offering more expensive and higher quality wines.

Another important point is that Croatia, unlike Chile and Australia, has an array of native varieties that deliver a completely unique and original wine experience. Securing the interest of just a small percentage of wine lovers in the world’s most important markets would satisfy the export requirements of Croatia’s current production.

Unique Wines

Therefore, let us brand the Wines of Croatia by saying: “Our wines are not inexpensive but they are unique and very good.” 

And remember: You cannot taste Graševina, Plavac Mali, Malvasia Istriana, Babić, Pošip or Teran anywhere else but in Croatia! 

Yes, like Chile and Moldova (and so many other places), Croatia has Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay. These wines must be just as good and even cheaper than the competition in order to be of interest to and succeed in a world already flooded with similar wines.  

In the end it doesn’t take a lot of skill or savvy intellect to sell something at the lowest price. Perhaps we have the intelligence and capacity for something better than that.  Presentations like ProWein in Düsseldorf contribute greatly to the development of a marketing message around the concepts of quality and originality. But more must be done. Not just in Düsseldorf but everywhere we go: London, New York, Singapore, Shanghai, etc.

However, a sobering dose of reality exists: Croatia is still relatively unknown to wine lovers around the world. Its anonymity resulted in Croatia’s booth in Düsseldorf being located at the farthest reaches of the very last pavilion, in the company of other relatively unknown wine-producers like Slovenia, Hungary, Romania, Macedonia, etc.

Thus, we still have many challenges ahead and lots of work to do! 

Distinguish Ourselves with Quality

The Wines of Croatia must distinguish themselves with a level of quality that separates them from other wines in the region. Only in this way can we possibly achieve a better position at the next international wine expo and not get into the habit of lowering prices in order to be noticed at the rear of some far-flung the pavilion. 

Let us be aware of two truths: Good things have worth; and small can be good.

These truths apply to Croatian wines indeed. But to ensure our future success, the strategy for continued promotion should be as follows: conduct intelligent marketing presentations; and organize specialized wine tasting events for the media, wine trade and sommeliers.

Most importantly, we must back-up our claims to quality by ensuring only the best and most representative Croatian wineries are chosen to exhibit on the world stage.  

www.WinesofCroatia.com

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www.Twitter.com/winesofcroatia