Dalmatia Wine Expo 2016: Three Things I Learned

By Cliff Rames

(Note: I first visited the Dalmatia Wine Expo in Split, Croatia two years ago in 2014. You can read my 2014 “Three Things I Learned” post HERE.)

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Drinking wine could be compared to reading a book. Some books, like some wines, serve as mere entertainment, devoid of depth and enjoyed in a moment. Quickly they fade into the past without commemoration or recall.

Great books, though, capture and captivate your imagination. Glued to the page, each word enthralls…every sentence propels you deeper into the folds, eager to know what comes next…how the plot develops…what happens to the characters. The best among them may even influence and affect your life’s journey.

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Croatia’s Grgić Winery Heavily Damaged During Pelješac Wildfire

(Photo courtesy www.24sata.hr)
(Photo courtesy http://www.24sata.hr)

Late Monday night, a savage wildfire consumed large swaths of scrub pine, olive and fig trees, and vineyards on the Pelješac peninsula in Dalmatia, one of Croatia’s most renowned wine-growing regions, leaving as many as 600 hectares of rocky landscape–as well as cars and some homes–blackened and charred at the height of the tourist season.

Especially hard hit was the area around the tiny seaside hamlet, Trstenik—home of the world-famous Grgić Vina, a winery founded by legendary—and Croatian-born—Napa Valley winemaker, Mike Grgich of Grgich Hills Estate in Rutherford, CA.

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Croatia’s 2014 Dalmacija Wine Expo: Three Things I Learned

By Cliff Rames © 2014

Sensory overload. That is how I would describe any one of my whirlwind visits to Croatia.

I mean it in a positive way. The country is simply brimming with vinous, culinary and natural delights. Gnarly old grapevines improbably clinging to sun baked seaside slopes. Nearly 1,200 islands sprinkled like seashells on the impossibly blue Adriatic. Countless villages and hamlets of seminal charm nestled in coves and on mountainsides. Fresh caught seafood and farm-to-table produce so succulent and cooked to perfection. The warm faces of family, old friends and new acquaintances (and an occasional donkey).  Swoon-worthy views and secret spots where you can enjoy the sights and sounds of nature that – to this New York City boy – are so intimate, pure and wonderful.

Dingač (Photo © Cliff Rames)
Dingač (Photo © Cliff Rames)

And then there is the wine. Indigenous grapes, local producers. Most of it delicious and distinct. So this is what all this beauty… this land…this Croatia tastes like, you may be inspired to declare.

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Sunday Snapshot: Postup

Located on the Pelješac peninsula along the Adriatic Sea in Dalmatia, Postup is Croatia’s second oldest geographically protected wine-growing appellation (granted in 1963), lying just northwest of its more famous sister region, Dingač.

Like Dingač, Postup is home to the Plavac Mali grape and produces bold, powerful, sometimes off-dry to slightly sweet wines such as the benchmark Postup Mare from Bura-Mrgudić.

Behold the beauty of this terroir: Postup!

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

Sunday Snapshot: The Road to Dingač

Accessible through a dark, single-lane, 400 meter-long  tunnel and curvy, mountain-hugging road (in photo), Dingač is Croatia’s oldest geographically protected wine-growing appellation – since 1961.

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

On the steep, southwest-facing slopes on the Pelješac peninsula, Plavac Mali grapes ripen in the blazing sun and are usually harvested between late September and early October.

Wines labeled “Dingač” may only be made from Plavac Mali grapes grown on these slopes along the Adriatic Sea. They are bold, dark wines with expressions of sun baked black fruit, cherries, dried fig and cranberries, roasted Mediterranean herb, coffee, and sometimes salty minerality.

Leading producers of Dingač wines are Bartulović, Bura, Kiridžija, Madirazza, Matuško, Miličić, Radović, Saints Hills, Skaramuča, and Vinarija Dingač.

Borak is one of two villages on the Pelješac peninsula near Dingač. The other is Potomje.

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Croatian Wines Featured in New Fire Island Cookbook

By Cliff Rames © 2012

In recent years you could say that a cookbook renaissance has taken place. While catch-all cookbooks are still popular, such as the iconic Essential New York Times Cookbook, the heirloom Betty Crocker Cookbook, and the mandatory Cook Illustrated Cookbook, regional and single-subject cookbooks have become all the rage.

I guess it may have started with Julia Child’s opus called Mastering the Art of French Cooking, which made the mysteries of snobby French cuisine accessible to housewives and aspiring chefs casting about in kitchens across America and elsewhere.

Today other testaments to regional cooking abound on the shelves of bookshops and – I suppose – digital libraries. The Silver Spoon comes immediately to mind, the heavyweight tome to Italian cuisine.

But regional explorations have progressively drilled down from the macro to the micro level, as interest in cooking has mushroomed and serious-minded cooks seek out authenticity, uniqueness and novelty to set their recipes and menus apart from the common or mundane. Call it the need for terroir in pot and on plate.

Whatever you call it, at the core this trend is surely based in primal human desires for discovery, for reward, for excitement, for something safe and satisfying to eat. But it also registers at a more intellectual level and raises the banner of a movement that seems to be well underway – not just in the culinary experience but also in wine: the urge to experience a sense of place in what we consume; and a rejection of generic, industrial and chemically-farmed products that so litter supermarkets and many mainstream restaurants.

“Eat Local” is the mantra of this movement. “Sustainability”, “organic”, “artisanal”, “small batch”, “handmade” are some of the buzz words that drive the message home. The point is, to increasing numbers of people, cooking is no longer just a function that precedes eating. It is passion; it has meaning; it should be creative yet wholesome; it needs to provide enjoyment, fulfillment, and healthy nourishment; it should be respectful of tradition yet never be dull or generic; and it should showcase and celebrate seasonal ingredients and – when possible – locally-grown products.

Jeff Jenssen & Mike DeSimone – The Wine Guys (photo by Cliff Rames)

And thus we arrive at Fire Island, where authors Mike DeSimone and Jeff Jenssen (aka, the World Wine Guys), in The Fire Island Cookbook (Atria Books), present us with 14 different menus born out of recipes acquired on their worldly journeys as food and wine writers. Each recipe strives to incorporate fresh ingredients that visitors to the Long Island, NY summer seaside hideaway would find at the local groceries, butcher shops, and fish and vegetable markets during the summer season. And each recipe comes with a sachet of secret spices: Mike and Jeff’s exceptional presentation, inspired sense of hospitality, and delightful food and wine pairing talents.

Within its colorful and appealing pages The Fire Island Cookbook offers a smorgasbord of breezy menu suggestions for an array of tastes and a variety of occasions, such as a “Noche Caliente Spanish Dinner”; “Rainy Day French Menu”; Fourth of July Pool Party”; “Mediterranean Odyssey”; “Villa in Tuscany”, to name just a few.

However, the menu that caught my attention was (of course) “Height of the Empire”, a collection of hearty recipes that hail back to the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The flavors here are rich yet simple, piquant and savory, rustic yet comforting. Most interestingly, while these recipes reflect the traditional cuisine of the continental, southeast Europe, the wines that Mike and Jeff pair with them are coastal, specifically from the Istria and Dalmatia regions of Croatia.

Kicking off the menu is a recipe for Panfried Quail with Kielbasa-Studded Orzo, paired with Saints Hills Nevina, a blend of malvasia istriana and chardonnay from the Istria region of northern coastal Croatia.

Saints Hills Nevina (photo by Cliff Rames)

Next is Viennese Stuffed Peppers, paired with Matošević Grimalda red, another Istrian wine that is a blend of merlot and teran.

Matošević Grimalda (photo by Cliff Rames)

Crowning the feast of the Empire is Chicken Paprikash with Homemade Butter Dumplings, paired with an equally noble wine, Saints Hills Dingač, made from plavac mali grapes grown at one of Croatia’s most prestigious vineyards on the Pelješac peninsula along Croatia’s Dalmatian coastline.

Saints Hills Dingač (photo by Cliff Rames)

Whether or not you visit one of the 1,100+ islands in Croatia or Fire Island, NY this summer, it doesn’t matter. All you need to do is open The Fire Island Cookbook and you will be transported to a breezy seaside resort where everything tastes good and it doesn’t matter if it is sunny or rainy.

And even if you are a novice cook or making the best of it in a cottage kitchen, have no worries: the book is written in such a way that you feel as though Mike and Jeff are there with you, guiding you through each step while telling stories of their travels and pouring you another glass of that delicious Croatian wine they discovered on their last trip.

Throughout its pages The Fire Island Cookbook projects practical know-how kitchen-tested experience, all peppered with a touch of romance and giddiness that only summer by the sea can inspire, and exudes the warm hospitality for which Mike and Jeff are so known and loved.

Giving it additional gravitas in a world rife with cookbooks of every ilk, The Fire Island Cookbook successfully embraces locavore philosophy while weaving in an appreciation for exotic and exquisite treats from foreign lands. And that, my friends, is a recipe for summer patio yumminess.

As they say in Croatia, “Dobar tek i zivjeli” (Good appetite and cheers!)

Mike & Jeff at a Barnes & Noble book signing, Freehold, NJ, April 2012 (photo by Cliff Rames)
Jeff Jenssen (photo by Cliff Rames)

Wines of Croatia News Round-Up for March 18, 2012

In case you missed anything, here is a round-up of the latest links to the news articles, blog posts and videos that highlighted Croatia, its wine or wine culture.

1. The Image Pantry.com: On Green Lycra, German Riesling and Other Fashion Victims

March 4, 2012

A review of Bolfan Primus Riesling, included in the Image Pantry’s round-up of “some of the best rieslings central Europe has to offer”. 

2. Grape Experiences: Wine Blogs I Actually Read and You Should Too

March 5, 2012

The Wines of Croatia blog makes the Grape Experiences list of five wine blogs that should be followed.

3. Istria Travel.com: Baptising Wine Among Other Things

March 5, 2012

The Clumsy Traveler learns about colorful local traditions in Istrian wine country.  

4. Total Hvar.com: Where is the Largest Island Vineyard in the Mediterranean?

March 6, 2012

A report about the new Plančić vineyard on Hvar that will eventually produce 2 million bottles of Plavac Mali and Bogdanuša.

5. The Croatian Times.com: Croatian Wines Appreciation Growing on German and UK Markets

March 7, 2012

New data about Croatia wine exports to Europe.

6. Gourmand Awards News: World Cookbook Awards Winners

March 7, 2012

Croatia’s premier food & wine magazine, Iće & piće (“Eat & Drink”) wins Third Place in the “Book & Trade Magazine” category (Page 81 on the slide show) at the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards.

7. Thirst for Wine: Tonight’s Croatian Wine – Thanks to Mountain Valley Wines

March 8, 2012

U.K. wine writer, Robert McIntosh, reviews Pelješac Plavac Mali 2010.

8. The Daily Meal.com: Wine Tasting in Croatia

March 9, 2012

A hop across Croatia to visit some of its wineries on “the road less traveled in Europe”.  

9. IWINETC.com: All Aboard the Orient Express to Zagreb’s Regent-Esplanade for IWINETC 2013

March 10, 2012

Wine Pleasures.com announces that the 5th edition of the International Wine Tourism Conference and Workshop will be held in Zagreb, Croatia in March 2013.

10. Pacta Connect Blog: Tasting Istrian Malvazija

March 12, 2012

As the season of Malvasia Istriana (Malvazija istarska) begins, the team from Pacta Connect provides this primer about Istria’s flagship wine and recommends a few producers for your drinking pleasure.  

11. Total Hvar.com: 21st Century Planting Planting Planting

March 12, 2012

A report about Hvar winemaker Andro Tomić’s Bastijana vineyards expansion project.

12. Istriaficionado.com: Giorgio Clai of Istria Nominated as Wine-Newcomer of the Year by Der Feinschmecker

March 12, 2012

A report about Istrian biodynamic winemaker Giorgio Clai being nominated by German lifestyle magazine Der Feinschmeker as “Newcomer of the Year” in the Wine Awards 2012 competition.

13. Wines of Croatia Blog: Blood from Stone: Stina Wine from Brač – Best New Label Design

March 16, 2012

This new wine label design from JAKO VINO Winery really caught our eye. Find out why.

14. Balkan Travellers.com: Croatian Wine for Beginners

March 18, 2012

A repackaged and republished introduction to Croatian wines by Austrian wine writer, Peter Moser.

P.S. We love to hear from you!

If you have comments or other news to share, please comment on this post or email us at info@winesofcroatia.com