In case you missed anything, here is a round-up of the past two weeks’ links to the news articles, blog posts and videos that highlighted Croatia, its wine or wine culture. This feature will be published every Sunday. Cheers!
1) Wine Enthusiast Magazine: Four Seasons of Rosé
September 16, 2011 (omitted from previous round-up)
For the first-time ever, Croatia finds itself featured in a prominent mainstream U.S. wine magazine.
Wine Enthusiast, one of the leading wine journals in the English language, published three articles in the September 2011 print and online issues, all dedicated to Croatia and its wines, food culture, and appeal as a travel destination.
The September issue, which pronounces Croatia as “An Historic Wine Lovers Paradise” on the cover page, also includes reviews of 16 Croatian wines, as well as hotel, restaurant and winery recommendations by region.
Encompassing seven full-color pages (in the print edition), the lead story by Wine Enthusiast Contributing Editors, Lifestyle & Entertaining, Mike Desimone and Jeff Jenssen (AKA: World Wine Guys) is entitled “Croatia – In Living Color”.
In the article the Wine Guys detail their “journey from north to south along the Adriatic coast”, which they describe as an “underexplored jewel by the sea” that “offers rich history, splendid scenery and epicurean delights—starting in Istria, and then down the Dalmatian Coast, with its 1,000 islands”.
The online version of the magazine offers two additional articles. The first is written by Desimone and Jenssen and is called “Exploring Croatia”.
The article provides detailed hotel, restaurant and winery recommendations based on Desimone’s and Jenssen’s experience while traveling in Croatia in October 2010, when they spent a week visiting Croatia’s capital city, Zagreb, as well as Istria and Dalmatia on the coast – regions they described as “a wine and food lover’s paradise”.
The online version of Wine Enthusiast contains a third article by Kristin Vuković with the mouth-watering title, “Consuming Croatia”highlighting some of the “gastronomical delights” one can experience in Croatia. Inside you’ll find two scrumptious recipes, one for Palačinke (Croatian crêpes) and one for Grilled Mediterranean Branzino with Blitva (Sea Bass with Chard).
Kristin’s yummy recipes are matched with wine pairing suggestions by Certified Sommelier and founder of Wines of Croatia, Cliff Rames.
Wine Enthusiast is a wine magazine, so let us not forget the best part: the wines! The September issue contains scores for 16 Croatian wines in its Buying Guide, including labels from Agrolaguna, Belje, BIBICh, Dingač Winery, Grgić, Iločki Podrumi, Istravino, Korta Katarina, Matošević, and Piližota. All wines were reviewed by Wine Enthusiast Tasting Coordinator, Anna Lee Iijima.
Six of the best-scoring wines are highlighted in the magazine under the headline, “Top Wines of Croatia”. Most notably, two wines were awarded 90-points: Grgić Vina 2009 Pošip and Korta Katarina 2006 Plavac Mali.
If you can, we strongly recommend that you pick-up a copy of the September issue and read all about it. Or check it out online (links embedded above). May we also suggest that when you open this historic issue of Wine Enthusiast, you raise your favorite glass of Croatian wine. It is certainly a time to celebrate!
They say that every journey begins with a single step. The publication of these three articles may have been one small step for Wine Enthusiast magazine, but it was a giant leap for the Croatian wine industry.
From this new height the stars on which so many dreams are planted today seem a little closer. To reach them will require much more hard work, a smart and effective marketing strategy, and new investment in people, ideas, tools and material. Beyond the star that is Wine Enthusiast magazine lie many more stars, solar systems and galaxies. Collectively they form the heavens.
Do we have what it takes to get there?
One additional note: We applaud Korta Katarina Winery for having the foresight and business savvy (and resources) to recognize an opportunity. The winery invested some serious cash to purchase a full-page color advertisement in the September issue for its 2010 Rosé. Readers of the magazine – who may feel compelled to seek out a Croatian wine or two – will in the preceding pages notice a very juicy ad for an excellent Croatian Rosé – one that just happens to be available in the U.S. and other export markets.
With that, Korta Katarina became the first Croatian winery to advertise in a mainstream American wine magazine. The bar has been raised; let us strive to leap higher still!
From March 27-29, 2011, the wine world was focused on Düsseldorf, Germany, site of one of Europe’s most important wine festivals: ProWein.
According to the organizers of the festival, ProWein 2011 was attended by over 3,600 exhibitors from some 50 countries. Attendance reached 38,000 – a 5% increase over 2010.
The organizers also noted an increase in the number of international guests, primarily from Great Britain, Scandinavia, the USA and Canada, as well as Eastern Europe – especially Russia, the Czech Republic and the Baltic states. The festival also saw an increase in the number of visitors from Asia – most notably China, Thailand and Hong Kong. Festival organizers reported that over 80% of visitors were individuals who are directly involved in purchasing decisions (Source: Visitor Survey at ProWein 2011.)
For the 5th consecutive year, Croatian winemakers were among the international exhibitors, with 25 of the most important wineries in Croatia participating, collectively representing more than 150 wines.
Croatia’s participation in this year’s ProWein fair was sponsored by the Croatian Chamber of Economy (HGK), in cooperation with the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Rural Development (MPRRR).
With total space of 95 square meters, the Wines of Croatia booth was the focus of much attention, as trade professionals stopped by to investigate and taste the wines of Agrokor-Vina, Arman, Badel 1862, Capo, Cattunar, De Georgiis, Feravino, Jako Vino, Kabola, Kalazić, Korta Katherina, Krauthaker, Kutjevački Podrum, Lagradi, OPG Božo Bačić, OPG Šime Škaulj, Roxanich, Saints Hills, Suha Punta, Trapan, Veralda, Matošević, Vinski Vrh, Vinoplod, and the University of Zadar.
“This fair is of great importance to Croatian wineries, because it is an opportunity to present the wines of Croatia to an international audience”, said Rajko Ružička, Assistant to the Director of the Office Agriculture, Food and Forestry at the HGK.
“We hope that our presence at the fair will help to increase exports of Croatian wines, especially in regard to Germany, which at 600,000 liters annually makes it the second largest foreign market, after Bosnia-Herzegovina. That is why the HGK and MPRRR support Croatian wineries at international festivals like this, because it is critical to effectively present and position Croatian wines in potentially interested foreign markets.”
Due to the large volume of business conducted during the festival and shear number of journalists present, ProWein is an opportunity that under no circumstances should be missed, said Saša Špiranec, Chairman of the Association of Croatian Wineries Festival Committee at the Croatian Chamber of Economy (HGK).
“ProWein is the starting point of marketing activities of our new association, whose primary mission is to raise awareness among the wine consuming public about the wines of Croatia. The task of branding Croatian wine includes many promotional tools – including specialized fairs like ProWein”, said Špiranec.
Đuro Horvat, president of the Association of Croatian Wineries at HGK, added that Croatian winemakers regard the creation of a strong Croatian wine brand – one that showcases the excellent quality and originality of the wines – as crucial for the export market.
“Export trends from year to year indicate movement towards high quality wines from premium categories. That is why this festival is important as an opportunity to establish business contacts and ultimately increase wine exports through new sales,” said Horvat.
“Croatian wines are growing more and more interesting to international consumers and markets, who are increasingly seeking out wines of origin produced from indigenous grapes. This is especially true in more developed markets, such as Germany and Great Britain, where the rate of wine consumption is growing and the market is saturated with the most popular international varieties,” added Horvat.
Across six pavilions, visitors to ProWein were treated to a comprehensive snapshot of the world wine market and a selection of thousands of wines to taste. ProWein is an important bellwether of emerging trends and a showcase for new products and services, as well as an ideal venue for networking between visitors, producers, exhibitors, distributors and the media.
Summing up the positive results of ProWein 2011, Hans Werner Reinhard, Deputy Managing Director at Messe Düsseldorf, said: “We are delighted with an extremely successful event! Our positive expectations were even exceeded. ProWein 2011 went splendidly. ProWein was impressively able to underline its status as the leading international fair measured by all key performance indicators. It brings the supply and demand sides of the wine and spirits market together at an international level in a uniquely professional atmosphere and it is the perfect meeting point for the sector to showcase trends and innovations, to discover and discuss.”
Next year’s ProWein event is scheduled for March 4-6, 2012 in Düsseldorf.
[Sources: Nacional.hr article(in Croatian), published on March 28, 2011; ProWein press release, published March 29, 2011]
[Note: The views presented here are strictly my own and are in no way intended to reflect the views of the festival organizers or its sponsors and partners]
Okay, I know: It was too crowded. Too packed. Too small. Too hot and noisy. All those dead-end alleys stuffed with herds of winos, unable to move or escape. Winemakers unable to hear or speak with the guests; sometimes unable to access their stock of fresh bottles when faced with empties; unable to retreat to the bathroom…..
And yes, the coat room would completely filled-up by noon, forcing many guests to carry their heavy winter coats (it was cold in Zagreb!), scarves and bags around the tasting room floor.
And the last shuttle bus of the festival, in the cold night after a long day of tasting, apparently never showed up – forcing several guests (including me) to chase down taxis back to the hotel….
It’s all been said already.
But let me add this nugget: The festival was a victim of its own success.
The Museum of Contemporary Art Zagreb, where the festival was held, is a lovely facility that was barely adequate to accommodate the crowd that turned out to discover the wines within. Interest was obviously high, and it seems likely that the organizers underestimated the potential number of attendees. While open to the public, tickets were not cheap (150 Kuna, or about $30 – a lot of money for many Croatians), thereby screening out many (although not all) individuals who might otherwise see the event as a great way to have a drinking party with pals and buddies. Nonetheless, hundreds of people paid the money in exchange for a chance to taste some awesome juice and meet the faces behind the labels.
A recommendation for next year: Reserve 2-3 hours in the morning exclusively for accredited members of the trade and media to walk through, taste, chat with winemakers, and network with like-minded peers without the throng of public attendees (who could be admitted afterwards). Many tastings and expos I have attended over the years are organized in this fashion. It seems to work well.
To their credit, the organizers DID on the first day try to offer a solution by scheduling a 3-hour “by invitation only workshop” for “foreign wine journalists and wine buyers”. I was invited but honestly forgot about it in the swirl of activity and meetings. I also wonder who attended it, since most of the action and winemakers were out on the public floor.
The Café Bar
A refuge from the sensory overload and crushing grind of the tasting hall was the museum’s little café bar, a quiet place where exhausted refugees huddled to recharge their palates by drinking coffee, sparkling water – and beer. The little café was also a popular spot to hold business meetings (I had about 6 of them there), as well as a reliable source of fast, cheap eats in the form of sandwiches at 15 Kuna each (more about the general food situation in Part 3).
The VIP Guests
Each year the ZWGF seems to become a little bit less insulated and more outward focused. And that’s a great thing, as Croatia is an exciting emerging winemaking country that should be blowing its trumpets and utilizing all its tools and resources to draw attention to its fabulous winemaking history and culture.
This year was especially exciting, as the guest list included many interesting and important VIPs from the international wine trade and media. Among the VIP guests were Sarah Kemp and Christelle Guibert, respectively the Publishing Editor and the Tasting Editor from Decanter magazine; Gabriella and Ryan Opaz, founders of Catavinoand the European Wine Bloggers Conference; Peter Moser, Editor-in-Chief of Falstaff; Dr. Josef Schuller, Master of Wine; Lynne Sherriff, Master of Wine and Chairwoman of the Institute of Masters of Wine; and Nicolas Joly, legendary French winemaker and current godfather of the biodynamic movement, who conducted a fascinating seminar called “Biodynamics in Wine Growing”.
[One note for the record: Somewhere in the official ZWGF press materials and program booklet, I am listed as “Master Sommelier”. I am NOT a Master Sommelier but rather a “Certified Sommelier”. Out of reverent respect for the brilliant and hard-won achievements of real Master Sommeliers, my conscious demanded that I make this correction. I am, however, a master at consuming large amounts of wine; a master of procrastination; and master at a few other nasty habits. Yet a Master Sommelier I am not – but I hope to become one when I grow up.]
The Round Table Workshop
Another really interesting event at the festival was the Round Table Workshop, scheduled for the morning of Friday, February 25th. Unfortunately, the space for the workshop was again inadequate for the large number of people in attendance. It was also very noisy (one side wall was open and funneled all the noise from the main tasting hall into the workshop room). I found out afterwards that a number of people in the rear of the room could not hear the presenters, despite attempts to use a microphone, and left in frustration.
That is a pity, because the subject of the round table – “Perspective and real Potential of Croatian Wine and Wine Tourism” – was very important and interesting. Presenters included an eclectic mix of trade professionals: Saša Špiranec, Croatian wine reviewer and writer, gave an overview of Croatia’s wine regions, annual production, and grape varieties; Sarah Kemp provided perspective on the world of wine and how Croatia could become a player on the international market; Mr. Tony Hodges, Chairman of the London-based P.R. firm, brandstory, spoke of the power of storytelling in marketing; Duro Horvat, Managing Director for Agrokor(one of Croatia’s largest wineries), and winemaker Ivica Matošević provided some perspective from the viewpoints of their respective large and small wineries; Mr. Matošević also spoke of his marketing success as president of the Association of Winegrowers and Winemakers of Istria, Vinistra; and Ryan Opaz from Catavino spoke about the importance of social media in the wine trade.
The subject of my piece of the round table presentation was entitled, “The Openness of the U.S. Market to New Wine Regions” – like Croatia. You can watch a video of my presentation here on YouTube.
According to the ZWGF website, the festival featured over 130 exhibitors and included “crème de la crème” among Croatian wine and culinary stars (the official ZWGF roster included 76 Croatian wineries).
Over 500 wines from eight Croatian wine-growing regions were presented, as well as a selection of wines from Austria, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Germany, Italy, Montenegro, New Zealand, Slovenia, and South Africa.
In addition, about 16 vendors of food products and delicacies were among the exhibitors. From them I was able to secure a few slivers of prosciutto and salami when I was starving (which was always), washing them down with a cube or two of bread dipped in olive oil.
Next: The wines….
End of Part 2. Part 3 will follow very soon. Stay tuned!
Article by Saša Špiranec, courtesy of Playboy Magazine – Croatia
Translated and Edited by Cliff Rames, Wines of Croatia
By now many people have heard a lot of great things about Saints Hills Winery, but not many of us have actually tasted the wine. It’s like a Ferrari: everyone knows it’s a great car but very few of us have actually ever driven one.
The owner of Saints Hills Winery is smart and passionate. More important, he manages to skillfully combine these two very opposite characteristics. The truth is, passion and intelligence are two things in business that don’t always merge successfully – except, perhaps, in the wine business.
A good business strategy is not a guarantee of good wine. But a sincere emotional bond between the winemaker and the product is – thank God – usually a good start toward great wine.
Of course it is not a good business strategy to produce and bottle your first vintage and then, instead of releasing it onto the market, you give it away to friends. Needless to say, that approach is not profitable.
It is even less rational to release your second vintage and limit its distribution to just a dozen or so places, before giving away the rest. This approach, of course, only compounds the financial losses.
Along comes the third vintage, a wine that you feel meets the criteria of experienced and refined gourmets, and then you release the entire batch onto the market.
This decision is based in emotion, not business. It is the passionate next move of an artist who finally pulls away the curtain to reveal his creation for all to see and judge.
That is exactly what Saints Hills Winery owner, Ernest Tolj, has done. After five years of preparation, he has finally released the Saints Hills 2009 “Nevina” white wine, a blend of Malvasia Istriana and Chardonnay, as well as a red wine made from Plavac Mali, the Saints Hills 2008 Dingač.
And the wines are brilliant!
In today’s world, many affluent lovers of wine desire to produce wine under labels embossed with their own names. Once they realize that a winery has a hunger for money that is like a bottomless pit, most give up on the glorious notion of being able to sit in a restaurant with business partners and order a wine named after them.
Ernest Tolj is by far in a different camp. A serious businessman with huge ambitions, Tolj manages to merge business savvy and an unbelievable passion for wine into a clear and balanced production and marketing strategy.
He is also cognizant that he must absorb the losses of the past two vintages and carry them forward for at least the next three years. That, in fact, was the plan from the start.
And the current distribution plan is no less ambitious: Saints Hills wines will simultaneously enter the markets in Croatia, Serbia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Until now, no other winery in Croatia has achieved such a feat.
Such an ambitious plan requires the assistance of top notch people in the profession. Not surprising then that Mr. Tolj has hired the most important enologist/wine consultant of our time: Michel Rolland from Bordeaux, arguably the creator of some of the best wines in the world.
The grapes that will provide the backbone to Saints Hills wines are Malvasia Istriana (white) and Plavac Mali (red) from vineyards in Radovani, Istria (Malvasia) and the Dingač appellation (Plavac Mali) on the Pelješac peninsula – two wine-growing regions that currently show great potential.
Saints Hills 2009 Nevina
Nevina is a brave and successful blend of Malvasia Istriana and Chardonnay created in such a way that the Istrian terroir and the Malvasia character are preserved, with the Chardonnay simply serving to strengthen the structure and enrich the flavors. Perhaps Nevina is the harbinger of a new trend in Malvasia winemaking. Based on the preliminary results, I would hope that it is.
Nevina is an extraordinarily rich wine full with intense aromas and flavors. The color is light yellow with hints of green and reflections of gold. The alluring bouquet is harmonious and successfully merges together a range of diverse aromas. First on the nose are aromas of minerals infused with ripe peaches and spicy vanilla. As the wine opens up and the aromas unfold, intense tropical fruit notes emerge, such as grapefruit, pineapple and a hint of banana. On the end, yeasty notes dominate and deliver notes of bread crusts with butter and a hint of hazelnut. An unbelievable rich and attractive nose!
On the palate, the flavors are fully in balance with the array of aromas on the nose. Immediately an expression of minerality takes hold and, despite the soft acidity, provides an appealing sensation of freshness on the palate, as well as structure and a lasting finish.
A fresh and fruity profile rises on the mid-palate and fills out the body, only to return to the same mineral expression that dominated the early stages, only now it is slightly rougher and less polished.
The finish is great, very long lasting, and characterized by minerals and stone fruits. It is mild and pleasantly bitter, with a poignant aftertaste. Simply – a great wine.
Saints Hills 2008 Dingač
This wine has raised the bar and shifted the boundaries of experience. I have never tasted such a developed Dingač wine at such an early age. The 2008 vintage is already showing a level of development that other Plavac Mali wines from the 2006 vintage are just entering. With this first vintage, Saints Hills Dingač has already risen to become one of the five best Croatian Plavac Mali wines.
Its deep color shimmers with dark ruby, blood-red reflections, and garnet hues. The bouquet is intense and very beautiful, revealing spicy notes of black pepper, cedar, and dark chocolate interwoven with abundant fruity notes of plum, cherry, and dried figs.
This wine is full and powerful on the palate, yet it is also soft and endlessly smooth. The flavor is extraordinary with a pleasantly sweet attack that abounds with ripe black fruits infused with a sprinkle of piquant spices. However, the fruitiness is somewhat reserved on the mid-palate thanks to the heavy impact of tannin and alcohol, both of which will give the wine strength, backbone and stability in the long run.
Despite these extreme yet beneficial characteristics, the wine remains balanced, harmonious, and drinkable, with a body that is full with richly extracted flavors. Some expression of minerality emerges on the finish, which is rarely found in Plavac Mali. As the palate evolves, the wine returns us to its earlier fruitiness and sweetness, delivering a pleasant, long finish that gives rise to the fruit and spice notes from the nose, along with a hint of hazelnut on the very end.
Footnote from the Playboy Editors: Nevina and Dingač brought so much joy to our columnist that he proclaimed them “brilliant”. Now we wait to find out how much these wines will cost. We hope they won’t be as much as that Ferrari he mentioned!
I don’t usually write reviews which are not about wine. But one exceptionally valuable book forced me to compose my first book review. Luckily for me and my readers, the subject of the book is wine, which gives this review some credibility.
The book is called “Plavac Mali – A Croatian Grape for Great Wines”, written by Edi Maletić, Ivan Pejić and Jasminka Karoglan Kontić.
(Editor’s note: The Plavac Mali book was expertly translated into English by Jagoda Bush.)
The Croatian wine scene already owes a lot to this trio of scientists (with some more stress on the first two names), and this book is just a logical continuation of their productive and valuable work. Remember, it was these scientists who discovered the origins of Plavac Mali, as well as the fact that Zinfandel is actually a Croatian variety called Crljenak.
This trio of scientists also identified Malvasia Istriana as an indigenous grape, and then discovered that Malvasija Dubrovačka belongs to the same family as numerous Italian and Spanish Malvasias, like Malvasia delle Lipari.
Let’s not forget that they also saved a large number of indigenous grape varieties that were previously on the brink of extinction, and they have published many scientific papers. Edi Maletić is also publishes texts in mainstream magazines, and I must admit that I’ve enjoyed reading his columns for years. His style of writing is at first somewhat dry, factual and scientific. But he eventually incorporates interesting stories to which the general public can relate without losing their scientific value.
Their new Plavac Mali book is an example of such a style. It is extremely serious and competent, but written entertainingly enough so that anyone can (and must) read it. The most important parts deal with ampelography, which means that the book provides clear evidence of the origin of Plavac Mali, explains and defends the science behind the identification of the Croatian origin of Zinfandel (Crljenak), clears some misconceptions about the many local synonyms for Plavac Mali, and establishes and explains the relationship between Plavac Mali and other Dalmatian varieties.
Other parts of the book are also interesting, especially the section that explains the specific conditions required to transform Plavac Mali from a mediocre to a superior wine.
It is very interesting to know that this book was proposed and funded by the “Grozd” Plavac Mali Association. This is unique in that Grozd is an association of Plavac Mali consumers and enthusiasts – not winemakers. The fact that an association of consumers has contributed to the expansion and sales of a wine – more than all professional associations of winemakers and winegrowers together – is somewhat amazing. With the honorable exception of Vinistra, many Croatian associations of winemakers are not doing much, or if they are, we don’t see many results. In Grozd’s case, the result is fantastic: an excellent book about a unique and important grape variety which will be cited and used for decades.
Reviews of four excellent Plavac wines from three different vintages:
Korta Katarina Dingač 2006
Excellent vintage from a very ambitious winery. Its aroma is still dominated by the lingering presence of oak, which detracts from its appeal. But in the mouth it shows perfect harmony. The tannins are abundant but not astringent. The balance of alcohol, extracts and acids is excellent, and the finish is very long-lasting. Wait at least another year before drinking.
Bura Dingač 2007
Dingač is a superior vineyard site that managed to handle the very hot 2007 vintage well. While other Plavac wines from the same vintage are often overly mature already and somewhat dull, Bura’s high, mountainside vineyards are cool enough to give this almost concentrated wine the necessary balance and the final smoothness. Excellent wine.
Mare Postup 2007
Unlike Bura, Mare did not manage to stop the high level of sugar in the grapes, so part of the sugars remained in the wine, making it a bit sweetish. But at the same time the aromas are uniquely nice and intense. Dry figs, prunes and walnuts prevail. Beautiful wine. It is not a wine meant to be paired with food, but a glass or two of this sweet nectar at the close of the day makes an unforgettable experience.
Saints Hills Dingač 2008
This wine has not yet reached the market, but it is already on the way to become one of the best. It has a beautiful smell of pure Dingač aromas, like prunes, baked cherries and traces of dried figs mixed with finely balanced oak notes. The taste is extraordinary, incredibly mature for such an early vintage, amazingly balanced, rich and delicious, with tamed tannins, and in the end, despite its obvious strength, adequately soft and smooth.
Note from the Editor: Wines of Croatia is now accepting pre-orders for the Plavac Mali book. Limited quantities will be available in the U.S. in September 2010 – exclusively from Wines of Croatia. If you wish to reserve your copy, please email: email@example.com. Price: $35 (includes USPS Priority shipping to addresses in the U.S.; additional shipping costs will apply to addresses outside the U.S.)