In September 2015, Fred Dexheimer, one of only 230 Master Sommeliers in the world, visited Croatia and spent four days touring the Dalmatia and Istria wine regions. Wines of Croatia recently caught up with Fred (who moves very fast!) for an exclusive interview, in which he reveals his impressions of the trip and expert opinions on the wines he tasted.
(While this in fairly old news now, for the sake of posterity and future curious minds – and anyone who might have missed it all – here is a recap of the Wines of Croatia Grand Portfolio Tasting event in New York City back in June, along with two videos of the festivities. It was a great day, one that we hope to repeat next year and on in other locations. Stay tuned – and enjoy this look back in time.)
On June 13, 2011, Wines of Croatia – in partnership with the Association of Winemakers at the Croatian Chamber of Economy (Hrvatska Gospodarska Komora) and the Consulate General of the Republic of Croatia in New York – held the first-ever Grand Portfolio Tasting of the country’s top wines.
The event, held at Hudson Terrace in New York City, was attended by 120 sommeliers, wine buyers, journalists, bloggers and other trade personnel.
At this historic invitation-only tasting, nearly a dozen producers from Croatia’s leading boutique wineries poured their terroir-specific wines from the continental and coastal regions of Croatia.
Guests of the Grand Tasting were treated to wines produced from an array of indigenous grape varieties, including Malvasia Istriana, Pošip, Teran, Plavac Mali, Graševina, Malvasia of Dubrovnik, Babić, Debit, Crljenak Kaštelanski, and Žlahtina, as well as international varieties like Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Riesling.
Prior to the rooftop walk-around tasting, an educational seminar was conducted by Certified Sommelier and Wines of Croatia founder, Cliff Rames. Guest speakers at the seminar included Joe Campanale, sommelier and co-owner of Anfora Wine Barin New York City, and winemaker Ivica Matošević.
Here is a really cool video documenting the day’s events:
Representatives of the Croatia Chamber of Economy included Davor Komerički, Morana Stinčić, Igor Barbarić, Ivona Grgan, and Božica Marković. Representing the Consulate General of the Republic of Croatia in New York and joining us as honorary guest was Consul General, Marijan Gubić.
To salute Croatia’s status as a truffle-producing nation, a noted truffle hunter from Tartufino was also on hand to discuss Croatia’s deep historic connection with truffles from the Istria region.
Two weeks ago, I had the great pleasure of attending – for the first time – the 2011 North American Wine Bloggers Conference (#wbc11), which was held July 22-24 in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Coming along for the ride in the hope of finding love was a tote full of Croatian wines, some of which were samples kindly provided by importers (Blue Danube Wine Company, Vinum USA, and Oenocentric), and others from my personal collection. My hope was to share them at some point with my fellow bloggers and winos – or anyone else who wanted to learn about and taste them.
But where? When? I was just a conference attendee, not a sponsor or part of the official program, upon which I consciously did not want to intrude.
To make a long story short, on the last afternoon of the conference (Saturday) Fred Dexheimer MS and I hatched the idea to invite folks up to his room after the evening’s program of activities concluded for an “unofficial” Croatian wine tasting – or as it came to be known, the #afterafterparty.
At 3:45 pm the first tweet went out: “#wbc11 peeps – come join us tonight! Pouring Croatian wines with @FredDexMS…room 606 after 10. The Plavac calls! BYG.”
Then at 8:09 pm: “Native grape jamboree: Plavac! Crljenak! Malvasia Istriana! Posip! Babic! Teran. #Croatiacrawl tonight! After 10, rm 606. #wbc11”. Followed by: “The Donkey calls! Plavac Mali & friends! ##WBC11 peeps come say hi: rm 606 after 10. #Croatiacrawl”.
The rest we left to the mysterious ripples of Twitter and the magic of social networking….
A huge THANK YOU to everyone who heard the Donkey call, retweeted my tweets, spread the word, and showed-up for our little impromptu tasting. Never in my wildest dreams did I expect so many people. Room 606 was bursting at the seams! And the Croatian wine – as Fred tweeted at 11:09pm – “flowed like water”!
Unfortunately, my small allotment of bottles was quickly consumed by many a curious blogger. But not before I had the chance to meet some very special people, folks of all ages who appreciate wines that are perhaps a little different, a bit tongue-twisting to pronounce, sometimes a little funky, but always authentic and interesting.
An extra special thanks to Richard Jennings, who made a valiant effort (despite the growing crush of a crowd) to listen to my descriptions of each wine and record notes. You can read his excellent blog post about the #wbc11 conference HERE, which included these very sweet words: “I did see a Twitter invite, however, for a Croatian wine tasting happening upstairs in someone’s room, from Cliff Rames, who has retweeted my few blog posts about Croatian wines (attracting large numbers of viewers to those posts), so I decided to check that out before heading back to my hotel. I’m glad I did. I got to meet Cliff…and tasted there several of the most interesting wines I tried all weekend.”
A special thanks also to Eric Asimov, Chief Wine Critic for the New York Times, who also stopped by and asked me to choose just two wines for him to taste. As it happened, at that moment I was pouring the Krajančić 2009 Pošip Intrada and Korta Katarina 2006 Plavac Mali, which were fine choices in any event.
As any true professional would, Mr. Asimov quietly tasted the two selections, politely thanked me, then wandered off to enjoy the company and energy of the Room 606 crowd.
OMG! He showed up! Perhaps out of curiosity, perhaps out of boredom, perhaps out of genuine interest….Only Eric knows. But let us hope that one day he wanders over again to taste a bit more and – just maybe – that important day will arrive when Croatian wines appear in The New York Times Wednesday wine column.
For those of you who came out to Room 606 that evening, and for those of you curious about the wines, here is the list of what was served:
1. Krajančić 2009 Pošip “Intrada” – Korčula island, Southern Dalmatia
8. Korta Katarina 2008 Plavac Mali – Pelješac, Southern Dalmatia
9. Zlatan Otok 2008 Crljenak Kaštelanski – Makarska, Southern Dalmatia (corked; removed from line-up)
10. Saints Hills 2008 Plavac Mali Dingač, Sv. Lucia Vineyard – Pelješac, Southern Dalmatia
There may have been a few others, but at some point during the crush of the evening I lost track of the bottles and surrendered any illusion of a systematic tasting. As a dear experienced drinking friend of mine often says, “One tastes like two, two tastes like three, and after three, it’s away all boats.”
And so it was. Until around 1 am – when a nice security officer from the hotel asked us to move to the hotel lobby or break it up. We were too much for Room 606 and apparently for its neighbors too….
All-in-all, it was a wonderful conference – the highlight of which was (for me) the #afterafterparty in Room 606, where for just a little while Croatian wines were the center of attention, making new friends and (hopefully) a few happy memories for those of you who were so kind to come. Thank you again!
One last thanks goes to Fred Dexheimer MS, who is always a source of inspiration. I never cease to be amazed by the man’s energy. It was Fred who was the occupant of the now legendary Room 606 in the Omni Hotel, Charlottesville, and who generously offered the place for the first-ever (albeit unofficial) #croatiacrawl at #wbc11.
Thank you, Fred, for your ongoing support and encouragement. You rock, dude!
If anyone is interested in writing about Croatian wines for your blog, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Živjeli!” (“Cheers!”, in Croatian). I hope to see you all again at next year’s conference in Portland, Oregon. #wbc12 – the best is yet to come!
“I make high quality wine, and along the way I have fun too.” –Juraj Sladić
In the village of Plastovo, the Sladić family (http://www.vinasladic.com/) has been making wine for generations. With the passage of time this time-honored tradition has been handed down from family member to family member. Now the time has come for a new beginning, a fresh infusion of youthful energy.
For Marinko Sladić, the current winemaker at the Sladić estate, the time has come to pass the torch, and the decision about who shall inherit the land is easy: Juraj, his eldest son, has been helping out in the vineyard and cellar for years.
For Juraj, a student of the University of Agriculture in Zagreb with just one exam left before graduation, there is no doubt: he is ready to return to his family’s vineyard and make his father proud.
“As soon as I learned to walk, my father led me to the vineyards, and I immediately gabbed onto a hoe”, Juraj remembers with a smile.
He openly admits that attending the University of Agriculture wasn’t his first choice; he wanted to study languages.
Knowing that his father carried all the weight of the family’s wine production responsibilities on his shoulders, Juraj decided to listen to his wisdom and do something that would eventually help him.
Soon Juraj found himself sitting in a University classroom listening to lectures about fermentation, bottles and casks, and grape varieties. Before he knew it, he was daydreaming about the labels that would one day grace his bottles and celebrate the family’s Debit and Plavina wines.
“I wanted to take the family tradition to a new level, higher heights. So I decided to study agriculture. This job is a dream come true. It combines heavy physical work, which actually relaxes my mind. Besides that, it’s a profession in which you can travel a lot and meet many different people.”
Juraj then showed off the new label that he conceptualized and designed with his younger brother, Ante. It is for a wine that will be called “Juran”.
His brother Ante has chosen a similar path. Once he finished electrician school, he plans to turn his attention to winemaking.
We were curious to find out who learn from whom, sons from father, or father from sons.
“From my father I learn the practical, hands-on stuff”, say Juraj. “From me he learns the theories.”
Younger brother Ante then adds: “I learn from them both and keep quiet”.
The Sladić family jewels are four indigenous grape varieties – Debit, Maraština, Plavina and Lasina – that number 8,000 vines in total. Juraj, beaming with boundless enthusiasm and love, drew a map and showed us where each and every one grows.
“Maraština grows in the youngest vineyard; we plan to fully convert this vineyard to natural growing techniques. As for Debit, we are determined to return it to its former glory. Over the last 50 years, Debit became an underrated and underappreciated variety because of the way the big wineries treated it, basically making cheap blends from it”.
In regard to the red varieties, Jure tells us how Lasina was nearly a forgotten variety, yet it shows great potential.
The quality of Sladić wines was given credibility when Croatian-American sommelier, Cliff Rames, recently tasted them and gave a positive review to the 2009 Debit. (Editor’s note: the review is included below.) Now bottles of Sladić wines are highly sought all over Croatia, from Rijeka to Split.
Even though Sladić wines seem to shine with something special, this is not an accident, but clearly the result of three generations’ worth of love and passion invested in the vineyards and the final product.
Sladić 2009 Debit
“A nice example of what a fresh style Debit should be – light, refreshing, with just enough aromatics to make it interesting but not enough to interfere with delicate seafood and other light foods that it can accompany. The crisp acidity and bitter note on the finish made it an excellent palate cleanser, and the combination of sea salt, citrus and floral notes make this a very attractive and delicious wine. A clean, straightforward and very refreshing style that should be served very cold. Best when paired with oysters, white, delicate fish, and green salad with fresh goat cheese.” (Cliff Rames)
Master Sommelier, Fred Dexheimer, also shared his tasting notes of the Sladić 2009 Debit on Twitter: “Indigenous central coast grape of Croatia. Seashell, lemon a touch of bitterness. Can taste the sea! Albarino-like!”