Valentine’s Day with the Donkey, the Poet and the Saint

By Cliff Rames © 2012

Indisputably the color of Valentine’s Day is red. Red hearts. Red roses. Red candy. Red velvet. Red blushing of the cheeks when one is happily asked by a secret admirer or sweetheart to “be my Valentine”.

Often the wine of the day is red too. Malbec, pinot noir, Rioja, Barolo, merlot and cabs are perennial favorites among mainstream consumers. While some of those wines may be fine choices, if you’re looking to impress your sweetheart with your creativity and red wine savvy, why not go with something a bit more adventurous and unique – like plavac mali from Croatia. 🙂

Exceptions to the February 14th red wine rule exist, of course. Last week Wine Spectator magazine published an article entitled “Oysters, Caviar and Sauvignon Blanc for Valentine’s Day” – a tempting and sexy suggestion that is bound to excite and convince some red wine drinkers to break with tradition and cross over to the white side.

Valentine’s Day is also a time when there is much chatter – and debate and disagreement – about wine and chocolate pairing. Is it a match made in heaven? The answer – especially in regard to dry wines – is probably not. Very sweet foods will make dry wine taste astringent and bitter. Wines with some residual sugar sweetness may succeed, but it’s hit or miss. To paraphrase a famous quote from Forrest Gump, when it comes to wine and chocolate pairing, “you never know what you’re gonna get”.  😉

But in case you’re really curious, we already did some of the matchmaking work for you – with mixed results – in an earlier post, Wine & Chocolate: Can Bura Dingac Find True Love This Valentine’s Day? Check it out and let us know if you have had luck with other wine and chocolate combinations. If you still remain a skeptic about the merits of the pairing, you have an ally in Remy Charest, whose excellent article called About That Wine and Chocolate Thing is quite educational and compelling.  

By far the most intriguing argument in favor of red wine at Valentine’s Day stems from a widely-circulated article in Wine Enthusiast Magazine called “Women and Wine: Red-Rules”. The article cites a study from the University of Florence (Italy) in which it was discovered that moderate consumption of red wine seems to increase a woman’s libido: “Women who consumed one to two glasses of wine a day reported an enhanced sexual appetite and improved sexual performance… researchers from the University of Florence study believe certain chemical compounds in red wine increased (sic) blood flow to one’s erogenous areas, ultimately causing an influx of sexual stimulation.”

Very interesting, indeed!  🙂

So – if you are now convinced that red wine is the way to go on Valentine’s Day, below you’ll find three Croatian red wine suggestions – all made from the indigenous plavac mali grape – to help tickle your fancy this Valentine’s Day. We’ve nicknamed them “the Donkey”, “the Poet” and “the Saint”, for reasons you’ll soon discover.

(photo by Cliff Rames)

Your choice of which wine to serve will depend on your mood, expectations and needs. If you want to release your inner animal and really romp, go for the playful power of the Donkey. If a more romantic, nuanced and sensitive approach is appropriate, let the Poet serenade and seduce you. If the evening demands a little divine intervention or magic touch, call upon the Saint.

Whatever your choice, each of these wines is delicious in its own right, full of character, charm, and mystique. All three wines are bursting with sexy, sun-drenched flavors of Croatia’s Dalmatian coast – where there just happens to be a heart-shaped island. You certainly can’t get hotter than that for Valentine’s Day!

1. “The Donkey”: Vinarija Dingac 2006 Dingač. This is the original, timeless Croatian classic with the donkey mascot on the label. It’s packed with savory fruit and earth aromas of dried fig and plum, brambly blackberries and cherry, licorice, rusted iron and iodine mineral notes, and a touch of leather. Funky yet friendly, this premium wine from the local cooperative on the Pelješac peninsula was aged in large, old wooden vats and has a touch of residual sugar that helps offset the dry, dusty tannins and gives roundness to the slightly baked fruit flavors. At 14% alcohol, it’s big but not overly powerful and shows a beautiful translucent garnet color. Enjoy with steak with black truffle butter and grilled portabella mushrooms or seafood risotto. And yes, there is enough viscosity and sweetness in the wine to hold up to a mild dessert. It works particularly well with the beloved hazelnut nougat chocolate from Croatia called Bajadera.  🙂

(photo by Cliff Rames)

2. “The Poet”: Miloš 2006 Plavac. Proprietor and winemaker Frano Miloš is known to recite his poetry for lucky visitors to his winery in Ston on the southern-most shores of the Pelješac peninsula. And like the man, his wines are sublime and slow to open. But when they do, they speak candidly and romantically of the place from which they came and of the struggle to remain kind and gentle in such a harsh, rustic and unforgiving landscape. “In hues the colors pour through the glass, reflecting shades in motion. In their layers they speak, narrate, whisper of a time of hardship” writes Frano. The 2006 Miloš Plavac delivers “garnet color with a salmon edge. Nose of red roses, autumn floor, mushrooms, and earth give way to red fruits and well rounded tannins. Frano oversees a simple vinification with natural yeasts, and 12 months in neutral Slavonian oak followed by 24 months bottle aging before release” (tasting notes by Blue Danube Wine Company).

(By the way: That earlier reference to oysters and Sauvignon Blanc? The good news is that Plavac Mali seems to be one of the rare red wines that can successfully pair with oysters. Read about it here and decide for yourself: Shucking Plavac.)

3. “The Saint”: Saints Hills 2008 Dingač, St. Lucia vineyard. The latest heir to the cult wine throne in Croatia, its prestige further fueled by famous wine consultant Michel Rolland’s involvement with the winery. This single-vineyard wine is made from plavac mali grapes grown on the steep, sun-drenched, seaside slopes of Croatia’s most-prized vineyard appellation: Dingač. Fermented in large wooden vats and aged for 15 months in French oak barrels, this full-bodied wine is rich with sun-baked black fruits, roasted herbs, dried fig, licorice and spice. Powerful (15.5% ABV) yet soft and elegant, this wine would do well to accompany braised beef short ribs, roast lamb, wood fire-grilled meats and fish, aged hard cheeses – and even dark bittersweet chocolate.  🙂

(photo by Cliff Rames)

PRESS RELEASE: Saints Hills Selected for Prestigious Merano Wine Festival

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ZAGREB (Croatia), September 3, 2010 – After a rigorous selection process, it was announced that Saints Hills Winery, together with the Bura/Mrgudić family winery, were chosen to represent Croatia at the 19th annual international Merano Wine Festival, one of the most exclusive and most elegant oeno-gastronomic events in Europe. The festival will be held November 5 – 8, 2010 in Italy’s picturesque resort town of Merano.

Merano, Italy

With its selection, Saints Hills 2008 Dingač becomes the first Plavac Mali wine from the Dingač appellation of Croatia’s southern Dalmatia region to be chosen for representation at this prestigious event.

Photo by Cliff Rames

To guarantee that the highest quality and most exclusive products are represented at Merano, only a limited number of wines are selected for recognition and participation. A panel of wine experts carefully evaluates each wine, and only those that achieve a minimum of 86 out of 100 points can be included in the “presentation and tasting of top class unique wines from all over the world”. Each candidate wine must also demonstrate a verifiable pedigree of origin and be “characterized by their intensity, complexity, elegance, and extraordinary personality”.

 

With 89 points, Saints Hills 2008 Dingač successfully secured a place among the 462 “chosen” wineries (336 from Italy and 126 from the rest of the world) who will be presenting their wines for tasting at this year’s festival. An estimated 5,000 visitors from around the world are expected to attend.

 

In addition to the 2008 Dingač, Saints Hills will also present its 2009 Nevina (a blend of Malvasia Istriana and Chardonnay).

Photo by Cliff Rames

The Merano Wine Festival is widely recognized as an important “meeting place”, a venue where representatives from wineries, hotels and restaurants, as well as wine writers, sommeliers, and other wine and culinary professionals can gather to network, taste the selected wines, and exchange information. Saints Hills Winery’s participation is a major opportunity to promote not only its own wines but also Croatia as a wine-producing country with a rich array of indigenous grape varieties and a unique terroir.

  

As a winery, to be included in the Merano festival is tantamount, for example, to being a musician who is asked to play at one of the world’s greatest music halls”, observed Ernest Tolj, owner and winemaker at Saints Hills Winery. “This is huge recognition for us, especially since we are one of the newest wineries in Croatia and our wines are just now entering the market in Croatia.”

Ernest Tolj (photo courtesy of Saints Hills)

Tolj adds: “I would like send a message to the participants of the Merano Wine Festival:  Premium quality wines – wines that have the unique characteristics of their specific terroir – exist in our part of the world.”  

Saints Hills vineyards in Dalmatia, Croatia

Established in 2006, Saints Hills Winery – in collaboration with one of the world’s most famous enologists, Michel Rolland – produces wines from vineyards it owns in Radovani (Istria), Pelješac (Dingač) and Komarna (Dalmatia).

Michel Rolland & Ernest Tolj

The inclusion of the Saints Hills 2008 Dingač and 2009 Nevina at the Merano Wine Festival couldn’t be timelier: Exports of Croatian wines to Western Europe and the United States are increasing, and Saints Hills wines are poised to enter the U.S. and U.K. markets in the coming months.  

Saša Špiranec, one of Croatia’s leading wine writers and experts, notes that participation in prestigious wine events like Merano not only shines a global spotlight on the individual producers who are present but also on the whole country’s wine industry.

Steven Spurrier scoring Croatian wines at LIWF (photo by Fine Wine Croatia)

At the moment, Croatian wines are trying to find their place among very strong competition on the international market. Participation in events such as Merano is an opportunity to present the potential of Croatia’s indigenous varieties and show that they can stand equally alongside the international competition”, Špiranec added.

 

Saints Hills Winery recently presented its wines at several international tastings, most notably in London and New York, and generated a lot of interest in Croatia’s indigenous varietal wines. Julia Harding, a Master of Wine and member of Jancis Robinson’s eminent team of wine reviewers, tasted the Saints Hills 2007 Dingač at the London International Wine Fair in May 2010. Her score of 16.5 points (out of 20) was to date her second-highest rating of a Croatian wine.

Photo courtesy of Merano Wine Festival

For additional information about the 19th annual international Merano Wine Festival, go to: http://www.meranowinefestival.com/

Press Release Contact:

Marko Kovač, VinMedia

Tel: +385 99 735 73 99

Email: marko@vinmedia.eu

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Michel Rolland Discovers Malvasia Istriana from Croatia

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Translated and edited by Cliff Rames from the original Vinistra press release (in Croatian):  http://vinistra.com/news/for-media

Michel Rolland, the world’s leading wine consultant and enologists, recently toured a few wine regions of Croatia. On July 2, 2010, he also attended a tasting of 28 Malvasia Istriana (Malvazija Istarska) wines at San Rocco restaurant in the Istrian town of Brtonigla. 

photo courtesy of Vinistra

The tasting, organized by Saints Hills Winery with the support of the association of Istrian winemakers, Vinistra, was also attended by a dozen Croatian winemakers, enologists and experts in the field.

photo courtesy of Vinistra

After the tasting, Mr. Rolland said that, in his assessment, the 28 Malvasia wines he tried were well-made, refreshing and very approachable. He added that with Malvasia Croatian winemakers have an opportunity to present the international market with a unique wine of a specific character.

photo courtesy of Vinistra

The goal of the tasting was to present Mr. Rolland with a cross-section of Malvasia wines that are representative of the wide range of styles available of the market, ranging from simple, refreshing, early-drinking wines to highly extracted, wood-aged versions.

“Malvasia wines are very well made, fresh and refreshing. They are all good, with different characteristics. None of the wines were flawed, which is very good for the future of winemaking in Croatia. Paired with the food I tried in the past few days, the wines were perfect,” Rolland said – adding that still there is room for improving their quality.

Bruno Trapan & Michel Rolland ( photo courtesy of Vinistra)

Mr. Rolland also had the opportunity to meet with a number of local winemakers and enologists to discuss the history and conditions of winemaking in Istria, characteristics of the grape variety, winemaking techniques, different approaches of vinification, and the long-term the potential of Malvasia. 

Ernest Tolj & Michel Rolland (photo courtesy of Vinistra)

Among the producers represented at the tasting were Benvenuti, Brčić, Coronica, Clai, Degrassi, Franc Arman, Geržinić, Kabola, Kozlović, Prince, Krulčić, MaDeBaKo, Matošević, Pilato, Piquentum, Poletti, Radovan, Roxanich, Saints Hills and Trapan.

Michel Rolland traveled to Croatia at the invitation of Ernest Tolj of Saints Hills Winery. Support for the Malvasia tasting was provided under the umbrella of the Istrian winemakers association, Vinistra. 

Tolj & Rolland at Dingac (photo courtesy of Saints Hills Winery)

Saints Hills Winery, which was established in 2006, owns three vineyards and two wineries, one in Istria and one in Dalmatia (where it produces wine from two distinct vineyards sites, Dingač and Komarna).

Mr. Rolland began consulting for Saints Hills winery two harvests ago. Mr. Rolland’s mission is to assist Saints Hills – in the vineyard and the cellar – to produce wines for the domestic and international markets that are the best expression of indigenous varieties they represent and the unique terroir represented in each of the three vineyard sites where the grapes grow. 

Saints Hills "Nevina" (blend of Malvasia & Chardonnay)

“Croatia has several positive conditions for wine production. First of all, it’s a fantastic tourist destination. More and more people are traveling to Croatia, and there they are drinking Croatian wines, which is the best publicity. Once they return home, these tourists will talk about their Croatian wine experience. Secondly, the wines are original and should be in the international market. For international buyers there is always a curiosity factor, because people like new wines from new places. Of course, the bottle should contain good wine!” Rolland explained.

Mr. Rolland said that marketing and positioning will play a key role in the international market, which will very quickly define the price it is willing to pay for Croatian wines.

photo courtesy of Vinistra

“Croatia’s baseline market is Croatia, which is also a very beautiful environment in which to promote wine”, concluded Rolland.

(Born in 1947, Michel Rolland is the world’s leading wine consultant and enologist. He has 100 clients in 13 countries and is known for his unique style of consultation in the world of viticulture and winemaking.)  

 

 

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