Tasting Report from Croatia: Zagreb Wine Gourmet Festival 2010

Peter Moser

Peter Moser, wine writer and editor of Falstaff Magazine (http://www.falstaff.at/), one of Austria’s most widely-read magazines, recently visited Croatia to attend the 2010 Zagreb Wine Gourmet Festival, where he tasted some of Croatia’s finest wines from both the continental and coastal regions.

For posterity, I have compiled his tasting notes, recently published on Twitter (http://twitter.com/Falstaffmoser), and translated them from the German with the help of Google Translation and the Pons Deutsch-English dictionary.

Without further adieu, here’s Peter Moser:

Intro

“The trip to the Festival was more than worth it. Extremely well-organized. Will visit next year. Recommended.

My focus was on finding the best of the best. Falstaff will conduct a more extensive tasting in May.

WHITE WINES

Korak 2008 Sauvignon Blanc; Plešivica, Croatia

Spice, fresh gooseberries, freshly cut grass, grapefruit zest with elderflower (hollerblüten) nuances. Racy, with nettles, tropical fruit, lemony. Good length. 89 Points

Enjingi 2003 Venje Cuvée (GR/RR/SB/PG/TR); Kutjevo, Croatia

Medium yellow. Fine, well-integrated wood notes, ripe stone fruits (“steinobstanklänge”), herb seasoning, yellow tropical fruit, mineral. Dusty (“Stoffig”), creamy texture, fine structure, quite delicate, deliberate oxidation note, honey, floral hints, very good length, complex, silky reverberation, independent style, good potential. 91 Points

 Adžić 2009 Graševina; Kutjevo, Croatia

Medium yellow-green. 12.5% alcohol. Orange zest, fine herb seasoning, lemony shades, nutty, green apple twist. Dusty, apricot touch, lively, sweet stone fruits.  Uncomplicated food companion. 88 Points

Galić 2008 Graševina; Kutjevo, Croatia

12.8% alcohol. Medium yellow-green. Fine apple fruit, delicate herbal spiciness, mandarin orange zest. Juicy, balanced, fresh, very approachable (“trinkanimierend”). Fine grade stone fruit, extracted. For me one of the best dry white wines of Croatia. 91 Points

Krauthaker 2009 Viognier; Kutjevo, Croatia

13% alcohol. Light Green. Marzipan, white stone fruits, floral nuances, appetizing varietal aroma. Yellow apple, complex, delicate acidity, dusty echoes, balanced, a perfect summer wine. 90 Points

Krauthaker 2009 Zelenac (Rotgipfler); Kutjevo, Croatia

Light yellow-green. Apricot fruit, delicate blossom honey, ripe tropical fruit, smoky mineral. Elegant, subtle residual sweetness, fresh, spicy appeal, very good length, with potential for further development. 90 Points

Krauthaker 2008 Chardonnay Rosenberg; Kutjevo, Croatia

Bright green. A touch of flint, brioche, grapefruit zest, some marzipan, yellow apple. Complex, good balance, fine extract sweetness, yellow fruit, sticks well, a versatile food companion. 91Points

Next I tasted a range of high-quality Istrian Malvasia, although some tend to be fat and oxidative in character. The best came from Roxanich:

photo by Cliff Rames
Roxanich 2008 Malvasia Classica; Istria, Croatia

13.8% alcohol. Deep yellow gold. Grapefruit zest, herbs, yellow fruits, dark spice, delicate ethereal nuance. Delicate aromas of oregano. Elegant texture, mineral, well sustained, powerful, almost reminiscent of Burgundy. Salty nuances, great food companion. 91Points

As always, Kozlović was also very good.

Kozlović 2009 Malvasia; Istria, Croatia

13% alcohol. Bright yellow. Hints of pears, fresh fruit, delicate floral aromas. Lively, yellow apple fruit, racy acidity, lemon reverberation. Easy-drinking, approachable style. Harmonious and fresh. 89 Points

Kozlović  2007 Malvasia Réserve; Istria, Croatia

14% alcohol. Deep yellow gold. Floral, ripe peach, gooseberry, acacia. Resinous, full-bodied texture with a tender marshmallow texture. Elegant, fresh structure. Rose petals, reminiscent of Gewürztraminer. Caramel notes, peach fruit, mineral.  90 Points

Kozlović 2006 Malvasia “Santa Lucia”; Istria, Croatia

15% alcohol. Deep yellow gold. Ripe pear fruit, subtle herb seasoning, dried apricots, juicy pears. Richly extracted with a trace of residual sugar providing width. Hints of minerals, showing good length with salty finish. Has aging potential. 91 Points

Matošević 2008 Malvasia “Alba Barrique”; Istria, Croatia

13.5% alcohol. Light yellow gold. Fine herbal spice with mandarin orange zest, grapefruit, floral hints. Elegant, juicy, balanced, fine texture, well-integrated wood, good finish, mineral reverberation. Amazingly fresh. Has aging potential. Fine food companion. 90 Points

Poletti 2008 Malvasia; Istria, Croatia

13.3% alcohol. Mean, green yellow. On the nose notes of fine flower honey, apple and pear. Juicy tropical fruit on the palate. Vibrant structure. Enticing and approachable. Makes you want another drink. 89 Points

Meneghetti 2008 Bijelo (Chardonnay/Pinot Gris blend); Istria, Croatia

13.1% alcohol. Deep yellow green. Toasted biscuit, herb seasoning, honey melon, multi-layered. Extract sweetness, delicate touch of caramel, pineapple, peach. Racy structure, tender texture of Turkish delight. Yellow tropical fruit in the finish with dusty mineral reverberations. Good food companion. A mix of Istria and  Slovenian Biostar Alex Kristančič. 90 Points

Trapan 2008 Malvasia “Ponente”; Istria, Croatia

13% alcohol. Medium yellow-gold. Spicy, herbs and spices and orange zest, elegant, balanced. Delicate notes of honey. Fresh structure. A touch of citronnella on the finish. Tangy, easy-drinking, fine food companion. 90 Points

Next I tasted an interesting white wine made from an indigenous grape from the island of Pag, Gegić, made by the Boškinac winery:

Boškinac 2009 Gegić; Pag, Hrvatsko Primorje, Croatia

Gegic grapes

12.6% alcohol. Bright yellow. Ripe pear fruit, fine leaf spice, yellow apple. Mineral, good complexity, ripe white fruit, racy structure, a versatile food companion, light-footed, good length. 90 Points

To finish up the whites, I tried two Pošip wines from Dalmatia. My favorite comes from Korta Katarina.

Korta Katarina 2007 Pošip; Pelješac, South Dalmatia, Croatia

14.7% alcohol. Bright yellow. Smoky, complex aromas that are reminiscent of spicy herbs, honey, candied orange zest, with some dusty mineral notes. Round, elegant almost oily texture. Subtle orange notes on palate. Very good finish. 91 Points

Grgić 2007 Pošip; Korčula, Croatia

Medium yellow-green. White pear fruit, pineapple, a touch of vanilla, lemon zest. Juicy, good complexity, structure, racy, green apple, white tropical fruit, very lively, easy-drinking. 90 Points

Plenković 2009 Zlatan Pošip; Hvar, Croatia13% alcohol. Deep yellow, gold reflections. Honey, nuts, bitter orange zest, floral aromas of acacia. Taut, fresh, racy green apple. Approachable with a lemony mineral finish. A little commercial but well done. 89 Points
 
 
 
 

Posip grapes

RED WINES.

Roxanich 2006 Super Istrian Cuvée (40% CS / 40% ME, 20% Gamay); Istria, Croatia

13.5% alcohol. Dark ruby. Delicate violets, ripe cherries, a hint of precious wood, mandarin orange zest, dusty blackberry. Fine extract sweetness, with a refined structure and very good length showing hints of chocolate and delicate strawberry fruit in the aftertaste. At the moment the flavors are a little too present, need time to integrate. 92 Points

Meneghetti 2007 Crno (Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon blend); Istria, Croatia

14.1% alcohol. Intense chocolate note. Subtle floral hints, with dusty herbs, spices, nougat, orange peel. Elegant, balanced, perfectly integrated tannins, slightly bitter chocolate finish. Already approachable. Very versatile, full of finesse. 93 Points

Boškinac 2006 “Boškinac” (Cabernet Sauvignon/ Merlot blend); Pag, Hrvatsko Primorje, Croatia

14% alcohol. Deep, bold ruby color.  A touch of fine chocolate, dark berries, delicate wood, pleasant tobacco essence. Elegant on the palate, with a subtle fruit glaze flavor, well-integrated tannins, fine arch of acidity. Firm, palate coating, drinking very well already.  Good aging potential. 91 Points

Carić 2007 Plovac Ploski Barrique Plavac Mali; Hvar, Southern Dalmatia, Croatia

14.3% alcohol. Deep dark ruby. Clean black berry fruit, delicate wood notes, needs some air. Complex, powerfully present tannins, which are still very demanding and tight. Chocolate and mineral reverb on finish. Very good aging potential. 90 Points

Korta Katarina 2007 Plavac Mali; Pelješac, South Dalmatia, Croatia

photo by Cliff Rames

14.5% alcohol. Dark ruby, watery rim. Fine violet notes with black cherries, cloves and inviting nougat.  Soft creamy texture. Complex palate, tight minerals with delicate orange flavor and black fruits on finish.  89 Points

Miloš 2005 Stagnum; Pelješac, South Dalmatia, Croatia

14.3% Medium ruby. Wild strawberry preserves. Beeswax and fine floral notes, acacia flowers –  attractive. On the palate, dusty strawberry jam, some raspberry sauce, acacia honey and nougat in the finish. Powerful with very good length. Great food companion with refreshing finish. Good aging potential. 92 Points

 Andro Tomić 2007 Plavac Mali Barrique; Hvar, South Dalmatia, Croatia

14.3% alcohol. Deep dark ruby with opaque core, clear rim. Plum, cocoa, dried fruit, orange zest. Juicy on the palate, with prunes and a fresh acidic arch. Independent style with black currant and chocolate reverberating on the finish. 91 Points

And many, many more ….”

http://zagrebwinegourmet.com/

Tasting Plešivica: From Above & Below (Part 2 – Tomac)

Tomislav Tomac is an intense fellow. A trained enologist, he oversees the winery with his father, Zvonimir, and lovely wife, Martina. From our first handshake forward his restrained passion, precise sense of purpose, and deep devotion to achieving authenticity in his wine captured my imagination.

Tomac Winery

The Tomac family has been making wine in Plešivica for over 200 years, riding the currents of history through good and bad times, to emerge – somewhat ironically – as a pioneering force of traditional winemaking in the present-day Croatian wine scene.

With 5.5 hectares of vineyards, and production of 40,000 bottles a year, Tomac is a relatively small producer. Yet his ambitions loom large, inciting curiosity and respect among some, and raising brows among others. It was in this spirit that he recently decided to discontinue production of his much-loved basic Chardonnay (the Chardonnay Premier will continue to be produced only in the best vintage years) to make room for a new and completely different wine (more on that in a moment) that may not have as wide an appeal.

Traditional Oak Casks

Listening to Tomislav explain why he doesn’t own a single stainless steel tank (he ferments most of his wines in giant oak casks in the traditional manner), and how he uses only native yeasts, and how his vineyards harbor an array (over 4,000 vines) of ancient indigenous grape varieties from the Plešivica wine region, I couldn’t help but notice how he rarely stops moving and fussing about, his eyes frequently darting around the room, his presence marked by a sort of heightened awareness and kinetic energy that seemed to be infused with a mix of excitement, anxiety, annoyance and impatience.

But I was about to learn, on the contrary, just how patient he is.

While best known in Croatia for sparkling wines (“Millennium”, “Tomac Classic” “Tom” and “Rosé”), and excellent white wines (Chardonnay Premier, Graševina, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc), the wine I came to taste wasn’t in any vat, barrel, or bottle – it wasn’t even in the winery. Few people outside the family had ever tasted it. News of its existence was hushed and shrouded in mystery. This wine, the first ever of its type produced by Tomac, was buried in the ground in the yard.

Tasting Room, Tomac Winery

But I would have to wait to find out more. The perfect hosts that they are, Tomislav and Martina insisted that I eat lunch with them first: delicious roast veal that was until recently (I was told) happily grazing on grasses in the neighbor’s field. There were potatoes and vegetables from the family garden. Bread freshly baked by a relative. Locally-made cheese. And of course a fine selection of wines made from grapes that grow just up the hill from where we were sitting.

The Slow Food movement is nothing new in Plešivica: it is a traditional way of life.

In between chewing and chatting, we tasted the core Tomac line-up: the “Classic” sparkling wine and Sauvignon Blanc served as perfect aperitifs, the Classic showing yeasty apple and citrus notes, and the 2008 Sauvignon Blanc delivering a fruity (mango and peach), mineral quality with a subtle note of yellow flowers. The 2008 Riesling (fermented in wood) was fragrant with unusual aromas of strawberry and banana and a haunting note of spice – nutmeg, perhaps.

The 2005 Chardonnay Premier Sur Lie was perfect with the milky veal and roasted potatoes, offering a creamy pear and butterscotch profile couched in a rich, buttery texture kept lively by zesty acidity.

Eager with anticipation I stopped chewing and nodded a smile when Tomislav finally said, with a sudden gleam in his eye, the magic words: “Would you like to try the Amfora?”

Again I was reminded that there are no stainless steel tanks at the Tomac winery, just giant oak vats and an assortment of small barrels and casks.  And starting with the 2007 vintage,  six clay amphora (“amfora”) fermentation vessels joined the ranks.  Tomislav and his father had traveled to the Republic of Georgia, where they met with the makers of these antiquated pieces of winemaking history, and shipped six of them back to Croatia. Inside these vessels, now buried in the ground just beyond the winery parking lot, approximately 20,000 liters of Tomac Amfora wine waited to emerge from its dark seclusion.

Tomislav & the Amphora

Tomislav disappeared from the room for a few minutes and came back with an unlabeled, clear bottle, filled with beautiful amber-colored nectar. I felt nervous and honored to behold it at last. My mouth was watering.

“Here it is; still a little young”, he said rather sheepishly. “We’ll bottle it in a few weeks.”

Tomac Amfora is made using winemaking methods that date back 5,000 years – and recently made famous by Josko Gravner (a good friend of the Tomac family).  The must is fermented for 6 months in hand-made clay amphora buried underground.  During the first four weeks of fermentation, the must is stirred on a daily basis to ensure maximum skin contact and extraction.  After four weeks the amphora are sealed and no further human intervention occurs until 6 months later, when the wine is moved into oak barrels, where it will spend another 1.5 years.

Wine at rest, Tomac cellar

The wine Tomislav poured into my glass was the first result of that wait. Made primarily from Chardonnay (50%), Amfora also includes a field blend of grape varieties that are traditional in the Plešivica region: Graševina, Roter Veltliner, Plavec žuti, Sylvaner, Neuburger, Kraljevina and štajerska Belina.

Unusually beautiful in color and aroma, the Amfora offered a seductive bouquet of primary and tertiary aromas that were all at once alluring, haunting and comforting: warm winter spices, caramel, wet terra cotta, orange blossoms, ripe pear and apple, and a distinctive Sherry-like oxidative note. On the palate it was zesty and dry with a powerful acidity that strips the palate clean with every sip. Yet I didn’t find the wine to be astringent; in fact, it was soft – almost oily – on the finish, with a long spiced orange, stewed apple, and almond aftertaste.

Photo curtesy of http://www.jutarnji.hr

Like its historical pedigree implies, the Tomac Amfora is a wine for the ages. I expect that this wine will last for decades in the bottle and become richer, more seductive, complex and beautiful with age. Shouldn’t we all be so lucky?

Ah yes, how sweet it is to be around at that moment when the old becomes new again; when something beautiful that was forgotten is found again; when traditional ways suddenly seem “cool” to modern minds. I left Tomac winery feeling happy and excited about the future of wine in Croatia, and as I drove away I remembered that old quote from Victor Hugo: “God made only water, but man made wine.”

Divers in the Adriatic Sea sometimes find old amphora vessels that the Romans once used for wine. Elsewhere in our day, arguments brew over the merits of screw caps versus corks, plastic versus glass versus bag-in-the-box, and French versus American versus Hungarian or Slavonian oak (let’s not mention oak chips). Through all of this, as the centuries pass us by, one thing stands true: great wine happens when that perfect balance is struck between nature giving us her best efforts, and the winemaker knowing when to intercede and – most importantly – when to back-off and wait.

The Tomac 2007 Amfora is a charming example of when that happens. Great job, guys.

Note: The Tomac 2007 Amfora will make one of its first public appearances at the upcoming Zagreb Wine Gourmet Festival in Zagreb, Croatia on February 12 & 13, 2010. More info here: http://zagrebwinegourmet.com/

Text and Photos by Cliff Rames (except where noted), www.WinesofCroatia.com

www.Facebook.com/winesofcroatia; www.Twitter.com/winesofcroatia

 

Tasting Plešivica: From Above & Below (Part 1 – Korak)

A FIRE softly glowed, warming the rustic tasting room at the Korak winery. Polished wine glasses stood like good soldiers on long, wooden tables, ready to fulfill their mission.
Tasting Room, Korak Winery

Outside a damp low-hanging sky clung like layers of smoke on the upper slopes of the hills of Plešivica. I imagined that Ernest Hemingway, sitting here sipping a glass of wine, would have called them “hills like white elephants”. But that’s another story….

Read more