There’s Gold in Them Hills: World of Malvasia 2011 Results

Three years ago the organizers of Vinistra (the annual wine festival of the Association of Winegrowers & Winemakers of Istria, Croatia) launched the first World of Malvasia (“Svijet Malvazije”) competition, an event that precedes by a couple of weeks the annual Vinistra wine expo, with the results formally announced on the first day of the fair.

Each year producers of Malvasia from around the world are invited to submit wines made from any of the numerous sub-categories of the Malvasia Bianca family of grapes that exist in the Mediterranean basin.

Malvazija Istarska

Not surprisingly, given that the event is organized by Vinistra and held in the lovely Croatian seaside town of Poreč, Malvazija Istarska is typically the most common variety of Malvasia represented in the competition. Malvazija Istarska – or Malvasia Istriana – is native to an area that encompasses the Istrian peninsula of Croatia, western Slovenia, and northeast Italy (Friuli).

However, fine examples of other sub-varieties of Malvasia usually find their way to the competition and are a welcome reference point of comparison. This year’s event showcased examples of Malvasija Dubrovačka (Malvasia of Dubrovnik), Malmsey, and Malvasia Volcánica, in addition to the ubiquitous Malvazija Istarska.

Malvasija Dubrovačka

For the purposes of judging, the wines are organized into three categories:

1)  Still Dry Wines

2)  Natural Sweet Wines

3)  Liqueur Wines (Fortified Wines)

To ensure a perception of impartiality and to give the competition international creed, the International Organisation of Vine and Wine (OIV) sponsors the event and oversees the judging, which is conducted by teams of wine professionals, including sommeliers, journalists, wine buyers and restaurateurs.

(photo courtesy of Vinistra)

This year, the World of Malvasia competition was held April 27-30, 2011 and included a record number of submissions: 219 wines from five countries (Croatia, Slovenia, Italy, Portugal, and Spain).

“For the third consecutive year and with a record number of submissions, the World of Malvasia competition has further established itself as the premier forum for the contemplation, discussion, and evaluation of Malvasia as a grape variety and wine”, said Mario Staver, president of the Vinistra Evaluation Committee.

On May 13, 2011, at a formal ceremony on the opening day of the 18th annual Vinistra wine expo, the 2011 World of Malvasia winners were announced.

Of the 219 wines submitted for judgment, a total of 65 received medals, with Gold medals awarded to 43 wines and Silver medals to 22 wines.

Croatia dominated with a total of 32 Gold and 17 Silver medals. Italy received four Gold and two Silver medals, while Slovenia followed with three Gold and three Silver – all in the “Still Dry Wines” category. Portugal finished with three Gold medals, while Spain scored one Gold medal in the “Liqueur Wines” category.

(photo courtesy of Vinistra)

“When you look at the results of this year’s competition, it is evident that the average quality of the wines continues to improve. In other words, year-after-year Istrian producers are producing better and better wines. That is a trend that I am sure will continue,” said Ivica Matošević, president of Vinistra.

Taking the only “Grand Gold” medal was a dessert wine from Croatia, the 2009 Vin de Rosa by Sergio Delton – a little-known producer from Vodnjan in Istria. At 92 points, the Vin de Rosa was the highest scoring Malvasia wine of the competition.

The second-highest scoring Malvasia wine (90.67 points) was 10-year old non-vintage Madeira from Justino’s in the “Liqueur Wines” category. The third-highest score (89.83 points) went to a Malvasia Volcánica wine: the 1956 Canari from Bodegas El Grifo in Spain.

Keeping with the underdog theme, two relatively unknown producers – M&G International from Umag, Croatia and Franko Radovan from Višnjan, Croatia – each (with 89.6 points) took home a Gold Medal for their 2010 vintages in the “Still Dry Wines” category.

Franko Radovan (photo by Cliff Rames)

(Side note: Franko Radovan’s home and winery are in a village just outside of Višnjan, a hamlet called Radovani. Yes, Franko – like the more-famous Moreno Coronica – has a village named after him too!)

The only other producer to achieve the 89-point threshold was Benvenuti, a winery in the medieval hillside town of Motovun in Istria, Croatia. Their sweet 2009 Malvazija Istarska was awarded 89.5 points, putting it in second place in the “Natural Sweet Wines” category and making it the fifth-highest score of the competition.

Nikola Benvenuti (photo by Cliff Rames)

Hot on Malvasia Istriana’s tail in the “Still Dry Wines” category is a Malvasija Dubrovačka (Malvasia of Dubrovnik) from Crvik winery in southern Dalmatia, just below Dubrovnik. With 85 points, the 2009 vintage was the only Croatian “Malvasia” from outside of Istria to win a medal.

It is interesting to note the many different styles of Malvazija Istriana represented within the “Still Dry Wines” category. There are young, fresh, unwooded versions (most of the 2010 vintages). There’s Malvasia aged in traditional oak (Matošević). Aged in acacia (“akacija”) wood (Kozlović; Matošević). Extended skin maceration (Vina Gordia Kolomban). And even a Malvasia fermented in amphora (Kabola).

Kabola Amfora

It could be said that Malvasia’s diversity and ability to express a wide-array of characteristics is both a blessing and a curse. Whatever you may think, the 2011 World of Malvasia competition is an important venue that showcases the international appeal of this often misunderstood grape and reveals the many fascinating expressions of its geographical origin across a wide arch of Mediterranean terroirs.

Like in any large family, you have winners and losers, geniuses and dopes, artists and scientists, poets and pedestrians, easy-going personalities and difficult-to- understand characters.

(photo courtesy of Vinistra)

But there’s no denying that the sum of all these parts is a colorful kaleidoscope of diversity: from straw-yellow freshness to “orange wine” wackiness; from bone-dry minerality to lusciously sweet indulgence; from bitter almond palate teasers to mouth-filling acacia-flower and honey scented “sweeties”; from low-alcohol refreshment to fortified power. Malvasia – via its many brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, cousins, and other relatives once-removed – offers something for every palate.

So choose your winner – and raise your glass to the many intrepid producers who are digging for gold in the red, white and lava-soiled hills that rise so beautifully in the world of Malvasia. Your palate may shine as a result.

(photo courtesy of Vinistra)

Plavac Mali: The Jewel of Dalmatia

By Matthew Drazick Halip, Guest Blogger

On a recent, chilly spring evening, I was sitting at my desk, pen poised over paper, contemplating an open bottle of Plavac Mali red wine. With every sip, memories of my visit to Grgić winery in Croatia flashed inside my head: the perfume of lavender fields and saltwater; the sound of the crashing waves at Trstenik Beach; and the faces of the two kindly women who introduced me to the bottle that began my love affair with wine.

(photo courtesy of http://www.limun.hr)

That introduction came four years ago, when my cousin and I commandeered a relative’s car and went zipping across the grape-vine covered hillsides of the Pelješac peninsula, a 40-mile long finger of land that points out into the Adriatic Sea in southern Dalmatia.

(map courtesy of http://www.find-croatia.com)

We were on a mission to find “the Man”, Mike Grgich. Or least to visit his “other” winery.

Grgic Winery (photo courtesy of http://www.palmspringslife.com)

Above us, the golden sun glistened in the afternoon sky, illuminating the jagged white limestone that ringed the coastline, briefly giving way to the calm cove and smooth pebble enclave that is Trstenik beach.

Suddenly I was overtaken by a feeling of serenity. The sights before me – the sparkling Adriatic Sea, olive trees, wild-herb covered hills, and emerald vineyards clinging to the steep slopes – took my breath away. This was no longer the Motor City. What was unfolding before me was something akin to a fairytale landscape.

(photo courtesy of pixdaus.com)

The anticipation of the day’s event had butterflies fluttering inside my stomach, sending ripples of excitement throughout my body. After a quick stop to gaze out from another of the many scenic roadside lookouts, I turned to my cousin, Romana Prepolec, and asked her when we would be heading to the winery. Smiling, she simply said (in her charming Croatian accent), “We can go whenever you’re ready.”

The drive to the Grgić winery was short (nothing is too far away on the sparsely-populated Pelješac peninsula), but just long enough for my excitement to make me impatient. But soon enough, just after another curve in the winding road, a white sign with painted words appeared, indicating that we had arrived at the historic winery.

(photo by Cliff Rames)

A gravel driveway lead up to a simple white building that was tucked into a small grove of pine trees. Just beyond the trees, descending down toward the sea, chartreuse-colored Plavac Mali vines thrived in scattered clusters, clinging to a tumble of rock and wild herb-strewn slopes. Hanging from them were conical bunches of purple and burgundy berries, ripening in the hot sun.

(photo by Cliff Rames)

“Dobro došli u vinariji Grgić” two women casually welcomed us as we walked inside the tasting room of the iconic winery.

My cousin returned the Croatian greeting as I tried to absorb the majestic nature of this place where an international winemaking star calls his second (or “first”?) home.

Mike Grgich (photo courtesy of Grgich Hills Winery)

Miljenko “Mike” Grgich, of Grgich Hills Winery in Napa Valley, grew up in this part of Croatia, drinking wine his father made from native Plavac Mali grapes. After emigrating to the United States, Mike Grgich went on to achieve international recognition, after the Chardonnay he made for Chateau Montelena won the now-famous Paris tasting of 1976.

Many years later, Mike returned to his Croatian homeland, and in 1995 he established Grgić Vina on this very spot where I stood – ready to begin tasting the Grgić Plavac Mali that the two nice women poured for me.

The crimson colored wine shimmered in the sunlight as I swirled the juice inside my glass. Plum and black cherry aromas rose up and caressed my nose, awakening my senses with each inhale. Romana raised her glass and said “Živjeli” (in the traditional Croatian salute for “Cheers”) as we clinked our glasses together. My mouth began to water at the prospect of the first sip.

(photo by Cliff Rames)

At once I could tell the wine was hearty: Ripe flavors of dried and stewed fruit, Mediterranean herbs and spices, and a touch of oak coated my palate. The combination of flavors had my taste buds abuzz with delight, eager for the next sip.

The afternoon drifted away in a wash of wine, good conversation, and a short tour of the winery property (the grape press that Mike used to make the Chardonnay that won the Paris tasting is now on display at the winery). Finally, my cousin and I left the winery with a prized bottle in hand, a smile on our purple lips, and daydreams of a return trip to this beautiful site.

Plavac Mali vines near Grgic Winery (photo by Cliff Rames)

While I am still waiting to take that trip back to Grgić winery to relive the glory of tasting Plavac Mali in its native home, I will have to be content with opening a bottle of Grgić Plavac Mali every once in a while to taste, smile, and dream….

For me, Plavac Mali is more then just a wine. It’s an unforgettable memory, a unique experience, a special feeling that that makes the hair on my arms stand up when I think of it touching my lips.

Plavac Mali (photo by Cliff Rames)

This Croatian grape with the funny name spilled the dark ink of juice with which I began to record my lifelong story of wine tasting – setting the bar high as I taste my way through the world of wine, from Alicante Bouschet all the way to Žlahtina.

(photo by Cliff Rames)

Grgić 2007 Plavac Mali (Pelješac Peninsula, Southern Dalmatia, Croatia)
Deep ruby color tinged with garnet. Distinctive aromas of muddled plum skins, mission fig, black cherry, and dried cranberries, with hints of Mediterranean herbs, sea salt and powdered limestone, and infused with sweet oak notes of chocolate and cafe au lait. On the palate, the wine is a contradiction of rusticity and elegance: bold, somewhat course tannins give a rugged frame to a mouth feel that seems smooth, rich and lush all at once. Super ripe black fruits, dried fig, spice, anise and mocha notes coat the palate and linger on the finish. The wine feels slightly overripe, and with 15,1% alcohol, it is powerful and a bit aggressive at the moment. But bright acidity provides the vibrancy to give it lift and freshness, and the warm alcohol glow yields to the sun-baked flavors. Still young, the wine would benefit from a few years’ cellar time – or 1-2 hours in the decanter prior to serving. -C.R.  (Imported by Vinum USA: http://www.vinumusa.com/)

Matthew Drazick Halip is a Croatian-American food & wine blogger, student and sports aficionado from Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. He current resides in Greensboro, North Carolina. His blog is called Motor City Munchies: http://motorcitymunchies.blogspot.com/ 


A Waltz through Wines of Croatia History: It’s Dingač, Dummy

Text by Cliff Rames, © 2011

{Note: This is the follow-up installment of a two-part post. Click here for Part 1.}

It was around the summer of ’91 when things really became interesting. The virtual seeds that were sown in my conceptual vineyard the year before took root and began their climb toward the sun.

(photo by Cliff Rames)

Back in Croatia, I went to visit relatives on one of the thousand-plus islands that are sprinkled like seashells up and down the Dalmatian coast.

(photo courtesy of http://www.yachtingincroatia.com)

One afternoon over lunch, the subject of wine came up, which led to a debate about the merits of my uncle Zoran’s (aka “Bugi”) homemade wine (it was drinkable when mixed with water, in a traditional Dalmatian mix called “bevanda”).

Finally, Uncle Bugi told me about a wine named Dingač and urged me to try it.

“Ding-gatch”, I said. “What’s that?”

Bugi didn’t know the specifics. He just heard it was good.

Later I learned that Dingač is a wine made from indigenous Plavac Mali grapes that thrive on the parched limestone slopes of a geographically-protected vineyard area (called Dingač) on the Pelješac peninsula of southern Dalmatia.

Dingač (photo by Cliff Rames)

Bugi told me that the 1985 vintage (he heard) was excellent, the “best of the decade”. He also happened to know where I could get a case of it. Perhaps it was or wasn’t a great vintage, I didn’t really know then. But I wasn’t taking any chances.

The next day I bought the case and as many bottles of the ‘85 I could find in the local shops (in those years, the US dollar went a long way). Excited and willing to “share the love” (and unaware of the pros and cons of cellaring a wine), I immediately opened most of the bottles during lunches at friends’ and relatives’ houses (which was quite a treat for them, as store bought wine was then – and still is for many folks today – a luxury item reserved for special occasions).

the '85 Dingač (photo by Cliff Rames)

As the wine was poured and tasted, I sat back and studied the reactions. Would they appreciate the same sense of wonder and happiness that these wines brought me? Or was I crazy?

Invariably, and with great satisfaction, the answer would arrive to the sound of trumpets as the eyes of those gathered around the table sparked with twinkles of revelation and delight. Lips smacked; faces smiled; heads nodded with approval; bottles stood empty. The Dingač delivered.

Uncle "Bugi" (photo by Cliff Rames)

At this point I affirmed the previous notion that I was on to something. Anything that could bring so much happiness at once to a diverse group of people (grumpy and preoccupied relatives included) needed to be investigated, studied and pursued deeper and further.

And so it came to pass. My fate as a Wines of Croatia groupie was sealed. Or more appropriately, the vines in this remarkable vineyard flowered and bore fruit.

Plavac Mali (photo by Cliff Rames)

Although I didn’t realize it at the time, the Laguna and Dingač experiences (followed by equally rewarding waltzes with many other wines) ultimately set in motion the wheels that would take me down the path to becoming a sommelier. But that’s another story….

In case you’re wondering, I managed to save two bottles of that 1985 Dingač, which I eventually brought home to New Jersey. Unfortunately, one of the two remaining bottles was later dropped and broken by my mother when she was cleaning the cellar of our family home. I still recall the horror at the sight of the green glass shards and purple blood on the floor. I will never forget how enticing it smelled. For a fleeting moment I envisioned myself down on the floor, lapping it up like a thirsty puppy.

(photo by Cliff Rames)

The second bottle is safely tucked away in my makeshift wine cellar, its donkey label dirty with age but still the beautiful reminder of a happy memory.

As for the wine inside, it probably didn’t survive the years before I knew anything about the fundamentals of proper wine storage. But it doesn’t matter. I will probably never open it to find out. There are memories inside, and I want them to remain suspended in that now iconic bottle forever. The recollection of drinking the 1985 Dingač with friends and family all those years ago is far more pleasurable and powerful than the burning urge to temporarily satisfy my curiosity – and forever remove that mythological wine from existence. So, the decision was made: we will grow old together.

No worry. There are so many other bottles worth opening, new experiences to be lived, fresh memories to be made. It is in this belief that the Wines of Croatia adventure begins.

(photo by Cliff Rames)

What lies ahead are so many glories, the siren-call of so many bottles with labels embossed with exotic names like Pošip, Babić, Malvazija Istriana, Dubrovačka Malvasija, Debit, Teran, Škrlet, Zelenac, Frankovka, Graševina, Maraština, Žlahtina, Grk, Gegić, Lasina, Plavac Mali, Crljenak Kaštelanski, Portugizac, Kujundžuša….

Wines from places with difficult-to-pronounce names like Hvar, Plesivica, Postup, Korčula, Kutjevo, Ilok, Krk, Zagorje, Moslavina, Primošten, Baranja, Istria, Međimurje, Cavcat….

And of course, there’s always the donkey of Dingač, my lifelong companion (other current Dingač producers include Kiridžija, Saints Hills, Matuško, Bura-Mokalo, Skaramuča, Madirazza, Kirigjija, and Miličić).

Skaramuča Dingač w/ Adriatic squid roasted in its own ink (photo by Cliff Rames)

 Wine is truly enchanting; its mystery, mythology, tradition, romance, and allure are irresistible and powerful. I am under its spell (as perhaps are many of you, too). And damn it, I want it to stay that way for a long time to come.

(photo by Cliff Rames)

I hope you enjoy wandering through the Wines of Croatia “vineyard”. Take in all the sites. Touch the soil. Breathe in the air. Caress the vines and leaves. Sample the berries. Taste (in moderation and responsibly of course) as many of the wines you can afford to purchase yourself. Or smuggle back in suitcases. Or convince others to give you.

You never know, you just might discover that special bottle or two that will change your life.

Discovering Croatian Wine: Miklaužić, Moslavina & Škrlet

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I don’t suppose a road can be defined as two dirt tracks just wide enough for a tractor; nor a rutted path that weaves and bobs through a black forest in the middle of nowhere.

Courtesy of Miklaužić winery

But it was on such a “road” that I found myself, in a little 4-cylinder Fiat with wheels the size of Frisbees, one starry evening last November, following Marko Miklaužić up to the outpost of his winery in the Voloder-Ivanić Grad wine-growing hills of Moslavina, Croatia.

 

With the car lurching and shuttering as it plunged through muddy depressions, roiled over the humps of protruding boulders, and squealed as tree branches from the edges of the forest clawed across sheet metal, I pressed on.

Occasionally it crossed my mind that I had no idea who this man in the car in front of me really was (I had only met him minutes earlier in front of a small supermarket in town, after which he told me to follow him), and I certainly had no clue as to where on earth he was taking me.

But none of that mattered. I was on another grapey adventure. This time to investigate a little-known white grape called Škrlet.

Skrlet

(On a side note: I am always amazed by how fast Croatians drive. That evening, on that suspect road, was no exception. Marko’s tiny red taillights often came close to escaping me, and I drove in fear that he would leave me behind, where I would surely get lost and careen into a gully or river, never to be found. So I pushed my little rental car as hard as I dared, and we finally pulled up in front of a rustic, wooden building and parked.)

Photo courtesy of Miklauzic winery

Outside the Miklaužić winery the continental night air was sharply cold, and I could see my breath as Marko sorted through keys to open the door. Millions of stars were sprinkled like white freckles across the dark skin of night.

Coincidentally, freckles are what lured me to Moslavina. Not the freckles of stars or pretty Croatian girls (although who could resist those!). Rather, the freckles – or more precisely the Scarlet Fever-like rash spots – of the Škrlet grape.

Škrlet

Native to the Moslavina (Moslavačko) region of north-central Croatia, just southeast of the capital city, Zagreb, the Škrlet grape is relatively unknown outside of Croatia. Actually, beyond its primary growing areas around the towns of Kutina, Čazma and Voloder-Ivanićgrad, as well as the town of Sisak in the Pokupje region, I would hazard to suggest that there are few Croats who have ever heard of or tasted Škrlet.

Photo courtesy of Vinopedia.com

Derived from the German word “scharlach”, meaning a speckled or dotted surface (hence, the name also given to the rash-giving illness, Scarlet Fever), Škrlet is distinguished by the fact that – when ripe – its berries can become speckled with purple or reddish dots on its golden-orange skins.

Tasting room, courtesy of Miklaužić winery

After a tour of the winery and cellars, Marko and I settled down in the warmth of the tasting room and chatted as I tasted through a few examples of his Škrlet wines. He told me about the spring hail that knocked out about 80% of his red grape (Frankovka, Merlot & Pinot Noir) harvest. With a shrug of the shoulders, he mentioned how he didn’t have hail insurance, which reportedly costs about $1,000 per hectare.

Miklaužić vineyards, courtesy of winery

Luckily, the 7 hectares of Škrlet vineyards were unharmed. In a typical year, Miklaužić winery produces about 100,000 bottles of wine from its 27 hectares of vines (17 in ownership/10 leased). Of this amount, Škrlet accounts for about 25% of his production, or 25,000 bottles.

Marko Miklaužić, courtesy of winery

Škrlet is an easy-drinking wine that is best consumed in the first year and no later than two years of the vintage. Most often it is made into a fresh, crisp, youthful style, but sometimes you can find riper, off-dry versions.

Younger styles – like the 2008 “Kvalitetno” version I tasted – tend to be light straw yellow in color with flashes of green highlights. On the nose Škrlet shows aromas that are often suggestive of green apples, pears, citrus, chamomile tea, thistles, field grass and hay – aromas reminiscent of a spring pasture. 

On the palate, it is light to medium bodied, with an alcohol content ranging from 9.7% – 12.5%. A prominent feature of the palate experience is the bright, zesty acidity with a slightly bitter note of the back palate, which makes Škrlet a wonderful, palate-cleansing and food-friendly wine. While the finish is rather short, it is nonethelass pleasant with flavors of juicy green apple and lemon with green herbal notes. 

Courtesy of Miklaužić winery

Riper, late-harvest versions, like the wine from Mikša winery, show more red apple, apricot and dried hay characteristics – sometimes with a hint of elderflower – while retaining a nice, balanced dose of acidity.

Škrlet is best served chilled with dishes that feature poached white fish, poultry, and green vegetables such as asparagus, leeks, lettuce, snow peas, and zucchini.

Courtesy of Miklaužić winery

Currently there are just a handful of producers making wine from Škrlet in the region, with much of the small production consumed locally. Consequently, availability of the wine outside the borders of the Moslavina and Pokupje appellations is limited. At the moment none is exported.  

However, increasing interest among domestic and international wine connesuiers toward wines made from indigenous varieties, as well as recognition among some wine critics that Škrlet is an interesting grape variety that has the potential to deliver wines of good quality and universal appeal, has resulted in increased plantings, which will presumably result in wider distribution of this unique and off-the-beaten-path wine. Another plus, accorsding to Marko, is that Škrlet is very resistant to disease and rot – quite a necessary trait in a region that can be wet and cold, not to mention remote.    

Courtesy of Miklaužić winery

In addition to Miklaužić winery, other producers of Škrlet include Juren, Kezele, Košutić, and Mikša in Moslavina, and Trdenić in Pokupje. Other regional synonyms for Škrlet include Ovnek žuti, Ovnek Slatki, Škrlet Tusti, and Škrtec.  

Photo courtesy of http://vinopija.wordpress.com

Sometimes when in search of off-the-beaten-path wines, one must take the road less traveled. In the case of Škrlet, that road – for now – may be a little hard and bumpy and inaccessible to most of us, but it is definitely worth the trip.

After all, isn’t that part of the wonder and magic of wine? Finding that next tasty discovery, revealed to you when you least expect it, one that transports you to places where tour buses can’t roam? For me that’s one of the most exciting things about discovering the wine roads and native grapes of Croatia. To find them you must travel down paths where few have ventured before. For the intrepid (and thirsty) explorer, the other end of the path often reveals hidden treasures and unspoiled beauties that wait like lovely, freckled princesses.       

Related Links:

www.vinarija-miklauzic.hr/

www.winesofcroatia.com

www.Facebook.com/winesofcroatia

www.Twitter.com/winesofcroatia

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Juraj Sladić: A New Generation Winemaker from Croatia

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Translated and edited by Cliff Rames from the original article in Novi-Tjednik: 

http://www.novi-tjednik.hr/gospodarstvo/gospodarstvo/4949-sladi-mlai-iz-metropole-u-plastovo-radim-vrhunska-vina-i-pri-tom-uivam.html

“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. 

Juraj (left) and Ante Sladić (photo courtesy of Novi Tjednik)

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.

Photo by Cliff Rames

“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.

Photo by Cliff Rames

“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”.  

Logo courtesy of Juraj Sladić

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”.

Photo by Cliff Rames

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

“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”.   

Debit grapes

In regard to the red varieties, Jure tells us how Lasina was nearly a forgotten variety, yet it shows great potential.  

Lasina (photo courtesy of http://www.Hrvastina.hr)

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. 

A happy man. (Photo by Cliff Rames)

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.

 

Photo by Cliff Rames

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!”

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Chardonnay May be French, But Her Mother is Croatian

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Article by Saša Špiranec, courtesy of Playboy Magazine – Croatia

Translated by Morana Zibar, www.Gastroprijevod.com

Edited by Cliff Rames, Wines of Croatia

 

 

After it was discovered that Croatia is the ancestral homeland of Zinfandel, we have now learned that Chardonnay – the most popular white grape variety in the world – has roots in Croatia. What a great time for wine…!

 

In an article entitled, “A Banned Variety was the Mother of Several Major Wine Grapes”, which was published in the science journal, Biology Letters, a group of scientists revealed the results of DNA profiling: the two parent grapes of Chardonnay are finally known, and one of them is Croatian. Chardonnay is in fact a cross between the French variety Pinot Noir and an indigenous Croatian variety, Štajerska Belina.

Štajerska Belina (photo courtesy of bilikum.hr)

Štajerska Belina – or Gouais Blanc, as the French call it – used to be one of the most common grapes in the Middle Ages, spreading from France over central and all the way to Eastern Europe.

Chardonnay (photo courtesy of americanmadness.com)

Despite its formerly ubiquitous presence, global experts generally agree that Štajerska Belina originally comes from Croatia.

Historically, Štajerska Belina (Gouais Blanc) was considered a inferior variety that was mainly planted by farmers and peasants. In France, Gouais Blanc was typically planted in the flatlands for peasant consumption, while the nobility grew the grapes of the Pinot family in the highlands.  

Because of its poor quality, Štajerska Belina was eventually banned and became extinct in France. In Croatia it can be found in the vineyards of the northwest and central parts of the country, but it is rarely bottled as a single-varietal wine and is mostly consumed locally as a homemade blended table wine.

(photo courtesy of dailymail.co.uk)

The Croatian origin of Chardonnay is further evidence of the region’s contribution to the development of modern day viticulture. For the second time since the Zinfandel discovery, a Croatian indigenous variety has entered the lexicon of the international wine community. Isn’t that fantastic? 

Gouais Blanc (photo courtesy of Corkd.com)

While Štajerska Belina is not as highly esteemed as Zinfandel, its contribution to the world of wine cannot be denied.

It is interesting that Gouais Blanc (or Štajerska Belina, one of countless synonyms) crossed with Pinot Noir to produce not just one of the world’s most important grape varieties, Chardonnay, but others as well. Crossings of the same two grapes also spawned such notable varieties as Gamay (the famous grape of Beaujolais), Aligote, Auxerrois, Franc Noir, and Melon. 

We could say these grape varieties are all different children of the same parents. Interestingly enough, the children are both red and white varietals. For instance, white Chardonnay and red Gamay. It’s the same as with puppies – when the parents are of different colours, the pups are white, black and mixed.

(photo courtesy of graphicshunt.com)

Today Croatian winemakers can introduce their Chardonnays to the world with more courage – after all, it is partly Croatian.

Even though Chardonnay has been present in our vineyards for many decades, its quality was never worthy of the best international wines like the ones from Burgundy’s Montrachet or California’s Napa Valley.

Korak Chardonnay (photo by Cliff Rames)

Yet in the last ten years we have witnessed the arrival of names like Krauthaker Rosenberg, Kutjevo de Gotho Aureus, and Korak Sur Lie – Croatian Chardonnays that can stand next to the best wines without any hesitation.

Kutjevo d.d. Chardonnay (photo by Cliff Rames)

Chardonnay likes poor soil and limestone, conditions that are not common in the Continental wine-growing region of Croatia. Unfortunately, in Dalmatia – where there is plenty of limestone – the climate is too hot for Chardonnay.

Photo courtesy of Saints Hills: "Nevina" (80% Malvazija, 20% Chardonnay)

However, the Istria regional of Coastal Croatia offers some hope, with Matošević winery leading the way that other new faces on the block have started to follow. Two examples are Meneghetti and Saints Hills (who blends Chardonnay with Malvazija).

An Excellent Croatian Chardonnay:

Meneghetti Bijelo (right) (photo courtesy of aukcije.hr)

Meneghetti Bijelo 2007

To be fair, Meneghetti Bijelo is not a pure Chardonnay but is a blended wine – probably with Pinot Gris and Malvasia (the producer does not mention the blend components on the label). However, the Chardonnay character totally overpowers the other possible varieties in the blend. Its style is reminiscent of the popular Collio from the Italian Friulli region or the neighboring Slovenian Brda region, areas which have climates and soils similar to Istria. Some of the best Chardonnays in the world (Silvio Jermann) also come from that region.

The aroma is intense, steady, rich and very sophisticated. Abundant aromas of the yeast are mixed with dried fruit, vanilla and traces of citrus fruits. Hints of wood are still strongly present, so it is best to wait two years before consumption to allow for the wood to integrate. The taste is extraordinary, full and lively at the same time, with ideal acids, lightly creamy, markedly mineral, with exceptionally long and lasting aftertaste. This wine is similar to the previous vintage, but it is richer and more harmonious, with – and this is very important and too rare in Croatian Chardonnays – a potential for long-lasting ageing.

Related Links:

Biology Letters source: http://rsbl.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/6/3/367.abstract?sid=0cbb4133-5e71-40bb-84ec-719207defbc5

Gouais Blanc Wikipedia Entry:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gouais_blanc

Jermann Chardonnay:

http://www.jermann.it/products/pages/productsList.jsf

Wines of Croatia:

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www.Twitter.com/winesofcroatia

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Winemaking on Hvar: From Ancient Greece Until Now (Part II)

 

 

 

 

Text by Ivana Krstulović Carić, dipl.ing.agr.

Edited by Cliff Rames, Wines of Croatia

Photos by Ivana Krstulović Carić (unless otherwise noted)

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While the diseases and pests that attacked Hvar’s vineyards and wrecked the island’s economy were eventually conquered, viticulture as a way of life never fully recovered to its previous level of importance. Total vineyard acreage fell by over 2,000 hectares to 3,500 hectares under vine. The economic and social impact would be felt for decades to come, resulting in a further decline in production as many residents of the islands (including Hvar) abandoned their vineyards and homes to go abroad to seek work and a means of steady income.  

photo by Cliff Rames

However, a local family, led by Niko Duboković Nadalini – a powerful ship and land owner, winemaker and the mayor of Jelsa – spearheaded an effort to restore the vineyards of Hvar. They introduced modern method of grafting grapes onto phylloxera-resistant American rootstocks and shared the technology with local wine growers. Their winery in Zavala* earned numerous world-class wine awards in those times.

Grafted young vine on Hvar (photo by Cliff Rames)

Yet after the nationalization* initiatives of the early 20th century, their winery was abandoned. Today most of their vineyards are overgrown with pine trees and macchia*, although certain sections have recently been replanted with young vines by local winemaking families, such as the Carić family in Zavala and Zlatan Plenković.

Zavala

World War I brought the Italian occupation of Hvar, during which time the Croatian language and culture were suppressed. Soon thereafter Hvar was absorbed into the newly-founded Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenians, which later became the Kingdom of Yugoslavia.

The Great Depression (1929-1932) had an obviously negative impact on wine production, and many winemakers and co-operatives, because of large debts, imploded and ceased to exist. As a result, the local population set off on another large exodus to distant countries such as the USA, Chile, Argentina, New Zealand and Australia, where they hoped to find new lives and jobs.

Today you can still find living witnesses of this hard time. My grandmother, Danica, still recalls her mother’s sad sighs while she was baking bread. “A board of bread, one hectoliter of wine”, she would say. This meant that to buy 20kg of flour, one had to sell 100 liters of wine. 

Modern mechanization, vehicles and roads were unheard of in these times. In order to reach the vineyards on the south slopes of Hvarske Plaže and the wine cellars of Ivan Dolac, wine-growers were required to climb over steep heights of Vorh Mountain.

The summit of Hvar island

It is interesting to note that before the arrival of phylloxera, mostly white indigenous grapes were grown on the south slopes of Hvar: Bogdanuša, Mekuja, Parč, Kurtelaška, Vugava. Only later did Plavac Mali, the most widely-planted red grape in Dalmatia, come to dominate and prevail in the area. 

Plavac Mali grapes (photo by Cliff Rames)

Up until World War II, every town on the south side of the island had its own quay where boats would dock to buy wine. Traders would visit wine sellers, sample the wines and set their prices. The price of wines from Hvarske Plaže was always significantly higher than those from the north side of the island where the grapes were of lower quality and sugar levels. 

 

Transporting the wine from the cellars to the boats was a challenge due to the steep slopes. Donkeys often bore the burden of carting the wine from villages situated far from the sea to the docks. Once at the sea, the traders would fill wooden barrels with the wine and then throw them into the sea, where they were picked up by the boats.

 

Sometime after World War II, Peroslav Carić (Slavko) noticed a new invention – rubber hoses – while visiting a marketplace, and he purchased some 2000 meters of hose. His idea to use the hose for pumping wine from the seaside stone reservoirs into the barrels was a success, and he soon offered his service to all the  villages on the south side of Hvar, as well as a few on the island of Brač. 

Pitve–Zavala tunnel

With the building of the Pitve–Zavala tunnel in the early 1960s, life became easier for the locals, who no longer had to each make wine in their own cellars and then transport it to the buys. Instead they transported the grapes through the tunnel to the big wineries on the north side of Vorh Mountain for processing. 

But this progress was not necessarily good news. The large wineries, such as Hvarske Vinarije, Dalmacijavino, and VinoProdukt (today the cooperative Svirče), shifted into quantitative winemaking. Quality diminished but was offset by positive developments regarding modernization and better organization of production, brands and sales.

Svirče cooperative (photo by Cliff Rames)

Thanks to the hard work of Ivo Politeo, Hvar achieved its first wine with Protected Geographical Origin status, “Faros”, which was produced by Dalmacijavino from locally indigenous Plavac Mali grapes from the south slopes of Hvar. This is Croatia’s second wine with protected status, the first being Dingač from Pelješac.

 

The era of Socialism brought further degradation of quality and the number of acres under vine, due to the disparaging attitude towards agriculture and farmers.

Today it is estimated that there are only 300-500 hectares of vineyards on Hvar, a huge decline from the 5,750 hectares of the mid 19th century. However, a reassessment of current vineyard acreage is underway, which will hopefully provide more precise data about present day viticulture.

Vineyards on upper south-facing slopes (photo by Cliff Rames)

When faced with the global economic problems of the present day, we can’t help but wonder what kind of a future awaits us.  One thing is clear: we should endeavor to preserve the things most dear to us – our heritage and our vineyards – because crises come and go. Vineyards do not grow overnight.

We must learn from the mistakes of our past. Ironically, the vineyards that my family cultivates today were purchased by Ljubo Carić, my husband’s father, even though the same land was once owned by his father, Juraj Carić.  In fact, when widowed with six children, my husband’s grandfather sold all his lands on the prime southern slopes to buy land on the north side of Vorh Mountain, which he thought would be easier to work. 

Vineyards in Svirče, north side of tunnel (photo by Cliff Rames)

Unfortunately, he lost almost all the value of his investments and savings when the Austrian Crown (currency at the time) was converted to the Yugoslavian Dinar. He never accomplished his dream of growing quality grapes in his new vineyards.

Note: More about the development of wine production on Hvar and the relationships between local winemakers will be covered in subsequent articles. Stay tuned!

Postscript from the editor: On May 31, 2010, the winemakers of Hvar joined together to establish their own representative association (“udruga”). Elected to be president of the Association of Hvar Winemakers is Mr. Andro Tomić of Bastijana winery in Jelsa. Marija Gabelić was chosen as vice president, and the author of this article, Ivana Krstulović Carić, will serve as secretary. The association’s mission will be to promote Hvar as a wine destination, revitalize abandoned vineyards, and protect & promote native grape varieties.

 
 

Andro Tomić (left), Bastijana winery (photo by Cliff Rames)

* Key to Terms in the Article:

Stari Grad: the “old town” on Hvar, also known as Pharos.

Neretvans: Citizens of the Principality of Neretva (7th century). Neretva is a river valley and its surrounding delta area in south Dalmatia, Croatia.

Svirče, Sveta Nedilja, Jelsa, Vrboska, Stari Grad, Hvar, Zavala: Towns on the island of Hvar.

Hvarske Plaže or Plaže: a sub-appellation on the island of Hvar – considered the best on the island. Translated as “Hvar’s Beaches” or simply “Beaches”. The name came from the fact that the vineyards are located on slope above gravel beaches of Hvar’s south shore.

Nationalization: The act of seizing land or other private property and converting it into public ownership, as occurred during the communist years when Croatia was part of former Yugoslavia.

Macchia: Scrub land biome in the Mediterranean region.

Link to original article in Croatian: http://www.supermarketi.info/index.php?mod=intervju&interId=11

 

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