From Istria with Love: Malvazija

By Cliff Rames © 2013

One of the many things that delight me on warm sunny days is the moment I crack open a cold, thirst quenching bottle of white wine, preferably out on a veranda or beach. The way it refreshes and revives my spirit is like daybreak itself. Or a walk in a spring flower garden. Or a tantalizing dip in the cool waters of a favorite lake or sea.

Simple pleasures, for sure. If anyone ever asks you about the meaning of life, you tell them that. It’s all about simple pleasures. And being kind to each other….

Back to wine. There are of course so many delicious bottles from which to choose. Such multitudes in fact that I can never adequately answer that oft-asked (and maddening) question: What is your favorite? Preferences abound for sure, from earthy reds to cheeky rosés to funky orange wines. But when the sultry days of summer strike, white cold n’ crispy is how I like them. Albariño, Chablis, chenin blanc, dry riesling, Sancerre, Santorini, and Vinho Verde are all companions who chill with me on boozy flip-flop days.

(Photo: Cliff Rames)
(Photo: Cliff Rames)

Yet in life there are casual friends who pop in and out of your life, perhaps bringing zippy moments of pleasure, fun and good times. More often than not they are unremarkable encounters that leave no lasting mark. For instance that certain $9 bottle I consumed a few evenings ago. What was it again?

Then there are dear old friends. The proverbial best buds and soul mates. Stalwart bonds that endure through thick and thin in the intimate places of your heart and mind, even when communication and visitations are missed for long periods of time.

Among these old friends I count many Croatian wines. Together we share a sweet history, know each others’ secrets, our moments of silliness and celebration, sadness and humiliation. Side-by-side we’ve experienced triumph and failure, been inspired to laughter and dance, been comforted in tears and heartbreak. And we go on loving each other even when times are tough and bottles get broken.

One of these darlings is malvazija istarska – or malvasia istriana.

Like albariño is to the seaside shores of Galicia in Spain, malvazija is the signature white wine of Istria, an axe-shaped peninsula that slices into the Adriatic Sea along Croatia’s northern coast. Here malvazija vineyards stand like sentinels not far from the rugged, salty shore and then majestically rise up the pastoral highlands of the interior, where they thrive alongside acacia trees, olive groves, and truffle oak forests in the region’s patchwork of red, white, brown and grey soils – each to subtly different effect.

(Map courtesy of istra-zivot.com)
(Map courtesy of istra-zivot.com)

Despite the name that would place the variety among the branches of the very large malvasia bianca family tree, malvazija istarska is specific to Istria, although the variety can also be found in the neighboring Koper appellation in Slovenia, as well as in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia area of Italy.

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Malvazija Istarska

Malvazija ranks as Croatia’s second most planted wine grape variety. Because it has a tendency to over crop, malvazija can yield insipid, uninteresting wines (as was the case for many years during the era of Socialsim). Drought or extreme heat can quickly cause the delicate fruit flavors to mute, sugars to spike and acids to drop, leading to one-dimensional swill best suited for bulk sale or distillation.

But when the weather is right, vineyard management techniques hit the mark, and the terroir tenders its sweet spot, something magical and mystical happens (see Matošević ‘s Magical Mystical Tour of the James Beard House), and malvazija reveals its many charms and depths.

(Photo: Cliff Rames)
(Photo: Cliff Rames)

Often referred to as liquid gold (although some would rightfully argue that the excellent local olive oils share that distinction), malvazija is Istria’s pride and joy, its medal champion, and best hope for international recognition from global wine lovers and foodies. No surprise then that a single vineyard malvazija from Kozlović won Gold and Trophy awards at the 2013 International Wine Challenge, and eight single-varietal malvazija istarska wines from Croatia won medals at the 2013  Decanter World Wine Awards.

decanter 2013-b

In a recent article for the Croatian press, the American food and wine writing duo Jeff Jenssen and Mike DiSimone (aka the World Wine Guys) asserted that the world is ready for malvazija; that the time has come for Istria’s flagship wine to join the ranks of the fabulous and the famous.

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That the Istrians are ready for the world is undisputed. With their own successful technical assistance and marketing association established in 1995, Vinistra, an annual World of Malvazija competition and wine expo, an “Istrian Quality” label designation program for top wines, and a legion of young, talented, innovative and enthusiastic winemakers, it seems inevitable that Istria and malvazija will soon take their rightful places among the stars.

However, Dimitri Brečević, a 34-year old French-Croatian who studied winemaking in Bordeaux before moving to Istria in 2004 to start his own winery and successful Piquentum label, feels that malvazija – as good as it is now – still hides its full potential.

“I would say that we still have a lot of work to do,” he says. “We have to work a lot on vinification to adapt more to this variety, but also we have to learn more about our terroir – particularly the red soils”.

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Dimitri Brečević (right)
(Photo: Cliff Rames)

Brečević also wonders about the potential benefits of blending malvazija with other varieties. “But which one?” he muses. “I am not so sure about chardonnay. I would prefer an old local variety. But we are still working on that. All this research is the price to pay if we want to improve quality and reach world class status”.

When seeking out a malvazija wine a buyer should be aware that styles range from young and fresh to French or Slavonian oak or acacia wood-aged versions, to high alcohol extended skin maceration “orange” wines from producers such as Clai, Kabola, and Roxanich that are cult favorites among some consumers (reportedly these wines pair wonderfully with cigars, a subject advocated each year during a special “Habanos Moments” session at Vinistra).

Cigars and Malvazija (Photo: Cliff Rames)
Cigars and Malvazija
(Photo: Cliff Rames)

Sparkling malvazija wines are also bottled by a handful of producers, most notably one of Croatia’s leading female winemakers, Ana Peršurić.

However, most malvazija produced in Istria is the straight-forward, early-drinking, food-friendly “naked” style that is zesty, moderately alcoholic, sometimes effervescent, and slightly bitter with subdued fruit (apple, apricot), raw almond and acacia flower floral notes, and – in good vintages – distinctly saline and mineral-driven. In other words, perfect alongside summery seafood fare.

Acacia flowers, Istria, Croatia (Photo: Cliff Rames)
Acacia flowers, Istria, Croatia
(Photo: Cliff Rames)

If all of this makes you curious and thirsty, let’s get to the whole point of this article:  Ready or not, Istrian malvazija is already available in many markets around the world.

In the U.S. consumers have access to nearly 10 different labels, including Bastianich Adriatico, Cattunar, Clai, Coronica, Kozlović, Matosević, Piquentum, Saints Hills (blended with Chardonnay), Terzolo, and Trapan.

In the U.K., Pacta Connect offers a number of delicious malvazija wines in its portfolio, including Cattunar, Clai, Gerzinić, Piquentum, and Peršurić.

With the waning days of summer in mind, recently I gathered a few old friends (of the human kind and the malvazija kind) for a soirée of sipping, swirling and pontificating. The bottles were chosen at random based on what I could get my hands on; some are imported to the U.S., others extracted from my private cellar. Below are some notes that I managed to remember.

When drinking malvazija – or any wine – please don’t get bogged down by lofty descriptors and 100-point assessments. Wine deserves better than that. But do sit back, kick up your bare feet, raise your glass and take a sip, and enjoy what the wine has to offer, the stories it has to tell, the memories or images it evokes, and the songs it may sing for you.

In the end, perhaps a few of these beauties will become your friends too. And friends of your friends. And friends of their friends. Before you know it, it’s a party.

So let us go forth as denizens and disciples of the finer things in life, singing and shouting out proclamations of love with mouthfuls of malvazija. Because it’s delicious. And because it’s the next Big Thing – or should be.

***

Benvenuti 2010 Malvazija Istarska

Creamy and viscous with a soft yet zesty attack and talcum powder mineral presence, all rounded out with essence of apricot, golden apple, and citrus blossom. Simple style yet pleasant example of white soil malvazija.

Coronica 2011 Istrain Malvasia

Tight, steely and chock full of minerals, this is not malvazija for the masses. Elusive citrus notes wrap around a structured mineral core, surrounded by an aura of blazing acidity. Not for the feint of heart or sufferers of acid reflux. But if you love this style, pair it with grilled sardines, linguini with clam sauce, or raw oysters and you will be very happy indeed.

Degrassi “Bomarchese” 2009 Malazija Istarska

The most aromatic and tropical of the lot. Loads of stone fruit with a hint of gooseberry and orange blossom. Nicely structured with a long finish.

Gerzinić 2010 Malvazija

Leesy and elegant, with notes of Bosc pear, Golden Delicious apple, and honeysuckle. Smooth and refined on the palate, with soft acids, a chalky mineral presence, and a satisfying finish.

Kozlović Malvazija 2012

Clean, crisp and taught with pear fruit and dusty straw followed by a bitter almond finish. A benchmark malvazija – and a great value.

Saints Hills 2010 Nevina

Fermented in small oak barrels and blended with a small amount of Chardonnay. Creamy yet vibrant on the palate with rich notes of ripe Bartlett pear, banana, and butter toasted hazelnuts, all supported on a frame of saline minerality. Elegant and sophisticated yet approachable now.

Terzolo Malvazija Istarska 2010

Zippy and refreshing with crackling acidity and delicate fruit aromas (citrus; starfruit), pungent green notes of cut grass, fig leaf and herbs with a hint of white acacia flowers. Nicely structured with a sharp mineral core of crushed sea shells and metal ore, finishing up with that distinctive bitter almond bite.

Trapan Ponete Malvazija Istarska 2012

Crystalline and refined with delicate, tight notes of dusty pear skins, kaffir lime, apricot, marzipan and acacia flowers. Still young and taught, this is the most polished but perhaps most textbook example of the lot – the closest we’ll come (for now) to mainstream malvazija.

[**For current availability, prices and vintages for the wines mentioned in this article, please check with Blue Danube Wine Co. (Coronica, Piquentum, Saints Hills, Terzolo); CroMade (Cattunar; Matosevic); Dark Star Imports (Bastianich); Louis/Dressner (Clai); Pacta Connect (Cattunar, Clai, Gerzinic, Piquentum, Peršurić); Vinum USA (Kozlović); and Winebow (Trapan).]

***

(Photo: Cliff Rames)
(Photo: Cliff Rames)
(Photo: Cliff Rames)
(Photo: Cliff Rames)
(Photo: Cliff Rames)
(Photo: Cliff Rames)
(Photo: Cliff Rames)
(Photo: Cliff Rames)
(Photo: Cliff Rames)
(Photo: Cliff Rames)
(Photo: Cliff Rames)
(Photo: Cliff Rames)
(Photo: Cliff Rames)
(Photo: Cliff Rames)
(Photo: Jeff Tureaud)
(Photo: Cliff Rames)
(Photo: Cliff Rames)
(Photo: Cliff Rames)
(Photo: Cliff Rames)

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Answers to Frequently Asked Questions about Wines of Croatia

From time to time, questions arise: What is the mission of Wines of Croatia? Who is behind the name and logo? What are its goals and future objectives? Does Wines of Croatia sell wine?

Often it is easiest to simply push ahead with business as usual and grow blind to the need for periodic adjustment of course, to the value of connecting with friends and supporters, and the necessity to ensure that the message is resonating with the right people in the right way.

I think you will agree, lately things have been pretty exciting. Last summer (in June 2011) we had the first-ever Grand Tasting of the Wines of Croatia in New York City, a successful event attended by over 200 U.S. wine professionals.

Grand Tasting, NYC, June 2011 w/ Fred Dexheimer MS (r)

Then in September, one of the most important wine magazines in the United States, Wine Enthusiast, published a 10-page color feature about Croatia and its wines. Then in February 2012, Jody Ness broadcast a series of episodes entitled “Croatia Calling” on his Wine Portfolio program.

Jody Ness in Croatia (image courtesy of Croatia.hr)

This year, the spring kicked off with a series of wonderful wine festivals: first the Zagreb Wine Gourmet Weekend and then the Dalmatia Wine Expo, both in April, followed by Vinistra, which kicks off this weekend in Poreč. A few weeks ago, Anthony Bourdain launched Season 8 of his wildly popular No Reservations TV program on the Travel Channel with an episode from Croatia.

Anthony Bourdain in Croatia (Photo courtesy of the Travel Channel)

With so much buzz about Croatian wines and the increasing responsibility I feel to work harder to better represent and promote Croatia, its wines and wine lifestyle, I decided that the time is right to take a moment to reassess and clarify Wines of Croatia’s mission and address a few of the questions I sometimes get asked. Much of what is covered in this post will also appear on the About Us and Mission pages on this blog and will shortly be available on the Wines of Croatia website.

I hope you find this post informative and interesting. Cheers!

Sincerely,

Cliff Rames, Founder, Wines of Croatia

1. Who is behind Wines of Croatia?

Wines of Croatia was founded in 2007 by Cliff Rames, an American of Croatian descent who is a Certified Sommelier and Certified Specialist of Wine. Cliff administers the Wines of Croatia Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest pages, as well as writes for and manages this blog. When he is not spending his time at the helm of Wines of Croatia, Cliff serves as sommelier for the Caudalie Vinotheralie Spa at the world-famous Plaza Hotel in New York City. He also loves to spend time with his cockapoo (and Wines of Croatia mascot), Smokie.

Smokie!
Cliff Rames

2. What is Wines of Croatia?

Wines of Croatia is an independent, privately-funded, and increasingly membership-driven organization that supports, coordinates, initiates and/or conducts ongoing educational and promotional activities and events that raise awareness, expand appreciation and consequently increase demand for quality Croatian wine in the U.S., U.K. and other key international markets.

Wines of Croatia is the first and leading organization that promotes Croatian wines and the producers that make them, the wine regions wine roads that showcase their vineyards, the native grapes that give up their juice for us, the importers and distributors that enable the wines to reach our tables, and the wine tourism opportunities and agents that wait to welcome us to Croatia.

For more information, please refer to our Mission Statement.

3.  Where is Wines of Croatia located or based?

Wines of Croatia is based in New York City. However, our mission and vision is global and focused on key markets where Croatian wines are in demand by consumers, imported and distributed by private businesses, and sold in retail shops and restaurants. We are in close contact with many Croatian wineries and other wines professionals in Croatia and internationally. Our friends and supporters come from all around the globe and many walks of life. One of the many beauties of wine is that it unites people. Our doors are open to anyone who shares our love and passion for Croatia’s wonderful wines, winemakers and wine regions!

Meet the Winemakers of Croatia tasting, Oak Room at the Plaza, NYC, Nov. 2010

4. Is Wines of Croatia a government agency?

No. Wines of Croatia is an independent, privately-funded, and increasingly membership-driven organization. It is not affiliated with or sponsored by any government agency.

5. Does Wines of Croatia import or sell wine?

No. Wines of Croatia does not directly engage in importation, distribution, wholesaling or the retail sale of wine. However, we work closely with many of these businesses, and we would be happy to advise you where you can purchase Croatian wines in your neighborhood.

6. How does Wines of Croatia fund/sustain itself?

Great question! You may have noticed that there is no advertising on this blog or our website. Whether or not this will change in the future is currently under examination. The harsh reality is, no matter how much we love the wines, it requires quite a lot of time, resources and support to operate as an effective and credible organization and to continue serving as a reliable source of timely information, news, data, and events.

Until now, Wines of Croatia has been self-funded through private resources, mainly provided by Cliff Rames with some help from a couple of generous individuals. U.S.importers such as Blue Danube Wine Company, Oenocentric, Dalmata and VinumUSA have periodically and graciously supplied wine samples. The Croatian National Tourism Board and the Croatian Chamber of the Economy have also provided airfare and lodging support for a few trips by Cliff Rames to visit wineries and wine expos in Croatia.  The Chamber of Economy also provided financial backing for last year’s Grand Tasting in New York City, for which we are sincerely grateful.

From time to time we also offer certain quality items for sale. Sales of these items help to offset some of Wines of Croatia’s operating expenses. Currently on eBay we are offering a video called Croatian Wine Story, which is now on sale for $15. Please check this link for more info or to purchase your copy.

Looking ahead, the challenge of sustainability is an issue we must address. That is why we are planning to create a membership program, and we invite wineries, wine-related businesses, importers, distributors, retailers, restaurants and individual advocates to become members of Wine of Croatia in return for ongoing advocacy and promotion activities. Other options are also being considered, such as advertising, premium content subscriptions, and donations. Individuals or businesses that wish to become a member may contact us via email at info@winesofcroatia.com.

7. When will the Wines of Croatia website be finished?

Now that a new sustainability concept is in place, work on the website will resume. We project that much of the work will be completed in 2012. As new members come on board, content relevant to the members will proportionately expand.

8. Can Wines of Croatia make winery visit arrangements for me or develop an itinerary for my wine tour to Croatia?

Yes, but for a fee. Please contact Cliff Rames at crames@winesofcroatia.com for a consultation.

9. I am interested in importing Croatian wines. Can Wines of Croatia suggest some wineries that may be interested in having an importer?

Yes. Please contact us via email for an exploratory consultation.

10. What is the best way to contact you?

The best way to contact Wines of Croatia is via email at info@winesofcroatia.com.

Wines of Croatia also maintains an integrated social network presence. You may find us and also contact us on Facebook, on Twitter, or via the comments section on this blog.

If there is a question we missed, please don’t hesitate to let us know.

Thank you for your friendship and support! Cheers!!

Wines of Croatia News Round-Up for February 19, 2012

In case you missed anything, here is a round-up of the latest links to the news articles, blog posts and videos that highlighted Croatia, its wine or wine culture.

1. Wines of Croatia Blog: Valentine’s Day with the Donkey, the Poet & the Saint

February 7, 2012

Wine reviews: Celebrating Valentine’s Day with Vinarija Dingač 2006 Dingač, Miloš 2006 Plavac, and Saints Hills 2008 Dingač.

 

 2. Brava Wine Blog: En Primeur Malvazija 2011 Tasting in Zagreb

February 13, 2012

Sommelier April Amys Torzewski shares her highlights from the Vinistra En Primeur 2011 Malvasia Istriana tasting in Zagreb and reserves a special place on her palate for the wines of Ivan Damjanić.

 

3. Vinologue: Milicic Wines with Video

February 13, 2012

A visit to Miličić winery on the Pelješac, courtesy of Vinologue and an interesting video blog by Percy Von Lipinski. 

 

 

4. Lajf2012 Blog: Zlatan Plavac Grand Cru Croatia

February 14, 2012

One lucky person spent Valentine’s Day with a bottle of Zlatan Plavac 2002 Grand Cru – and discovered what the nectar of the gods tastes like.

 

 5. News Press.com: Zinfandel Evolution Retraced

February 14, 2012

A brief history of the California-Croatia zinfandel connection.  

 

 

6. Wines of Croatia Blog: Vinistra Celebrates a Successful First En Primeur Tasting of Malvasia

February 16, 2012

 A short report from the February 13,2012 “en primeur” tasting of 2011 malvasia istriana in Zagreb.

 

 

7. Vintage Wine Picks Blog: Belje Grasevina 2009

February 18, 2012

 A tasty review of Belje 2009 Graševina by Vintage Wine Picks in Toronto, Canada.

 

 

P.S. We love to hear from you!

If you have comments or other news to share, please comment on this post or email us at info@winesofcroatia.com

 

Vinistra Celebrates a Successful First “En Primeur” Tasting of Malvasia

 

It was a full house. On Monday, February 13, 2012 over 400 wine lovers and advocates, sommeliers, wine buyers, restaurateurs and chefs gathered in the elegant Regent Esplanade hotel in Croatia’s capital Zagreb for the first-ever “en primeur” degustation of malvasia istriana (malvazija istarska) wines from the 2011 vintage.

The malvasia en primeur tasting served as the inaugural event in an ongoing program over the next three months that will culminate with the 19th annual Vinistra (Association of Winegrowers and Winemakers of Istria) wine expo in May 2012.

In his assessment, Ivica Matošević, president of Vinistra, observed that the packed tasting room at the Esplanade “tells us that the first Croatian en primeur event was a smash hit. We wanted to do something different, something modeled after our global colleagues, and something that would showcase this truly great vintage in Istria.”

Ivica Matošević and Veljko Ostojić

Among the many guests at the event were Croatian Minister of Tourism, Veljko Ostojić; Assistant to the Minister of Commerce, Darko Lorencin; Administrator of the County of Istria, Ivan Jakovčić; President of the Tourism Board of Istria, Denis Ivošević; and Sandi Paris from the Croatian Sommelier Club, who spoke to the guests about the characteristics of the hot but excellent 2011 vintage and the range of complex aromas that are beginning to manifest themselves in the wines, ranging from floral to herbals to richly fruit-driven notes.

Thirty-six Istrian wineries were on hand to pour their 2011 malvasia and other select wines from their cellars, including Agrolaguna, Agroprodukt, Franc Arman, Marijan Arman, Benvenuti, Capo, Cattunar, Commot, Coronica, Cossetto, Damijanić Robi, Damjanić Ivan, De Valentinis, Degrassi, Ferenac, Geržinić, Kabola, Kalavojna, Kozlović, Legovina-obitelj Legović, Matić, Matošević, Meneghetti, Pilato, Poletti, Prodan, Radovan, Ritoša, San Tommaso, Sirotić Dario, Tercolo, Tomaz, Trapan, Vino P&P, VINobile and Vivoda.

The mission of the en primeur tasting was to show potential buyers and consumers the high quality of the 2011 malvasia istriana vintage and help facilitate investment in the wines and placement on wine lists both domestically and abroad. Vinistra hoped to also further raise the profile and credibility of the Association as a leader of innovative and creative programs that showcase the region’s best wines, terroir and lifestyle.

By the look of all the happy people with glasses full with golden malvasia, Vinistra achieved its goal.  🙂

(All photos courtesy of Vinistra)

News Bulletin: Vinistra to Host the First “En Primeur” Tasting of Malvasia Wine in Croatia

 

As part of an ongoing series of events leading up to the 19th annual Vinistra wine expo in May 2012, the Association of Winegrowers and Winemakers of Istria  (Vinistra) announced the first-ever “en primeur” degustation of young Malvasia Istriana (Malvazija istarska) wines from the 2011 vintage.

The en primeur event will be held on Monday, February 13, 2012 at the Regent Esplanade hotel in Croatia’s capital city, Zagreb. It will be open to the trade from 2pm till 4pm and to the public from 4pm till 7pm.

This historical first en primeur exploration of the 2011 Malvasia Istriana vintage will provide members of the trade – such as sommeliers, wine buyers, restaurateurs, and chefs – with the opportunity to assess the potential of the vintage and help facilitate their investment in the wines.

With the example set by this type of event, Vinistra also hopes to further raise the profile and credibility of the Association as a leader of innovative and creative programs that showcase the region’s best wines, terroir and lifestyle.

Ivica Matosević

“The focus of Vinistra has always been on new, innovative and straightforward ways to promote Istrian winemakers and the Istrian way of life”, said Ivica Matosević, president of Vinistra. “I think that with this new approach we can help raise the bar for all the other Croatian wine regions and ensure that we keep pace with the international wine scene.”

Thirty-six Istrian wineries are scheduled to participate and pour their 2011 Malvasia wines, including Agrolaguna, Agroprodukt, Franc Arman, Marijan Arman, Benvenuti, Capo, Cattunar, Commot, Coronica, Cossetto, Damijanić Robi, Damjanić Ivan, Degrassi, Devalentinis, Ferenac, Geržinić, Kabola, Kalavojna, Kozlović, Legović, Matić, Matošević, Meneghetti, Pilato, Poletti, Prodan, Radovan, Ritoša, San Tommaso, Sirotić Dario, Tercolo, Tomaz, Trapan, Vinobile, Vino P&P, and Vivoda.

To register for the en primeur tasting, please go to the Vinistra website or follow this link.

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)

A Heavyweight among Champions: Agrokor Joins Vinistra

May 12, 2011 – Poreč, Croatia

The world evolves and time changes everything.

And so it was today when Agrokor, one of the largest producers of wine in Croatia, officially joined the ranks of Vinistra (the Association of Winegrowers & Winemakers of Istria). To be more precise, Agrolaguna, a subsidiary in the large web of winery holdings owned by Agrokor, became the 119th member of Vinistra.

Based in Poreč, a historic seaside town in the Istria wine-growing region of Croatia, Agrolaguna currently manages 520 hectares of vineyards and a wine portfolio that includes the “Laguna Histria” label and the award-winning “Festiga” brand.  

(photo by Cliff Rames)

Put in perspective, it could be said that Agrolaguna is the elephant in the room, although that analogy applies only when you are in Croatia. When one takes into account that the vast majority of Vinistra’s members are small family wineries, Agrolaguna is like Gulliver at the Court of Lilliput. But to the outside world, the firm is relatively small, producing not millions of bottles but a few hundred thousand, perhaps.

Waiting for the ceremonies to begin. (photo by Cliff Rames)

 Nonetheless, Agrolaguna’s entry into Vinistra is big news, politically and economically. The mother company, Agrokor, has tremendous resources and a keen desire to be a serious player on the Croatian team of wineries. Over the past few years, it has invested heavily in advanced winery technology, vineyards, redesigned packaging, and new marketing strategies. It has engaged high-profile international consultants to help repackage its image from that of a factory winery to a producer of quality, accessible and value-driven wines that retain a true sense of place. 

(photo courtesy of VinMedia)

Signing the agreement were Vinistra president and spokesperson, Ivica Matošević, and Agrolaguna Director, Goran Kramarić. Matošević spoke briefly, providing a short history of its activities and events leading up to the agreement, signed on the eve of the 18th annual Vinistra wine expo.

“Agrolaguna’s membership in Vinistra is a huge step forward for Istrian and Croatian wine”, stated Matošević. “Vinistra’s acceptance of Agrolaguna’s membership request demonstrates that all of our winery members are united as equal players, whether they are small or large producers. Only in this way can we have the strength and resources to compete and achieve positive results in the international market”. 

(photo by Cliff Rames)

Kramarić spoke of Agrolaguna’s long relationship with Vinistra and its ongoing cooperation to advance the image and success of the Istrian wine brand.

“This agreement opens a door that leads to new opportunities for intensive cooperation to strengthen and support export initiatives, continued development of our wine roads and wine tourism, and joint participation in future events and exhibitions”, said Kramarić.

Arriving by helicopter that landed in a field behind the Agrolaguna winery in Poreč, Agrokor president Ivica Todorić presided over the ceremonies and was visibly pleased with the proceedings.

Ivica Todorić (photo by Cliff Rames)

“Our cooperation with Vinistra did not begin with the signature on this agreement today”, he said. “It is, however, evidence of our commitment to continue our partnership and desire to achieve our common goal to promote Istrian wine at home and abroad”.

“Agrokor invested a large sum of money to improve its brand and raise the quality of its wines. With that, we intend to lead the way forward and have a positive effect on the future of the market”, added Todorić.

“We appreciate and value the tremendous achievements that Ivica and his team have accomplished in the name of creating an Istrian brand”, said Todorić. “All this was done with the noble purpose of promoting Istria as a wine region, elevating the quality of Istrian wine, and celebrating the Istrian way of life. For this reason, I am extremely satisfied to sign this agreement today and formally join the members of Vinistra and move forward towards our common goals”.

(photo courtesy of VinMedia)

The formal speeches concluded with a startling but charming admission from the Župan (head administrator) of Istria County, Ivan Jakovčić: “About 10 years ago, I said in an interview that Malvazija Istarska, in my opinion, can never be a world-class wine. I stand here before you today to confess my mistake. I know now and can say with all certainty: Malvazija can be a world-class wine. And it is with great satisfaction that I witness the signing of this agreement today. In it, I see the future”.

Agrolaguna's tasting room (photo by Cliff Rames)

The signing ceremony and press conference were held in the nicely appointed tasting room at the Agrolaguna facility in Poreč and was followed by a lunch that few cynics could dismiss: plump and sweet shellfish roasted to perfection in large scallop shells, as well as local specialties perfectly paired with Agrolaguna wines.

It was a convincing display of haute cuisine and wine showmanship. Agrokor seemed to be sending a message to all in attendance that said: “We have arrived. Make no mistake. We are in this to win”.

Clearly the winners are all members of Vinistra, heavyweights and lightweights equally, and by extension – all Croatian wine producers. The model for cooperation among wineries and vision for success set forth by Ivica Matošević and his team at Vinistra are a guiding light that can – and should – show the way forward for all winemakers from every wine-producing region in Croatia.