(While this in fairly old news now, for the sake of posterity and future curious minds – and anyone who might have missed it all – here is a recap of the Wines of Croatia Grand Portfolio Tasting event in New York City back in June, along with two videos of the festivities. It was a great day, one that we hope to repeat next year and on in other locations. Stay tuned – and enjoy this look back in time.)
On June 13, 2011, Wines of Croatia – in partnership with the Association of Winemakers at the Croatian Chamber of Economy (Hrvatska Gospodarska Komora) and the Consulate General of the Republic of Croatia in New York – held the first-ever Grand Portfolio Tasting of the country’s top wines.
The event, held at Hudson Terrace in New York City, was attended by 120 sommeliers, wine buyers, journalists, bloggers and other trade personnel.
At this historic invitation-only tasting, nearly a dozen producers from Croatia’s leading boutique wineries poured their terroir-specific wines from the continental and coastal regions of Croatia.
Guests of the Grand Tasting were treated to wines produced from an array of indigenous grape varieties, including Malvasia Istriana, Pošip, Teran, Plavac Mali, Graševina, Malvasia of Dubrovnik, Babić, Debit, Crljenak Kaštelanski, and Žlahtina, as well as international varieties like Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Riesling.
Prior to the rooftop walk-around tasting, an educational seminar was conducted by Certified Sommelier and Wines of Croatia founder, Cliff Rames. Guest speakers at the seminar included Joe Campanale, sommelier and co-owner of Anfora Wine Barin New York City, and winemaker Ivica Matošević.
Here is a really cool video documenting the day’s events:
Representatives of the Croatia Chamber of Economy included Davor Komerički, Morana Stinčić, Igor Barbarić, Ivona Grgan, and Božica Marković. Representing the Consulate General of the Republic of Croatia in New York and joining us as honorary guest was Consul General, Marijan Gubić.
To salute Croatia’s status as a truffle-producing nation, a noted truffle hunter from Tartufino was also on hand to discuss Croatia’s deep historic connection with truffles from the Istria region.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
(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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
“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”.
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”.
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.
From March 27-29, 2011, the wine world was focused on Düsseldorf, Germany, site of one of Europe’s most important wine festivals: ProWein.
According to the organizers of the festival, ProWein 2011 was attended by over 3,600 exhibitors from some 50 countries. Attendance reached 38,000 – a 5% increase over 2010.
The organizers also noted an increase in the number of international guests, primarily from Great Britain, Scandinavia, the USA and Canada, as well as Eastern Europe – especially Russia, the Czech Republic and the Baltic states. The festival also saw an increase in the number of visitors from Asia – most notably China, Thailand and Hong Kong. Festival organizers reported that over 80% of visitors were individuals who are directly involved in purchasing decisions (Source: Visitor Survey at ProWein 2011.)
For the 5th consecutive year, Croatian winemakers were among the international exhibitors, with 25 of the most important wineries in Croatia participating, collectively representing more than 150 wines.
Croatia’s participation in this year’s ProWein fair was sponsored by the Croatian Chamber of Economy (HGK), in cooperation with the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Rural Development (MPRRR).
With total space of 95 square meters, the Wines of Croatia booth was the focus of much attention, as trade professionals stopped by to investigate and taste the wines of Agrokor-Vina, Arman, Badel 1862, Capo, Cattunar, De Georgiis, Feravino, Jako Vino, Kabola, Kalazić, Korta Katherina, Krauthaker, Kutjevački Podrum, Lagradi, OPG Božo Bačić, OPG Šime Škaulj, Roxanich, Saints Hills, Suha Punta, Trapan, Veralda, Matošević, Vinski Vrh, Vinoplod, and the University of Zadar.
“This fair is of great importance to Croatian wineries, because it is an opportunity to present the wines of Croatia to an international audience”, said Rajko Ružička, Assistant to the Director of the Office Agriculture, Food and Forestry at the HGK.
“We hope that our presence at the fair will help to increase exports of Croatian wines, especially in regard to Germany, which at 600,000 liters annually makes it the second largest foreign market, after Bosnia-Herzegovina. That is why the HGK and MPRRR support Croatian wineries at international festivals like this, because it is critical to effectively present and position Croatian wines in potentially interested foreign markets.”
Due to the large volume of business conducted during the festival and shear number of journalists present, ProWein is an opportunity that under no circumstances should be missed, said Saša Špiranec, Chairman of the Association of Croatian Wineries Festival Committee at the Croatian Chamber of Economy (HGK).
“ProWein is the starting point of marketing activities of our new association, whose primary mission is to raise awareness among the wine consuming public about the wines of Croatia. The task of branding Croatian wine includes many promotional tools – including specialized fairs like ProWein”, said Špiranec.
Đuro Horvat, president of the Association of Croatian Wineries at HGK, added that Croatian winemakers regard the creation of a strong Croatian wine brand – one that showcases the excellent quality and originality of the wines – as crucial for the export market.
“Export trends from year to year indicate movement towards high quality wines from premium categories. That is why this festival is important as an opportunity to establish business contacts and ultimately increase wine exports through new sales,” said Horvat.
“Croatian wines are growing more and more interesting to international consumers and markets, who are increasingly seeking out wines of origin produced from indigenous grapes. This is especially true in more developed markets, such as Germany and Great Britain, where the rate of wine consumption is growing and the market is saturated with the most popular international varieties,” added Horvat.
Across six pavilions, visitors to ProWein were treated to a comprehensive snapshot of the world wine market and a selection of thousands of wines to taste. ProWein is an important bellwether of emerging trends and a showcase for new products and services, as well as an ideal venue for networking between visitors, producers, exhibitors, distributors and the media.
Summing up the positive results of ProWein 2011, Hans Werner Reinhard, Deputy Managing Director at Messe Düsseldorf, said: “We are delighted with an extremely successful event! Our positive expectations were even exceeded. ProWein 2011 went splendidly. ProWein was impressively able to underline its status as the leading international fair measured by all key performance indicators. It brings the supply and demand sides of the wine and spirits market together at an international level in a uniquely professional atmosphere and it is the perfect meeting point for the sector to showcase trends and innovations, to discover and discuss.”
Next year’s ProWein event is scheduled for March 4-6, 2012 in Düsseldorf.
[Sources: Nacional.hr article(in Croatian), published on March 28, 2011; ProWein press release, published March 29, 2011]
[Note: The views presented here are strictly my own and are in no way intended to reflect the views of the festival organizers or its sponsors and partners]
Okay, I know: It was too crowded. Too packed. Too small. Too hot and noisy. All those dead-end alleys stuffed with herds of winos, unable to move or escape. Winemakers unable to hear or speak with the guests; sometimes unable to access their stock of fresh bottles when faced with empties; unable to retreat to the bathroom…..
And yes, the coat room would completely filled-up by noon, forcing many guests to carry their heavy winter coats (it was cold in Zagreb!), scarves and bags around the tasting room floor.
And the last shuttle bus of the festival, in the cold night after a long day of tasting, apparently never showed up – forcing several guests (including me) to chase down taxis back to the hotel….
It’s all been said already.
But let me add this nugget: The festival was a victim of its own success.
The Museum of Contemporary Art Zagreb, where the festival was held, is a lovely facility that was barely adequate to accommodate the crowd that turned out to discover the wines within. Interest was obviously high, and it seems likely that the organizers underestimated the potential number of attendees. While open to the public, tickets were not cheap (150 Kuna, or about $30 – a lot of money for many Croatians), thereby screening out many (although not all) individuals who might otherwise see the event as a great way to have a drinking party with pals and buddies. Nonetheless, hundreds of people paid the money in exchange for a chance to taste some awesome juice and meet the faces behind the labels.
A recommendation for next year: Reserve 2-3 hours in the morning exclusively for accredited members of the trade and media to walk through, taste, chat with winemakers, and network with like-minded peers without the throng of public attendees (who could be admitted afterwards). Many tastings and expos I have attended over the years are organized in this fashion. It seems to work well.
To their credit, the organizers DID on the first day try to offer a solution by scheduling a 3-hour “by invitation only workshop” for “foreign wine journalists and wine buyers”. I was invited but honestly forgot about it in the swirl of activity and meetings. I also wonder who attended it, since most of the action and winemakers were out on the public floor.
The Café Bar
A refuge from the sensory overload and crushing grind of the tasting hall was the museum’s little café bar, a quiet place where exhausted refugees huddled to recharge their palates by drinking coffee, sparkling water – and beer. The little café was also a popular spot to hold business meetings (I had about 6 of them there), as well as a reliable source of fast, cheap eats in the form of sandwiches at 15 Kuna each (more about the general food situation in Part 3).
The VIP Guests
Each year the ZWGF seems to become a little bit less insulated and more outward focused. And that’s a great thing, as Croatia is an exciting emerging winemaking country that should be blowing its trumpets and utilizing all its tools and resources to draw attention to its fabulous winemaking history and culture.
This year was especially exciting, as the guest list included many interesting and important VIPs from the international wine trade and media. Among the VIP guests were Sarah Kemp and Christelle Guibert, respectively the Publishing Editor and the Tasting Editor from Decanter magazine; Gabriella and Ryan Opaz, founders of Catavinoand the European Wine Bloggers Conference; Peter Moser, Editor-in-Chief of Falstaff; Dr. Josef Schuller, Master of Wine; Lynne Sherriff, Master of Wine and Chairwoman of the Institute of Masters of Wine; and Nicolas Joly, legendary French winemaker and current godfather of the biodynamic movement, who conducted a fascinating seminar called “Biodynamics in Wine Growing”.
[One note for the record: Somewhere in the official ZWGF press materials and program booklet, I am listed as “Master Sommelier”. I am NOT a Master Sommelier but rather a “Certified Sommelier”. Out of reverent respect for the brilliant and hard-won achievements of real Master Sommeliers, my conscious demanded that I make this correction. I am, however, a master at consuming large amounts of wine; a master of procrastination; and master at a few other nasty habits. Yet a Master Sommelier I am not – but I hope to become one when I grow up.]
The Round Table Workshop
Another really interesting event at the festival was the Round Table Workshop, scheduled for the morning of Friday, February 25th. Unfortunately, the space for the workshop was again inadequate for the large number of people in attendance. It was also very noisy (one side wall was open and funneled all the noise from the main tasting hall into the workshop room). I found out afterwards that a number of people in the rear of the room could not hear the presenters, despite attempts to use a microphone, and left in frustration.
That is a pity, because the subject of the round table – “Perspective and real Potential of Croatian Wine and Wine Tourism” – was very important and interesting. Presenters included an eclectic mix of trade professionals: Saša Špiranec, Croatian wine reviewer and writer, gave an overview of Croatia’s wine regions, annual production, and grape varieties; Sarah Kemp provided perspective on the world of wine and how Croatia could become a player on the international market; Mr. Tony Hodges, Chairman of the London-based P.R. firm, brandstory, spoke of the power of storytelling in marketing; Duro Horvat, Managing Director for Agrokor(one of Croatia’s largest wineries), and winemaker Ivica Matošević provided some perspective from the viewpoints of their respective large and small wineries; Mr. Matošević also spoke of his marketing success as president of the Association of Winegrowers and Winemakers of Istria, Vinistra; and Ryan Opaz from Catavino spoke about the importance of social media in the wine trade.
The subject of my piece of the round table presentation was entitled, “The Openness of the U.S. Market to New Wine Regions” – like Croatia. You can watch a video of my presentation here on YouTube.
According to the ZWGF website, the festival featured over 130 exhibitors and included “crème de la crème” among Croatian wine and culinary stars (the official ZWGF roster included 76 Croatian wineries).
Over 500 wines from eight Croatian wine-growing regions were presented, as well as a selection of wines from Austria, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Germany, Italy, Montenegro, New Zealand, Slovenia, and South Africa.
In addition, about 16 vendors of food products and delicacies were among the exhibitors. From them I was able to secure a few slivers of prosciutto and salami when I was starving (which was always), washing them down with a cube or two of bread dipped in olive oil.
Next: The wines….
End of Part 2. Part 3 will follow very soon. Stay tuned!
Much has already been written and posted about the 35th Annual Zagreb Wine Gourmet Festival (ZWGF), held February 24-25 in Zagreb, Croatia, but a little more attention for such an important and well-attended event can’t hurt. So, without further adieu, and recognizing that the window for timely discourse is quickly closing, here are a few short observations from the ZWGF, presented here for posterity and – hopefully – your enjoyment.
[In full disclosure, I must state here that the organizers of ZWGF funded my trip to Zagreb. In return, I agreed to be a presenter at a round table discussion regarding the international potential and marketing of Croatian wines (see below). The views presented here are strictly my own and are in no way intended to reflect the views of the festival organizers or its sponsors and partners].
The Organizers & Sponsors
At several points during the two days I spent at ZWGF, I unexpectedly found myself being asked by a number of guests to explain who had organized the event.
Apparently, this question was the catalyst of some minor confusion, which I suppose is understandable, since most of these guests were non-Croatian speakers who had only recently touched down in Zagreb for the first time. Since many of them knew me as the chap behind Wines of Croatia, and ZWGF was clearly not a “Wines of Croatia” event, then the question of who did organize ZWGF was somewhat reasonable.
So, here’s the story: ZWGF was sponsored by a consortium of public/private partners, some of which were government ministries and agencies, along with a few private corporations.
To their credit, the organizers DID print a list of the sponsors and partners on the back cover of the official ZWGF program booklet. The primary sponsors included: The Croatian Ministry of Tourism; the Ministry of Agriculture; the City of Zagreb; the Tourist Office of the City of Zagreb; the Croatian National Tourism Board; Privredna Banka Zagreb; PBZ Card – American Express; and Generali Insurance. Media sponsors were Gloria and Jutarnji List. More information can be gathered at the festival’s website.
As for the grueling work of actually organizing such a monumental event, that job went to Laniva d.o.o. “1001 delicija” and in particular, the dynamic duo of Ingrid Badurina Danielssson and Irina Ban, who also received assistance from sommelier Željko Bročilović Carlos. Without doubt, the task of organizing such a large event was surely enormous.
While there were a few minor glitches and complaints to be found here and there, in general the event was well executed and presented. The sheer number of Croatian winemakers, wines, international guests, break-out sessions, and visitors could have easily overwhelmed a less capable team. Bravo to you, Ingrid, Irina and Željko!
The Gala Dinner
To celebrate the official start of the festival, about 200 invited guests gathered on the evening of February 24, 2011 in one of the stunning ballrooms on the 17th floor of the Westin Zagreb hotel for the Gala Dinner. Large glass windows provided us a bird’s eye view over the Zagreb skyline and added to the festive spirit of the occasion, and the selection of amuse-bouche appetizers prepared by Chef Deniz Zembo of Le Mandrać restaurant set the stage for a an evening of culinary exploration and delight.
The 5-course dinner was a classy, delicious affair full with delicacies and dishes prepared by a stellar team of chefs from Croatia, Slovenia, Italy, France (via the French Mission to the International Organizations, Vienna), and Sweden, each presenting one of the courses.
The detailed list of chefs and the full menu with wines are available here.
My favorite dish of the night was the “Stracotto” of Boškarin Beef with a potato and truffle cream, served with a whole salted, roast onion. This fabulous dish was prepared by Chef Robert Perić of LF Catering in Pula, Croatia, and was notable for two reasons:
1) Boškarin beef is an ancient, protected breed of ox native to the Istria region of Croatia. The animal is marked by long, lyre-shaped white horns and a huge, thick neck. Once a beast of burden used to pull plows, modernized farming and an impure gene-pool nearly drove the ox to extinction (in 1994, there were only 112 remaining animals). Luckily, swift action by an alliance of Istrian cattle breeders and government agencies saved the Boškarin, and the ox is making a comeback as an indigenous agro-tourism curiosity and source of flavorful, “slow food” meat from animals raised on mother’s milk and Istrian meadow grass.
2) The whole salted roast onion (see photo above). What a curious creation! The onion was roasted in its skin, dusted with a crackle of sea salt, and served with the skins still attached. It was the most unusual, profoundly scrumptious thing that I tasted in recent memory.
The ONE criticism of the night (and I am not the only one who was disturbed by this fact) is this: Only three of the six wines that were paired with the appetizer and 5-course dinner were from Croatia. The other three were Italian.
Being the certified wine hound that I am, I normally would not mind being served a little Franciacorta sparkling wine or Italian red with dinner, and the Italian selections were certainly tasty.
But here’s the issue: This was the Gala Dinner for the Zagreb Wine Gourmet Festival, attended by some of Croatia’s most important winemakers, members of the government, President Josipović (see below), and – more importantly – international VIP guests who were there to discover what all the chatter about wines from Croatia is about. Yet there they were, being served Italian Chardonnay with the artichoke and scampi risotto, and (gasp!) Feudo Antico-Abruzzo rosso with the proudly Istrian Boškarin beef entreé (instead of, let’s say, a nice Istrian Teran).
Forgive me, but really – it should have been an all Croatian wine line-up. Why so many worthy Croatian wines were passed over for the wine pairing in favor of Italian wines, we’ll probably never know. But it’s missteps like this that make the difficult job of promoting Croatian wines in the world even harder. To make others believe that Croatian wines are fabulous and worth seeking out, we Croatians have to believe it first – and shout it from the mountain tops at every opportunity!
Thankfully, my stellar line-up of companions at Table #3 distracted me from dwelling too long on this missed opportunity to showcase Croatian wines with world-class cuisine. “Thank you” to Ivica Matošević, Moreno DeGrassi, Frank Dietrich, Stetson Robbins, Daniel Pedisich, Dee Radovich, and Siniša Škaberna for being such great dinner companions! It was a blast!
At one point during the dinner reception, there was a commotion in the room, and I turned to see Croatian president Ivo Josipović standing about two meters away from me, with a flute of Franciacorta poised in hand.
Having never met the president before, it seemed like a good time to thank him for his symbolic support of initiatives by Croatian winemakers to garner government funding for wine marketing activities.
Disregarding any obvious or implied protocol, I began the difficult task of elbowing my way over to him, smiling at a few security agents on the way. The president (I noticed) was being chaperoned by the indomitable Ingrid Badurina, who (happily for me) noticed that I was circling about, vying for the president’s attention; she halted him with a tug on the elbow and introduced me (thank you, Ingrid!).
It was obvious that the president’s mind was a million miles away, occupied with complex Affairs of the State – or perhaps a particularly lifting refrain from some distant piano concerto (he’s a classically trained pianist and composer). I quickly spit out a few words to draw his attention to the herculean task of promoting Croatian wines in the world. He nodded and smiled, murmured a few words of understanding and support, took my card, glanced at it, and stuck it in his pocket. Then in a blur he was whisked away by another guest (who surely needed to advise him on more urgent matters of the homeland).
So it goes.
Wine of the Year
The gala dinner program included a number of small side events, one of which was the announcement and presentation of the “Wine of the Year”. This year’s award went to the Tomić 2007 Plavac Mali “barrique”, a red wine made by winemaker Andro Tomić, whose vineyards and winery are on the southern Dalmatian island of Hvar.
End of Part 1. Part 2 will follow very soon. Stay tuned!
Editor’s Note: With this report, Robert Parker’s influencial “Wine Advocate” journal has published its first-ever review of a selection of wines from Croatia. The report and subsequent scores were written and posted by Neal Martin of www.wine-journal.com and www.erobertparker.com and are reprinted here with permission.
The Wines of Croatia: An Introduction
Apart from a debauched weekend in Prague with vague memories of an absinthe bar and a school-friend’s wedding in Ljubljana when the nuptial solemnity was ruined by a flotilla of Slovenian ‘Gay Pride’ floats manned by hirsute men in latex sailor suits congregating directly outside the church, I have very little experience of Eastern Europe. The nearest I have ventured to Croatia is a highly enjoyable soiree hosted by eRP Forumite Leo Frokic in Westchester last June and even then I collapsed on his kid’s bunk bed with acute jetlag.
Eastern Europe has been ill served by Wine-Journal and one could argue, ill served by wine journalists in general (with one or two notable exceptions.) Let’s not turn a blind eye to the fact that it has not been easy to shake off the tag of a ‘poor man’s’ wine, the kind of cheap-looking bottles you see languishing on the shelves next to the cat food in corner shops, the unpronounceable, vowel-less names and dodgy-sounding grape varieties. Against a funky sounding New Zealand or Chilean wine with a snazzy eye-catching label, I can understand why they may remain unappealing to conservative consumers. But the revolution in Croatia and other Eastern European countries has been underway since the mid-1990s and perhaps it is time we began to take notice.
I noticed that this month, Mark S. posted a few notes on Bulgarian wines and I posted my own Wine-Journal article on some wonderful Hungarian wine back in January. To further redress this imbalance, I will present two reports from countries: Croatia and later on, Slovenia. My feeling is that the Eastern European countries have the potential to become major international players, as wines improve and as perceptions of a more open-minded generation change. I must stress that these reports take an objective approach to the wines of each country. I read too many fawning, patronizing reports whose objective is to pat the ‘underdog’ on the back, instead of pointing out where they may be going right but perhaps more importantly, where they might be going wrong.
This first article looks at the wines of Croatia, inspired by a very well organized generic tasting event organized by the Croatian Chamber of Economy at the Inter-Continental Hotel in London back in May 2010. As far as I am aware, the country’s wines have not been covered in detail in The Wine Advocate, so in this case, allow me to present a potted history, the basic geography and the main grape varieties.
Croatia’s viticultural heritage stretches back over 2,500 years, after the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius Probus commanded vast swathes of land from Germany down to the Danube to be turned over to vineyards. Although there was a short interregnum in regions occupied by the Ottoman Empire, viticulture continued over many centuries with an emphasis on European varietals. After diseases decimated the vines in the 19th century, these varietals tended to be replaced with those from German and Austria, swayed by the ruling Habsburg family.
In the 20th century, the trend was more towards French varieties, although Istrian and Dalmatian varieties survived the ravages of disease and today, sixty indigenous varietals remain, the most important of which I have outlined below. There are presently 33,000-hectares under vine in Croatia, equally split between continental and coastal regions, home to 800 wineries producing wines of controlled origin.
The Croatian wine industry really started to gel and modernize in the so-called “Wine Spring” in the mid-1990s, a period that witnessed a new generation of winemakers such as Gianfranco Kozlovic, Andro Tomic and Davor Zdjelarevic enter the limelight.
The coastal region consists of Istria, Hrvatsko primorje and Dalmatia, the latter warmer due to its proximity to the Adriatic and therefore producing generally riper, simpler, more alcoholic wines.
Continental Croatia comprises of four wine regions: Danube Region, Slavonia, Central Croatia and North-Western Croatia. The climate is generally one of cold winters and hot summers. Western regions planted with aromatic varieties such as Muscat and Riesling whilst Eastern regions err towards Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Grasevina, with a strong emphasis on white wines (approximately 90%.) These are extremely broad generalizations and of course, the Croatian viticultural landscape is far more complex than I have described here.
White Grape Varieties
Grasevina – this is most successfully cultivated in the sub-regions of Baranja and Ilok next to the Danube and Kutjevo in central Slavonia. It was rather abused under socialist regimes since it can be a high yielding variety and its synonyms, Welschriesling and Laski Rizling, meant that consumers misconstrued the grape variety to be an inferior Riesling, when it is nothing of the sort. Recently there has been a reassessment of Grasevina, a grape that can produce excellent quality in the right micro-climate and in the hands of a conscientious winemaker. Its wines can be aromatic, green apple and citrus aromas in cooler climes, exotic and floral in warmer.
Malvasia Istriana – recent ampelographical studies have indicated that Malvasia Istriana is only very loosely related to the Mediterranean Malvasias. It is a sweet grape variety whose naturally high yielding nature demands control in the vineyard. It generally produces aromas of nectarine and peach and occasional minerally accents, particularly toward the western coast, whilst southern Istrian Malvasias can be more exotic. Look out for bottles labelled “IQ”, an indication of quality and traditional values designated by the Association of Istrian Winegrowers.
Posip – an increasingly popular indigenous variety that is a hybrid of bratkovina and zlatarica from Korcula. It is an adaptable grape variety and whilst most of it is fermented in stainless steel, some is being matured on their lees in barrel.
Chardonnay – widely grown over Croatia, though particularly respected in Slavonia.
(Also Riesling, Zlahtina, Sauvignon Bijeli (Sauvignon Blanc) and Traminac (Gewurztraminer), Debit, Grk (a perfect grape variety for Scrabble players), Skrlet, Vugava and Kujundzusa.
Red Grape Varieties
Plavac Mali – known as the “king of the Croatian red wines” and can be found under “fantasy names” named after geographical origin such as Postup and Ivan Dolac. It is very adaptable to Mediterranean climates and poor soils. It can be prone to over-crop so quality can vary, though generally it produces high alcohol wines up to 16 percent and high levels of residual sugar. It can produce rich, heady aromas of baked fruit and prune.
Babic – this indigenous variety needs a poor soil and can retain the acidity well. It can obtain vegetal notes in its youth and needs to achieve full physiological ripeness and therefore, high alcohol levels. Much is aged in barriques.
Teran – this indigenous variety was more prevalent in the 19th century. It can easily achieve high acidity levels up to 10g/L and tends towards aromas of ripe blackberries with vegetal accents.
(Also Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Frankovka, Pinot Crni (Pinot Noir), Plavina.. Plus we must mention Mr. Zinfandel…Crljenak Kastelanski.)