Wine-o-graph: Prošek and Prosecco made simple

By Cliff Rames © 2013

Not that it’s a very complex issue. It’s not really. It’s fairly straightforward. But decide for yourself, if you haven’t already. And if you want to learn more, check out my previous post called Are You Pro Prošek? 12 Reasons Why You Should Be.

And for those of you who are (like me) short on time and attention, I have compiled this handy, easy-to-reference and share “Wine-o-graph” chart.

Cut and diced like this, it seems clearer than ever that Prošek and Prosecco are distinctly different products. No one has anything to fear from them being allowed to peacefully co-exist in the European Union or elsewhere.

So feel free to print it out, put it in your wallet, hang it on the wall, share it with a friend, or shout it from the mountaintops. In the meantime, I wish Croatia and its Prošek producers all the best in their efforts to save Prošek and continue its legacy as the traditional dessert wine of Croatia.

prošek-viganj

  Prošek vs. Prosecco – At a Glance
  Prošek Prosecco
History First written mention: 1556 First written mention: 1754
Pronunciation “Pro-shek” “Proh-sec-coh”
Grapes Varieties White: bogdanuša, dubrovačka malvasija, grk, malvazija istarska, maraština, plavac mali, prč (aka parč), pošip, tarpinka, trbljan, vugava, žlahtina. Red: babić, lasina, plavina, plavac mali.    Glera; sometimes bianchetta, charnonnay, perera, pinot noir, verdiso 
Area of Production The Adriatic coast and the islands of Dalmatia, Croatia Veneto, Friuli Venezia Giulia, Conegliano, and Valdobbiadene regions in northeast Italy
Number of Registered Producers 27 Over 3,000
Production Amounts 15,000 liters, or 30,000 bottles of 500 ml; most wineries produce less than 5,000 bottles each 225,000,000 liters, or 300 million 750 ml bottles
Winemaking Passito method. Hand harvested, sun dried grapes; 2-5 days skin maceration; fermentation lasting up to a year or more; mandatory 1 year of aging in wood Charmat method; secondary fermentation in autoclaves; bottling under pressure; no wood aging. 
Wine Style Still. Sweet with high residual sugar levels (70-150 g/l) Sparkling. Dry to semi-sweet with residual sugar levels ranging from 0 – 35 g/l
Color Dark golden, amber, neon orange, maple syrup, dark brown Straw to medium yellow
Commercial Bottle Shape 375-500 ml bottles of various shapes 750 ml sparkling wine bottle with mushroon cork and metal cage
Serving Glass Dessert wine glass Champagne flute
Availability on Export Markets Nearly non-existent; very limited distribution in export markets Widespread. In U.S.: 19.2 million bottles imported in 2012
Price $50 for 500 ml $10-$20 for 750 ml

Wines of Croatia Blog Annual Report: 2011 in Review

Dear readers,

First, we begin 2012 with an fresh, clean new blog design. I hope you like it!

Also, I just wanted to thank everyone who visited the blog, commented, and shared our posts in 2011.  You guys rock!

In case you were wondering, we had over 42,000 views in 2011 – an average of 116 per day, and almost 70,000 (and growing) visits since our first post on December 21, 2009. Not sure how that stacks up in the BIG blog world, but I think it is pretty awesome! So THANK YOU again. And please help us to make 2012 an even better year by contributing ideas for the blog, commenting, and sharing our posts far and wide.

In the meantime, check out the full annual report courtesy of the WordPress.com stats helper monkeys. And enjoy the new blog design – and content – in 2012!

All the best,

Cliff

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Syndey Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 42,000 times in 2011. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 16 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

“Croatian Wine Story” DVD Now Available in North America

 

Just in time for the holidays! Wines of Croatia is proud to offer for sale – exclusively and for the first-time ever in North America – the beautifully filmed and informative Croatian Wine Story (“Hrvatska Vinska Priča – Putevima Vina”) DVD.

The 115-minute film, directed by Miroslav Mirković and produced by Mandrak Productions, takes us on an eye-opening journey through some of Croatia’s most stunningly beautiful wine regions, including Baranja, the Croatian Littoral, north and south Dalmatia, the Dalmatian Hinterland, Istria, Moslavina, Plešivica, Slavonija, Srijem, and Zagorje-Međimurje.

 

Your guides on this journey are Franjo Francem, a well-known Croatian enologist, and Nataša Puhelek, the reigning “Croatian Wine Queen”. Together they will take you on a four-season trip throughCroatia, where you will visit some of the country’s leading wineries. From the first bud break all the way to harvest (and ice wine harvest!) you will have an armchair view of the life in the vineyards ofCroatiaand a sneak peek behindCroatia’s unique “wine story”.

For a glimpse of the scenery that awaits you in this film, check out this trailer:

 

 

Wineries featured in the film include: Agrolaguna; Belje; Benkovac (Badel 1862); Coronica; Vinarija Daruvar (Badel 1862); Vinarija Dingač, (Badel 1862); Đakovačka vina d.d. (Misna Vina); Enjingi; Gerštmajer; Grabovac; Iločki Podrumi; Istravino; Jakopić; Kabola; Katunar; Krauthaker; Kutjevo dd; Miklaužić; Mladina; Petrovečki; Skaramuča; Tomac; Vinoplod; PZ Vrbnik; Zdjelarević; and Zlatan Otok.

The film contains 31 chapters and is presented in the Croatian language with optional English or Slovenian subtitles available.

 

Important Note: The film is only available in PAL format (Region 2), which can be played on most computer-based DVD players and multi-format home DVD players. Unfortunately it cannot be played on standard NTSC-formatted (Region 1) DVD players. We tested the DVD on several computers, and it played perfectly each time.

To order your DVD in time for the holidays, please contact us at crames@winesofcroatia.com.

Quantities are limited! The special introductory/holiday price per DVD is $20 USD, plus $6 USPS Priority Shipping (Total = $26) to most U.S. addresses.   For addresses outside the U.S.,  please email us for the shipping price.

Payment should be made via Paypal to the email address crames@winesofcroatia.com. Please contact us for more details, if you have any questions, or if you would prefer to pay by check or money order. Sorry – we cannot accept credit cards at this time.

We think that you – or your favorite Croatian wino – will really enjoy this film, so order your copy now, pop open your favorite Croatian wine, and begin your journey down the wine roads of Croatia from the comfort of your own home.

Happy Holidays!

A Bit about Babić (the Grape) – Part I

Text and photos (except where stated otherwise) by Cliff Rames

When the subject of indigenous red grape varieties in Croatia arises, generally and indisputably it is accepted that Plavac Mali is King.

Yet the King’s Court includes several other local dignitaries of assorted distinction who have endured the centuries and survived the incursions of history. These locally noble grape varieties continue to play an important role in the glasses of present day wine consumers in Croatia, and some are just now finding their way onto the tables of wine lovers in distant lands like the U.S. and the U.K.

Babić
Babić grapes, Northern Dalmatia, Croatia

One of them is an old friend and occasional mistress of mine – Babić, the somewhat softer and more reasonable Queen to the often brasher and more savage King Plavac.

{To take this Royal Court silliness even further, I would submit that Crljenak Kaštelanski (AKA Zinfandel) is the Queen Mother and Teran, our wilely ambitious friend that rules the roost as Istria’s only indigenous red cultivar, is the Joker – a wild card prone to all sorts of surprises and unexpected delights.}

Back to Babić….

Babić
Babić

While records show that Babić has been planted in northern and central Dalmatia (Coastal Croatia) for hundreds of years, its origins remain a mystery (until DNA profiling is concluded). On one hand, it has been suggested that Babić is a localized clone of Dobričić, the red variety that is native to Šolta island and now famous for being one of the parent grapes (along with Crljenak Kaštelanski) of Plavac Mali.

Dobričić
Dobričić (Photo courtesy of Alan Mandic, Secret Dalmatia)

But in their book “Plavac Mali: A Croatian Grape for Great Wines” , authors Edi Maletić, Ivan Pejić and Jasminka Karoglan Kontić suggest that Babić and Dobričić are connected via a parent/offspring relationship. However, insufficient genetic data makes it impossible at the moment to determine which is the parent and which is the scion.

Elsewhere in the region local synonyms for Babić include Babica, Babina, Babinka, Babičević, Pažanin, Roguljanac, or Šibenčanac – although “Babica”, according to some locals that I spoke with, is thought to be a wayward clone of Babić that produces bulbous berries of inferior quality.

Babica
A lone Babica vine left from my grandfather's vineyard, Tisno, Croatia

Unlike Plavac Mali, which grows best throughout southern Dalmatia and on many of the idyllic islands that speckle the eastern side of the Adriatic Sea, Babić’s home is comprised of a 300-400 hectare swath of parched hillsides around the central Dalmatian town of Šibenik and southward toward the city of Split. While some Babić is also found in non-commercial vineyards as far north as Pag island near Zadar, its home is undisputaby the wine-growing hills of Primošten (60 hectares) and more specifically the famous Bucavac vineyard (18 hectares) in the hills overlooking the seaside resort town of Primošten, where it is the only variety planted (more about Bucavac in a later report).

Babić growing zone (shaded area)
Primošten
Primošten, heart of Babić country!
Bucavac
Bucavac vineyard, Primošten, Croatia
Bucavac
Bucavac

Babić has traditionally lurked on the sidelines as a minor player among Croatia’s diverse array of indigenous grapes, overshadowed by more celebrated Plavac Mali.  Leo Gracin, PhD, Senior Scientific Assistant at the Faculty of Food Technology and Biotechnology – University of Zagreb, Croatia and a leading grower and producer of Babić), estimates that Babić totals approximately 1.5% of all grapevine plantings in Croatia today. It is also the second most-widely planted native red grape (second to Plavac Mali) and represents about 4% of all red cultivars in Croatia.

Babić
Babić - ripe & ready!

Yet Babić plantings around Šibenik and Primošten are increasing. Most significantly, heavy-hitter producers like Vinoplod Šibenik (the local cooperative) and Zlatan Plenković (winemaker and owner of the Hvar-based winery, Zlatan Otok) recently planted several hundred thousand new Babić vines on the previously barren hillsides that were once part of a Yugoslav Army training base just outside Šibenik at Jadrtovac. These vineyards are expected to come into production in 2012 and could potentially unleash a flood of new Babić wines onto the market – hopefully at approachable prices!

New Babić plantings near Šibenik
New Babić plantings near Šibenik
Baby Babić
Baby Babić

(To Be Continued….)

Wines of Croatia banner

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.