Anthony Bourdain in Croatia: “Holy S*** That’s Good!”

By Cliff Rames © 2012

”I can’t believe it took me this long….Season 8. It took me to get here. This is f****** awesome.”

Unless you have been hidden away on one of Croatia’s many uninhabited islands (there are over 1,100 of them), by now you have probably heard that Anthony Bourdain of the widely popular Travel Channel TV show, No Reservations, kicked off Season 8 by visiting Croatia.

(Photo courtesy of the Travel Channel)

The episode he filmed in Croatia, called “Coastal Croatia”, was shot over a week’s time back in October 2011 and made its world premier this week on the Travel Channel (Monday, April 23, 2012, 9pm EST).

Reaction to the episode, based on the early buzz and online chatter, has been ecstatic and overwhelmingly positive. Love him or hate him – Bourdain can be a divisive, acerbic personality with a raw, uncensored sense of humor – the “Coastal Croatia” episode is an extremely entertaining, informative, and well-produced piece of travel journalism. It is also quite infectious viewing; I still find myself watching it over and over again. You can too, thanks to the Travel Channel, which now has the full episode online here.

Certainly Anthony Bourdain’s own reactions to his experiences in Croatia fueled much of the elation mirrored by his viewers as we watched him suck on briny oysters and garlicky mussels; hunt for Istrian truffles with “Shotzy the Wonder Dog”; skewer sashimi tuna; gorge himself on shark liver pate, fish tripe and lobster; drizzle “amazing spicy Croatian olive oil”; carve succulent slivers of Paški cheese; savor slow-simmered Skradin risotto; and swirl and swallow several liters of local wine. Often Bourdain could not contain his amazement and surprise, exclaiming over and over again, ”Holy s*** that’s good”.

(Photo courtesy of the Travel Channel)

And over and over again I found myself cheering Bourdain on, perched on the edge of my seat in anticipation of his next move or discovery, and of course wishing I was there too.  🙂

Bourdain is now famous for his often hilarious, sometimes offensive yet always entertaining one-liners. Rather than repeat them here, many of the Bourdainisms from the Croatia episode have already been documented for your enjoyment in this post by Eater.com.

Bourdain’s “Coastal Croatia” travels began in Istria, where he visits Rovinj and Motovun. Our friends at Taste of Croatia have graciously mapped out Bourdain’s itinerary for you here.

In one scene at a seaside restaurant, Konoba Batelina, the wines of Bruno Trapan are on table, clearly being enjoyed by the group. While Bourdain had planned to visit Trapan winery, in the end he had to bypass it due to time restraints. Which is too bad, because Bruno Trapan is quite a rock star among Croatian winemakers and has many admirers at home and abroad. His boundless energy, wild enthusiasm, intense passion and maturing skill as winemaker would have been quite a match for Bourdain. I’m sure having the two of them in the same room would have resulted in a revolution of some sort.  🙂

The Dynamic Duo: Istrian winemaker Bruno Trapan and Dalmatian winemaker Alen Bibich. (photo by Cliff Rames)

The journey then continued to Dalmatia, where Bourdain visits Boškinac hotel and winery on Pag island in central Dalmatia – “an amazing, crazy-ass spot”. There he is treated to Boris Šuljić’s delectable cooking – a multicourse extravaganza that – I know from my own visit there last year – is one of the finest culinary experiences in Croatia. All dishes were paired with Boškinac’s “awesome” wines, which are produced from Šuljić’s vineyards in the fields across from the hotel. I am especially fond of his Gegić, a fresh, salty white wine from the locally indigenous grape of the same name. The Boškinac red blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot is widely considered to be one of the best Bordeaux-style wines in Dalmatia.

Bourdain at Boškinac hotel & winery (photo courtesy of Boris Šuljić)

From Pag, Bourdain traveled to BIBICh winery in Skradin, where, simply put, he seemed to have the time of his life, asking, “Why, oh why, is there so much amazing wine in this country?”

(photo by Cliff Rames)

Not surprising at all. I have visited BIBICh many times over the years and despite my futile efforts to remain faithful to a spit bucket, maintain dignified self control, and sustain a guise of “professionalism”, I have never left sober or unfazed by the man’s charm, incredible hospitality, and deliciously fascinating array of family wines.  🙂

I also regularly recommend BIBICh to travelers in the area, and I have never heard a bad report from anyone who has visited him. Alen BIBICh has always been miles ahead of the game in regard to an understanding of wine tourism, wine marketing, and wine exports (he exports the bulk of his production and was one of the first Croatian wine producers to find success in the United States, where his R6 Riserva red is a best seller).

Often the unsung hero behind BIBICh’s success and ability to please any number of visitors or VIP guests is his wife, Vesna. The woman is a culinary genius, and she possesses a superhero’s ability to whip up on short notice a gourmet tasting menu that is not only delicious but perfectly complements the wine that Alen is pouring. It is simply astounding, and anyone who has ever had the privilege to enjoy some time with Alen, his wines and Vesna’s food pairings will never forget it and may also find him/herself exclaiming, “Holy s*** that’s good!”

One of Vesna Bibich's culinary creations (photo by Cliff Rames)

A few viewers have been asking about the food that Bourdain ate on the show. Many of the dishes are local specialties with recipes that vary by region and village-to-village. You can get some ideas from the Taste of Croatia book by Karen Evenden. Esquire also just posted a recipe for the grilled sardines, and you can view that here. Croatian Cuisine also offers a smart phone app that contains many traditional Dalmatian recipes.

Ante Pižić, the gentleman who prepared the Skradin risotto at BIBICh winery, will not reveal the recipe, saying only that it is a family secret dating back over 200 years. He did however tell me that tradition dictates that only male members of the family can prepare it, and the whole process takes four days, 12 hours of which are spent over a fire, cooking and stirring. The Slow Food movement is a traditional way of life in Croatia.

Skradin risotto

No doubt, Anthony Bourdain No Reservations “Coastal Croatia” is by far one of the best promotional pieces for Croatian tourism, food and wine to emerge in a long time. It is also a perfect example of how smartly done, “hip” marketing can resonate across the globe and lead to practical benefits. Word is, since the episode aired the phones of Croatian wine importers in the U.S. have been ringing off the hook.

To commemorate the occasion, Blue Danube Wine Company tapped into its cellar reserves and released two older vintages of BIBICh wines, the 2004 Sangreal Mertlot and the limited release 2006 Sangreal Syrah. Needless to say, BIBICh wines are now hot, and we are happy to report that Blue Danube just received a new shipment and several new vintages are now available in the U.S. (unfortunately Boškinac wines are not exported at the moment).

Perhaps – and hopefully – this is a tipping point for Croatian wines. Certainly Boris Šuljić and Alen Bibich have gained some well-deserved attention and recognition for their talents. As for the many excellent Croatian winemakers not featured in this program: I firmly believe in the old adage: “A rising tide lifts all boats”….

While No Reservations has generated a lot of buzz and attention for Croatia and its food and wine scene, it would be foolish for any of us to rest our laurels. With his show, Anthony Bourdain has blown open the doors of imagination, of possibility, of opportunity. Now comes the hard work of delivering on the promise and sustaining the momentum….

(Photo courtesy of Alen Bibich)

Yet for now we can certainly bask in the glow and smile, knowing that many more people will soon be discovering Croatian wines and enjoying what we have always known: the wines are great, the winemakers all have great stories, and Croatia is an amazingly beautiful country with a rich food and wine heritage.

In the words of Anthony Bourdain,”this is world class food; this is world class wine; this is world class cheese…. If you haven’t been here yet, you are a fucking idiot”.

And even if you are not an “idiot” or have already been to Croatia, then perhaps – like me – you watched Bourdain as he relished in the marvels and beauties of Croatia and knew one thing for sure: that you must go back as soon as possible!

I have a feeling that the Croatian National Tourism Board was just handed a brand new marketing slogan: “Croatia – Holy S*** That’s Good!”  🙂

(Photo courtesy of the Travel Channel)

Richard Bampfield MW: Croatian Wines “Hold Their Own”

On May 10, 2011, Richard Bampfield became the first Master of Wine (MW) to visit Croatia to expressively taste and review its wines.

Richard Bampfield, MW

While in Croatia, Mr. Bampfield hosted an exclusive Master Class at the Hotel Bastion in Zadar. The event, sponsored by Yacht Gourmet Croatia, was designed to introduce guests to the U.K wine market while assessing the quality and potential of Croatian wines as an export product and tourist offering (particularly for the yachting community on Croatia’s Adriatic Sea).

Photo courtesy of Yacht Gourmet Croatia

Attending the Master Class were 25 winemakers from Croatia, including Alen Bibich, Andro Tomić, Ivica Matošević, and Mladen Rožanić. Other guests included yacht crews, representatives of luxury villas and rental agencies, and Croatian journalist Rene Bakalović (who published this article in Croatia’s largest daily newspaper, Jutarnji List).


After the Master Class and tasting, Mr. Bampfield noted that many of the Croatian wines he tasted would “hold their own” against similar wines produced elsewhere in the world.

“Croatian wines have the advantage of history, which is a good thing”, Bampfield said in a statement to Croatian TV. “Croatian wines are unique and unlike anything you can find elsewhere. But this has a negative side, too. If people cannot find the wines, then they cannot get to know them. I think the U.K. market is ready for Croatian wines. But Croatia must be smart about its promotion and placement of the wines.”

Photo courtesy of Yacht Gourmet Croatia

Alessia Cortesi, owner of Yacht Gourmet Croatia, said that the event was very interesting for the Croatian winemakers, and very important for Croatian wines. One of Yacht Gourmet Croatia’s goals is to promote Croatian wines among wine buyers in the nautical market and demonstrate that Croatian wines are an authentic product that can compete on the same level with many French or Italian wines.

“This event was an excellent step forward for Croatian wines. Master of Wine Bampfield confirmed that the wines are top quality and have potential on the international market. He discovered many of Croatia’s native grapes, some of which he would not otherwise be able to taste abroad”, added Cortesi.

Photo courtesy of Yacht Gourmet Croatia

Wines of Croatia was graciously and generously granted exclusive permission to publish Mr. Bampfield’s tasting notes, which follow below for your enjoyment. Cheers!

Photo courtesy of Yacht Gourmet Croatia

Tasting Notes by Richard Bampfield, MW

WHITE WINES

Badel 1862 Sauvignon Blanc, Daruvar  2009
Sweaty Sauvignon, very French, restrained, classy. Pleasing sweetness on palate, real depth of flavour. Dry and refreshing, the residual sugar undoubtedly enhances the character and flavour. Delicious.

Bibich 2009 Debit
Distinctive aromas, green apple, perhaps gooseberry too. Good fruit, pear-like texture, almost like a sherry. Fresh, dry, appetising, enjoyable and easy drinking.

Bibich 2008 Debit Lučica Riserva
Gold.  Oaky, old-fashioned.  Flat entry on palate, does not have the freshness to support the oak flavours. Oxidative and seems dated in style.  Certainly sherry-like.

Photo courtesy of Yacht Gourmet Croatia

Boškinac 2009 Grand Cuvee
Golden colour. Alcohol highly evident and lacks freshness of most. Heavy and a bit clumsy.

Degrassi 2010 Malvazija Istarska Bomarchese
Gently unoaked, reminiscent of good, unoaked Chardonnay. Very clean, fresh, mineral notes, persistent although flavours are restrained. Quite neutral on finish, but very fine.

Degrassi 2009 Terre Bianche Cuvee Blanc
Very fresh smelling, modern, expressive. Fresh and persistent, good acidity.  Pleasing lightness of touch, very easy to drink, quite international in style.

Figurica 2009 Kulica Coupage
Fresh, apple and nut aromas. Well made, relatively simple, but natural, dry and easy to drink, especially with food.

Photo courtesy of Yacht Gourmet Croatia

Korta Katarina 2009 Pošip
Fresh, pears and nuts. Evident cool ferment characters, but well done. Dry, fresh, lovely fruit. Fine, light touch to the oak, natural and appetising.

Kozlović 2010 Malvazija
Clean, light, scented. Light on palate, gently perfumed, good texture. Bright, young and appetising.

Kozlović 2008 Santa Lucia Malvazija
Golden colour. Toasty aromas, orange peel, marmalade.  Nice texture and flavour, not dissimilar to traditional semillon-based Graves. Dry, characterful, may not appeal to all.

Matošević 2008 Alba Barrique (Malvazija Istarska)
Sweet oak on nose which tends to dominate. No question that the oak is sweetly flavoured and enhances the flavour of the wine……..but it hides the grape flavour in my view.

Matošević 2008 Alba Robinia (Malvazija Istarska, aged in acacia wood)
Honey, roasted nuts, less overtly oaky than the French oak. Lovely sweetness on palate, good texture, fresh acidity. Exciting wine, finishing brisk, dry and flavoursome.

Matošević 2009 Grimalda Bijelo
Intriguing mix of Chardonnay, Sauvignon and Malvazija. Actually really interesting, with a distinctive and pleasing Sauvignon lift to the aromatics. Fine and complete on the palate, harmonious and fresh. Well judged oak, delicious.

Photo courtesy of Yacht Gourmet Croatia

Roxanich 2007 Malvazija Antica
Deep gold. Very perfumed, complex – notes of yeast, marmite, thick cut marmalade, fernet branca. Dry, textured, good acidity, long flavours, evident amontillado sherry character. Touch of alcoholic warmth on finish, very fine.

Saints Hills 2009 Nevina
Aromas not too oaky, note of pepper. Higher in alcohol than most and seems heavy.  Appears to have sacrificed flavour for alcohol. But interesting blend of an international variety (Chardonnay) with a local grape (Malvasia Istriana).

Tomac (2007?) Anfora
Deep, orange gold. Complex aromas of poached pears, toast, creme brulee – note of acetate. Somehow smells of ice cream. Dry, assured, pleasing orange-peel tanginess. Surprisingly, not that oxidative. Very persistent, very natural, very good.

Trapan 2010 Malvazija Istarska Ponente
Gently perfumed, touch phenolic, hint of marshmallow. Fine, dry, touch mineral, bit heavier than the others, but the overall sensation of lightness is still very pleasing.

Trapan 2009 Uroboros (Malvazija)
Honey, nuts, creamy. Rich, oxidative notes, but not overtly oaky. Good acidity and very clean finish. Lasts well, fine food wine.

Photo courtesy of Yacht Gourmet Croatia

ROSE WINES

Korta Katarina 2010 Rosé (Plavac Mali)
Subtle, vinous, really smells winey, even of white wine. Lovely flavours, not like any other rose I have tasted, note of pepper, which reinforces the sensation of great freshness. Very good.

Roxanich 2008 Rosé
Mature orange. Stewed strawberries, marmite, almost smells of Rivesaltes, definitely some very attractive grapey notes. Dry, very Burgundian, somewhat surprisingly it tastes of mature red Burgundy! Intense flavour, fresh, dry, persistent. Interesting.

Saints Hills 2010 St. Heels Rosé
High alcohol, dry, but lacking a core of flavour. A bit heavy-handed and lacks the pure drinkability and freshness of a rose.

Tomac Pjenušac Rosé (sparkling)
Pale, red tinge.  Excellent, fruit aromas, very bright.  Dry, fresh, beautifully balanced, long and elegant.  Extremely classy glass of sparkling rose.

Trapan 2010 Rubi Rosé (Cuvee)
Deepish colour, pale red. Touch confected, smells familiar, almost Australian, may be the Syrah component. Plenty of flavour, vinous, tastes off-dry (but is apparently dry). Good, bold style that retains good freshness.

Photo courtesy of Yacht Gourmet Croatia

RED WINES

Badel 1862 Korlat Syrah 2007
Fabulous aromas; pepper, ginger, spice; reminiscent of young Grange. Sweeter style of Syrah; intense, ripe, mellow tannins, spicy, savoury and hedonistic. Very generous; lovely current drinking.

Badel 1862 Plavac Mediterano 2008
Meaty aromas, note of liver, notes of green pepper, reminiscent of certain St Emilion.  Fresh, fruity, Merlot character persists, but with more overt freshness. Good – and genuinely tastes Mediterranean!

Bibich 2008 Riserva R6
Mature-looking. Warming, pleasing aromas, some of the sweetness of aroma of a Tawny Port. Sweetly fruited, mature but not cedary. Dry and slightly bitter on the finish, comes across as faintly Italian in style on the palate.

Bibich 2008 Bas de Bas
Very deep colour. Lifted, perfumed, strong new oak. Sweet, expressive but not overripe Syrah; very fine. Really intense on the palate, well judged oak, beautifully balanced by an overall sensation of freshness. Seductive, not over-extracted. Well done!

Boškinac 2007
Rich, oaky; perhaps a note of volatility. Bold, high alcohol, big wine. Better suited to the US than the UK.

Photo courtesy of Yacht Gourmet Croatia

Degrassi 2007 Merlot Contarini
Really good Merlot aromas, note of meatiness. Good sweetness of fruit and a fine, fruit-forward, appetising appeal that seems to characterise the Degrassi style.  Fresh, pure and early-maturing, excellent restaurant wine.

Degrassi 2005 Refosk Terre Rosse
Creamy, spicy, but seems to be tiring. High acidity, bitter cherry characters, very Italian. Very long and very fresh for its age. Definitely interesting but seems better suited to Italian market than British one.

Degrassi 2007 Terre Bianche Cuvee Rouge
Deep, youthful. Very fresh, bright Cabernet aromas. Refreshing, peppery edge to the fruit; juicy, flavoursome; tastes just off-dry. Really enjoyable and the sweetness of fruit is balanced by the pepper character.

Figurica 2009 Cuvee Figurina
Fresh, unusual aromas – a mix of raspberry fruit and gamey characters. Juicy, fresh and flavoursome, apparently with a touch of sweetness. Light, appetising and easy drinking.

Korta Katarina 2007 Plavac Mali
Mature looking. Stewed aromas, alcoholic, big wine, could easily have been made in Australia. Touch of volatility? Reminiscent of Chateau Musar; not a style that would be mainstream in the UK.

Photo courtesy of Yacht Gourmet Croatia

Roxanich 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon
Deep, starting to mature. Really classy; pencil-lead cabernet aromas, a sort of restrained Penfold’s Bin 707. Very pure, ripe cassis character; assured, long, tobacco edge, moderate tannins. Great freshness; top class.

Roxanich 2007 Superistrian
Intriguing aromas that remind me of butter, cream and coconut……..but it is not oaked! Fruit comes through well on the palate but not yet as complex as it could be.  The firm tannins and grip suggest this will still improve for a few years.

Roxanich 2006 TeranRe
Intriguing aromas, seems to show the meatiness of Merlot but also the rawer meat characters of Syrah; touch of reduction (in a positive way). Very fresh acidity, great flavour; firm but balanced tannins. Tastes like a really classy Pays Catalan.  Magnificent.

Tomić 2007 Plavac Mali Reserve
Perfumed, classy – clear oak, but also some lifted fruit and floral characters. Really nicely made, good oak, fine overall balance and intensity of flavour. Warming, but not alcoholic.

Photo courtesy of Yacht Gourmet Croatia

SWEET WINES

Bibich Ambra NV (Debit)
Pale to medium, yellow-brown. Unusual aromas, notes of dried grapes like PX, but also reminiscent of the must aromas of Pineau de Charentes. Compelling on the palate though, great grip and length. Sweet, well done.

Bodren 2008 Chardonnay Ice Wine (Ledeno Vino)
Not as sweet as the Riesling, but still very sweet. Beautifully made and balanced, very complete…….but I cannot help thinking that the relative lack of aroma and character betray the fact that Chardonnay lacks the intensity of flavour to make the best dessert wines.

Bodren 2008 Pinot Blanc Ice Wine
Fresh, pears, stone fruits. Very sweet, good texture and beautiful balance. Really good, with a fresh, peppery finish.

Bodren 2009 Rajnski Rizling Izborna Berba Prosušenih Bobica (TBA)
Very fine, baked apple aromas, lifted, pure, fine Riesling. Very, very sweet, almost liquorous, like apple puree. But well balanced acidity, hugely impressive.

Degrassi 2009 Muškat Bijeli San Pellegrin
Lightly grapey, also a touch soapy. Sweet, some CO2 for freshness, well balanced, but lacking a bit in real grape flavour and verve.

Kozlović 2009 Muškat Momjanski (semi-sweet)
Excellent aromas, reminscent of Muscat blanc a petits grains. Sweet, grapey, floral and bright. Fresh, flavoursome, lovely balance. Not that complex but beautifully done.

Tomić 2006 Prošek Hectorovich
Perfumed and soapy, notes of grapes and orange. Sweet, well balanced acidity, gripping and very fresh. Very good, really zingy – hard to describe the flavours, but it certainly works!

Photo courtesy of Yacht Gourmet Croatia