A Report from the 2011 Zagreb Wine Gourmet Festival – Part 2

Text and photos (unless otherwise noted) Copyright © Cliff RamesIn Part I of this 3-part report, we offered some insights into the story behind the festival’s organization, shared details about the yummy opening Gala Dinner, and revealed who was the winner of the Wine of the Year. In Part 2, we go inside the festival to explore the venue, meet the VIP guests, and hear about the round table workshop….Enjoy!

 [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]

The Venue 

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…..

Photo by Siniša Škaberna

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.

Photo by Igor Franic

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 Catavino and 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”.     

Nicolas Joly

[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. 

From left: Ryan Opaz; Irina Ban; Duro Horvat; Sarah Kemp; Tony Hodges; Ivica Matošević; Saša Špiranec

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.

The Exhibitors

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).

Vesna Clai

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! 

 

A Report from the 2011 Zagreb Wine Gourmet Festival – Part 1

Text & Photos (unless otherwise noted) Copyright © Cliff Rames

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.

Ingrid Badurina Danielssson (left)

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.      

Photo courtesy of Siniša Škaberna

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.

“Stracotto” of Boškarin Beef

 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.

Boškarin ox on a Croatian stamp (photo courtesy of http://www.posta.hr)

 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!   

The Gala Dinner Gang at Table 3 (photo courtesy of Siniša Škaberna)

 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!  

 President Josipović

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.

the back of President Josipović's head

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.

Tomić accepting his prize for "Wine of the Year"

End of Part 1. Part 2 will follow very soon. Stay tuned! 

 

Tasting Report from Croatia: Zagreb Wine Gourmet Festival 2010

Peter Moser

Peter Moser, wine writer and editor of Falstaff Magazine (http://www.falstaff.at/), one of Austria’s most widely-read magazines, recently visited Croatia to attend the 2010 Zagreb Wine Gourmet Festival, where he tasted some of Croatia’s finest wines from both the continental and coastal regions.

For posterity, I have compiled his tasting notes, recently published on Twitter (http://twitter.com/Falstaffmoser), and translated them from the German with the help of Google Translation and the Pons Deutsch-English dictionary.

Without further adieu, here’s Peter Moser:

Intro

“The trip to the Festival was more than worth it. Extremely well-organized. Will visit next year. Recommended.

My focus was on finding the best of the best. Falstaff will conduct a more extensive tasting in May.

WHITE WINES

Korak 2008 Sauvignon Blanc; Plešivica, Croatia

Spice, fresh gooseberries, freshly cut grass, grapefruit zest with elderflower (hollerblüten) nuances. Racy, with nettles, tropical fruit, lemony. Good length. 89 Points

Enjingi 2003 Venje Cuvée (GR/RR/SB/PG/TR); Kutjevo, Croatia

Medium yellow. Fine, well-integrated wood notes, ripe stone fruits (“steinobstanklänge”), herb seasoning, yellow tropical fruit, mineral. Dusty (“Stoffig”), creamy texture, fine structure, quite delicate, deliberate oxidation note, honey, floral hints, very good length, complex, silky reverberation, independent style, good potential. 91 Points

 Adžić 2009 Graševina; Kutjevo, Croatia

Medium yellow-green. 12.5% alcohol. Orange zest, fine herb seasoning, lemony shades, nutty, green apple twist. Dusty, apricot touch, lively, sweet stone fruits.  Uncomplicated food companion. 88 Points

Galić 2008 Graševina; Kutjevo, Croatia

12.8% alcohol. Medium yellow-green. Fine apple fruit, delicate herbal spiciness, mandarin orange zest. Juicy, balanced, fresh, very approachable (“trinkanimierend”). Fine grade stone fruit, extracted. For me one of the best dry white wines of Croatia. 91 Points

Krauthaker 2009 Viognier; Kutjevo, Croatia

13% alcohol. Light Green. Marzipan, white stone fruits, floral nuances, appetizing varietal aroma. Yellow apple, complex, delicate acidity, dusty echoes, balanced, a perfect summer wine. 90 Points

Krauthaker 2009 Zelenac (Rotgipfler); Kutjevo, Croatia

Light yellow-green. Apricot fruit, delicate blossom honey, ripe tropical fruit, smoky mineral. Elegant, subtle residual sweetness, fresh, spicy appeal, very good length, with potential for further development. 90 Points

Krauthaker 2008 Chardonnay Rosenberg; Kutjevo, Croatia

Bright green. A touch of flint, brioche, grapefruit zest, some marzipan, yellow apple. Complex, good balance, fine extract sweetness, yellow fruit, sticks well, a versatile food companion. 91Points

Next I tasted a range of high-quality Istrian Malvasia, although some tend to be fat and oxidative in character. The best came from Roxanich:

photo by Cliff Rames
Roxanich 2008 Malvasia Classica; Istria, Croatia

13.8% alcohol. Deep yellow gold. Grapefruit zest, herbs, yellow fruits, dark spice, delicate ethereal nuance. Delicate aromas of oregano. Elegant texture, mineral, well sustained, powerful, almost reminiscent of Burgundy. Salty nuances, great food companion. 91Points

As always, Kozlović was also very good.

Kozlović 2009 Malvasia; Istria, Croatia

13% alcohol. Bright yellow. Hints of pears, fresh fruit, delicate floral aromas. Lively, yellow apple fruit, racy acidity, lemon reverberation. Easy-drinking, approachable style. Harmonious and fresh. 89 Points

Kozlović  2007 Malvasia Réserve; Istria, Croatia

14% alcohol. Deep yellow gold. Floral, ripe peach, gooseberry, acacia. Resinous, full-bodied texture with a tender marshmallow texture. Elegant, fresh structure. Rose petals, reminiscent of Gewürztraminer. Caramel notes, peach fruit, mineral.  90 Points

Kozlović 2006 Malvasia “Santa Lucia”; Istria, Croatia

15% alcohol. Deep yellow gold. Ripe pear fruit, subtle herb seasoning, dried apricots, juicy pears. Richly extracted with a trace of residual sugar providing width. Hints of minerals, showing good length with salty finish. Has aging potential. 91 Points

Matošević 2008 Malvasia “Alba Barrique”; Istria, Croatia

13.5% alcohol. Light yellow gold. Fine herbal spice with mandarin orange zest, grapefruit, floral hints. Elegant, juicy, balanced, fine texture, well-integrated wood, good finish, mineral reverberation. Amazingly fresh. Has aging potential. Fine food companion. 90 Points

Poletti 2008 Malvasia; Istria, Croatia

13.3% alcohol. Mean, green yellow. On the nose notes of fine flower honey, apple and pear. Juicy tropical fruit on the palate. Vibrant structure. Enticing and approachable. Makes you want another drink. 89 Points

Meneghetti 2008 Bijelo (Chardonnay/Pinot Gris blend); Istria, Croatia

13.1% alcohol. Deep yellow green. Toasted biscuit, herb seasoning, honey melon, multi-layered. Extract sweetness, delicate touch of caramel, pineapple, peach. Racy structure, tender texture of Turkish delight. Yellow tropical fruit in the finish with dusty mineral reverberations. Good food companion. A mix of Istria and  Slovenian Biostar Alex Kristančič. 90 Points

Trapan 2008 Malvasia “Ponente”; Istria, Croatia

13% alcohol. Medium yellow-gold. Spicy, herbs and spices and orange zest, elegant, balanced. Delicate notes of honey. Fresh structure. A touch of citronnella on the finish. Tangy, easy-drinking, fine food companion. 90 Points

Next I tasted an interesting white wine made from an indigenous grape from the island of Pag, Gegić, made by the Boškinac winery:

Boškinac 2009 Gegić; Pag, Hrvatsko Primorje, Croatia

Gegic grapes

12.6% alcohol. Bright yellow. Ripe pear fruit, fine leaf spice, yellow apple. Mineral, good complexity, ripe white fruit, racy structure, a versatile food companion, light-footed, good length. 90 Points

To finish up the whites, I tried two Pošip wines from Dalmatia. My favorite comes from Korta Katarina.

Korta Katarina 2007 Pošip; Pelješac, South Dalmatia, Croatia

14.7% alcohol. Bright yellow. Smoky, complex aromas that are reminiscent of spicy herbs, honey, candied orange zest, with some dusty mineral notes. Round, elegant almost oily texture. Subtle orange notes on palate. Very good finish. 91 Points

Grgić 2007 Pošip; Korčula, Croatia

Medium yellow-green. White pear fruit, pineapple, a touch of vanilla, lemon zest. Juicy, good complexity, structure, racy, green apple, white tropical fruit, very lively, easy-drinking. 90 Points

Plenković 2009 Zlatan Pošip; Hvar, Croatia13% alcohol. Deep yellow, gold reflections. Honey, nuts, bitter orange zest, floral aromas of acacia. Taut, fresh, racy green apple. Approachable with a lemony mineral finish. A little commercial but well done. 89 Points
 
 
 
 

Posip grapes

RED WINES.

Roxanich 2006 Super Istrian Cuvée (40% CS / 40% ME, 20% Gamay); Istria, Croatia

13.5% alcohol. Dark ruby. Delicate violets, ripe cherries, a hint of precious wood, mandarin orange zest, dusty blackberry. Fine extract sweetness, with a refined structure and very good length showing hints of chocolate and delicate strawberry fruit in the aftertaste. At the moment the flavors are a little too present, need time to integrate. 92 Points

Meneghetti 2007 Crno (Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon blend); Istria, Croatia

14.1% alcohol. Intense chocolate note. Subtle floral hints, with dusty herbs, spices, nougat, orange peel. Elegant, balanced, perfectly integrated tannins, slightly bitter chocolate finish. Already approachable. Very versatile, full of finesse. 93 Points

Boškinac 2006 “Boškinac” (Cabernet Sauvignon/ Merlot blend); Pag, Hrvatsko Primorje, Croatia

14% alcohol. Deep, bold ruby color.  A touch of fine chocolate, dark berries, delicate wood, pleasant tobacco essence. Elegant on the palate, with a subtle fruit glaze flavor, well-integrated tannins, fine arch of acidity. Firm, palate coating, drinking very well already.  Good aging potential. 91 Points

Carić 2007 Plovac Ploski Barrique Plavac Mali; Hvar, Southern Dalmatia, Croatia

14.3% alcohol. Deep dark ruby. Clean black berry fruit, delicate wood notes, needs some air. Complex, powerfully present tannins, which are still very demanding and tight. Chocolate and mineral reverb on finish. Very good aging potential. 90 Points

Korta Katarina 2007 Plavac Mali; Pelješac, South Dalmatia, Croatia

photo by Cliff Rames

14.5% alcohol. Dark ruby, watery rim. Fine violet notes with black cherries, cloves and inviting nougat.  Soft creamy texture. Complex palate, tight minerals with delicate orange flavor and black fruits on finish.  89 Points

Miloš 2005 Stagnum; Pelješac, South Dalmatia, Croatia

14.3% Medium ruby. Wild strawberry preserves. Beeswax and fine floral notes, acacia flowers –  attractive. On the palate, dusty strawberry jam, some raspberry sauce, acacia honey and nougat in the finish. Powerful with very good length. Great food companion with refreshing finish. Good aging potential. 92 Points

 Andro Tomić 2007 Plavac Mali Barrique; Hvar, South Dalmatia, Croatia

14.3% alcohol. Deep dark ruby with opaque core, clear rim. Plum, cocoa, dried fruit, orange zest. Juicy on the palate, with prunes and a fresh acidic arch. Independent style with black currant and chocolate reverberating on the finish. 91 Points

And many, many more ….”

http://zagrebwinegourmet.com/

An Interview with Cliff Rames, Sommelier and Founder of Wines of Croatia

(Croatian version can be found here: http://www.supermarketi.info/index.php?mod=inter&interId=10)

A few weeks ago we coincidentally happened upon the American website, Wine Library TV, on which the amusing yet very informed personality, Gary Vaynerchuk, tastes and comments on the famous and not-so-famous wines of the world.  In Episode #798 (http://tv.winelibrary.com/2010/01/11/tasting-wines-from-croatia-episode-798/), Gary and his special guest, Cliff Rames, a sommelier from New York City, tasted and discussed four Croatian wines. It was really satisfying to watch these two wine geeks appreciate our wines. So we decided to contact Cliff and ask him to tell us a bit more about himself. Here is our interview:

1.      Since the Croatian public knows little of you and your work, could you briefly tell us   about yourself? (Who are you? Where were you born? Where do you live and work? What do you do for a living? Do you speak Croatian?)

I was born in New York City, where I currently work as a sommelier at the Caudalie Vinotherapie Spa in the Plaza Hotel.  Caudalie is a French beauty products company that was founded by the family that currently owns the Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte, a Grand Cru vineyard in Bordeaux.  When I am not working at the Plaza, I am working on Wines of Croatia – a project I started to raise awareness and educate the public about Croatia and its wines, winemakers, wine regions, and indigenous grapes. The idea is to promote Croatian wines around the world as wines worth discovering and wines that should play a role on the international wine market. I am also interested in promoting Croatia as a wine tourism destination and want to become more involved in those activities in 2010.

Croatian Art & Crafts Expo, NYC, Feb. 2010

Right now I am focused on building a website called www.WinesofCroatia.com and sharing news and information about Croatians wines on social networking sites like Facebook (www.Facebook.com/winesofcroatia) and Twitter (www.Twitter.com/winesofcroatia). I also write a blog that showcases different Croatian wines and wineries: www.winesofcroatia.wordpress.com.

2.     Visitors to the American website, ‘wine library tv,’ where you were featured as a guest and presented some excellent Croatian wines, were able to discover that your father comes from the island of Murter.  Can you tell us any more of your ties with Croatia?  Did you visit/still visit here often?  Do you have any favorite towns, cities or regions, and why?

Yes, my father was born on Murter, and I still have many relatives there, who I love to visit whenever I can (usually every 1-2 years). My first visit was in 1980, when I was 16 yrs old – my father sent me to see his hometown.  That visit changed my life forever – I fell in love with Croatia and in my heart and mind, never left it. In 1989, I spent 4 months studying at the University of Zagreb, where I first started to learn the Croatian language and see other parts of the country.

Slavonia

During the war years (1992-1996), I worked in Croatia for humanitarian organizations and spent 3.5 years in Gasinici Refugee Center helping the people there. At this time I also got to know the Slavonia region and its customs. Even though it was a difficult period of history, my time in Slavonia is very dear to me. I love to return there and enjoy some Kulen!

Croatia is a beautiful country with so many interesting and lovely places to visit. Because of my work now with Wines of Croatia, I usually visit areas where vineyards are located – which also happen to be some of the most beautiful parts of Croatia. Of course I have a special place in my heart for the islands of Dalmatia and the Adriatic Sea. I especially love Kornati National Park!

Vineyards, Hvar, Croatia

3.      Now that we have covered your background a little, let us get on to some wines…  The number of wineries in Croatia are on the rise, as are the vintages and quality is also improving.  Some Croatian wines could easily be compared with more well-known and valued world vines.

According to you, what is the perception of wine-lovers in America towards Croatian wines?  What is their availability in US stores and how do the prices of Croatian wines compare with other wines of the world?

Most Americans have never heard of Croatian wines. I frequently hear the question: “they make wines there?” But this is also starting to change thanks to the hard work of the few importers of Croatian wine, a couple of wine writers, and myself – the Wine Library TV program with Gary Vaynerchuck really helped too. I am also on Facebook everyday sharing information and news.

The biggest challenge for Croatian wines in the US is the price.  There are many quality wines from Croatia that are very good but unfamiliar to Americans. If a wine is $50 and nobody knows it or understands it, then it will not sell. Especially now in this economic crisis, premium wines from everywhere are not selling well.  Sales of Grand Cru Bordeaux and other “expensive” wines have significantly decreased, while sales of $10-$15 wines from Italy, Chile, Argentina, Spain and Portugal have significantly increased.  

Bibich family wines, ready for shipment to US

In terms of comparison, Croatia is small and cannot compete with Italy, Chile, Argentina, Spain and Portugal, so it is very difficult to offer wines under $15. Croatia does not have the volume or vineyard area for mass production and low prices. Croatian wines are mostly small production wines from family vineyards. We understand that. Croatia is more like Greece and Austria in that respect. The only difference is, Austria nd Greece very well-funded and organized promotional agencies and marketing campaigns supported by the wineries and government. So they are able to sell the wines because of professional and well-crafted promotion that generates excitement and interest from sommeliers, restaurant owners, wine writers, and the public. Croatia does not have such a program and needs one as soon as possible. In the meantime, I will continue to do what I can to help through social networking, events and the blog.

Andro Tomic, winemaker, Hvar, Croatia

I believe that once people hear the story of Croatia and the winemakers, see the beautiful places where these grapes grow, and taste the terroir and character in these wines, Croatia will become a player on the world wine scene. I truly believe that – I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t!

4.      Many small vintners have recently appeared on the scene here in Croatia, some of which have won prestigious Decanter World Wine Awards. Production from these vintners is in small batches. Would you say this is an advantage or disadvantage for these, so called, world class wines?  Would those wines lose on quality or distinctiveness should they move to large-scale production?

 Croatia needs to stay true to who it is as a winemaking country. Certain wines, like the Bodren wines that won the Decanter awards, can never be more than small production, boutique wines. These are hand-crafted products from small, family vineyards. That is fine and there is a place on the market for those wines. But there needs to be a balance: we need more entry-level, “gateway wines” of $12-$18 that will introduce a new consumer to Croatian wines. Then once they become a fan, they will possibly try the expensive, boutique wines later for a special occasion or something.

Bodren, Decanter World Wine Awards 2009 Gold Medal winner

The economics of wine are simple: you need volume to make money. The US importers of Croatian wines have to be able to sell more low-priced wines so that they can afford to keep inventories of expensive premium wines – like the “cult” Plavac Mali wines from Dalmatia. This means that we need more wines from Croatia that are accessible and affordable to consumers ($12-$18). One of the things that significantly increases the price of a wine is oak “barriques”. Croatian winemakers use a lot of it. Maybe we need less oak and more pure, clean expressions of our excellent native grapes.

5.      In your opinion, which Croatian grapes have the greatest potential for producing world-class wines?

In your interview you mentioned Plavac Mali and Debit. There is no need to mince words regarding Plavac Mali, it was obvious you and wine library tv’s host, Gary were very impressed Are there any other Croatian wine sorts you would like to see and try? If you were able to produce wine in Croatia, in which region would you most likely do so, and which grape would you grow?

I have never tried Grk from Korčula. That is on my list. Also Gegić from Pag.

If I had a vineyard in Croatia, it would be in Dalmatia near Murter, where my grandfather once had vineyards. I would grow Babić and Plavina and Maraština. I think Babić has huge potential – possibly as good or better than Plavac Mali. We are still discovering what it can do….

6.      Have you had the chance to try any specialties from the Croatian kitchen?  Is there any food that stands out, for you?

      Kulen. Paški sir. Bakalar. And my favorite: “lignje” fresh from the Adriatic, grilled over a wood fire or made into black risotto.

7.      If you had to decide between one bottle of red and one bottle of white wine from Croatia to give someone as a gift, which would you choose, and why?

     I always give Croatian wines to special people as gifts. I have favorites that change all the time. I can get excited by something new or fall in love with some hidden depth of a wine I tried before. Some days wine is like an old friend, and other days like an exotic new lover. Depends on my mood.  

8.      You initiated a website www.winesofcroatia.com (under construction). How did you come upon this idea? Did you enter alone into this project or are other people working with you?

Wines of Croatia is a labor of love that I started when I realized so little information existed on the Internet about Croatian wines – or lots of tiny pieces of information in a million different places. I decided to try to pull it together in one place to make it easy for people to learn about Croatia and its wines. I work closely with the few US importers of Croatian wine, like Oneocentric, VinumUSA and Blue Danube Wine, as well as a few colleagues in Croatia, like Sasa Spiranec. 

9.     Along with your love of wines, are you fond of any other alcoholic beverages (beers, whiskies)?

Uncle "Bugi"

     I mostly stay with wine. But I occasionally enjoy Whiskey, Bourbon, Cognac, and some traditional Croatian liqueurs such as Orahovica. Every morning I take one sip of Travarica that my uncle in Murter made. 

10.  Your favorite type of cuisine… American, Italian, Mexican, Chinese, or some other?

     Italian and Mediterranean. And I love vegetables of all kinds.

11.  According to you, what is the worst possible combination of wine and food?

     Red wine and seafood is a tricky combination – especially red wine and shell fish. The iron in some red wines can cause bad tastes in your mouth when it reacts with the fish. Salad is also very different to pair well. You need a high acid wine to compete with the acid in the salad. If you don’t have that, the wine will seem bitter. A disaster is high alcohol wine with spicy food – it completely destroys the palate.

12.  Is there anything you would like to add for our website’s visitors and wine lovers?

First I want to say that everywhere I traveled in Croatia, I met such nice, hospitable people. I just want to say thank you to everyone for all the happy memories! See you again soon.

Croatia is a special place: it is a country that is uniquely beautiful and environmentally clean, free of ugly over-development and full of magical, pristine, stunning beautiful natural landscapes that have huge potential for eco, gastro, and wine tourism. I feel honored to be involved with Croatia and its wines at this very important time in history. The door is opening for Croatia to be recognized as a world player in wine – let’s make it happen!

Oh yeah – and follow us on Facebook! 🙂

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