16 December, 2013

My Favorite 2013 Post: Wine Wizards of Istria...

As we prepare our "Best of..." lists from our 2013 discoveries, here is a repost of my favorite post from 2013:

 Those canny Romans knew how to find delicious wine spots.  Istria is no exception to the rule.  But I  thought it might be nice to show you on a map exactly where it is.  You can see it circled in Teran purple.  Croatia has a ton of coastline and has felt influences from its neighbors as the flags have changed.  I felt a distinctly Italian sensibility on my Istrian excursion, along with a boldly Istrian pride and an indelible mark of terroir.  There is a special uniqueness to the flavors, a gentility to the people and a beauty in the countryside, sea and green, that is hard to match.  The Istrian Tourist board does a great job of providing tools to help you plan your vacation, but at the end of the day, I think they want you to be able to make your adventure your own.  

There was a book I didn't buy, Wine Wizards of Istria, not knowing it would be impossible to find in the US.  I might have carried it home had I known.  I remember it had detailed stories and super glam shots of the winemakers.  I thought, yes.  these guys are wizards.  After all what is the best souvenir?

Wine!  First up is Meneghetti.  Romana and Miroslav Pliso renovated the stone guest house or stancija in 2001.  It's a beautifully and comfortably done space that says "Welcome!" at every turn.  And not just because the staff is there, saying welcome and plying you with wine. It fell into decay at the fall of the Hapsburg empire, but now is fresh and elegant, the warmth of the traditional clay tiled roof with modern charm.  Fresh and elegant would describe the wine as well.  We had a delish 2003 Meneghetti Cuvee a bright , fresh sparkler made from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay with 10% Pinot Blanc blended in.  It had a gossamer hint of color, more warmth than pink.  My other favorite was the 2009 Meneghetti Red a rich blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.  It had a spicy character with red currants and mole sauce.   We had a delicious wine soaked lunch in the beautiful space.  This luxury villa can be rented and would be a great space for an Istrian adventure with 8 of your closest friends.

Another of the winemakers chronicled in the book is Ivica Matosevic.  His mom was a chemist and his dad studied water, so naturally, his DNA predisposed him to become a winemaker.  He began making wine as a hobby, but was super good at it and got hooked on the history, the science and most of all (yay for us!) the flavor.  His goal is to express the  unique Istrian terroir, so you can taste it in the wine he makes.  The investments in modern wine making equipment really pay off.
2010 Alba (Malvasia) We tried an oaked barrel sample.

The oak treatment was deft, resulting in an international style: creamy with good balance.  It had both freshness an complexity . Touch of acacia blossom under citrus and vanilla aromas.2008 Alba Antiqua Using 100% Malvasia grapes from the Buje area, the wine is made only when fruit is in the ideal condition.  It is made in an ancient style using overnight skin contact then goes into acacia barrels for a year.  The result is a wine with spicy apricot like aromas, flavors and finish.  It had a clean, precise  taste that the winemaker called, "the purest expression of place" Grimalda White A blend of Chardonnay, Malvasia and Sauvignon Blanc from the Brdo Vineyard in Central Istria.  A bright pretty wine with nice minerality and lemon in aromas. Finished with nice hints of unripe white peach. Grimalda Red: Blend of Teran and Merlot.  Rich cedary aromas.  Lovely brambly flavors with black fruit finish.  And the color?  Well you can see for yourself.  Definitely worth visiting if you are in the area.  Info on making an appointment here:

Bruno Trapan seemed more bad boy than Wizard.  He puts his signs in Japanese Kanji characters because it amuses him. And has a clock facing the floor, ostensibly so if you are overserved at least you can wake up and know what time it is.  Who hasn't needed one of those?  Our visit was super fun and the wine was amazing.  Bruno named two wines after his daughters the first, Rubi , which is an easy drinking rose of  Teran.  Also a dessert wine of intoxicating roselike flavors and aromas made from muškat ruža  after his daughter,  Rose called Dark Rose.  He believes the vineyard should take care of is itself and is working to be able to let the soil express itself.  His Malvasias were amazing.  The 2012  Malvasia came form a vineyard with a lot of limestone which gave it nice minerality.  You didn;t miss the fruity aromatic because of the complexity.  He used 50% malo and my note says it spent a year on the lees to boost the creamy finish.  the 2011 Malvasia was aged and fermented in neutral acacia barrels.  Golden color with hints of spice in the aromas.  According to them, acacia opens up the flavors and in this case it was true with apricot and smoke flavors and a lush round mouthfeel and lingering finish.  14% alcohol but balanced.  He opened a sample of a sparkling Teran---an idea whose time has come, which we loved.  Bright, fresh and bracingly brut.  2012 Nigra Virgo Revolution (Cab-Merlot-Syrah-Teran) A big bold Bordeaux blend  with tons of black fruit and a twinkle in its eye, not unlike Bruno.  He explains that the Teran speaks for itself bringing rich, spicy special flavors---and it does.  The 2012 Teran was a brawny red.  It spoke for itself in a tasty way.

While he wins multiple awards for his lovely Malvasias, he is betting on red and in particular Teran for what it does in the vineyard and what it brings to his wines in terms of expressing terroir.  More info on Trapan here:

More enchantress than wizard, Antonella Kozlovic showed us the wonderful wines of Kozlovic.  We were amazed at her tales of how she and her husband Gianfranco have modernized the winery. Kozlovic Winery has been around since 1904.  But you woudn't know it to see the Guggenheim modern and equally artful space it has now.  Antonella completely reorganized it so that in years of bumper crops, they can handle the output or in lesser years, have the space to move efficiently.  And the space is gorgeous.  They make twelve different wines.  I was completely enchanted with the 2009 Santa Lucia White 100% Malvasia, this wine was a golden straw color with aromas of nutmeg, vanill and sunshine and a lovely apricot in the finish, Nice acidity and balance for a wine that clocked in at 14.7 % alc. It spent some time on the skins to give it structure.  30% was fermented in stainless steel.  2009 Santa Lucia Noir: A saucy blend of  Teran, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.  I got spices and flowers in the aromas along with roses and cinnamon.  Red hots candy flavors in flavor along with lush, dark flavors. Delicious.  Antonella was such a gracious and informative host, I had to ignore my intense shoe envy.  When you visit maybe you will see the dancing ghosts in the logo.  Kozlovic ancestors holding watch.  Reservations recommended

From Uber Modern, to inspired by the ancients.  Kabola winery was the opposite extreme.  Steeped in the heritage of the area, Kabola uses amphora to make their Amphora Malvasia.  Basically, they take the grapes, put them into a large earthenware, well, jug (see photo).  Then they bury it, letting it all macerate with its natural yeast for seven months, bring it back up to finish in Slavonian oak barrels before bottling it, where it waits in bottle 6-12 months.  This imparts an amber color to the finished wine with fig, congnac and orange peel in the aromas.  An amazingly fresh flavor and subtle finish.  This method was used by the Greeks thousands of years ago, so it id super interesting and worth a visit.  The space is gorgeous and I felt like any minute Russell Maximus Gladiatorski was going to come running around a corner.  Their Moscat Momjanski is also noteworthy. Fresh and elegant and sweet with aromas and flavors of elderflower . More info here:

Winemaker Dmitri Brecevic is of French descent.  He graduated oeonlogy school in France, then travelled the world making wine in France and also working in Australia and New Zealand, too.  Then he settled near where his father was from in the town of Buzet.  Where he now makes wine in a converted World War II water bunker.  Thank you , Mussolini!  He named his venture Piquentum, which was the old Roman name for Buzet. He uses the three indigenous grapes, Malvasia, Teran and Refosc to create wine expressive of Croatia and its red and white soils.  And they are tasty. Good news!  You can do your own winechair travelling as Blue Danube makes it easy to order these wines.

Piquentum was the final stop on my Istrian Wine Oddessey, thanks to a recomendation from our driver extraordinare Mladen Funky Zagreb , who I cannot recommend enough.  The dog days of summer (okay Northern California's 90+ degree "sweltering") has still not warmed me up from that terrifying journey.  Yes, those are icicles on his hood, but we were safe and warm and are still dreaming of Istria

Many thanks to the amazing Istrian Tourist board who arranged our visits and provided such a warm and wonderful Istrian experience

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