Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Wines of Croatia Tasting: The Recap!

What a day for Croatian Wine! I could never have predicted how a simple tweet would lead to one of the most fun, educational and incredibly delicious events I've ever had the pleasure of hosting.

As mentioned previously in this preview post, it was Cliff Rames of Wines of Croatia (@winesof croatia) who dropped the pebble in the lake triggering my connection with Frank Dietrich @bluedanubewine of Blue Danube Wines. A date was set, bloggers were invited, a hashtag chosen, wines were selected and it all came together beautifully on August 28th.

Croatia has a wide range of grape growing areas but they are basically split into inland and coastal regions. Since the majority of the bloggers were unfamiliar with Croatian wines Frank decided to focus on the coastal region of Istria. And so for a few hours my deck in Sebastopol was transformed into an odd shaped yacht as we virtually cruised the Istrian peninsula and tasted wines from the countries many islands.

Frank proved to be a great guide on our journey as he led us through the tasting and provided extensive background information and details about the wines, winemakers and growing regions of Croatia.

Frank Dietrich leads the tasting

Early on the sun was bright and hot providing the perfect setting to taste the crisp and refreshing selection of whites:
CORONICA -- Malvasia--Istria  2009
KORTA KATARINA--Pošip--Island of Korčula 2008
KRAJANČIĆ--Pošip--Island of Korčula 2009
ENJINGI--Venje--Slavonia 2003
GRGIĆ-- Vina Pošip--Korčula Island 2009

A selection of the whites. The Grimalda was a special addition. 

Previously I tried a different Enjingi Graševina, but this one was fuller bodied and more developed. All of the whites were outstanding, plus we tried a Rose from Korta Katarina that was a spicy delight. My favorite of the whites was the KRAJANČIĆ Pošip from the island of Korčula where apparently Marco Polo was born. Many of the wines we tasted were from Italian born winemakers and the connection to Italy is very strong historically as well. Below are some of my quick tweet impressions at the tasting.

My quick tweet notes on the whites

As the sun dipped westward and shade creeped overhead we turned our attention to the Reds which included the following:
TERZOLO--Teran--Istria 2008
BIBICH -- R6 Reserva -- Dalmatia 2008
MILOŠ--Stagnum Plavac Mali--Pelješac Peninsula 2005
KORTA KATARINA--Plavac Mali--Pelješac Peninsula 2006
SAINTS HILLS--Dingač Plavac Mali--Pelješac Peninsula 200
MARA POSTUP-- Plavac Mali--Pelješac Peninsula 2008
ZLATAN PLENKOVIĆ--Crljenak Kaštelanski--Island of Hvar, Makarska 2008

Selection of the Reds

I enjoyed the Bibich R6 Riserva, Korta Katarina Plavac Mali, and the Zlatan Plenkovic Crljenak Kaštelanski which is considerd to be the original Zinfandel. But the wine that most intrigued me was the MILOŠ--Stagnum Plavac Mali--Pelješac Peninsula 2005. This wine had a very deep purple color with the scent of rosebuds and a slight briny taste. Maybe that explains the claim that this wine pairs well with oysters. Oysters and red wine? I need to do some first hand research on that, but I have a feeling it could be true.

The Saints Hills Dingač Plavac Mali image seemed well crafted, maybe too crafted? I can just imagine the eye rolling and the "there-goes-the-neighboorhood" effect this could have on the wines of Croatia. But I think attention is good and if it gets the peeps drawn in then I think it bodes well for all the smaller producers and gives them a greater chance to be discovered by an enthusiastic audience that will want to travel the wine roads in Croatia.

Paski Sir upper right corner

In addition to the wines we had a special guest cheese-- The Paski Sir from the island of Pag pictured in upper right hand corner. Nutty and rich it was a great complement to the whites we tried and also a few of the reds. One of the bloggers, Anthony Burich who is actually Croatian, brought an unmarked bottle of Croatian olive oil too. I did not get the chance to serve it, but tasted it afterwards and was impressed by its distinct spicy and herbal notes. Very bright and delicious. Thanks Anthony!

A few of the "off list" selections Frank poured. 

At the height of the event I took quick look at Tweet Reach which indicated that over 375 tweets had been sent with an exponential reach of over 100,000 impressions! The hashtag went on the generate more than 400 tweets and many impressions beyond that, as the metric was based on only the last 50 tweets at the time. But over all it was pretty impressive for a deck full of wine bloggers to create that much buzz for Croatian wines in one day. The RTs were fast and furious. Another cool way to view the tweets is through Revist  a real–time visualization of twitter messages around a specific topic which shows a dynamic flow of the tweets and the connections as they happened. Check it out here.

"Zivili" or also spelled "Zivijele" is a Croatian toast that means "to life!" So I would like to shout a hearty "Zivili" to Frank Dietrich, Cliff Rames, Andreja at the Croatian Tourist Board for supplying the maps and excellent background materials, Michelle Buster for sourcing the Paski Sir, also special thanks to KORTA KATARINA for the samples (check them out on twitter @kortakatarina) and of course to all the wine bloggers who came to the event and made it so much fun --@amybcleary @brandyea @winebratsf @SonomaWilliam @aburich @VitaeVino @SLHousman @JamesTheWineGuy @RJonWine @20dollarwine @slowgrapes @BrixChick_Liza @norcalwine & @Brixchik_xan

Zivili! -- Thanks so much. Perhaps next time we should have a game of pin the tail on the Donkey Dingac!

Links to other posts from the event. (more to be added as they become available)
Amy Cleary--WineBookGirl
Richard Jennings -- Post on CellarTracker

Links to all previous Croatia Posts:

Thursday, August 25, 2011

I Can Almost Taste It! Croatian Wine is Near.

Paski Sir Cheese
The excitement is building, the hashtag has been selected, the cheese has arrived, and the cards and letters keep coming in as the day draws near for the Wines of Croatia wine blogger tasting. For those who would like to follow along on Twitter on Sunday Aug 28th, the hashtag for the event will be #WoCroatia.

This week I picked up the Paski Sir cheeses from James at Sunshine Foods and it has been a struggle to keep from eating it before Sunday. I had a taste in the store and it is lovely. It's a sheep cheese and is similar to pecorino but with a salty nutty punch. Michele Buster was the first to source and import the Paski Sir from the island of Pag, and she arranged for me to get the cheese for the tasting. You can learn more about Michele and the cheese here in this article from the SF Chronicle.

Although the tasting is only a few days away we already have a post from WINEpiphany by Anthony Burich, one of the bloggers who will be attending. You can read Anthony's heartfelt post and excellent tasting notes on the Enjingi's Grasevina wine here.

In the meantime Frank of Blue Danube Wine Company, who will be presenting the wines has been preparing a list for the tasting.  Here is a sneak preview. 

1. CORONICA -- Malvasia--Istria  2009
2. KORTA KATARINA--Pošip--Island of Korčula 2008
3. KRAJANČIĆ--Pošip--Island of Korčula 2009
4. ENJINGI--Venje--Slavonia 2003
Graševina, Riesling, Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, and Traminac
5. TERZOLO--Teran--Istria 2008
6. PIQUENTUM--Teran--Istria 2008
7. MILOŠ--Stagnum Plavac Mali--Pelješac Peninsula 2005
8. KORTA KATARINA--Plavac Mali--Pelješac Peninsula 2006
9. SAINTS HILLS--Dingač Plavac Mali--Pelješac Peninsula 200
10. BURA--Dingač  Plavac Mali--Pelješac Peninsula 2007
11. ZLATAN PLENKOVIĆ--Crljenak Kaštelanski--Island of Hvar, Makarska 2008

Plus there could be a few suprises! So follow the #WoCroatia hashtag on twitter and stay tuned for the post-tasting post. 

Also, just to set the mood I’ve downloaded some Croatian folk music for the day. So barring any crazy weather or earthquake or wild locust attack, I think we are going to have a spectacular day of tastes from Croatia. 

Friday, August 19, 2011

Return to Coolsville: Perseid at Meteor Vineyard

Last time I was in Coolsville it was for some zip line action and the release of Meteor Vineyard 2007 Perseid Cabernet. {You can read a full account of that visit here.} This time I went for a meteor shower viewing party and a pre-party vertical tasting of the Perseid Cabernet 2004-2007 and the Special Family Reserve 2005-2007.

The 2004 Perseid had not previously been tasted outside of the family. I almost felt like we would be sworn to secrecy after trying it and required to take an oath of Omertà--oh wait I’m probably projecting my own Sicilian family traditions here, not Meteor’s. No one at the table was in danger of getting whacked for speaking about the charms of the 04, well, not that I know of at least.

In addition to the pre-set verticals we tried the 2003 “Barry's Half Century” Estate Reserve, a special Birthday Blend created to commemorate vineyard owner Barry Schuler's 50th. The wine had a deep plum color, scents of tobacco and nutmeg, with chocolate, coffee and blackberry flavors. It was luscious and rich, a great birthday gift to enjoy for years to come.

I’ve tasted my way through a lot of Cabernets over the years and I'm always on the verge of declaring that I just don't like Cabernet all that much—and then I taste Meteor and it makes me reconsider. These Cabs always surprise and intrigue me. They are deep, earthy and grounding-- full of diverse flavors and scents like licorice, mint, cinnamon, clove, peppermint, chocolate, violets, leather, truffle, blackberries and plums. In the 2006 Special Family Reserve I found notes of caramelized toffee and smoky s’mores. 

Meteor wines get to me in a way that is unexpected and completely fascinating. They keep me thinking about them for days afterward. It must be that Coombsville is Coolsville mystique in action. And it’s not just marketing copy to say something is truly different about Coombsville--official recognition of Coombsville as a distinct AVA is imminent.

I have a good understanding of winemaking, grape growing and the clones that are planted. But when I first taste a wine I don’t always need to know it’s personal history, I just want to be captivated. I’m curious to discover how a wine inspires me, because I think a great wine can be a catalyst to inspiration for all sorts of creative endevors.

That’s not to say the process is unimportant, quite the contrary, I love hearing winemakers describe it in their own words. It’s always interesting to hear what Meteor winemaker Dawnine Dyer and Schuler have to say. While Dyer might describe one of their clones or wines as full of feminine charisma, or a temptress; Schuler will counter with “This wine is a busty centerfold girl with a mighty rack and body that will suck you in and never let go.” (I paraphrase here of course.) But you can glean the general spirit in which it was said. Yet despite their different frames of reference, Dyer and Schuler are in full agreement that the clones they’ve planted possess all the right stuff to thrive in Coombsville.

From the tasting we headed outside where the party was in full swing with signature cocktails, spacey music to set the tone for star gazing, and tucked off to the side, a tarot card reader. As the sun set my appetite peaked and I practically inhaled a mini cup of bacon cheddar soup and a few smoked pork belly sliders with caramelized apple that naturally paired perfectly with the 2008 Perseid and Special Family Reserve. Then I got on line to have my cards read. I was relieved to see we only had to wait in line, not zip-line to the tarot card reader. 

After dinner, carrying our glow sticks and wine glasses, we followed a path of tiny lights set down like a secret mini airstrip, that led us to the Lone Oak out in the vineyard. Under the oak, Cliff De Lacy, a NASA ambassador filled us in on all things celestial and where to scan the sky for meteors.

A dessert station set with was set to one end of the rows serving coffee and a Meyer Lemon Curd tart with a graham crust as well as a Brioche Chocolate Bread and Butter Pudding with chocolate sauce and sea salt. Both were a delight to enjoy in the moonlight.

In between the rows of vines were recliners and blankets from which you could settle in and watch the sky. It was like a sanitarium in the vineyard. As I lay there I half expected a masseuse to show up and knead my shoulders. It was quite cozy tucked under the blanket between the vines with little clusters of grapes above me and the rocky soil below. Something about lying down in the earth between the vines was extraordinary. It was as if you could feel the very essence of the vines seep into you. As I looked down the long dark row towards Mount George, I could smell traces of mint and fennel, sweet clover, hay and chalky earth. It felt fantastic and rather nurturing. Heck, maybe my true roots are more Druid than Sicilian! Or perhaps there is some kind of harmonic convergence going on between the Meteor vines and land in Coombsville.

Although the event was billed as a Perseid Viewing Party, I only saw a few meteors shoot across the sky. But the most brilliant stars of the night were all in my glass.

Thanks to all the Meteorites for a stellar evening. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Country of Good Vines: Countdown to Wines of Croatia

The Wines of Croatia Tasting I'm hosting is less than two weeks away and I've been hearing from people near and far who want to attend. I'm not kidding about that. The interest in Croatian wine is seriously intense! It seems everyone wants to know more about them.

As I mentioned before, I made a quick visit to the Istrian peninsula of Croatia a few years ago around this time of year in August. But I did not get to stay too long. You must have reservations in Croatia when holiday season is in full swing! 

Next time I visit Croatia I will plan ahead and allow plenty of time to explore the vine lands in depth. Until then, here is a brief slide show of what I saw in Umag.  NOTE: For a larger view or if the video does not appear below on your screen you can view it here in the Annex.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Croatian Wines Making Waves

A butterfly flaps it's wings in the Amazon and creates a tsunami in India. Ten monkeys with typewriters tap out a Shakespearean sonnet. A tweet about Croatian wine turns into a tasting. All of a sudden it seems the mysterious ways of the universe have converged to propel Croatian wine into the mainstream. Croatian wine is starting to make some waves.

Some of the biggest buzz I saw on twitter during the recent Wine Bloggers Conference in Virginia were the tweets from the night of the now infamous Room 606 Croatian Wine Tasting held by Cliff Rames.

All this synchronicity makes me think there is definitely something in the air. I had Croatia on my mind for quite a while and then, just like that, all the pieces fell into place and now I’ll be hosting a wine blogger tasting of Croatian wines on August 28 with Frank Dietrich of Blue Danube Wine.

Of course all the folks who have been championing the cause and tirelessly promoting Croatia and it’s wines knew it was only a matter of time before the rest of us caught on. But now things seem to be heating up and for the first time in a national wine publication Croatia takes the stage on the cover of Wine Enthusiast as reported here on the Wines of Croatia site.

In preparation for the tasting event and to get those attending up to speed, here is a short list of resources for more information on Croatian wine, food and culture:

Wine Enthusiast Online
Blue Danube Wine Shop  - See additional links under resources
Wines of Croatia - Cliff Rames blog
Wine library TV Episode #798 - Featuring Cliff Rames
Daily Grape Episode #86 Plavic Mali form Croatia
Croatian Tourist Board - Complete resource for all aspects of Croatia
Taste of Croatia - Comprehensive site of all things culinary & more
Pacta Connect  - UK importer with links and resources

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Wines of Croatia : A Preview Tasting

 Ever since I made a very brief visit to Croatia in 2007 I've been fascinated with the country. I have never seen more crystalline waters than those around the pristine Croatian coastline, the clarity of the Adriatic there is unlike anywhere else. The air quality was exceptional too, not something you normally notice, yet I remember it distinctly. But my best memory is the food and wine I experienced on my visit which left me wanting more. I've been anxious to get back for a longer visit and a proper introduction to the food and wines ever since.

Recently through the miracle of Twitter (and I do believe Twitter is a miracle as it has facilitated so many great connections) I got to chatting with Cliff Rames from @WinesofCroatia and @istriaficionado, and that chat led Cliff to set up a "twitterduction" with Frank Dietrich of @BlueDanubeWine an importer of Croatian wine in Palo Alto, California.

Frank and I exchanged an few emails and I'm happy to announce that we will be working together to host a Wines of Croatia Tasting for local wine bloggers at my house later this month. It's going to be a fun event and the great folks at the Croatian Tourist Board are providing me with maps and wine background materials for the event. Plus they have very kindly offered to supply a traditional Croatian sheep cheese from the island of Pag called Paški sir for us to pair along with the wines. The cheese is available locally in St. Helena at Sunshine Foods and other cheese shops in the Bay Area including The Cheese Shop in Healdsburg. Click on the picture below for more information.

Blue Danube Wine has a terrific website with excellent information and a great map of the wine regions of Croatia. I have no idea how to pronounce many of these wines and some of the names look like they may put your tongue in traction if you try. I'm not entirely sure which is the grape variety and which is the producer from looking at some of the labels, but I'm hoping that Frank will give us a little tutorial on how to read a Croatian wine label at the tasting.

After exploring Frank's Blue Danube Wine site I decided I could not wait for the blogger tasting to try the wines so I went right out and bought a few bottles at my local wine shop. I found a Peljesac, a Graševina/Welschriesling and a Zlatan Plenković all priced under $20.

I really was impressed with the 2007 Peljesac Red from Dingač. This wine had nice balance and was full and flavorful like a Zinfandal with slightly spicy tannins. I tried it with a fusilli pasta dish made with fennel and oyster mushrooms along with a side of marinated eggplant and it was a delicious complement to the food.

The Zaltan Otok 2009 Zlatan Plenković white a blend of Pošip and Maraština grapes was quite full bodied and also paired well with eggplant and sausage pizza that I made with the leftover eggplant from the night before.

My favorite label design was on the Enjingi 2009 Graševina and the wine was well constructed too. Loved the bright flavors of apple, apricot, and linden berry with a crisp mineral hit of granite. It's body compared to the Zlatan Plenković was delicate, more whisper than shout.

I can't wait to learn more about these wines and other varietals at the blogger tasting with Frank and share the findings here. I'm hoping to visit Croatia again soon, possibly before or after the International Wine Tourism Conference in Italy, where I will be presenting. So stay tuned wine and wine tourism fans. There's a lot more to come from Croatia!


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