Monday, September 30, 2019

Gratitude & Highlights Of Croatia

Sunset in Gradac. Sitting at a pebbly beach, the soft murmur of the waves lapping at the shore, as I sipped a glass of Plavac Mali wine. A touch of paradise in Croatia. Such an amazing memory.

A week ago, I returned from my ten-day journey to the Republic of Croatia, and I've been processing everything I've learned and experienced, assembling everything so that I can write a number of articles about my fascinating trip. As a start, I wanted to briefly mention some of the highlights here, before I begin a deeper analysis in the coming weeks.

First though, I want to offer my deep gratitude to the K7 Cooperative, an association of seven wineries in the Komarna region, including Rizman Winery, Saints Hill WinesVolarević WinesTerra Madre, Modro-zelenaNeretvanski Branitelj and Deak Family Farm. They sponsored much of my trip, and several of them also provided us hospitality at their wineries, tasting us on their wines as well as providing some compelling food to accompany those wines..

Second, I also want to offer great appreciation to Mirena Bagur and Win Burke, owners of the Boston-based Croatian Premium Wine Imports. They were our excellent guides throughout most of the trip, helping to provide us a balanced view of Croatia, from its culture to its history. They also welcomed us into their home, introduced us to some of their family, and taught us about a number of Croatian traditions. The journey would not have been as interesting and fun without them.

Third, I must give many thanks to my fellow travelers, wine lovers, and wine writers, including Luiz Alberto, Nanci Bergamo, Sue Tolson, and Gian Luca Garattoni. They made this a better and more exciting trip, helping to create many great memories. They also helped by providing their own unique viewpoints on Croatia, providing different perspectives on our joint experiences.

Our journey to Croatia was primarily about wine, especially the wines of the Komarna appellation, though I also had the opportunity to taste plenty of other Croatian wines, from several other regions. In addition, we experiences numerous others aspects of Croatia, from its history to culture, from its cuisine to its traditions. Croatian wine was put into a larger context, which I believe is a better way to understand it, to not only technically assess the wines, but to comprehend how those wines fit into Croatian life. Wine isn't produced in a vacuum, but is a result of various cultural, traditional and historical elements.

The Food! There was plenty to please any adventurous food lover and its quality can compete with the best of any country. We enjoyed lots of seafood, including oysters, mussels, Noah's Ark Shell clams, eels, frog legs, octopus, shrimp, cuttlefish, scallops, squid, and more. There was a traditional Peka dinner with some of the most tender octopus I've ever eaten. There were other traditional dishes as well, such as Crni Rizot (black risotto), Buzara Mussels, Burek (type of filled pastry), Fuži sa Tartufima (pasta with truffles) and Pršut (Croatian prosciutto). Even though I got plenty of exercise on the trip, especially walking a number of walls, I did gain a few pounds while I was away.

I have fond memories of Stella, a beach side restaurant and cafe in Gradac, where we gathered each morning for tea and coffee. Although they didn't serve breakfast, their kitchen not opening until 11am, their ice cream shop did open at 8am! And I'll admit to having ice cream for breakfast a couple times, though I wasn't the only one to do so. When their kitchen was open, Stella made a tasty pizza.

The wines were impressive! Sparkling, White, Skin-Contact Whites, Rosé, and Red wines. Indigenous Croatian grapes such as Pošip, Rukatac, Plavac Mali, and Teran. International grapes such as Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Organic wines. Two $6 wines that blew my mind! Reveling in the wide diversity of the expressions of Plavac Mali. A 16% ABV red wine that was so well balanced you never would have suspected it was so high. And even 18.2% ABV red wines that were similarly well balanced. I didn't get the opportunity to try Bikla, a concoction of red wine and goat's milk.

There was also Rakija, brandy spirits, which can be made from any type of fruit, and may be flavored with a wide variety of herbs and spices. For example, I tasted Biska, a rakish made with mistletoe, though my favorite was a Travarica, a compelling herbal concoction.

There's so much natural beauty in Croatia, from its crystal blue waters to its myriad of mountains. Traveling from Zagreb south, we encountered numerous tunnels, some of them quite lengthy, almost seeming as if they would be endless. It was also intriguing to pass several times through the Neum Corridor, crossing over Bosnian territory which splits Croatia into two parts. We even spent part of one day in Bosnia, checking out the stunning Krevice Falls.

We visited a few different sites of Roman ruins, from the Narona Archaeological Museum to the ruins of Salona, the ancient Roman capital of Dalmatia. We walked the Walls of Ston, a medieval fortification, as well as the walls surrounding the city of Dubrovnik. We walked through Diocletian's Palace in Split, the former home of a Roman Emperor. I viewed numerous sculptures in Zagreb, commemorating various historical personages. I eagerly devoured this exposure to the history of Croatia.

At the start of my trip, I had some time on my own so I explored the city of Zagreb, checking out spots including a Lord of the Rings themed-pub, Rakija Bar, the famed Dolac Market, Cahun (an 80+ year old hat shop), the Bornstein Wine Bar, the Agava Restaurant, and more. It was an intriguing city, filled with plenty to entice any traveller.

I also participated in a #WineLovers Hangout, held at the Pod Zidom Bistro & Wine Bar in Zagreb. Organized by Luiz AlbertoSaša Špiranec, and Ana Hozjan, this event was a BYOB dinner bringing together about 40 or so wine lovers from all over the world. There were a huge amount of bottles available to taste, from wine regions all over the world, from Greece to California, Italy to France. Two of my favorite wines were Spanish, brought by Sinisa Curavic. Instead of wine, I brought two bottles of Sake, and it was very popular with those who tasted them, though everyone had a preference for one bottle or the other.

Friendly feral cats. Game of Thrones. Dutch pancakes. Road-side fruit & veggie stands. Traffic jam caused by goats. Iron Man. King Arthur. And a myriad of other intriguing items.

I'll end with another sunset, this iime viewed from the Rizman Winery. More bliss.

What would you like to know about Croatia?

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