Thursday, October 31, 2019

All About Croatia

"Croatia is a country of great potential and greater opportunities."
--Understanding Croatia: A Collection of Essays on Croatian Identity by Božo Skoko

How much do you know about Croatia, its wine, cuisine, history, and culture? Maybe you're aware that Croatia was used to film certain locations in the Game of Thrones TV series. Maybe you've read of various celebrities vacationing at the gorgeous beaches on the Dalmatian coast. However, your knowledge may not extend much beyond that. Hopefully, more people will become aware of all of the fascinating aspects of Croatia, and seek out its food and wine, and maybe even journey there. It's a destination that I highly recommend, for many different reasons.

Located on the Balkan peninsula, on the coast of the Adriatic Sea, the Republic of Croatia is a member of the European Union and it borders the countries of Slovenia, Hungary, Serbia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, and Montenegro. Croatia, with a population of 4.5 million, has become a popular tourist destination, and about 21 million tourists, a a record-breaking number, visited in 2019. The pandemic  significantly impacted tourism in 2021, but in 2022, there were still about 19 million tourists.

In September 2019, I made a journey to Croatia, part of a media trip, traveling from Zagreb to Dubrovnik, and numerous locations between those two cities. Over the course of ten days, I experienced much, from wineries to restaurants, from museums to ancient Roman ruins, from the beach to the mountains, from medieval fortifications to a farmers market. It was informative and fun, delicious and educational. I ate and drank plenty, though got ample exercise through extensive walking. My memorable experiences have spawned numerous story ideas.

Most recently, in May and June of 2022, I spent two more weeks in Croatia, traveling to Dalmatia, Slavonia, Istria and elsewhere. During that time, I visited 28 wineries, attended two wine festivals, and tasted about 350 wines. It was an amazing trip and I'll be writing about my wonderful experiences in the near future, so stayed tuned. 

Currently, I've posted 86 articles on Croatian wines, food, history & culture, with more articles planned for the future. I've also referenced Croatian wines, generally as a category, in other articles on my blog. 

To help bring more visibility to Croatia, I've compiled all of the links to my Croatian wine, food, history & culture posts into this single article. This post will be a repository of those articles, listed in chronological order from the newest to oldest, and I'll update it when I write a new article about Croatia. This should be helpful to my readers who want to delve deeper into the fascinating country of Croatia.

My May/June 2022 Trip to Croatia (51 articles)
Damjanić Vina: Teran, Borgonja & The First Awarded Wine in Croatia
Truffle Hunting In Istria
Vina Papak: Light, Fresh & Fruity
Feravino Winery: From Frankovka To Torn Underpants Celebrate International Pošip Day: Bring On The Oysters!2019 Black Island Merga Victa Pošip: A Famed Croatian White Grape
2020 Benvenuti Teran Rosé: Another Istrian Delight2016 K7 Plavac Mali: 7 Croatian Wineries, 1 Compelling Wine
2019: My Top Five Croatian Dining Experiences
2019: My Favorite Croatian Wines
Croatia: Always More To Learn
Croatian Wines Now Available Online
Peninsula Wine Bar: Dingač, Postup & The Bura-Mrgudić Winery
Zagreb: Bornstein Wine Bar & Shop (Part 5)
Restaurant Kadena: My Last Dinner in Croatia
Korak Family Estate: Plešivica, Sparkling Wine & Riesling
Grgić Vina: From Croatia to California, and Back!
Terra Madre Winery: From Pošip Sur Lie to Wine Tourism
Rizman Winery: First in Komarna & A Taste of Tribidag
Ten Reasons To Drink Croatian Wine
Proto Restaurant in Dubrovnik: A Seafood Paradise
Volarević Winery: Organic Rakija & The Complexity of Plavac Mali
Rant: How To Promote Croatian Wine
Croatia: A Brief Introduction
Bound For Croatia

"..., for the Croatians of every degree are an amiable, open-hearted, open-handed people, who give to hospitality a very high place among the cardinal virtues and take a sincere pleasure in exercising it."
--The Times (London), August 9, 1884

(Updated on December 13, 2023)

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I am back again with a new edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food & drink events.
1) On Thursday, November 8, 6pm-9pm, Big Night Entertainment Group and the team at Red Lantern will be hosting a special Whiskey Social with KAIYō Japanese Mizunra Oak Whiskey. Join them for a night filled with Asian cuisine, great energy, and even better whiskey. This will not be your typical whiskey dinner but rather an opportunity for guests to enjoy delicious bites from the talented Red Lantern culinary team, make friends and familiarize themselves with KAIYō’s multitude of whiskeys. There will be KAIYō stations around the room where representatives will explain each type of whiskey and help guests pair their food with the perfect drink. The event is free flowing and a chance for people socialize while learning from the KAIYō whiskey experts.

You must be 21+ with a valid ID to attend. Tickets are $80 and can be purchased here.

2) In honor of World Kindness Day, the Mighty Meredith Project invites everyone to be Mighty Kind at the first “Be Kind. It’s Good for the Mind" signature event at Kings Dining & Entertainment in Lynnfield on Wednesday, November 13th from 6:00 pm - 10:00 pm. The event is designed by young brain injury survivor, Meredith Casey, to celebrate how kindness is a cure for so many things and can impact your overall health -including your brain health, mental health and the well-being of others.

Meredith and her family founded the Mighty Meredith Project - an organization established to raise awareness of Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI) and the impact of having a hidden illness/disease, with the message of kindness as the beacon of the organization. Meredith hit her head in December 2015. After months of attempting to recover from an initial diagnosis of a concussion, it was also determined Meredith had a blood clot in her brain, due to the head trauma. The associated head trauma has required Meredith to no longer participate in many of the activities she came to love and has changed her outlook on life. The Mighty Meredith Project was created after Meredith settled into a new life of living with traumatic brain injury.

Combined with the kindness of the community, outpouring of support during a difficult time and the need for Meredith to re-define her “normal”, Meredith wanted to start an organization to help others who may be caught in a similar situation. Her mission is simple:

Tickets to the Mighty Meredith / World Kindness Day fundraiser include
Red carpet on the step and repeat
Pizza and Appetizers
DJ Entertainment
Sundae Bar
Chocolate Chip Cookie Special
Signing the Kindness Pledge
Sending Acts of Kindness
Unlimited use of arcade games
Silent Auction and Raffles and more!

Tickets are $35 per person, and are available here.

3) On Friday, November 7, from 6:00 – 8:00 PM, Rebel’s Guild opens its doors and its wine list for one night, featuring rare wine from Orin Swift and Page Wine Cellars with The Revolver Wine Company. Step into the shoes of a fine-dining Sommelier this fall at Rebel’s Guild. The rebellious hideaway is opening its doors to wine connoisseurs, both professional and amateur, to experience the worldly and eclectic selections from celebrated vineyards and wineries.

This tasting will offer a very rare opportunity to sample the hand-selected wines from the passionate mind behind Orin Swift Cellars. The innovative winemakers over at Page Wine Cellars with The Revolver Wine Company, will bring the unique styles of wine production from the Bordeaux region of France, home to Napa Valley. There will also be hors d’oeuvres.

Tickets are available for $35.00 and can be purchased via Eventbrite. All attendees must be 21+ with a valid ID.

4) Sinatra Restaurant at Encore Boston Harbor will host a seven course white truffle dinner on Friday, November 8 at 6:00 p.m. Property Executive Chef Joseph Leibowitz, Chef de Cuisine Timothy Hixson, Executive Pastry Chef Joel Reno have put together an amazing menu that features truffles in all seven courses. The menu will be accompanied by a selection of Italian wines.

White Truffle Dinner Menu
White Truffle Custard, Crispy Chicken Oyster, Shaved White Truffles, Parmigiano Foam
1st Course
Winter Salad of Roasted Radicchio, Yali Pears, Frisee, Arugula, Robiola La Tur Crostini, Chestnut Honey, Shaved White Truffles, White Truffle Vinaigrette
2nd Course
Seared Sea Scallops, Cauliflower Puree, Roasted Porcini Mushrooms, Shaved White Truffles, Scallop Jus
3rd Course
Potato Gnocchi, Castelmagno Cheese, Burro Fuso, Shaved White Truffles
4th Course
Filet of Dover Sole, Variations of Chestnut, Shaved White Truffles
5th Course
Veal Tenderloin with Pancetta, Sweetbread Ravioli, Swiss Chard, Shaved White Truffles, Veal Jus
6th Course
Truffle Camembert en Croute, Quince
7th Course
Truffle Gelato, Opalys Truffle Macaron

Tickets are $250 per person. Reservations must be made in advance by calling (857) 770-3310.

5) Proprietor Peter Lovis of the Cheese Shop of Concord was the first in the region to sign up for the international ADOPT-AN-ALP program, which supports small family farms in Switzerland who adhere to a sustainable, seasonal method of grazing their milk cows – from the base of the mountains to the top. Adopt-an-Alp supports the transhumance movement, the move of people and animals in accordance with the seasons, a centuries old tradition.

In exchange, on Friday, November 8 at 1 PM, the shop will be rewarded with a shipment of two artisan Swiss cheeses never seen before in America. Pictured is the 2018 Alpkase, which will be melted and used to make fondue and the traditional cheese-and-potato dish: raclette. Free samples will be available until 5:00 PM.

Also that day, there will be a sampling of Teuscher champagne truffles from Switzerland, a selection of Swiss wines, and Swiss mac and cheese at the deli counter.

6) On Friday, November 1, from 5pm-7pm, Croatian Premium Wine Imports will be conducting a wine tasting at Vinodivino Newton. They will pouring a number of Croatian wines from the Komarna region, and this is a great opportunity to experience these tasty wines. I visited Croatia last month, checking out several wineries in the Komarna region, and I was impressed so I encourage you to check out this tasting event.

You have another opportunity to experience Croatian wines on Thursday, November 7, from 6:30pm-8:30pm, when Jonathon Alsop of the Boston Wine School holds a special class in Roslindale, The Best New (Croatian) Wines You’ve Never Heard Of. You'll get to taste 6-8 Croatian wines from the Komarna region, and learn much more about the country of Croatia, its grapes, and wines. Tickets cost $74.84 and can be purchased online here.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Rizman Winery: First in Komarna & A Taste of Tribidag

Rizman Winery is the pioneer who started it all in the Komarna appellation, the first winery in that region and the prime impetus behind the establishment of the K7 Cooperative, which is now an association of seven wineries, including Rizman Winery, Saints Hill Wines, Volarević Wines, Terra Madre, Modro-zelena, Neretvanski Branitelj and Deak Family Farm. With football in their hearts, and wine in their ancestry, the Štimac family took a significant risk in planting vineyards in Komarna but the growing success in this region has shown them to be visionaries.

Our first visit to Rizman was actually at their Rest Stop, located on the state road D8, between Opuzen and Klek. This rest stop is a combination shop and wine bar, with a killer view of the Komarna region, including vineyards belonging to Rizman and Terra Madre, as well as the Pelješac peninsula. There is a small shop that sells wine from the various Komarna wineries, olive oil, souvenirs, and fresh fruits and vegetables from local farms. At the wine bar, you can buy a glass of Rizman wine ($3-$4.50 US) or get a Flight of three wines ($9 US). Plus, they sell some food, such as Dalmatian Fritule (a pastry like donutholes) or a Sandwich, with prosciutto, cheese, and tomato. You can sit on their patio, drinking and eating, as you enjoy the scenic vista.

As the road to the Rizman Winery is not easily accessible for larger vehicles, this Rest Stop is the best place for buses and large groups to stop and experience the wines of Rizman. It is also conveniently located, making it easy to stop there, even for a brief visit, before continuing your journey.

This is one of the views you will find at the Rest Stop, looking down at some of the Rizman vineyards, with Pelješac peninsula peeking out in the upper left hand corner.

The history of winemaking in the Štimac family extends back to the early 20th century, to their great-grandfather Mihovil Mijo Popich, who was known by the nickname Rizman. He lived in the town of Opuzen, in the Neretva valley, a place well known for tangerine production. He planted grape vines, which were later destroyed by disease, and Rizman decided to temporarily move to the U.S. Upon his return in 1918, he planted a vineyard once more, making his own wine, and was assisted by his son and grandson. He continued making wine until the 1960s. Wine making is thus in the blood of the Štimacs, so it's not surprising that the family once again ventured into this industry.

Prior to establishing their Komarna winery, the Štimac family was already well known for its connection to football (soccer to those in the U.S.). Igor Štimac was a professional footballer and still works as a football coach. Damir Štimac is an attorney and worked as a football agent. With their brother Mihovil, they initially entered winemaking as a hobby but it soon became a passion for them, leading to their more serious efforts around 2009/2010. To put the emphasis on the wine, and not their sports fame, they chose not to use their name, Štimac, for the winery. Instead, they chose the name Rizman, an homage to their great-grandfather.

They began the first steps to the creation of their winery back in 2006, as they carefully selected a location, analyzed the soils, and consulted with various experts. Although they mentioned this was initially just a hobby, it sure seems like they were serious from the amount of research and analysis they conducted right from the start. Their first products were olive oil, and they finally planted vineyards in 2008. From the beginning, they adopted an organic philosophy, one they would later promote to all the members of the K7 association. In 2014, they completed the construction of a state of the art winery.

When other wineries chose to come to the Komarna region, the Štimacs successfully pushed for a united association, the K7, and Mihovil is currently the President. With only a small number of wineries, it has been relatively easy for them to successfully work together, and they basically all agree on major decisions. They obviously share many of the same concerns, and want to bring more wine tourism to the region. United, they have a better chance at succeeding together on these objectives.
The Rizman winery is the largest in Komarna, with 22 hectares of vineyards and 7 hectares of olive trees. It is certified organic, as are all of the Komarna vineyards. About 90% of their vineyards are planted with indigenous Croatian grapes, including Plavac Mali, Pošip, and Tribidag. They also grow a small proportion of international's grapes, including Tempranillo, Syrah, Chardonnay and Viognier. In addition, they've planted some experimental vines, indigenous grapes including Plavac Mali Gray (clone), Pošip Black, Dobričić (a parent of Plavac Mali), and Bratkovina Blatska Bijela (a white grape from the island of Korčula), though it will be about two years before they can harvest any of those grapes.

The vineyards extend to an altitude of 250 meters, sometimes on inclines as much as 30%, and reach almost all the way down to the water. The soil is primarily limestone, and the planting of vineyards required significant work, and cost, in breaking down large boulders and rock outcroppings. The Rizman estate has limited room for growth, maybe only 1-3 hectares which could be additionally planted with vineyards. They don't purchase any grapes, using only what they grow themselves.

The Rizman Winery produces about 60,000-80,000 bottles annually, and currently export to 6-7 countries, sending about 6,000 bottles to the U.S. Locally, they are very dominant on the shelves of wine shops in Dubrovnik.

Their winery is aesthetically pleasing, with a nice outside patio, and an elegant interior tasting room. Besides simple wine tastings, you can also make a reservation for a wine-paired lunch or dinner. Their chef, who is self taught, once had a restaurant in Dalmatia, and now is creating some amazing dishes at Rizman. We enjoyed an excellent dinner during our visit, one which paired well with the various wines.

At the winery, Damir Štimac led us through our wine tasting, and he was personable, knowledgeable, witty, and passionate. It was clear that wine now consumed him, that he was completely immersed in the business of the winery, wanting to produce top-notch wines. Later on, I also had a chance to speak with Mihovil Štimac, to learn more about their winery and Komarna.

Rizman makes eight varieties of olive oil, from indigenous Croatian varieties including Oblica, Levantinka, Lastovka, and Drobnica, and Italian varieties including Leccino, Pendolino, Frantoi, and Coratina. The olive groves are organic, hand-harvested, and the olives are processed, cold-pressed, the same day they are harvested. They only make about 1000 liters, but have a goal of producing 2-3,000 liters.

At the start of our dinner, there were Ston Oysters! Briny deliciousness and more meals should start with these oysters.

There was also a beautifully plated dish that included a local oyster, topped by a lemon granita, a local mussel, topped by spices & veggies, and a scoop of pâté. The oyster/granita was excellent, the acidity of the lemon balanced by the briny oyster. I could easily devour a dozen of them. The mussel was tasty too, and the pâté was creamy, with a compelling earthy aspect. A great way to start our dinner.

Two wines were paired with these starters, the first being the 2018 Rizman Pošip, their "Fresh" Pošip, which sees no oak. To maintain the freshness of this wine, the grapes are also harvested at night and processed immediately afterwards. They commonly produce 7-14,000 bottles of this wine, though in 2018, that number rose to 15,000. With a 13% ABV, a touch of Viognier was added to the Pošip, and the wine was aged in the bottle for several months. I found the wine to be fresh and crisp, with bright lemon notes, a floral hint, and an underlying minerality. A great pairing with the oysters, especially the one with the granita. Mihovil stated that Pošip is easy to sell, especially as a summer wine.

The 2018 Rizman Nonno is a blend of 80% Pošip and 20% Chardonnay, and it's fermented and aged in French barrique on the lees for about 6-7 months. The grapes come from a single special plot in the easternmost section of the vineyard, and they are harvested later than the grapes in the "fresh" Pošip. Only about 2-3,000 bottles of this wine are produced. It is a richer and creamier wine, elegant and complex, and the oak doesn't overwhelm. There are bright citrus flavors and hints of spice. My personal preference was for the Fresh Pošip but I enjoyed this oak-aged one too.

Next up, there were plump and tasty Shrimp in a sweet and spicy sauce. A bit messy to pull the meat out of the shells but well worth the taste.

Our next wine was the 2018 Rizman Rusula, a Rosé which is made from first run juice of 90% Plavac Mali, with about 10% Syrah, and where the grapes were macerated for about 20 minutes. Rusula is an old Dalmatian word that means "rosé," a link to their heritage. With a 12.5% ABV, this Rosé possessed bright red fruits, cherry and strawberry, with crisp acidity, and a very pleasing finish. Easy drinking and refreshing, this would be an excellent summer wine, or paired with light summer fare.

Our next food course was a traditional Dalmatian dish, Crni Rižot, Black Risotto, which is commonly made with cuttlefish or squid, our dish being made with cuttlefish. Such an earthy and scrumptious dish, with tender pieces of cuttlefish, and rice that was cooked just right.

Onto a bigger and bolder wine. The 2016 Rizman Brime Plavac Mali is their basic Plavac Mali, which presents an expression of fruit. With a 13% ABV, it spends about one year in oak, and is fresh and bold, yet restrained and well-balanced. Tasty black fruit flavors, hints of spice, and a touch of earthiness. Good acidity, a moderately lengthy finish, and definitely an easy drinking wine, which would do well with burgers to pizza, as well as the Black Risotto. Mihovil stated that Plavac Mali is more of a challenge to sell, and needs to be recognized more overseas. It might be well known in Croatia, but other countries don't know much about the grape.

The 2015 Rizman Primus is also made from Plavac Mali, with a tiny bit of Tempranillo, and it is the first wine the winery ever made, hence the name Primus. They select the best plots for the grapes in this wine, wanting the best Plavac Mali. The wine was aged for about 12 months in American and French oak, including some new oak, and then another 6 months in the bottle. The 2016 Primus will soon be released, and it's said this wine could easily age for 10-15 years. With a 13.5% ABV, this wine is bright and crisp, with a delicious blend of red and black fruits, a spicy backbone, and well-integrated tannins. A lengthy and satisfying finish, plenty of complexity, and this wine would pair well with steak or other hearty dishes.

Onto Tribidag! In Croatia, where the grape originated, it is known as Crljenak Kaštelanski, Pribidrag, and Tribidag. However, the grape has traveled around the world, and in Italy it is known as Primitivo while in California it is known as Zinfandel. Yes, Zinfandel which is often seen as an "All American" grape, actually originated in Croatia. It wasn't until 2001 that DNA testing confirmed these facts, though many had long suspected a Croatian connection. Within Croatia, Tribidag, which derives from Greek words meaning "early ripening," was first mentioned as early as the 15th century. Tribidag has been seeing a renewed renaissance within Croatia, and more and more wineries are starting to produce wines from this grape. Wouldn't you love to try a wine made from the original "Zinfandel?"

The 2016 Rizman Tribidag is produced mainly primarily from Tribidag, with up to 15% Tempranillo, and only about 5,000 cases are made. The wine spends about a year in oak, with less new oak than the Plavac Mali. At only 13.5% ABV, this is still a powerful wine, though the tannins are still very manageable. There are more plum and black cherry flavors, with notes of black pepper, and the melange is complex and compelling. The wine is well balanced, with a lingering and pleasing finish. You'll need a hearty dish to accompany this bold and delicious wine. It would be fascinating to taste test this next to a few California Zinfandels.

On their land in Komarna, the Štimac family has a chapel to St. Michael, their family saint, and they celebrate him each year on September 29. This was actually the first building they constructed on there property. A number of the Štimac men, for many generations, have been named after St. Michael, which in Croatian is Mihovil.

They also produce a wine, the 2016 Rizman St. Michael, to honor this important aspect of their lives. This wine isn't made every year, and the concept behind the wine is to showcase their best, a single varietal from a single plot of land. This is also known as the Family Collection, and each bottle is numbered, and only about 3,000 bottles are produced. This vintage, which was released in February 2019, was made from Syrah and the specific varietal can change in different vintages, though they didn't make a St. Michael in 2017. The grapes for this wine are from their youngest vineyard, which was planted in 2013, and the wine was aged in new oak for about 12 months.

This was a powerful and muscular wine, though the tannins didn't overpower. It presented with ripe plum, blackberry, and dark spice notes, with a hint of chocolate and leather. It was only 14% ABV, with a long, long finish that tantalized your palate. It's still young and I think it has much potential with greater age on it.

In their cellar, we also got to sample a barrel sample of 2018 Tribidag, coming in at 17.2% ABV, and which could be the basis for a 2018 St. Michaels. It was a huge wine and definitely needs much more time in the barrel.

For dessert, there was cheese & prosciutto, as well as a Semifreddo, which was creamy with tasty notes of chocolate. At this point, we tasted the 2011 Rizman Primus, gaining an idea of how well Plavac Mali can age. This was completely impressive, elegant and complex, well balanced and silky.  Each sip seemed to bring something different to my palate, and it was pure deliciousness. Plavac Mali is definitely a grape with much potential. Highly recommended!

What's in the future for Rizman Winery? I can't yet discuss a couple of their planned projects but I can tell you that they would like to create a wine hotel, to promote wine tourism in Komarna, to keep visitors in the region for more than a single day. There are currently only 4 wine hotels in Croatia, and increasing and promoting wine tourism should be an objective for all of the regions of Croatia. It will also be interesting to see what comes of the indigenous grapes in their experimental vineyard. Will they produce compelling wines?

As I've mentioned before, the modern wine industry in Croatia is still relatively young, and the Komarna appellation is their newest wine region. Despite its youth, the Komarna wineries have shown much potential, already providing excellent wines, and a debt is owed to the Štimac family of Rizman Winery for leading the way and bringing the seven wineries together. And now I wish I had a bottle of the 2011 Rizman Primus to sip and savor.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Ten Reasons To Drink Croatian Wine

"The wines of Croatia...are very good and justly prized."
--The Evening Sun (MD), August 19, 1965

Wine is integral to the culture of Croatia, and they consume much of what they produce, exporting only about 6% of their total production. In addition, they import about four times as much wine as they export, as they obviously desire even more wine to drink. Indicative of their great love for wine, Croatians drink about 22 liters of wine per capita, making them the third largest consumer in the world.

The history of wine in the region of Croatia extends back about 2500 years, to at least the time of the ancient Greeks colonists, but its modern wine industry is relatively young, still recovering from when they achieved their independence from Yugoslavia. The Croatian wine industry has accomplished much in the last 25 years, and they are currently producing plenty of excellent wines, and have much potential. Although Croatia has become a hugely popular tourist destination, its wines still need much more recognition around the world.

Currently, Croatian wine exports to the U.S. are small, only about 7,200 cases annually, but that is slowly changing. Thus, it's likely difficult for you to find Croatian wines at your local wine store, but you should ask them to carry some. In the Boston area, we are fortunate to have Croatian Premium Wine Imports, a new company which is bringing more Croatian wines to local wine shops and restaurants. They have also been hosting a number of tasting events, where you can sample and experience Croatian wines. There are also other importers, such as Blue Danube Wine and Topochines, which have Croatian wines in their portfolios, both locally and in other states.

Prior to my journey to the Republic of Croatia in September 2019, I had little familiarity with Croatian wines, having previously tasted only a couple, though I did enjoy them. During my visit though, I had the opportunity to taste close to 150 Croatian wines, and I found many reasons to enjoy these fascinating, diverse and delicious wines. All wine lovers, no matter what your preferences, will find something to love in Croatian wines.

Let me provide you a list of Ten Reasons why you should experience Croatian wines, why you should seek out these compelling wines. I often encourage people to be adventurous with their palates and I'm doing so again, asking you to sample some Croatian wines, to give them a chance. Once you do taste them, I suspect you'll understand why they are so compelling.

First, Croatian wine has a lengthy and fascinating history.
Wine making in Croatia extends at least 2,500 years and wine was an integral element of ancient Croatian civilization. Agatharchides of Cnidus, a Greek historian and geographer from the 2nd century BC, claimed that the best wine in the world was from Vis, a Croatian island in the Adriatic Sea that had been settled by the Greeks. The Stari Grad Plain, on the island of Hvar, was colonized by Greeks during the 4th century B.C. Vineyards have been continuously planted here for over 2400 consecutive years and it's now a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Over the centuries, Croatia has been invaded numerous times, by various conquering nations, yet they have somehow always found a way to continue their traditions of viniculture. In addition, some of the 130 or so indigenous grapes of Croatia may have even been around since the days of ancient Greece. Thus, each sip of Croatian wine brings with it a sense of history, a connection to the ancient past. Their modern wine industry may be young, but its roots extend back over two millennia.

Second, Croatia has many unique, indigenous grapes.
There are over 130 indigenous grapes in Croatia, though only about 40 are used regularly on a commercial basis. White grapes such as Bogdanuša, Debit, Graševina, Grk, Malvazija Istarska, Malvasia Dubrovačk, Maraština, Pošip, and Vugava. Red grapes like Babić, Dobričić, Plavac Mali, Teran, and Tribidag. They present unique flavors and aromas, though still offering some familiarity. Any wine lover seeking to broaden their palate, to experience something new, should seek out such unusual grapes which may be found only in Croatian wines. You never known when you might find a new favorite grape. I love exploring unusual grapes and Croatian wines allow me to further enhance my experiences. Yes, they grow some international grapes too but why not pay attention to the unique, indigenous grapes that often cannot be found elsewhere.

Third, Plavac Mali is the King of the Reds.
The Plavac Mali grape is the most widely planted red grape in Croatia, though it's primarily found in the Dalmatia region. In a number of respects, it can be considered the signature red grape of Croatia, and it has brough some fame to the region. Plavac Mali was the first Croatian grape to have its own appellation, Dingač, located on the Pelješac peninsula, and it was established back in 1961. Plavac Mali grapes commonly have high sugar levels, which can lead to high alcohol levels, and they also often have high tannins as well. Although this seems like it would only make powerhouse wines, that is far from the case, and you'll find a wide variety of expressions in Plavac Mali wines.

Common flavors found within Plavac Mali wines includes blackberry, black cherry, plum, pepper, and spice, though sometimes you might also find herbal notes and earthiness. It produces wines that can age very well, and the best wines are complex, well-balanced, and have a deep depth of flavor. This is a grape which can present greatness, which can compare well to any other famed red grape from anywhere around the world.

Fourth, Pošip is the the King of the Whites.
The Pošip grape isn't the most widely planted white grape, but its importance, especially in coastal Croatia cannot be underestimated. This ancient grape is indigenous to the Croatian island of Korčula, and in 1967, Korčula became a legally protected appellation, making Pošip the first Croatian white wine to be part of such an appellation. Pošip has spread throughout the Dalmatian region, becoming one of the most common and popular white grapes in this region. It is an early ripening grape, versatile and expressive of its terroir. You can find a wide variety of expressions, from stainless steel to oaked, fresh & dry to sweet dessert wines.

In general, Pošip wines can range from medium to full-bodied, possessing flavors of citrus to tropical fruits, and commonly have fresh acidity. They may have mineral notes, a taste of almonds, and might also have a high alcohol content, over 14% ABV. Much will depend on the terroir and winemaking style. It pairs well with food, especially seafood, from shellfish to grilled white fish, though it also works with light chicken and similar dishes. In the Boston+ area, where seafood is important, Pošip wines have so much to offer.

Fifth, you're probably already familiar with one Croatian grape.
In Croatia, where the grape originated, it is known as Crljenak Kaštelanski, Pribidrag, and Tribidag. However, the grape has traveled around the world, and in Italy it's known as Primitivo while in California it's known as Zinfandel. Yes, Zinfandel which is often seen as an "All American" grape, actually originated in Croatia. It wasn't until 2001 that DNA testing confirmed these facts, though many had long suspected a Croatian connection. Within Croatia, Tribidag, which derives from Greek words meaning "early ripening," was first mentioned as early as the 15th century. Tribidag has been seeing a renewed renaissance within Croatia, and more and more wineries are starting to produce wines from this grape. Wouldn't you love to try a wine made from the original "Zinfandel?"

Sixth, Croatian wines are diverse.
Croatian wineries produce a myriad of different types of wines, including Sparkling, White, Skin-Contact Whites, Rosé, Red, Amphora, Sweet wines and more. These wines come in a wide variety of flavor profiles and styles so there is something available to appeal to any personal preference. You'll find plenty of easy drinking wines as well as some ultra-geeky ones, and lots between these two. In addition, there are a number of different terroirs in Croatia which further leads to the diversity in their wines. Croatian wines are multi-dimensional and there is much to discover in that multitude. No matter what kind of wine you enjoy, you'll find a Croatian wine that will satisfy you and might even become a new favorite. I found some impressive Sparkling wines, as well as intriguing Skin-contact wines. However, I found compelling wines in all the varied categories. Croatia has so much to offer.

Seventh, Croatian wines are made for food.
As Croatian wine is such an integral aspect of their culture, it is obviously a natural pairing for food, possessing a versatility that extends into many cuisines. Croatians commonly drink wine with food so it is produced specifically to be accompanied by food. If you purchase a Croatian wine, you can be almost assured that it will pair well with some type of food. Dependent on the type of food, there is also probably a type of Croatian wine which will work well with that dish, from seafood to steak, pasta to chicken. You could enjoy an easy drinking Plavac Mali with a burger or pizza, or a more powerful Plavac Mali with a ribeye steak. You could enjoy a Pošip with raw oysters or fried haddock. Croatian cuisine is diverse, from pasta and truffles in Istria to fresh seafood in Dalmatia, and so is their need for diverse wines to accompany their different foods.

Eighth, buying Croatian wines improves lives. 
As I've written previously, it can be important to be a Wine Activist. Peter Weltman, a sommelier and writer in San Francisco, summed it up well by writing, "With our wine purchases, I believe, we can help advance regional peace, provide support for farmers in war-torn regions, have a voice in geopolitics, and aid in economic recoveries." In addition, he stated, "Wine transcends borders and bridges cultures, and it can be used to improve lives if we make the right purchases." It's only been 25 years since Croatia prevailed in a terrible war, and attained its independence. Its young wine industry certainly needs support, as does the entire country, and buying Croatian wines is one way to help them. It's probably not something you normally think about when buying a bottle of wine. but maybe you should consider it. Support Croatia and drink some excellent wine. Everyone wins.

Ninth, nearly everyone will enjoy Croatian wines.
There is no reason why anyone couldn't find a Croatian wine that they enjoy. Many of their wines are often easy drinking, absent of strange and off-putting flavors. They will seem familiar in some respects, with just enough pleasant differences to make them intriguing. The main reason Croatian wines don't sell as well as they should is due to lack of availability and unfamiliarity. Most consumers, and many wine shop owners, know little about Croatian wines so they gravitate instead to what they already know. That can be overcome with greater education and more tastings. People need to be shown they are missing out on Croatian wines.

Tenth, and most importantly, Croatian wines are delicious.
It is a simple thought but sometimes gets forgotten amidst everything else. In the end, the most significant aspect of wine is that it tastes good. No matter what else a wine has going for it, if it does not taste good then it has failed. I have tasted many good Croatian wines, of all types, and at the root of it all, they are delicious. I may appreciate Croatian wines for many different reasons, but first and foremost, taste remains the most compelling reason to drink Croatian wines. No matter what your level of wine knowledge, I think we can all agree that first and foremost, a wine needs to taste good. On that level, Croatian wines deliver.

So, are you convinced to give Croatian wines a try? I hope so. However, if not, why not?

Monday, October 28, 2019

The Porch: Southern Fare & Juke Joint--Initial Impressions

Back in January 2016, The Porch: Southern Fare & Juke Joint opened on Tuttle Street in Wakefield, a small, 20-seat restaurant serving Southern dishes, from fried chicken to pulled pork, ribs to meat loaf. The food, all made from scratch, was delicious and it ended up on my 2016: Favorite Restaurants & My Top 50. It was included on my 2017 list too, and likely would have been on my 2018 list but it closed in June 2018.

The closing was a positive in some respects because Nashville-born Chef Jonathan Post and his business partner, Cenk Emre, planned to open a much larger incarnation of their restaurant in the new River’s Edge complex in Medford. However, would they be able to replicate the quality and taste of the food from their tiny restaurant on such a grander scale?

The new restaurant opened in July 2019, about a year after the closing of their Wakefield location, and it spans 8,500-square feet, with 250 seats inside and another 50 seats at their outside patio. The restaurant includes a 54-foot bar and a stage for performing bands.

The interior of the restaurant is casual, with lots of southern-inspired artwork bedecking the walls and other areas. Though quite large, there is still a sense of intimacy. It has a modern look, but with homages to the past as well.

Jonathan and Cenk have hired Alex Horowitz as their Executive Chef, and Alex has an excellent resume, having worked at local restaurants including 80 Thoreau, Moody’s Delicatessen, Blue Ginger, Tavola, and James Pub & Provisions. The Porch intendeds to showcase various Southern regional cuisines, bringing back some classics from their Wakefield location and introducing plenty of new choices as well. They are open for both lunch and dinner, and I've dined there twice so far for lunch and wanted to present some of my initial impressions.

The Lunch Menu has Small Thangs, 3 appetizers ($4-$9), Plates, salads and larger appetizers, 6 choices ($10-$24), Trays, 6 entrees ($17-$26), Between the Buns, 6 sandwiches ($13-$16), and Fixins', 10 sides, $5 each. The Dinner Menu simply adds a number of additional choices. On these menus, you'll find dishes such as Spicy Pork Rinds, Oyster Stew, Crawfish Étouffée, Biscuit & Ham, Cornmeal Crusted Catfish, Sweet Corn Gumbo, Smoked BBQ Jackfruit, Nashville Hot Fried Chicken, Texas Brisket, and much more. Lots of tasty choices, appealing to many different preferences.

The Porch has a full bar program, including Cocktails, Wine and Beer. They have 8 special cocktails ($11-$12), such as The Beautiful South above, which is made with Bourbon, Assam Tea, Grilled Peach, Praline Gastrique, and Lemon. A tasty and balanced blend of smoked peach, tea, citrus and a mild nutty flavor. There are 13 wines available by the glass ($10-$13), and I think the list has plenty of interesting and good choices, such as the Garzon Tannat, an Uruguayan wine, and Bedell Cabernet France, from New York. The beer list includes plenty of craft options, with about 12 beers on draft, as well as some old traditional choices, such as Pabst Blue Ribbon and Schlitz Tall Boy. You'll also find plenty of local beer options. They even offer some Shot & Beer Combos.

The Hellhound, made from Mezcal, Reposado Tequila, Smoked Poblanos, Lime & Ginger Beer, was excellent, with that delicious agave taste, enhanced by the spice of the ginger beer. Refreshing, with a hint of smokiness, and a nice accompaniment to the cuisine.

On each table, you'll find four different sauces, from Zippy & Sweet to Earthy & Tangy, which you can use on your food.

The Corn Hush Puppies ($7), with a bacon, onion jam, have a crunchy exterior with a moist interior,  with a dominant mildly sweet corn flavor.

The Deviled Eggs ($9) are topped with fried clams and pickled mustard seeds, a delicious combination. The crunchy fried clams, with a clean taste, made a nice contrast to the creamy deviled eggs, and the pickled seeds added some bright acid to balanced the dish. A hearty recommendation.

For an entree, I thoroughly enjoyed a Tray of Fried Chicken ($17), which comes with one piece of white meat and one dark. You have your choice of either Plain or Nashville Hot, and I opted for the Plain, so I could best compare it to the chicken from the Wakefield location, which was a favorite of mine. The Tray also comes with your choice of two sides, and I selected a Biscuit and Cheesy Grits.

The biscuits at the Wakefield location were also a favorite, and they have changed at the Medford spot. They are much larger, but just as tasty, being buttery, flaky, and with a crisp exterior. The Cheesy Grits were also a very tasty side, with lots of creaminess, a pleasing corn flavor, and just the right texture. As for the fried chicken, it was also excellent, with that delightful clean, crunchy coating, and lots of moist meat within. The new Porch certainly delivers on quality and taste with this dish and its sides.

With the Combo Tray ($26), you get your choice of two of the meats, and I chose the St. Louis Ribs (wet rub) and Texas Brisket, with sides of the Mac & Cheese and Skillet Cornbread. As for the sides, both were available at the Wakefield location, but I feel that both taste better at this new location. Previously, the corn bread was served in slices, and not within a cast iron skillet. It is scrumptious, with a natural sweetness of the corn, and is moist beneath the crusty top.

The Brisket was tender, meaty and flavorful, enhanced by some of the North Cackalacky Vinegar Sauce, while the Ribs were fall-off-the bone tender, with a tangy and compelling wet rub. These items were similar in many respects to what was once at the Wakefield location, but they might taste even better here.

Has the new Porch in Medford been able to replicate the quality and taste of the food from their prior, tiny Wakefield restaurant? The answer is undoubtedly affirmative, and the food overall is even better at the new location. There are many more choices available here, and the dishes are priced reasonably for their quantity and quality. Service is very good, the drinks program is excellent, and the ambiance is welcoming. Jonathan Post and Cenk Emre have created a restaurant poised for success, and I look forward to dining there more often, to check out more of the menu, and to attend one of their musical events. Based on my initial impressions, I give The Porch a hearty recommendation and urge you to check it out.

Just one minor caveat though, as some customers might take issue with this matter. The Porch adds a 3% "Kitchen Appreciation Fee" onto your bill, however their website does not mention that fact and the Lunch menu didn't mention it either. I have no problems with restaurants adding such a fee, as I agree with the philosophy of supporting the kitchen staff who doesn't receive tips. The issue is that such a fee should be prominently mentioned on a restaurant's menu and website. That has become the norm with restaurants that have adopted such a fee. Failing to disclose the fee, until a customer receives their check, can cause problems which can be avoided with a proper disclosure.