Friday, October 18, 2019

Vina Deak: Pošip, Seafood & Ficovic Restaurant

During my time in Croatia, we spent one morning touring the Walls of Ston, impressive medieval fortifications which are said to be the second largest preserved fortification system in the world, second only to the Great Wall of China. These walls were used for a few scenes in Game of Thrones, and I'll later post plenty of photos from this location. Walking along those walls, and climbing numerous stairs, I worked up a hearty appetite, which would soon be sated by some amazing seafood and delicious Croatian wines.

We stopped in the village of Hodilje, a couple kilometers north of Ston, and had lunch at the Ficovic Restaurant, a casual seafood restaurant with its own small beach, where customers can even go for a swim before or after dining. During our lunch, several people took advantage of the small beach to either catch some sun or take a little dip. The photo at the top shows one of the approaches to the water and the gorgeous view from our exterior table.

We were there to meet the Deak family, including father Damir, wife Marijana, and son Dino, of Vina Deak, one of the Komarna wineries. We would taste three of their wines with lunch, pairing them with some incredibly fresh and delicious seafood. It was a leisurely and fun tasting, providing a nice context for evaluating the wines with food.

Damir, in the blue shirt in the above photo, was previously employed as the director of a company that purchased numerous agricultural products. After sixteen years, he sold that company, invested in a tourism business, and then decided to get involved in the wine business. In 2012, Damir purchased 22 hectares of land, becoming the youngest member of the cooperative. Six of those hectares are dedicated to olive trees, and they produce several types of olive oil. Currently, their vineyards are planted with about 70% Plavac Mali and 30% Pošip.

This is very much a small, family business and last year they produced only 5,000 bottles of wine while this year, they expect to increase production to about 7500-8000 bottles. This is their third year in the commercial market in Croatia and they haven't yet started exporting any of their wines. However, they will soon start exporting some to the U.S., most likely their Pošip and Rosé. Their production is primarily sold to restaurants though that seems as if it will change in the coming years as they start exporting their wines. Within Croatia, their wines generally sell for $12-$18 US per bottle, which is a very reasonable price for the quality of their wines.

Our time with the Deak family at lunch was illustrative of a significant aspect of Croatian wine, the excellent pairing of Pošip & Seafood. Pošip is primarily produced in the Dalmatian region, where seafood is prominent, so its popularity is easy to understand. With all of the seafood available in the Boston area, then it makes sense that Pošip should also be an available option here. This lunch wouldn't be the first, or only time, I drank Pošip with seafood, and each other time I've experienced this pairing has only further solidified its efficacy in my mind.

The Pošip grape is indigenous to the Croatian island of Korčula, which derives its name from an ancient Greek colony named Melaina Korkyra, Black Corfu. The origin of the term Pošip is a bit ambiguous, with two main theories. The first is based on the elongated shape of the grape while the other theory is the grapes once grew closely near pomegranate trees, known as šipak. Though some believed that Pošip was brought to the island by those ancient Greeks, DNA analysis has shown that Pošip was born from two other grapes, Bratkovina Bijela and Zlatarska Bistrica, both which are indigenous to Korčula.

In 1967, Korčula became a legally protected appellation, making Pošip the first Croatian white wine to be part of such an appellation. Though Pošip originated on Korčula, it has since 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 and I often preferred the unoaked versions of Pošip. It definitely is a fine pairing with seafood, from shellfish to grilled white fish, though it would also work with light chicken and similar dishes.

Our first wine of the lunch was the 2017 Vina Deak Ćaća Moj Pošip, and I'll first note that Ćaća Moj, the name of this brand of wines, basically translates as "my daddy." This Pošip was aged for about six months on the lees in stainless steel, saw no oak, and has a 14.3% ABV. With a bright golden color, it possessed an appealing nose of citrus with subtle floral notes. And on the palate, it was crisp and dry, fresh and creamy, with delicious flavors of citrus and hints of floral honey, and a subtler herbal note. It was tasty on its own, an elegant and well-balanced summery wine, but it also shined with the seafood that we were soon to enjoy.

Our initial course was the Hodilje Plate, which consisted of a bounty of seafood, including Fish Pâté, Marinated White Anchovies, Salted Sardines, Marinated Shrimp, Octopus Salad, and Olives. What a way to start a lunch! The anchovies were fresh, tender and flavorful, some of the best I've tasted. The pâté was creamy and complex, while the crunchy sardines were a salty treat. The Pošip wasn't overwhelmed by any of the foods, and its profile complemented the seafoods, especially those anchovies.

Then the avalanche of shellfish began, starting with fresh Ston Oysters. These famed European Flat Oysters are from the Mali Ston Bay, and have been harvested at least as far back as the ancient Romans, and possibly even earlier. The waters possess a distinctive nutrient blend, which creates a unique flavor in these oysters. I found them to have a pleasant brininess, not as briny as many New England oysters, but far more than West Coast oysters. They were plump and meaty, with a unique taste that is hard to pin down but which were quite delicious. During my time in Croatia, I certainly enjoyed plenty of these oysters. Just ask my traveling companions and they'll tell you how much I loved these oysters. Pošip and Oysters was a killer combination!

The Grilled Oysters, adding a touch of smoke and butter, were also quite tasty. Though I preferred the raw oysters, I still very much enjoyed these too.

We were then brought two large bowls of Mussels, Clams, and Noah's Ark Shells, in a compelling broth, with a great depth of flavor. This was the first time I've ever eaten Noah's Ark Shells, a unique type of clam that is native to the Mediterranean and Adriatic Seas. The elongated shell roughly resembles a tiny ark, which is obviously how it acquired its name. When cooked, the shell remains sealed, though there is a tiny slit which you can use to easily open the clam. Inside, you'll find a good-sized meaty clam. I devoured plenty of the scrumptious shellfish, not wanting any of it to go to waste.  Once again, the Pošip went well with the mussels and clams.

While enjoying the shellfish, the second wine was opened, the 2018 Vina Deak Ćaća Moj Rosé, made from 100% Plavac Mali. There are separate sections in the vineyard for the grapes that will be used for their Rosé, and the grapes undergo a short time of skin contact, though Plavac Mali still provides plenty of color. The wine, with a 13% ABV, spends about five months aging in stainless steel and sees no oak. I thoroughly enjoyed this wine, finding it to be fresh and crisp, dry and light-bodied, with tasty flavors of raspberry, cherry and a hint of citrus. Refreshing and juicy, its acidity makes it an excellent food wine, and it worked very well with the shellfish.

There was still more seafood to come! Sea Bream and Sole (though it is called List in Croatia). Fresh, tender white fish, simply prepared but with plenty of flavor. As they say, if you start with high quality ingredients, you don't have to do much to prepare it properly. The ingredients speak for themselves, delivering the taste you desire.

Finally, there were whole Squid, with a light char to them, again simply prepared and tasty.

I can't forget that we received a plate of greens and potatoes too, though with all the wonderful seafood, why fill yourself up with these?

With the white fish and squid, we enjoyed our final wine, the 2016 Vina Deak Ćaća Moj Plavac Mali, which was aged in 2nd year French oak for a year and then a second year in the bottle. With only a 13.5% ABV, it would be one of the lower alcohol Plavac Mali wines I'd taste while in Croatia. It was more of an elegant red wine, with prominent raspberry, plum, and black cherry flavors, accompanied by a touch of spice, well integrated tannins and good acidity. As it wasn't overly tannic or powerful, then it didn't strong-arm the fish. This would also be a good wine for pizza or burgers.

Overall, what a stunning lunch and tasting. The Ficovic Restaurant was a stellar seafood restaurant, with great food, excellent service, and a stunning view. Highly recommended! I was also impressed with the wines of Vina Deak, and my personal favorite of the three was their Rosé, though all three earn my hearty recommendation. Their Pošip is an excellent pairing for seafood and it's a grape that all wine lovers should learn about and taste. I look forward to when these wines finally get exported and become available in Massachusetts. The Deak family is making their mark in Komarna, and the future will be exciting.

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