Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Clai Winery: Natural Wines in Istria

Continuing our visit to Istria, during our two-week tour of Croatia, we next visited the Clai Winery, which is located in the village of Krasica, in northern Istria. Clai is a small, family winery, which owns about 10 hectares of vineyards and 5 hectares of olive trees, producing about 30,000 bottles of wine annually. They have no intention of any significant growth, preferring to remain small. The winery generally has 8 labels, although three of them were sold out at the time of our visit, and they also make some Rakija. 

Although they grow some international varietals, like Merlot, they mainly grow indigenous grapes, such as Malvazija and Plavina. One of their main goals is to enhance their terroir. Their vineyards are generally organic, with minimal fertilization and no herbicides, insecticides, or commercial fertilizers. Their goal is the vineyards is quality over quantity, and their yields are relatively low.

Within the cellar, the grapes are vinified with spontaneous fermentation on the skins and without the addition of enzymes, added yeasts or malolactic bacteria. The wines are also bottled without any filtering.
We sat outside during our wine tasting and lunch, with a beautiful view of the vineyards and countryside. As it was such a pleasant day, it was a true pleasure to sip and nibble outside, reveling in the beauty of Istria.

Our personable and knowledgeable host was Ana (pictured above), who described all of the wines, and told us about the winery.  

Lunch was a smorgasbord of fresh and tasty dishes, including octopus salad, roasted vegetables, and cuttlefish. We got to taste their olive oil too, made from a blend of seven olives, including two Croatian varieties.

Maybe my favorite dish was the chicken liver pate with black truffles. 

The Sea Bass Carpaccio was quite fresh, tender and delicious.

Fresh and sweet strawberries.

The 2018 Clai Pjenušac Brut Nature is a Sparkling wine, made in the Méthode champenoise, from a blend of Malvazija Istarska, Chardonnay and Plavina. Plavina is an old Istrian white grape, known for its high acidity. Made with natural yeasts, no dosage is added, and it only has a 12% ABV. I found the wine to be fresh, crisp and dry, with a tasty green apple flavor, a bit of pear, a hint of brioche, and an underlying minerality. A fine apertif, it would also pair well with a variety of foods, such as fried chicken. 

The 2018 Clai Ottocento Bijeli is a blend of Malvazija Istarska, Pinot Grigio, and Sauvignon Blanc (although the 2019 vintage eliminated the Sauvignon Blanc). The grapes were fermented for two weeks with skin contact and were aged for about 2 years in French and Italian barrels. It possessed a deep orange color, with a clean, smooth and savory taste, lightly tannic, with a lengthy finish. A tasty orange wine, and probably an excellent introduction to this style of wine. 

The 2018 Clai Sv. Jakov Malvazija, with a 15% ABV, is also an orange wine. The grapes, which are certified organic, for Sv. Jakov come from their oldest vineyard, which is about 42 years old. It is only bottled in excellent vintages, and the 2016 was the previous vintage bottled before the 2018. The grapes spend two months with skin contact, and later aged for two years in large oak barrels. The orange color of the wine was not as dark as the previous wine. It possesses an alluring and complex aroma, and on the palate, the complexity remained, each sip bringing something new and exciting to my palate. Savory, delicious and compelling, a type of wine which is hard to easily describe. And the reason why I brought a bottle of this home. Highly recommended! 

The 2020 Baracija Refošk, with a 13% ABV, is made from Refosco, is aged for a 1 year in oak. They wanted to produce a lighter style, With a medium red color, it is a lighter wine although it is still a bit bold and intense, but well restrained and elegant. Tasty ripe plum and blackberry flavors, subtle spice notes, a little earthy, and a lengthy, pleasing finish. Probably best paired with hearty foods.  

The final wine was the 2018 Ottocento Crni, with a 14.5% ABV, which is made from a blend of 50% Refosco and 50% Merlot. It spent 2 years in oak, and possessed a pleasant taste, with plenty of black fruit flavors, mild spice notes, and well integrated tannins as well as a streak of minerality.  

Machi, the friendly winery cat, came over to visit us, and he too enjoyed the chicken liver pate. 

Clai Winery produces excellent, more natural wines, including an amazing orange wine, the Sv. Jakov Malvazija. It's a small, family winery with lofty (and very worthy) goals, embracing terroir, organic agriculture and indigenous varieties. Kudos to Clai Winery.

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