Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Ritoša Winery: Fascinating Wines, From Malvazija to Muscat

Continuing our explorations of the intriguing Istria region, during our two-week tour of Croatia, we next stopped at the Ritoša Winery. Our main host was Ana Ritoša (pictured on the left), the youngest daughter of the family and their enologist. We also met her mother, Francisca (pictured at the right). The wine tasting was held on the patio at their home, a more intimate setting. Ana was a personable and charming hostess, with a definite passion for wine and deep knowledge. 

Ana's grandfather once grew a small amount of vines, making wine just for the family. In 2005, Vili Ritosa, Ana's father (pictured above), purchased about three acres of land near the village of Radmani, in the municipality of Poreč, in the western side of Istria. It's located about 10 kilometers from the sea. 

Vili's original plan was to establish a ranch, to raise animals and grow vegetables. However, he found the land had more stones than soil, and he felt he needed to revise his plans. As Ana was studying wine at school, Vili decided instead to establish a vineyard, planting grapes in 2006, and their first commercial harvest was in 2008. 

Currently, they own about 3.5 hectares of vineyards, with about 14K vines, and Ana noted the three important colors to them, "green vineyard, red soil, blue sky." They grow five varieties, including Malvazija Istarska (about 40-45%), Cabernet Sauvignon, Teran, and two types of Muscat (yellow and red rose). Their soil, typical of Western Istria, is a red clay with some limestone, and the clay is rich in iron. 

They produce about 25K-26K liters of wine annually, bottling 60%, and selling the rest as bulk wine to restaurants and tourists. They also might be the only Croatian winery that is "suitable for vegans" as they don't use any animal products at all in the wine making process. The winery has about 10 different labels, noting they like to experiment but don't want to expand their size any more. They much prefer to remain a small winery, allowing them complete control of all aspects. Their first U.S. exports have been through Croatian Premium Wine Exports.

Of course, there were tasty platters of meats, cheeses, tomatoes, bread, and olives to accompany our wine tasting. 

We began our tasting with the 2021 Vina Ritoša Malvazija Istarska, with a 13.5% ABV. I previously tasted their 2019 vintage, which was one of my Top Ten Wines of 2021. Ana noted that they use various yeasts to influence the wine, such as one yeast that provides tropical aromas, one that gives a fuller body, and one that provides floral notes. My previous tasting note is still applicable for this new vintage: "It was complex and compelling, with a wonderful melange of harmonious flavors. It was fresh and crisp, refreshing and satisfying with a moderately lengthy finish. On the palate, it was fruity (especially peach and pear) and floral, spicy and with a nice minerality." Highly recommended, and it definitely shows the excellent potential of Malvazija Istarska.

The 2021 Vina Ritoša Rosé, with a 12.5% ABV, is made from Muškat Ruža Porečki , a rare grape that is also known as Red Rose Muscat of Poreč. This is likely an indigenous grape to Istria, although it also is found in northern Italy where it is known as Moscato Rosa del Trentino. Only about 10 producers in Istria currently grow Muškat Ruža. Most Istrian Rosé is made with Teran, likely due in some respects due to the lower acidity of Muškat Ruža. Ana related the tale that when her father was a child, the family grew some Muškat Ruža vines, and her father used to steal and eat the grapes. 

I found this Rosé to be very aromatic, floral and slightly herbal, and on the palate, it was crisp, dry and tasty, with subtle red fruit flavors, floral notes (including a touch of roses), and an herbal accent. A very interesting and more unique Rosé.

The 2015 Vina Ritoša Malvazija Dorata, with a 13% ABV, was macerated for 23-30 hours, fermented in stainless steel with natural yeasts, and spent two years in Slavonian oak. This was a more intense Malvazija, with less fruit flavors and more dominant savory notes, with a nice mix of spices and herbs. An intriguing expression of this Istrian grape.

The 2016 Vina Ritoša Teran, with a 13% ABV, spent about a year in oak barrels, French and Slavonian, new and used. It was said to still be a young wine, and I found it to be more elegant, with delicious plum and black cherry flavors, soft tannins, mild spice notes and a lengthy, pleasing finish. You definitely could enjoy this wine now, although I'm intrigued to see how it would develop with more time in the bottle. It was a delight to taste this expression of Teran, compared to some of the other expressions we tasted while in Istria.

The 2020 Vina Ritoša Muškat Žuti (Yellow Muscat), with a 11.5% ABV, is another rarer version of Muscat, found in Croatia and northern Italy. It is most often used to make dessert wines. This wine possessed about 22-23 grams of residual sugar, and only seemed to have a touch of sweetness to it. It had some of the typical muscat spice and herbal flavors and aromas, along with notes of peach, pear and citrus. A very intriguing taste, and it was recommended to pair this wine with a not so sweet dessert. 

The 2021 Vina Ritoša Muškat Ruža Porečki, with a 12% ABV, had about 28 grams of residual sugar. With a light red color, it was only a little sweeter than the previous wine, with tasty flavors of cherry and cranberry, along with floral notes. 

Overall, the Ritoša Winery is doing an excellent job of representing the Istrian wine industry, showcasing their important varietals, as well as a couple rarer grapes as well. It was so pleasant, and informative, to spend time with Ana, and her passion for wine was so evident. Fortunately, some of these wines are currently available in the U.S. so my readers can experience them as well.

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