Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Rossi Teranino: A Fine Istrian Liqueur

As I previously mentioned, while I was in Zagreb, during my two week tour of Croatia, I stopped at L'Erotic Fruit & Spices Shop, and purchased a couple Istrian liqueurs. One of those was the Rossi Teranino (about $20), which was produced by the Rossi Winery & Distillery, located in the village of Vižinada in Istria, a short distance west of Motovun.

The history of Rossi extends back to 1885, when Federico Rossi, who was born in Friuli, bought some land, planting Teran and Malvazija. His son, Marco, continued to plant vineyards, as well as other fruits and vegetables. In addition to making wine, Federico also produced brandy. When Italy took control of Istria after World War I, they prohibited the production of brandy and other strong alcoholic beverages, but that didn't stop Federico, who continued to make it covertly. Today, the family continues to make wine and liqueurs, although now it is all legal. 

Teranino is a traditional liqueur made in Istria, usually produced from pomace or fruit brandy, as well as red wine made from the indigenous Teran grape. Teranino is also usually sweetened and flavored with various botanicals, each producer using their own unique blend. With a 18-22% ABV, it is commonly served chilled, as either an aperitif or digestive, although it may also go well with chocolate or berry desserts. 

The Rossi Teranino is made with an unknown combination of botanicals, although you might be able to identify some of them from the taste. On the nose, there are elements of blueberry and black cherry, with a hint of spice notes. On the palate, it is smooth and sweet, although well balanced with good acidity, with a complex blend of flavors, including blueberry, black cherry, vanilla, cinnamon, and a touch of clove. There is a mild earthiness as well, especially on the finish. Quite delicious, it would pair well with a variety of desserts, or make for a nice after-dinner drink. 

Don't just explore Croatian wines, but also check out their liqueurs and spirits.

Monday, February 27, 2023

Rant: No More Hard Butter!

During this past weekend, I was irritated by a restaurant where I ate breakfast on several days. The restaurant set off one of my pet peeves, and although it may be a relatively minor issue, it still adversely affected the enjoyment of my breakfast.

With my eggs and sausage, I had some toast, and I generally butter my bread rather than spread jelly or jam. The restaurant had the small, foil-like wrapped butter pats kept in a refrigerated case. However, the butter was extremely hard, overly chilled, and it triggered my pet peeve.

When the butter is that hard, you can't easily spread it on your toast, or whatever other item you want to apply such butter, from muffins to pancakes. If you try, you'll usually tear up the toast, and you don't want that to happen. If you place some hard butter on the toast, and hope the warm toast will melt the butter, it can take some time, and you probably don't want to wait that long. You can try to slice the butter real thin so it is more easily spread but that takes time, while the rest of your breakfast gets colder.

It aggravates me and it's unnecessary. Plenty of other restaurants find a way to keep their butter cool but not rock hard. Others present soft, spreadable butter which is even better. Although it may seem a minor matter, it is those small things which can adversely affect how a restaurant is viewed. It may be the tipping point which causes someone to eat elsewhere, where the butter doesn't seem frozen.

During these times, restaurants still have economic difficulties, so they need to please as many customers as possible. Tending toward even these small problems can make a significant difference, so restaurants should pay attention. The fix should be relatively easy, and can help your bottom line.

What are your thoughts on hard butter?

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Kontozisis A-Grafo Roditis Amber Wine: Another Greek Winner

I'm an ardent fan of Greek wines, and previously wrote an article, Ten Reasons To Drink Greek Wine. We are fortunate in the Boston area to have Greek restaurants with excellent Greek wine lists, such as Krasi, which actually has the largest Greek wine list in the country. We also have a number of wine stores which sell a good variety of interesting and tasty Greek wines.

Recently, I was impressed with the 2020 Kontozisis A-Grafo Roditis Amber Wine ($25). The Kontozisis Organic Vineyards, founded in 1991, is located in the town of Karditsa, in the region of Thessaly, at the foothills of the Agrafa ("Uncharted") Mountain range. Their 11 hectares of vineyards are certified organic and wine production is very low intervention, using only free run juice,  natural yeasts and without any added sulfur. Winemaker Andreas Kontozisis and his partner Aphrodite Tousia are truly dedicated to organics, sustainability, and more natural winemaking. 

The 2020 Kontozisis A-Grafo Roditis Amber Wine, with a 13.5% ABV, is made from 100% Roditis, a pink-skinned berry, which is also the most widely planted white grape in Greece and may be about 2000 years old. It is made in a Ramato style, an old Italian tradition in the Friuli-Venezia-Giulia region which made such wines from Pinot Grigio, which also has a pink (sometimes called grey) skin. Ramato wines are made with lengthy skin contact, essentially similar to amber/orange wines. 

For the A-Grafo, about 70% of the wine spent 3 months with skin contact, and another 30% spent 6 months. It also spent about 7-8 months on the lees in stainless steel tanks. The wine possessed an alluring and complex nose, a blend of fruit and savory notes, and on the palate, that complexity also came through. Citrus, dried fruit and savory notes, with a hint of earthiness. Excellent acidity, smooth and clean, with a lingering and pleasing finish. Each sip brought something new to the palate. It could easily be enjoyed on its own, but would pair well with food as well, such as spicy chorizo and four-cheese ravioli. A very good value and highly recommended!

Monday, February 20, 2023

Imada Shuzo Fukucho "Forgotten Fortune" Junmai

While enjoying a wonderful dinner at Yakitori Totto, at Assembly Row in Somerville, we ordered a bottle of Sake, the Imada Shuzo Fukucho "Forgotten Fortune" Junmai ($75/restaurant, $35-$40/retail) to pair with our appetizers and grilled skewers. And the Sake was so delicious, we eventually ordered a second bottle as well. 

The Imada Shuzo, which was founded in 1868, is located in the port town of Akitsu in the Hiroshima Prefecture. Akitsu once had seven Sake breweries, but now there are currently only about three. The current brewery owner and Toji, master brewer, is Miho Imada, whose great-grandfather started the brewery. Interestingly, Miura Sanzaburo, a legend in the Sake brewing industry in that region, provided the brand name, Fukucho ("Forever fortune") for the brewery. 

It is rare for a brewery owner to also be the toji, and it is even rarer for a woman to not only own a Sake brewery, but also to act as its toji. Her brewery is small, producing only a relatively tiny amount each year. They specialize in Ginjo Sake, in small batches, and very traditionally and naturally made. It was also unique to see her photo on the back label of the Sake bottle. I don't recall ever having seen any other brewery owner or toji on such a label. 

The Imada Shuzo Fukucho "Forgotten Fortune" Junmai is produced from Hattanso sake rice, an heirloom breed which was nearly extinct before Miho Imada chose to help resurrect it. About a hundred or so years ago, Hattanso was popular, especially as it absorbed water well. However, its long stalks made it more vulnerable to adverse weather and other issues and its grains broke too often during the brewing process. Thus, it fell out of favor, although its seeds were fortunately preserved by an Agricultural Research Station

Sometime during the early 2000s, the seed bank had a surplus of Hattanso seeds, and asked the Sake brewers in Hiroshima if anyone wanted to try to grow the rice for their Sake. Imada was willing, and spent over ten years dedicated to growing and working with this heirloom rice. Currently, they are the only sake brewery that uses this rice. It's not the easiest rice to grow, but Imada has embraced its unique character, producing excellent Sake from it. 

The rice in this "Forgotten Fortune" Junmai has been polished down to 70%, which is less than some other Junmai Sake as Imada believes this is best for this Sake, providing more complexity and a better expression of the flavor of the rice. It also has a 15% ABV, a SMV +3, and the label states it is best served slightly chilled. It is said to pair very well with oysters, as the Hiroshima Prefecture has the most amount of oyster beds in Japan. In addition, it is supposed to pair very well with wild green vegetables. 

I found this Sake to be complex and pure delicious, with tasty flavors of melon and pear, a dominant earthiness and good acidity. Silky smooth, with a fuller body, and a lengthy, satisfying finish. It paired very well with a variety of foods, from raw octopus to grilled chicken skin. I've had other amazing Sake from this brewery and this one is just as amazing. Highly recommended!

Thursday, February 16, 2023

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I'm back again with a new edition of Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food and drink events. I hope everyone dines out safely, tips well and are nice to their servers.
1) For Mardi Gras fun next week, check out these specials.

Inspired by the spirit of "N'Awlins," Chef Jason Santos' Buttermilk & Bourbon is a go-to-spot for some Big Easy-style fun. On Tuesday, February 21st, Buttermilk & Bourbon's Back Bay and Arsenal Yards. locations will celebrate Fat Tuesday with Mardi Gras decor; beads and masquerade masks for guests; food specials; and specialty cocktails including The King Cake Shot (Grey Goose, vanilla, cinnamon, cream soda, simple, chantilly cream) and Masquerade Mojito (Bacardi, lime, mint, butterfly tea, spritz ). Additionally, The Black Eagle Jazz Band will be entertaining guests with its fun, jazzy tunes from 6 to 9 p.m. at Buttermilk & Bourbon, Arsenal Yards. 

Chef Nick Deutmeyer and the Harvest team will be celebrating Mardi Gras with brunch specials the weekend of February 18 to 19. New Orleans-inspired specials will include a brown paper bag of powdered sugar-dusted beignets and individual King’s Cakes. Additionally, whoever finds a plastic baby in their cake will receive a free Harvest hat and blanket! 

Boston's first country bar, Loretta's Last Call will bring the Southern country fun of New Orleans to life on Fat Tuesday with free-to-attend, Mardi Gras-themed line dancing from 8 to 11 p.m. on Tuesday, February 21. Cocktail specials, like Hurricanes, will also be available for guests to quench their thirsts after working up a sweat on the dance floor.

2) Want to experience Croatian wines paired with a multi-course dinner? Then come join us on Saturday, March 4, from 6pm-9pm, at Fin Point Oyster Bar & Grille. I'll be joining the good people at Croatian Premium Wine Imports to discuss Croatian wines, and the Komarna appellation (a region I've previously visited). The Chef at Fin Point has created a Six-Course Menu to pair with the Croatian wines, and will introduce each new dish.

The Menu includes:
Paired with 2021 Terra Madre Pošip 
Paired with 2021 Volarević Rose 
Paired with 2016 Terra Madre Plavac Mali Premium
Paired with 2015 Rizman Plavac Mali 
Paired with 2016 Rizman Tribidrag 
Paired with 2016 Volarević Plavac Mali Gold Edition 

Tickets cost $120 per person and you can purchase tickets HERE

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

Heiwa Shuzou "Kid" Junmai Ginjo Hiyaoroshi: A Sake For The Autumn

With the importance of seasonal cuisine and drink in Japan, it's natural that seasonal Sake would be produced as well. Hiyaoroshi is a type of Sake made specifically for the Autumn and its history extends back to the Edo period. September 9 is the official first date for the release of this style of Sake. Hiyaoroshi is pasteurized once, in the winter or spring, and then aged over the summer before being released in the autumn, without a second pasteurization. 

Although it's now winter, I opened a bottle of the Heiwa Shuzou "Kid" Junmai Ginjo Hiyaoroshi ($39), to accompany a dinner of salmon. Heiwa Shuzofounded in 1928, is located in a valley outside Kainan City in Wakayama Prefecture. The brewery is situated on a spot where a temple once stood for over 500 years. The brewery was renamed after the end of World War 2, and "Heiwa" basically translates as “peace” or “harmony.” Heiwa was awarded Brewer of the Year at the International Wine Challenge (IWC) in 2019 and 2020, a back-to-back win that had never been accomplished by any other Sake brewery. 

Their "Kid" brand is relatively new, a bit over ten years old, and the name is an abbreviation of two words, "kishu" and "fudo." Kishu is the former name of the Wakayama Prefecture, and Fudo means the "environment." It is also said that the name refers to the sake's "playful, bright, energetic profile." It was intended to appeal to the younger generations, those who previously saw Sake as only a drink for older people. 

The Heiwa Shuzou "Kid" Junmai Ginjo Hiyaoroshi is made with Gohyakumangoku rice that was polished down to 55%. They use a natural water source, the Koyasan Nansui, which is said to be "soft and luscious." It also has a 15% ABV, a Sake Meter Value (SMV) of +1.5, and an Acidity of 1.7 (making it more acidic than average). The label states that it can be served chilled, warmed or at room temperature. 

It was a delicious Sake, with a soft and rich mouth feel, but crisp acidity balancing the richness. It was fruity, with tastes of banana, citrus, apple, and hints of raspberry, and also had some steamed rice flavors. It was rich in umami, especially on the finish, and made for an excellent pairing with the fatty salmon. Definitely a heartier Sake for the cooler Autumn weather, although it would work well in the Winter as well. Next time, maybe I'll warm it up, especially this winter. 

Monday, February 13, 2023

My Top Ten Dishes From My Croatian Journey

During my two week tour of Croatia, I enjoyed plenty of delicious food, in every region that I visited, from regional specialties to exquisite seafood. I created this top ten list to include dishes which I not only enjoyed immensely, but which I also found to be particularly compelling for various reasons. They might be especially delicious or something more unique, but all stand out for some particular reason. These are the type of dishes I would order again and again, and which I would highly recommend.

This is certainly not a complete list of all the delicious food I ate in Croatia but it's more a sampling of memorable dishes I experienced. It is also a purely subjective list, based on my own preferences, and makes no claims about being the "best" of anything. However, all of the items here earn my hearty recommendation. Please also note that this list is not in any order of preference, so all the dishes receive equal accolades. 

At the Bota Šare restaurant in Zagreb, we enjoyed some excellent seafood, including three dishes with the famed Mali Ston Oysters, which are special all on their own. I was especially impressed with their Tempura Oysters, which had a delightfully light and crispy batter, encasing the delicious oysters. I'm very picky about Tempura, and this was an excellent version.

Also while I was in Zagreb, I dined once again at the Agava Restaurant, and was enamored with their Risotto, made with sheep cheese from the island of Pag, thyme and pear. It was such a delectable dish, with perfectly cooked rice, an intriguing, slightly briny taste of cheese, and a little sweetness from the pear. Well balanced and delicious, this was such a satisfying dish. 

The city of Samobor is located about 20 kilometers west of Zagreb, and one of its claim to fame is a local dessert, Samoborska kremšnita. It has a puff pastry top (and bottom), is topped with powdered sugar, and filled with custard cream. It's believed that this kremšnita recipe was created in the 1920s by confectioner Đuro Lukačić, who previously worked in Vienna and Budapest. In January 2021, Samoborska kremšnita received the status of "intangible cultural property" and was entered into the Register of Cultural Goods of the Republic of Croatia. At a cafe in the Kavana Livadić, I enjoyed a good-sized piece of Samoborska kremšnita and it was absolutely delectable. The puff pastry was flaky and crisp, while the custard filling was rich and flavorful, as well as only mildly sweet. It was a lighter dessert than expected, and I easily understand its popularity. The next time I visit Croatia, I want to sample more examples of this delicious dessert.

In the region of Slavonia, one of their regional specialties is Fiš Paprika, a spicy seafood stew made with paprika. At the Josić Winery & Restaurant, I first saw and smelled the aromatic stew cooking at an outside fire. Fortunately, we were able to sample some of the stew as well, which was made with a fish they called smudge, which may be a nickname for some other type of fish, possibly a type of river trout. The broth was amazing, complex, flavorful and spicy. The tender home-made pasta went well with the broth and the fish was tender and delicious. 

The Istrian region is well known for Truffles, so while we visited that region, we enjoyed several dishes with added truffles. One of my favorites was at the Konoba Fakin, a Risotto with boletus, black truffles, and Istrian prosciutto chips. What an amazing dish, with perfectly cooked risotto, creamy and flavorful, with earthy notes from the mushrooms and the compelling aromas of the truffles. And those prosciutto chips were crispy, meaty and salty. A well balanced and compelling dish.

In the region of Slavonia, we visited Vina Antunović for a wine tasting. On the table were plates of home-made Fish Pâté, made with fish from the Danube, and it was delicious, especially smeared on some fresh bread. It was flavorful, spiced well, and with a pleasing taste of the river. It was just a small snack to accompany the wine tasting, but it certainly made an impression. 

Also at the Josić Winery & Restaurant, I have to give special kudos to one of the desserts we enjoyed,  a traditional Slavonian dish known as Tačkrle. These are Ravioli, filled with jam, in a walnut sauce with hibiscus. Pasta for dessert? This was such a unique and delicious dessert, with all of the flavors and textures working so well together. We need more dessert ravioli. 

In Istria, we spent a little time in the town of Poreč, and I stopped for a bite at Fora Le Parte. In Istria, you'll find Boškarin, an ancient breed of cattle that originated in Istria. Like Waygu, Boškarin began as draft animals, but when tractors eventually took over, there was little need for Boškarin. The breed nearly died out until some dedicated breeders brought the population back from extinction. Now, it's a gourmet delicacy. I sampled the restaurant's Boškarin Carpaccio, which was exquisite, silky and flavorful, with a rich, beefy taste. And the cheese was a nice addition. 

In the town of Skradin, in the region of Dalmatia, we dined at the Zlatne Skoljke Restaurant and our first course was Skampi, Mussels and Noah's Ark Clams, in a scrumptious white wine and garlic broth. The seafood was fresh and delicious, and the broth was excellent, as well as the perfect place to dip bread. I could have been satisfied with simply enjoying lots of this shellfish. 

Finally, in the city of Pula in Istria, I had lunch at Piazza Nova, delighted by the Šiš Ćevap, spicy minced beef with French fries. Ćevapi are common in southeast Europe, and the type of meat used varies from country to country. I received three larger skewers of meat, which were moist, tender and flavorful. A hearty lunch for meat lovers. And the French fries were almost flat, but nicely crisp, a fine addition to the dish.

Do you have any favorite Croatian dishes?

Thursday, February 9, 2023

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I'm back again with a new edition of Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food and drink events. I hope everyone dines out safely, tips well and are nice to their servers.
1) Bonde Fine Wine Shop will be hosting a wine tasting featuring special guest Derek Baljeu, Winemaker of Sonoma’s Knights Bridge Winery, during the month of February in honor of Black History Month. The class will take place Tuesday, February 21, at 7:00 pm and will include a variety of Knights Bridge’ flights of wines and light food.

This series is designed to allow enthusiasts to sample a range of wines, including Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Cabernet Sauvignon. The course aims to learn about sustainable American wines and to enjoy a unique, intimate eight-person tasting experience. Bonde Fine Wine Shop and Winemaker Derek Baljeu from Knights Bridge Winery are guided by a deep respect for nature, a passion for fine wines, a focus on sustainable wines for the planet's future, and a dedication to family, friends, and consumers.

Derek Baljeu was born and raised in Huntington Beach, CA. Wine was always in his house growing up, but food was the primary focus at the table, and he started cooking for himself and his family from a very young age. During his time in college there was a ’96 Stags Leap Cabernet Sauvignon paired with a tomahawk ribeye that ignited his love of wine. He began making regular weekend trips to Napa Valley to get a sense of the region and to develop his palate. 

While in school, he interned at Jessie’s Grove Winery in Lodi and followed up with roles in Napa researching phenolic development in the To Kalon Vineyard, and as Assistant Viticulturist at Silverado Farming. Next, he served as enologist for the luxury portfolio at Trinchero, working with seven different winemakers across ten brands. In 2019, Derek joined Knights Bridge Winery as Assistant Winemaker. He was promoted to Winemaker in 2021. While he has a variety of specific duties, he sees them all as pieces of one larger job: to maintain wine quality.

Tickets are on sale for $120 per person. For more information and to purchase a ticket, go HERE.  

2) For Valentine's Day, check out Karma Asian Fusion, Burlington. They offer sushi platters that are specifically designed for two. Chef’s choice of assorted maki and sashimi makes for a pressure free and original experience for each party. In addition to their wide selection of alcohol and handcrafted drinks, this February brings a limited-time special cocktail to toast with, The Bésame! It’s a blend of silver tequila, heavy cream, egg whites, yuzu, and sparkling rose. The upscale cocktail is crafted with tangerine, raspberry, and chocolate bitters to top it off and end your night on a sweet note.

Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Korak Family Estate: A Return to Plešivica ("Croatia's Champagne")

Near the start of my two-week tour of Croatia, we spent some time exploring the wine region of Plešivica, which is located less than an hour from the city of Zagreb. Plešivica is a very small, continental wine region comprised of about 2,300 hectares of vineyards and around 35-40 wineries. Most of the wineries in this region are small, family-owned, almost all possessing less than 10 hectares of vineyards. 

Plešivica is sometimes referred to as "Croatia's Champagne," as the region is famed for its sparkling wines and its calcareous soils resembling those found in the Champagne region. The vineyards are mostly planted with international varieties, such as Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, and Syrah. About 70% of their vineyards are planted with white grapes, and the grapes commonly have high acidity. 

We made a stop at the Korak Winery, which is well known for its quality Sparkling Wines. Back in 2019, on my first trip to Croatia, I visited this winery, so you should check out my prior article, Korak Family Estate: Plešivica, Sparkling Wine & Riesling, for more information and background about this winery. 

As we started our tour, we enjoyed a glass of the Korak Sparkling Rosé Nature, made from 100% Pinot Noir, which I loved back in 2019 and I was equally as enamored this time. This wine was aged on the lees for 3 years and has no dosage. I previously referred to it as a "hedonistic pleasure" and I'll stand by that characterization. Highly recommended!

We sat inside at their tasting bar, sampling a number of their wines and enjoying some home-made snacks. There was sausage with garlic, speck, and smoked pork shoulder, all of the meats having been made on the premises by the father. There was also homemade cultured butter, 2 goat cheeses (1 year and 2 years old), and fresh sourdough bread. Everything was quite delicious. 

The 2016 Korak Blanc de Blancs Sparkling Wine was produced from 100% Chardonnay, which underwent a quick pressing and fermentation, and spent about 4.5 years on the less, without any dosage. It was very dry, with crisp acidity, fresh flavors of apple, a yeasty element and a backbone of minerality. Delicious, with tiny bubbles, a lengthy finish, and a refreshing taste. This is serious sparkling wine.

The 2021 Korak Sauvignon Blanc Klemenka, at 12.5% ABV, spent about six months in the barrel. It was very similar to my previous tasting of the 2017 vintage, being fresh and dry, with bright citrus and grapefruit flavors, and a minerality backbone. The style was more akin to French rather than New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. 

The 2020 Korak Laškorec Rajnski Riezling ("Rhine Riesling), from an organic vineyard, spent about six months in large barrels of Slavonian oak. I previously tasted the 2018 vintage, and believe this vintage is even better. The nose was very aromatic, and on the palate it was dry, complex and intriguing, with spice notes, flavors of citrus, a strong minerality, and a lingering finish. This vintage was more complex than the 2018, and an example of how Croatian wineries can produce excellent Riesling.

The 2019 Korak Laškorec Chardonnay Sur Lie was fermented in small French barrels, sat on the lees for a year, and then was aged in large oak barrels. I previously enjoyed the 2017 vintage, and once again the wine presented citrus and apple flavors, with a hint of smoke, and a pleasant richness. Definitely one of the better Chardonnays I tasted while in Croatia. 

The 2019 Korak Križevac & Cimbuščak Pinot Crni, with a 13.5% ABV, is made from 100% Pinot Noir. Most of their Pinot is used to make Sparkling Wines but we were told it has great potential for still wines as well. They have two vineyards of Pinot, from 1998 and 2003. This wines was aged for 1 year in small French oak and then 1 year in Slovenian oak. I previously tasted the 2017 vintage, and found the 2019 vintage to be even better. It was elegant and delicious, light-bodied and with a complex melange of cherry, raspberry, subtle spices, and a hint of earth. Well balanced, good acidity, and a lengthy finish. Highly recommended. 

The final wine was unique, a 2018 Amber wine inspired by "In Search of Lost Time" by Marcel Proust. The wine was an intriguing field blend of grapes, many old vines, including Šipelj, Belina, Plavac Zuti, Rizvanac, Grasevina, Veltliner, Silvanac, and Traminac. The grapes were macerated for about 60 days, natural yeasts were used, and there was no added sulfur. Only 500 bottles were produced. This was an amazing wine, complex and well balanced, with such a depth of flavor. Tannic, herbal notes, subtle spices, dried fruits, minerality, and much more. Great acidity and a long, lingering finish. Each sip delights the palate, bringing something new with each taste. One of the more unique wines I tasted in Croatia. Highly recommended!

My return visit to Korak was as impressive as my prior trip, and some of their wines were even better this time. Their Sparkling Wines are excellent, quality bubbly which would please any wine lover. And their Amber wine was amazing. This winery should definitely be one of your destinations if you visit Croatia. 

(Please Note: All of these Photos are courtesy of Todd Godbout.)

Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Ten Reasons To Drink Croatian Wine (Updated)

"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, even before 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 in 1995. The Croatian wine industry has accomplished much in the past approximately 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.

Croatian wines, primarily Dalmatian wines, were first exported to the U.S. over 140 years ago. Currently, based on some of the latest statistics I have seen, Croatian wine exports to the U.S. are small, generally under 10,000 cases annually, but that is slowly changing. Thus, it's likely difficult for many people to find Croatian wines at their local wine store, but you should ask them to carry some. 

There are some positive changes that have been occurring. In the Boston area, we're fortunate to have Croatian Premium Wine Imports (CPWI), a company which in the last several years has been bringing numerous Croatian wines to local wine shops and restaurants. There are over 80 Croatian wines available on their website and they also ship to most states across the U.S. Thus, even if your local shop doesn't carry Croatian wine, you can still acquire their wines from CPWI. There are also a couple smaller U.S. importers of Croatian wine. 

Prior to my first journey to the Republic of Croatia, to the region of Dalmatia, in September 2019, I had little familiarity with Croatian wines, having previously tasted only a couple, though I enjoyed those I did. During my visit, I had the opportunity to taste close to 150 Croatian wines, and I found many reasons to enjoy these fascinating, diverse and delicious wines. After that trip, I continued to taste other Croatian wines as well. 

In May/June 2022, I made my second visit to Croatia, exploring Dalmatia, Slavonia and Istria, touring 28 wineries and tasting about 350 wines, as well as some Croatian spirits and liqueurs. Overall, I've now tasted approximately 600 different Croatian wines, so I have a very good foundation for understanding these wines. It's clear to me that all wine lovers, no matter what their preferences, will find something to love in Croatian wines.

Let me provide you a list of Ten Reasons (actually Eleven) why you should experience and drink 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 Croatian wines, to give them a chance. Once you taste them, I strongly suspect you'll understand why I find them to be so compelling and you will become a convert as well.

In addition, if you desire more information about Croatia and their wines, if you want specific wine reviews, check out my compilation page, All About Croatia. That page has links to over 80 articles I've written about Croatia, covering wine to travel, food to history. And if you have any specific questions about Croatian wines, feel free to email or message me. 

Now, onto the Ten Reasons To Drink Croatian Wine.....

First, Croatian wine has a lengthy and fascinating history.
Wine making in Croatia extends back at least 2,500 years, prior to even Greek colonization, 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. Ancient Romans contributed significantly to wine production in Croatia. 

Over the centuries, Croatia has also 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 commonly offering some familiarity. Different regions showcase different grapes, such as Dalmatia (the home of Plavac Mali and Pošip), Slavonia (where Graševina dominates), and Istria (the home of Malvazija Istarska and Teran)

I've had the opportunity to taste many of their indigenous grapes, and have been impressed. Any wine lover seeking to broaden their palate, to experience something new, should seek out such unusual grapes which are often found only in Croatian wines. You never know when you might find a new favorite grape. I love exploring unusual grapes and Croatian wines allow me to further enhance my experiences. 

Third, Croatian grows international grapes as well.
Besides their native grapes, Croatia grows a wide variety of other grapes as well, including the most popular international grapes (from Cabernet Sauvignon to Chardonnay). Many regions grow these international grapes to appeal to a certain consumer segment who prefers to drink only what they know. Although I prefer Croatian wines produced from native grapes, I found numerous examples of excellent wines made from non-native grapes, especially Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc and Riesling. 

In addition, in Croatia you can find some less common grapes from Italy, Austria, and elsewhere. For example, in Slavonia, Blaufränkisch is known as Frankovka, and produces delicious Rosé and Red wines. At Pink Day, a large Rosé tasting event, The Frankovka Rosé really impressed me. You can also find Austrian grapes in Croatia such as Rotgipfler (known as Zelenac) and Roter Veltliner. You can even find Italian Nebbiolo in Croatia! A number of winemakers have been experimenting with a variety of grapes from other countries, seeking which ones perform best in Croatian soil.

Fourth, you're probably already familiar with one important Croatian grape.
In Croatia, where the grape originated, it's known as Crljenak Kaštelanski, Pribidrag, and Tribidag. However, the grape has traveled from its place of origin, and in Italy it became known as Primitivo while in California it became 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, especially in Dalmatia, 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?"

Fifth, Croatian wines are diverse.
Croatian wineries produce a myriad of different types of wines, including Sparkling, White, Skin-Contact Whites, Rosé, Red, Amphora, Amarone-Style, Dessert 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 more serious and complex wines, and so much more between these two. You'll also find some ultra-geeky and experimental wines, which will tantalize your mind and palate. 

In addition, there are a number of different terroirs in Croatia which further leads to the diversity in their wines. I had the opportunity to sample so many of these different styles of wine, and they were comparable in quality to wines from all over the world. For example, some of their Sparkling Wines will remind you of Champagne while some of their Amber wines are as good as any found in Georgia or elsewhere. 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.  

Sixth, Croatian wines can age well
Most wine, from anywhere in the world, is not produced to be aged, and most consumers drink their wine within days of its purchase. However, some wines can age quite well, sitting in your cellar for years, slowly evolving over time. That aging potential is one of the reasons that certain grapes, like Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, and Nebbiolo, are so revered. Such wines evolve over time, acquiring different aromas and flavors from when they are first bottled. It can be an amazing experience to taste a wine at different aspects in its evolution, over the course of a number of years.  

In Croatia, some of their native grapes possess that potential as well, such as red grapes like Plavac Mali, Teran, Tribidag, and Babić, and white grapes like Graševina, Malvazija Istarska, and Pošip. I've tasted stellar examples of these wines, including some older vintages, which were created to be age-worthy. Some wineries had wines in their cellar that were produced in the 1940s, and which were still drinkable. Croatia can make serious, age-worthy wines which will impress. 

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. At basically every wine tasting I went to in Croatia, food was offered with the wine. 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. 

For example, you could enjoy an easy drinking Plavac Mali or Teran with a burger or pizza, or a more powerful Plavac Mali or Teran with a ribeye steak. You could enjoy a Pošip or Graševina, 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. The wines of each region pair wonderfully with the local cuisine. 

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 about 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 more often. Buy Croatian wine, give your support to 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's 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 well-produced 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.

And here's a bonus reason to embrace Croatian wine! 

Eleventh, Croatian wines are also used to make intriguing spirits and liqueurs.
Croatian has a lengthy history of Rakija (Croatian brandy) production, which is made from a wide variety of different wines, fruits, herbs, and botanicals. Home production used to be very common, and some Croatians still make their own at home. When a guest comes to a Croatia home, it's a tradition to offer them Rakija. Rakija can be delicious, and the wide variety of different flavors make it a versatile product as well. 

There are a number of other intriguing wine-based drinks in Croatia. For example, Bermet is an interesting and tasty aromatized wine, flavored with wormwood and other ingredients. It is reminiscent in some ways to Vermouth. but is its own special alcohol. Istrian Epulon is another wine and wormwood flavored liqueur, while Istrian Teranino is a liqueur made from Teran wine. All of these are even harder to find in the U.S. rather than Croatian wine, but are well worth seeking out.

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

(Note: This is a revised and expanded version, based on additional Croatian wine experiences, of a prior article.)

Monday, February 6, 2023

Rant: Free Publicity For An Abusive Chef?

A local chef is planning on opening a new restaurant in the Boston+ area and a number of news outlets have written about it. However, this chef, and the upper management team at his current restaurants, have previously faced numerous accusations, by their employees, of sexual harassment and abuse because of race, gender and sexual orientation. 

Is it wrong for those news outlets to discuss the planned new restaurant without also referencing the previous accusations? 

It's important to note that neither the chef nor any of his team have been convicted of any of these accusations. However, the magnitude of the number of accusers is troubling, with complaints apparently extending back at least to 2016. As far as I'm aware, none of these employees have gone forward with lawsuits or made criminal reports. Why is that so? Are such employees still reluctant to step forward, maybe fearful of retribution or of not being believed? Are these employees unaware of all their possible legal options? 

Although a few minor news articles have mentioned the accusations, no outlet has done an extensive, in-depth investigatory article about these issues. Why is that so? Do these outlets lack the resources to conduct a proper investigation? Do the allegedly aggrieved employees mistrust news outlets to protect their anonymity if requested? Are news outlets wary of writing such investigatory articles, unwilling to confront local restaurants and chefs? 

There are so many unanswered questions which should be confronted and examined. 

We can say with a surety that any news outlet writing about the chef's new restaurant is essentially giving free publicity to it, basically encouraging their readers to visit the new restaurant when it opens. It can also be viewed as the news outlet taking a side in this controversy, choosing to ignore all of the negative accusations that have been made. Those news outlets have faced some criticism for their stance, and will probably continue to face criticism as well. 

Some might allege these news outlets are only being neutral in the matter, reporting just the facts. However, that's definitely not the case, as they are being very selective in which facts they report, thus adding an element of bias to their reporting. As an extreme example, for illustrative purposes, one could simply report that a restaurant had a health code violation. However, beyond that neutral fact, maybe that violation led to 25 people sustaining significant food poisoning. Obviously, the selective choice of which facts to report affects how a news story is viewed, and that can be a serious problem. 

It would seem that if you're giving free publicity to a new restaurant, you might want to provide the public all of the relevant facts about that restaurant. The good and the bad. The omission of important information can easily be seen as an indication of bias, which such news outlets claim they are trying to avoid. You might think you're being neutral, but omitting key elements of a story is just a type of bias. 

Friday, February 3, 2023

Exploring Pula: Ancient Roman History & More

While in Istria, during our two week tour of Croatia, one of the highlights was the opportunity to spend some time exploring the sights in Pula, the largest city in Istria and well known for its ancient Roman buildings and structures. Pula is located near the tip of Istria, on the coast, and it's a popular tourist destination, with much to see and do. 

Previous to the Roman occupation, the region of Pula was occupied by Illyrians and later Greeks. Around 177 BC, Romand conquered the region of Istria, eventually forming a colony in Pula, which was then known as Pietas Julia. It became a major Roman port and was fortified, protected with stone walls and ten gates, a few of which still exist, such as the Arch of the Sergeii and the Gate of Hercules.   

Currently, the largest Roman structure in Pula is the amphitheater, which is also the sixth largest, which still exists, in the world. It was constructed sometime between 27 BC and 68 AD, started during the reign of Emperor Augustus, and later completed during the time of the Flavian dynasty. Initially, it began as a wooden structure, but that was later replaced with limestone from the local area. I was very eager to see this amphitheater and was very pleased I had the chance to visit it.

The amphitheater originally had about 20 entrances, and the exterior wall had 72 arches, on the first floor, and 64 rectangular openings, on the second floor. It was able to hold over 20,000 spectators, who watched a wide variety of events, including gladiatorial battles, hunts, and even naval battles. In comparison, the current population of Pula is about 60,000, so the amphitheater could have held one-third of that population. 

It cost 70 kuna (about $10 US) for a ticket to enter the amphitheater, and I was eager to check it out. As a history lover, including of the ancient world, this was a compelling experience. You could walk all around the amphitheater and also visit its lower level, which had a small museum of various artifacts. I highly recommend this sight to anyone visiting Pula.

Was this arena actually built by someone else besides the Romans? Well, there are a couple legends about others who allegedly constructed this arena. First, it's claimed that fairies built the stone arena during the course of a single night, but when the sun rose, the fairies hadn't finished their work, leaving the arena without a roof.  Second, it's also claimed that a group of giants built the arena, the same giants who allegedly built several fortified towns in Istria like Motovun. As I've mentioned before, Istria was also known as Terra Magica, the land of magic. 

From the seating area, you could get a sense of the view for the ancient attendees, and with the distance of some of those seats, there probably was some difficulty seeing all of the details of gladiatorial battles. Although that distance might have granted an element of safety as well, just in case wild beasts might have escaped from the arena into the stands. You can also imagine what those Roman spectators witnessed when part of the arena was flooded, to allow naval battles to take place.

There are four side towers on this amphitheater, and at the top of each one used to be a reservoir for collecting rain water. The top of the walls had gutters where the rain water could collect and flow into the reservoirs. That water was used for a fountain which would help clean the blood on the arena floor, as well as be used to cool the spectators.  

How large was the amphitheater? It was approximately 436 ft long, 344 ft wide, and 104 ft high. So, it was nearly 1.5 times longer than a standard football field. 

The arena remained largely intact until the 15th century when some of the stones were removed and used for construction in other parts of the city. 

Today, the amphitheater, which can still hold about 5,000 spectators, is used to hold special events, from concerts to film screenings. During the summer, they also hold a weekly Spectacvla Antiqva, an event with an ancient Roman theme, including mock gladiatorial events.  

The underground chambers beneath the arena had multiple uses, from housing wild beasts to preparatory rooms for the gladiators. Now, this area is a museum with numerous artifacts, especially a wide variety of amphorae. 

Some of the devices within the underground section were used for the production of olive oil. And although we often associate amphorae with wine, most of the amphorae made in Istria were actually used for the storage and transport of olive oil. 

This lower level also had a number of signs and maps, discussing the history of the arena, olive oil production, and amphorae. 


The main square of Pula was once the site of the ancient Roman Forum, one of the busiest sections of the city, and the primary remnant from those ancient times is the Temple of Augustus. The temple, constructed of Istrian limestone sometime between 2-14 BC, was dedicated to the goddess Rome and the emperor Augustus. In the front of the building are six stone columns with Corinthian capitals. The building is about 17.65 meters long, 8.5 meters wide, and height 13.17 high. 

On March 3, 1945, the temple was bombed and significantly damaged during an aerial raid. However, Professor Mario Mirabella Roberti, Director of the Royal Museum of Istria in Pula (1935-1947) was instrumental in the restoration of the building, which is now a small museum.  

Two sculptures located outside the temple.

An interior wall, giving you some idea of the size of the stones used to construct the walls.

The interior of the temple contains numerous sculptures and statues. This is a fountain panel with the head of Medusa.

The torso of an armor clad Emperor.

Fragment from a sarcophagus depicting the sea battle of the Greek and Persians at Marathon.

A funerary monument with Satyrs. 

A kneeling slave.

The head of Archelous, a Greek god.

A small statue of Hercules, garbed in a lion skin cloak.

A small statue of a wrestler.

A marble lion


This is the Arch of the Sergii (also known as the Golden Gate), a Roman triumphal arch, which was constructed around 29-27 BC, and commemorates three members of the Sergii family, specifically Lucius Sergius Lepidus, a tribune who served in the twenty-ninth legion. The Sergii were a powerful family of officials in Pula, and this arch served as a symbol of the victory at the Battle of Actium. 

The famed writer, James Joyce, once taught English in Pula, around 1904-1905, mainly to Austro-Hungarian naval officers. He wasn't much of a fan of Pula, once noting, "Istria is a long boring place wedged into the Adriatic peopled by ignorant Slavs who wear little red caps and colossal breeches." However, Pula has chosen to commemorate his time in Pula with a bronze sculpture, created by Mate Čvrljak, which sits on the patio of the Uliks ("Ulysee") Cafe, which is very close to the Arch of the Sergii.

This statue, located in a small park near the water, is a World War II memorial, the Fallen National Freedom Fighters and Victims of Fascism, 1941-1945. The memorial was constructed in 1950 by Vanja Radauš.

A statue located on the back side of the World War II memorial.

The Sailor's Monument, which was built by Pavle Peric in 1953, to commemorate the sailors' revolt in 1918, the Cattaro Mutiny.

A huge anchor on display. 

Remnants of old Roman walls in Pula. 

While wandering the streets of Pula, we stopped for lunch at the Piazza Nove, located close to the Temple of Augustus. We knew nothing about the restaurant beforehand, but the menu looked interesting so we decided to take a chance. We sat outside at their patio, deciding what to eat, while I drank a glass of Vina Deklić Rosé.

The menu had Appetizers, Burgers, Salads, Pasta, Seafood, Premium Meat, and Grilled Meat, most items priced about $15-$30 U.S. Plenty of intriguing choices on the menu, such as the Istarski Burger (beef, truffles, rucola, tomatoes & parmesan), Paccheri Tartufo (with a white truffle sauce & fresh black truffles), and Skoljke Mix (seashells in a traditional sauce).

I began my lunch with the Panco Kozice, shrimps in tempura with a sweet chili sauce. This was an excellent tempura, with a light and crunchy batter and tender shrimp. The dipping sauce was sweet with a hint of fiery heat.  

I then chose the Šiš Ćevap, spicy minced beef with French fries. Ćevapi are common in southeast Europe, and the type of meat used varies from country to country. I received three larger skewers of meat, which were moist, tender and flavorful. A hearty lunch for meat lovers. The French fries were almost flat, but nicely crisp, a fine addition to the dish. 

I was very pleased with the restaurant, and would recommend it to anyone visiting Pula.

While wandering Pula, we decided to check out this Distillery Shop, located at 33 Kandlerov, which sells traditional Istrian liquors and spirits, including Rakija. We learned that the owner, Sasha (pictured above), was from Ukraine and moved to Pula in early 2022, escaping from the war. Sasha was such a personable person, with a fascinating story, and his shop contained a wide variety of intriguing items.

Sasha provided us a tasting of various rakija and Istrian liquors, and it was fascinating to sample the variety offered within Istria, much of which never reaches the shores of the U.S. These are spirits which would be delicious on their own, or make excellent cocktail ingredients. When will such Croatian spirits and liqueurs make their mark in our local cocktail industry?

I bought several bottles to take home with me, and probably could have bought many more, but I knew my suitcase couldn't handle too many bottles. If you're in Pula, you definitely should check out this shop and meet Sasha.


Pula is a spectacular city, with so much rich history, and well worth a visit if you go to Istria. Fascinating historical sites, lots of restaurants and shops, and it is an easy city to walk around. We only touched the surface of what there is to see in Pula, and I'd love to return again some day to explore further.