Istria: The wine world’s best kept secret. (A whirlwind tour of Croatia’s hidden gem of a wine regi
Our next appointment of the day was about an hour south of Cattunar, and despite feeling car sick thanks to the windy roads, I made it in one piece. We rolled up to a newly built winery and were greeted by Bruno Trapan, the youngest winemaker I’d met so far (see my previous post about meeting him briefly at the Croatian Wine Fair). Bruno eagerly showed us his vineyards which had thankfully survived the flooding, and then around his brand spankin’ new winery. It was still mostly just an empty shell, but I could see it would look great when finished.
Is Bruno making liquid bubble gum? Nope, that's the fermenting wine--what a great colour!
At a precariously tippy table surrounded by empty bottles waiting to be filled, we tasted through Trapan’s wines, some for a second time for me. First up was the Malvazija ‘Ponente’ 2009, a clean and zippy wine. Next, his ‘Uroboros’ 2009, 60% Chardonnay and 40%. Part of it was aged in acacia wood, giving the wine a greenish tinge from the green acacia. I struggled to taste the Chardonnay at all, but got loads of fresh veggies, grass, salt, minerals, and flowers. A lovely food wine me’thinks. Bruno told me that acacia wood works the opposite way oak does, and that after 8—10 years, the wine actually gets fresher! I was really growing to like this style of ageing.
His Cabernet 2009 ‘Nigra Virgo’ was up next, which Bruno says he will only make in good years. He ages 50% of it in stainless steel (most Cab is 100% in oak) and the result was a fruity freshness rare in Cabs, making it an extremely good ‘drink on its own’ style. Bruno said it could age for another 5—10 years and become more complex. His Syrah 2008 was the last of our tastings. Aged mostly in French oak, it was spicy, meaty, and full of cherries. It needs some more time in bottle to soften the chunky tannins but then I think it will really shine.
After the tasting, Bruno very graciously took us to lunch at his favourite restaurant where we got to taste his wines with a stunning selection of the best of the local produce. I’m salivating just thinking about it…
Local cheese including the best goat's cheese I've ever had, and some delicious regional prosciutto
Amazing local mushrooms and shaved truffles...heaven on a dish.
As a winemaker, Bruno has youth on his side. He is confident, energetic, and eager to experiment. His wines at the moment, while very good and well made, seem more for the export market, made to try and suit international tastes—which is certainly not a bad thing, but for me sometimes takes the ‘soul’ out of wine. I would love to see him return to a more traditional, simple style of winemaking as well, one in which, when I am tasting his wines back home in London, I can taste the land, and know that the wine couldn’t possibly have come from anywhere else but Istria. That said, I think that as long as Bruno continues to follow his own path and to make brave choices in his winemaking, he will be very successful indeed.
Bruno Trapan in his brand new cellar
We bid Bruno goodbye and headed to our last appointment of the day and indeed of the trip—Roxanich (see previous blog for Roxanich at the Croatian Wine Fair). Roxanich is a winery that takes ‘tradition’ and ‘boutique’ to the extreme. All of the wines spend nearly three years in oak and bottle before being released. They use their own natural yeasts which they ferment in a separate harvest. They are chemical-free and work with many Biodynamic pratices.
It was harvest time, so the workers were bringing in truckloads of grapes 'round the clock.
Roxanich’s ‘Antica’ (100% Malvazija) spends 80 days (!) in contact with its skins and the result is an amber colour with intense marmalade and apricot flavours. Their newly released Chardonnay 2007 ‘Milva’ spends only one week in skin contact, but is still a deep golden colour, and bursts with fig and orange peel. Mato, the marketing director of Roxanich and our host for the day, told me it goes well with cheese and buttered lobster…yuuummm.
Roxanich's Malvazija and Chardonnay--amazing colours
When we tasted it, their ‘SuperIstrian’ 2006 (40% Merlot, 40% Cabernet, 20% Borgonja) was an inky black colour and was full of dark cherries, liquorice, and spice from well integrated oak. The 2007 was even better with more complexity and sweeter spices. We also tasted through Roxanich’s Cabernet ’06 and ’07 (again found the ’07 to be more complex and longer living), their Merlot 2006, and their Teran ’06 and ’07 (the latter meaty and earthy with chewy tannins).
The reds, though all good, were very similar, and very much resembled the wines of the Rhone Valley. It was as if the winemaker is on a quest to make the perfect Rhone in Istria! That said, I admire the bravery in making the style of whites they do, and I think all of the wines are extremely marketable and drinkable. I’d just like to see a little bit more variety between them.
That evening, Mato very kindly took us to a top Istrian restaurant where we matched Roxanich’s Rosé with a selection of seafood to start. For our main we indulged in a local delicacy–a salt-encrusted (and set on fire!) sea bass that was unbelievably tender. And to round off the evening, a deliciously sinful chocolate dessert. And despite a heated discussion with the handsome yet stubborn Mato on the merits of advertising through social networking (I WILL get him to join the 21st century!), it was the perfect way to end a fantastic, whirlwind trip around Croatia’s best kept secret of a region.
Mato looks on as the salt encrusted sea bass goes up in flames.
An amazingly rich dessert matched with Clai’s sweet Moscato–the perfect way to end my time in Istria.
A gigantic thank you to Judith and Trevor of Pacta Connect for introducing me to seven exceptional winemakers, and to the producers themselves: Degrassi, Coronica, Clai, Rossi, Cattunar, Trapan, and Roxanich, for their generousity in sharing their fantastic wines with me.