500 Years Of Great Wine, Born In Croatia

plavac mali
Plavac Mali grapes

This is one of the most intriguing wine stories of the last 500 years! The Dalmatian Coast (Western Baltic peninsula, formerly part of Yugoslavia) of today’s Croatia was one of the Roman Empires’ favorite vacation and wine-growing locations.

And today, the wine world is re-discovering its wonders.

Among those discoveries: Five wines are the same, or are direct descendants of one grape, as proven by DNA testing (you can still call the USA wine Zinfandel):

  • Primitivo is Tribidrag, transplanted from Croatia to Puglia (Italy’s boot heel) in the late 1700s;
  • Zinfardal (the original spelling of Zinfandel) is Tribidrag, brought to the USA from a Viennese Empire greenhouse in 1823;
  • Crljenak Kaštelanski is Tribidrag, and was lost for years; it has now been found and DNA-matched in a vineyard near Split, Croatia;
  • Tribidrag is now the accepted name for this grape and wine, because it is the oldest name; traced to Croatia in the 1500 (thus the 500 years in the title of this article);
  • Plavac Mali is the Croatian son of Tribidrag and Dobričić, a red grape from a nearby island.

Visiting the Source
After helping to organize a 2013 conference in Dubrovnik, Croatia, we spent a day of wine tasting on the Dingac peninsula (thank you again, Mladen Radujković!), visiting a half dozen wineries.

grgic-plavacAmong others, we visited the winery Grgic Vina, to explore their Plavac Mali. Miljenko “Mike” Grgich, originally from Croatia, helped fund the research that ties these five wines together into a close family. Long-famous for his Napa Valley Cabernets, Grgich worked with his daughter, Violet, to establish a winery in the Dingac appellation. Note: Grgic versus Grgich are the Croatian and English spellings of his family name.

We did see differences in the Plavac Mali wines that we tasted on our visits. Those differences were the result of vineyard location and age, winemaker style, and weather of the vintage year. And, all were great–if you like robust red wines!

On our return home, and wishing to share our discoveries about the history of Zinfandel, we organized a wine-tasting of interested friends. We included three of these related wines:

  • Zinfandel, from California, USA;
  • Primitivo, from Puglia, Italy;
  • Plavac Mali, from the Dingac area of Croatia.

We’d encourage you to explore these wines—especially if  you can visit the wineries in a part of the world where visitors are truly appreciated.

Here are a few useful links, if you are interested in more information about these wines:

Valentine Salentein was Fine Wine

salentein-malbecThis is a follow-up on our post that discussed our discovery of the Salentein restaurant in The Netherlands. The bottle of Salentein Malbec did indeed survive the trip home to Colorado, and Rose and I enjoyed it for Valentine’s day.

Interestingly, as we noted in the earlier posting about the difference between the magnums and the regular 750ml bottles, this single-vineyard bottling was more like the flavor of the magnums of the 2010 Malbec-–a little more tannin, more flavor in “the middle,” and a longer-lasting finish. We wondered if the magnums contain a different blend than the general Malbec, with perhaps a bit more from this single vineyard.  Continue reading “Valentine Salentein was Fine Wine”

Salentein for Your Valentine?

This wine adventure begins in the early 2000s, when Rose and I decided to travel to Argentina to explore their great wines. We had been enthusiasts of Argentine wines since the early 1990s, when we had annointed Malbecs as the next great value in wines. So, although we did not make it to Mendoza on this trip (we instead hung out at Iguazu Falls, and then at Punte del Este), we tasted a large variety of Argentine Malbecs in Buenos Aires.

We tasted the price range, from lower priced wines to several of the high-priced ones; as usual, the best values were in a notch above the lowest prices. Of course, we tasted the wines with food, and the pampas beef and the puffy fries were our favorites. And on our last night, we had an excellent dinner at a restaurant near the dock area–a bit out of the way.

Finding Salentein
While we had tasted some very good wines, even by our last evening in BA we had not found our expected noteworthy and outstanding bargain. And then on the wine list, we spotted a wine we had missed in all our adventures. A 2002 Bodegas Salentein Malbec, at a very reasonable price. We very much enjoyed it with our last dinner in BA.  Continue reading “Salentein for Your Valentine?”

More Into Wine In Walla Walla

Another Featured Posting by Jan Beks, The Wining Dutchman!

At the end of July 2009 we headed for Walla Walla. From The Dalles, OR, it is about a half day drive to this centre of more than 100 wineries in the South East of Washington State. For the first time in 2 years we are able to travel together again. My travel partner Teresa surprised me with scheduling a five day trip into this booming wine area. Situated at the same latitude as the major French wine areas it substantially has grown over the years since it was established in 1984.

We discovered that once we arrived in the region it became even harder to select the wineries and their tasting rooms we wanted to visit. An article by the Wine Spectator given to us by Stacy was some help but as adventurous as a Middle East Correspondent and as stubborn as a Wining Dutchman can be it sounded nice to try some other places too or instead of the pre-selected ones.  Continue reading “More Into Wine In Walla Walla”

Umpqua Valley’s Henry the V

Posted by Jan Beks, from the Netherlands: The Wining Dutchman!

In great contrast to the sweet Tokaji wine experience posted recently was my experience in 2007 in the south of Oregon. We were finally able to visit the winery Stacy recommended in the area around Roseburg. That was on one of our annual trips with Poppy, visiting his 60th and somewhat year school reunion. I am glad we followed your hint and visited Henry’s Estate Winery . We did the wine tasting and as a last we decided to try the Henry the V 2004.

This red wine is a blend of 5 different wines in for it seems the perfect mixture of grapes grown by the owner at this particular place in that particular year: 53% Cabernet Sauvignon, 26% Cabernet Franc, 13% Merlot, 7% Syrah and 1% Malbec. For just over $30 a bottle I was tempted to buy more than the one bottle we did buy to take with us back to the Netherlands. But we simply had no other choice since the airlines wouldn’t allow us even one bottle more.  Continue reading “Umpqua Valley’s Henry the V”

From King to King

This is a Special Posting by Jan Beks, from the Netherlands!

Long after my first wine experience I went on my first trip into a cellar all covered with mildew in the far Eastern part of Hungary. It was my first ever wine tasting, sometime in 1997. Close to the Romanian border and not far from the Transylvanian area where vampires used to haunt humans like you and me. There it was where I would be taken for several wine tastings over a period of two years. I thought I had found my love but instead the only love I found was love for the region’s famous wines.

By the way it was around the same era Teresa (Stacy’s sister) was at arm’s length without me noticing it. Such a small world.

Each time a cellar visit started with some “ordinary” wines from the region or nearby.  Continue reading “From King to King”

Beat the Dao Jones Average

Perhaps that title is a bit too vague; so much for catchy titles! The purpose of this post is to highlight the wines of the Dao Valley, in Portugal. This post is the first of two parts, a story about a special wine in Brasil, in 1982. We will produce the second part after a coming visit to the Dao Valley, in Portugal.

Twenty five years ago this month I was in Brasil. I was teaching a Project Management class, the first of a series over the next 8 years. I had a wonderful time, and I love Brasil and its people. But I had nearly forgotten about one of my most interesting early wine experiences–until it was time to plan a trip to the source of the story. Here ’tis.

The date was 1982. I was at dinner at the Brasilton hotel in downtown Sao Paulo. I looked over the wine list, looking for anything I could appreciate. I saw a lot of very average wines on the list, and nothing that inspired me. I asked the Sommelier, who was hovering over me expectantly, “don’t you have anything that is a little more special?” He puzzled a bit, then smiled, and scurried off.  Continue reading “Beat the Dao Jones Average”

The Man From Margaret River

This post is about both people and places. Mat Lewis is The Man From Margaret River, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Rose and I had decided to visit Australia again. In prior trips, we’d been around the Eastern and Southern edges, and met many wonderful people. This time we wanted to visit the interior, see Uluru (Ayers Rock), and head to Perth, then to Margaret River.

Preparing for the trip, we websurfed to learn more about Margaret River. Already familiar with the wines, especially the Cabs from Devil’s Lair (and their bargain Fifth Leg), and from Leeuwin Estate, we figured we could find some less-discovered wines.

I came across the website for Margaret River Wine Club (no longer available), and signed up on the spot. Immediately I received a gracious response, saying “if we were ever in the neighborhood, to let them know”. I immediately replied that we were on our way there in the next month. That’s when the fun began!   Continue reading “The Man From Margaret River”

Mutant Teenage Ninja Winelist

This post is a rant about restaurant winelist prices. I have long been a critic of some USA restaurants that burden us with overpriced and underqualified wines. Indeed, part of the reason wines have not become a part of ordinary life is because of the fuss and nonsense restaurants place on wine–unlike much of Southern Europe, where one can have an excellent vin de pay with lunch or dinner for a reasonable price.

To this end, I have long used a guideline (and taught it to many others) that with some exceptions the cost of wine should not exceed 1/3 the cost of the total restaurant check. Do the math: if you and your dinner mate have a nice steak, salad and dessert, perhaps each meal comes to $20-$35 (or more), depending on the restaurant. Thus the wine for two people should be within that price range to be 1/3 of the total bill.  Continue reading “Mutant Teenage Ninja Winelist”

Visiting Barbi dei Montalcino

We were in Italy, traveling from Florence to Rome; the year was 1983. Before we left Florence, I had spotted a mention of a winery near Montalcino that had a nice mid-day meal. Montalcino is between Florence and Rome, and along the route, so we decided to stop in.

In the center of this great medieval city we saw a little fingerboard sign pointing to Fattoria dei Barbi; we followed the sign. Soon we saw another. We traced our way to the winery via the signs, sometimes doubling back because we had missed one.

Arriving at the winery, we went to the most obvious place for a restaurant, a low, smaller building. Although the door posted hours of Noon to 8PM, and it was 12:30, it was locked. We knocked.

A wizened old man opened the door, welcomed us, and escorted us to a 12-person bench. He poured wine into the jug on the table, and disappeared. Continue reading “Visiting Barbi dei Montalcino”

Great Wine People: Tom Cygnar

Tom and Claudia Cygnar

When I moved from Oregon to Colorado, one of my first challenges was to find a decent wine shop. For me, this was a serious project, because I visit wine shops all over the world when I travel, and have some expectations about selection, expertise of staff, and the condition of the wine storage.

After discovering treasures that the staff didn’t know were there in many candidate shops, I stumbled upon the Wine Company, some 45 miles to the North, in Littleton. What sold me on the shop were the owners, Tom Cygnar and Dave Tewksbery. Tom especially demonstrated far more understanding about wine and the trade than I ever would. I started making regular trips North to stock my wine cellar with his insights and discoveries.
Continue reading “Great Wine People: Tom Cygnar”

Getting Into Wine

I did not get “into wine” very early. When I drove through Napa and Sonoma Valleys in 1971 on my way to my sister Terry’s 21st birthday, we stopped off at Louis Martini, Robert Mondavi, and Sebastiani. We liked the Sebastiani Green Hungarian wine most of all.

In the mid 1970’s, I tried to get my local wine retailer (Of Grape and Grain, in Eugene, Oregon, still a great place to find wine) to set me up with a progression of red wines to try, figuring that wine would be an interesting domain to master. I hated all of them! Of course, at that time, my idea of a good wine was Annie Greensprings Apple wine.

An event happened in 1982 that changed my wine path. I did a 10 day project consulting gig in Monte Carlo, and every night, after each long workday, I explored a different wine from the Hotel menu. I didn’t know anything about any of them; they were all French, all red, all started with a B. Some were good, some so-so, and some not very good (for my tastes).

Continue reading “Getting Into Wine”

The Cork Quandary

It has been going on for quite some time: the battle between those enthusiasts for corks, and those who prefer other options, such as synthetic closures and screwcaps.

Of course, corks have only been around for the last 3% of wine’s history, so it’s not like they are part of a long tradition. But the 4000 BCE wine pots we saw in China just had bronze covers, and we will certainly not go back to those!

So what are the issues on each side of the cork controversy?  Continue reading “The Cork Quandary”

Absolutely ZinFul

Here’s another Washington Wine Wonder! Maryhill Winery, just NorthEast of The Dalles, Oregon, on the Washington side of the Columbia River. We had visited them in our last two trips to Oregon, and the very nice young man (and knowledgeable, too!) behind the counter remembered us. That’s probably 5,000 visitors later.

It might have helped that after our first visit, we worked to get Maryhill’s wines into Colorado. It probably also helped that we got signed up in their Industry program on our last visit (their Gold Program is the best one for repeat offenders/customers).

In our first visit, we had purchased an assortment of wines to taste on our visit to the Oregon coast. As I recall, all were great, but the 2001 Zin was outstanding (note that we did not keep the label; the photo at left is from 2005). Between our visit and a week later when we returned to get more, it had won some California judging and had totally disappeared. That was the best Zin I’d tasted in 2 years! And it was gone! Continue reading “Absolutely ZinFul”

First Wine Insights

From our Wi-Know Wine Blog

The year was 1971, early January; Louise (then wife) and I decided to travel to San Francisco to help my sister Terry (Teresa) celebrate her 21st birthday. So we loaded up my Ford van, and headed South from Eugene, Oregon. The approximately 500 miles distance meant we should probably stop for the night somewhere before we reached San Francisco, so we started researching stopping places.

We quickly decided that sleepy Napa Valley would make an interesting stop-over; we knew nothing about wines, but figured we could learn. In fact, at that time, my idea of a good wine was Annie Green Springs Apple Wine, or for special occasions, Mateus.

On our arrival in Napa Valley, we found a place for the night, had a nice meal, and planned our next day. That next day, we had an entire day to tour Napa, and then Sonoma Valley, before meeting my sister and her husband in San Francisco. So we decided on the following:

  • Louis Martini and Robert Mondavi wineries, in Napa Valley;
  • Sebastiani, in Sonoma Valley; plus others, if there was time.

Robert Mondavi entrance

We figured that would be a good introduction, and still get us to San Francisco on time. Continue reading “First Wine Insights”