As we embrace the uncharted territory that 2020 has brought us into, we also explored uncharted territory in wine during our first tasting of the season, and I was grateful for the distraction to dive in. Our fall tasting group at LBV launched this week with Eastern Europe: Slovakian and Croatian wines.
This was my very first time tasting Slovakian wine, which was exciting. I was thinking, “what does this remind me of”… and then realized just what it was: Riesling produced in Slovakia—a new experience for me. Slovakia is located in central Europe, and many of the vines here date back 3000 years. The country is landlocked, bordering Hungary to the south and Austria to the southwest, where the bulk of the 6 main wine growing regions are located. The vineyards surround Slovakia’s charming capital town of Bratislava, which would be the ideal place to stay to book your Slovakian wine trip. The most noteworthy Slovakian wine region is Slovak Tokai, possibly due to Miroslava Geranova’s 2016 New York Times article, “In Slovakia, a Wine Region Waiting for the Spotlight.”
Under communist rule, wine production in all Soviet Union Countries was not about individual expression, it was about mass production—this was also true of Slovakia. But after the 90s, there was something of a Renaissance here—a new age of wine, where younger people have come in to try to resurrect old vineyards that were once unable to cultivate a unique expression. Since 2005, Slovakia has had wine laws similar to those in the EU and on par with Austrian, German, and Czech wine laws. The region produces many international grape varieties like Riesling, Chardonnay, Gruner Veltliner, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. I would love to explore the more typical varieties like Devín, a cross of Roter Veltliner and Gewurztraminer; or Hron, a red grape that is a cross of Abouriou and Castets grapes from Southwest France.
The potential to make great wine in Slovakia was first noticed by Egon Mueller, the famed winemaker from Germany’s Saar region who also happens to make world class Riesling. He partnered with the family of Baron Ullman of Château Béla, a historic castle on the Danube River, and currently planted with Riesling vines. Today the wines at Château Béla are made by Miroslav Petrech and Egon Mueller. Their first vintage was 2001.
Croatia is a more widely known wine region, although it is still considered exotic. The closest I have gotten to this destination was when I was younger and lived briefly in Italy, on the Adriatic Sea across from Croatia. It still is rejuvenating to recall the aqua blue of the water, the warm sun on my face, the smell of rosemary and herbs growing freely, and the local seafood—all of it made a huge impact on who I am today. Croatia was just one boat ride—or an eager swim across the water—away.
Croatia’s location on the Adriatic Sea makes it an ideal place to grow grapes, with its hot summers and mild winters. Croatian wine has a long history and dates back to the ancient Greeks who settled there. The origin of some grapes themselves can be traced back to Croatia, and even a brief glimpse into this history reveals that somehow these wine traditions are all linked together. Croatia, like Greece, has many indigenous grape varieties, and its wine regions include Dalmatia, Istria and Kvarner, Croatian Uplands, Slavonia, and Danube.
The Croation coastline and islands, most famous as ideal places to vacation, are also two large wine producing areas. Plavac Mali “small blue” is the main red grape used to make Croatian wine, and it is mostly grown along the Dalmatian Coast. One of the main white grapes is Malvasia Istarka, which is grown in the popular wine region Istria. Babic is another blue-skinned red grape found on the Dalmation Coast, Its DNA reveals that it’s related to Plavac Mali. More importantly, it’s my new favorite grape to examine.
I have loved being able to explore these wine regions from home by watching videos from “Exotic Wine Travel,” whose hosts Charine Tan and Matthew Horkey take viewers to Slovakia and Croatia and beyond. For me it’s been the 2020 cure for missed wine travel.
Wines from our tasting:
Slobodne Majer Zemianske Sady ‘Interval 104’ Rizling, Trnava, Slovakia 2016:
Majer Zemianske Sady is an independent family estate. “After violent interruption of family tradition,” during WWII, the winery was reopened and is now run by the fourth and fifth generation. Before WWII, the family sold wine under a different label called Three Boxers, and they had a large following among artists in Prague. In 1997, they started to rebuild the winery, replanting and reconstructing the cellar. The first vintage under Slobodne Vinarstvo was 2010. They work in a way that respects the earth, and they experiment with orange wines—wines produced from white grapes that are left in contact with the skins.
They produce a wide array of wines, but this one is made from Riesling (Rizling), in the region of Trnava, harvested by hand and produced without additives. It’s a wine comprised of three different parts: the direct press, the skin contact, and the neutral oak. The color in itself was perplexing—it was almost like a highlighter yellow, a result of the skin contact. The aromas were also very unusual compared towhat I am used to—there were more earth elements and less upfront fruit. My notes were crushed rocks, petrol, slight smoke, and celtuce. The mastermind behind finding these interesting wines commented that it was “like a great salad.” He added grapefruit and tobacco notes too.
The wine has some beautiful texture, and because it had a stelvin closure, or screw cap, it was begging for oxygen so much that the layers continued to reveal themselves as the tasting went on. What started as smoky and tart fruit became a little more round with time—very nice introduction to Slovakian wine.
Josipa Marinov Babić, Dalmatia Croatia 2018:
Babić is a grape that is native to Croatia, and that grows only in North Dalmatia.
Producers Josipa and Neno Marinov’s vineyard is located just a few meters above sea level on red clay and limestone soils. The hard ground and tight soils can easily absorb water, allowing the grapes to survive in this hot Mediterranean climate. The vineyard is not accessible by tractor, as it is planted in dry stone pools, a set up unique to this area. Jospia makes wine the real traditional way, like her elders did 100 years ago—everything is hand harvested.
This wine coming from 50-year-old vines is very expressive; I got fruit leather, dried prune, light rosemary, and black olive with dry dusty tannin on the palate. This wine has only 13% ABV, and it had high acidity and was quite juicy. This wine seems to be extremely versatile in the sense that it pairs well with both light meat and fish. I enjoyed it with beets, arugula, and grilled chicken. It will leave you longing for more.
Both wines are distributed by Kreso and Zev Selections
Claire Paparazzo is an LBV Social Club member who also leads some of the Club's wine tastings. This is her reflection on the tasting that took place on September 30th, 2020. Find her on Instagram at @clairepaparazzo and @wineifyouwantto.
First photo via Pinterest
To join the Club &
Members can view the