Trapan Wine – an Istrian modern classic

Trapan Wine

One of the highlights of any culinary adventure is finding a special place, that is unlike any other in the local region.  Trapan Wine is one such place, in the heart of Istria, one of the most culturally diverse and historic wine cultures in central Europe.

Driving in to the winery, the sun was setting and the views were stunning.  The gentle rolling slopes of the hills, some under vine, most not, glistening in the late winter sunlight.

Bruno Trapan, a young urban winemaker drawn to the region as he studied enology at the local university in Poreč, was inspired by the land and his education to a creative and dynamic art in his vineyard and cellar, undertaking a task that was challenging at best, arduous at least.  Bucking the trend, he was looking to unlock the secret to the red soils of Istria, and uncover new secrets in winemaking.

While Trapan Wine does produce the classic wines of Istria – Malvasia and Teran – they are also looking to internationally known varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah to create new traditions in winemaking.  These varietals fit nicely in to the landscape naturally, but are new flavors in the local wine culture and are breaking new bounds of tradition.

These wines are unique, filled with traditoinally flavors with modern twists and are a must top on your enotourism checklist of Croatia.

2012 Trapan Malvasia – Rich Meyer lemon, citrus, stone fruit.  Fermented in stainless steel tanks, the flavor profile is unique, with a very different terrori than northern Istria.  The northern areas are rich in limestone, lending a minerality and stone finish, while in Pula, where Trapan Wine is located, the average temperature is 3 degrees (Celsius) warmer.  This brings forward the aromatics in the Malvazia, with less fruit forward, and bright acid notes.

Ever the rebel, Trapan Wine uses both wild, natural yeast, as well as commercial yeast.  Each lot is fermented separately, but the final bottling is a blend, and not all wines in a lot are bottled at once.  Some wine is kept on yeast longer which gives a more complex creamy wine.  

2010 Trapan Teran – Teran (Terrano in Italy) is one of those grapes that had been used for rough and ready, work-a-day wine.  At first taste, Teran reminded me of Touriga Nacional, a rough, but loveable worker.  However, refined and elegant, this Teran changes the status quo.  This bold and dense wine is similar to a Merlot, but rough and tumble, with lots of spice, and huge tannins that allow it to be aged for years to come.  Earthy dust, muddy dirt, big brambly berries, this is the Teran I fell in love with.

2011 Trapan Nigra Virgo Revolution is a red blend, with 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 20% Syrah, and 10% Teran.  This is like a Bordeaux on steroids!  Teran is a strong grape, and so you have to be cautious when creating blends that it doesn’t overpower the blend.  Teran, being native to Istria for thousands of years, is a great way to put a local spin on an international style wine like the Nigra Virgo.  This wine had big bold flavors of black cherry, fig, and bark with a baking spice kit dusted on top.  Hints of pine pitch came out in the long finish.

Finally, we had a secret taste of not even disgorged yet (ok well Bruno disgorged it in the kitchen of the winery), sparking Teran.  I am always curious about sparkling red wine, from Shiraz to Lambrusco, and this was gorgeous.  Blood orange, wild strawberries, cherries, pomegranate, and ripe red fruit were popping through this bubbling beauty.  I can’t wait to go back and buy some!

Trapan Wines are available in a few select locations in the US.  With your help, let’s get them in more places!  In 2014, Bruno hopes to increase production to 85,000 bottles.  I think that’s enough to distribute here don’t you?You can learn more at the Trapan Wines website.Special thanks to the Istrian Tourist Board and Bruno Trapan for a wonderful visit. 

Trapan Wines

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Fresh from the sea, Konoba Batelina swims with excitement

IMG_3049  Meanwhile, back in Istria, we were exploring the countryside and small wineries that are producing some amazing wines, that are holding fast to traditional styles, such as at Konoba Batelina.  While there are certainly international varieties creeping in, like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, the vast majority of production includes Malvasia and Teran.

Along the same note, Istria plays host to some of the most amazing food I’ve had travelling in many years.  After the lunch at Konoba Pineto, I could have died happily, but we were in for more treats at Konoba Batelina.

Arriving at this small tavern in a village outside of Pula, there is no menu.  Instead, the offerings are given to you verbally by your extremely enthusiastic waiter, who describes each dish with a lust that made my mouth water.  Hey, if Konoba Batelina is good enough for Bordain it’s good enough for me!

Image courtesy of Liza Swift

I was a little worried as we were told that we would not be getting a selection of dishes, but rather…ALL of them, but my worry turned to a fight for the last bite as they brought dish after dish of hot and cold appetizers from the Adriatic nearby.  I love fish, and I order it a lot when I’m travelling because a) I can’t cook it worth a #$(*& and b) coastal countries know what they are doing.

Chef David Skoko presented us with our menu (I undoubtedly forgot some dishes but there were something in the neighbor of 8 colds, 6 hots, pasta, and dessert):

  • Monkfish
  • Shark liver pate
  • Conga eel
  • Red Mullet in lemon
  • Marinated sardines
  • Octopus salad
  • ScallopsIMG_3050
  • Boiled spotted Dog-fish
  • Crab salad (yes, this one I avoided but BrixChick Liza got my share so she’s happy!)
  • Grey mullet
  • fish soup with a corn meal “scallop”, basically polenta that was cooked in a scallop shell which was a beautiful presentation
  • pasta with dried fish roe, a house specialty and famous.  The salty brininess of the fish roe was so subtle, and entirely amazing
  • Dessert.  Oh I can’t even go in to dessert.  There were 7 of them!  Each one was a
  • IMG_3053 different taste sensation.

More than the food, the conversation with the chef enthralled me.  David’s stories of his life growing up in Istria, and his father’s adventures as a fisherman, which inspired him to open the restaurant, as well as our conversations about how Croatia joining the EU on July 1st will impact the local economy were inspiring.  From the local fish to the politics of a region that has been influenced by a dozen cultures, Konoba Batelina is a stop you need to go out of your way to visit.

Special thanks to the Istrian Tourist Board, our guide Marko, and Chef David for a truly unique and wonderful experience.

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The best food is the simplist food – Konoba Puli Pineta

On our way out of Rovinj, we meandered along the country roads of Istria, in to the village of Zminj.  Here, we were going to take part in a traditional lunch at a konoba, or tavern called Puli Pineta.  When we pulled up, I wasn’t quite sure if we were at someone’s house, or a public dining establishment, but as it turns out, it was a bit of each.

Much like the small restaurants throughout western Europe, there was no menu, we just ate what we were served.  It was a chilly, drizzly day, and I was happy to duck inside and sit down next to the fire at Konoba Puli Pineta.  The owner and master chef, Josip Pino Kihar, is well known in Croatia and comes from a rich cultural history of cooking.  His name, the name of his village, and everything leads to the word “cook”.  As you can see from Liza’s pictures, he can cook!

First up, as we dried off in front of the hearth, was a Rakija tasting.  Yes, more rakija!  This nectar of the gods is Croatia’s version of Grappa, the distilled spirit usually made from grapes.  Here in Istria, it is also called Grappa, so you might see those terms interchanged.  Pineta‘s offerings were fig, cherry, and regular, and it was just the thing to wake up the Wine Premacy!

The first course was a simple dish of local cheese, grilled (well, fried).  This local cow cheese is fried up in local olive oil and was pure YUM!  And what meal in this part of Europe would be complete with out the prosciutto?  Platters of delicious cured meats were presented, again with the local olive oil, as well as the simple, delicious red and wine wines of the Konoba.
As we sat stuffing ourselves, two types of hand rolled pasta, one with an Italian style tomato sauce, and one with pure heaven, were served family style.  I was bursting at the seams, but I couldn’t let that delicious pasta go to waste!  As we ate the pasta, a beautiful piece of steak was busily sizzling in a grill on the fire, smelling divine.  As the buttery, amazingly simply meat was served, teh final course was prepared.  The Istrian tradition of Supa, soup of red wine, olive oil, bread and other amazing things, was set to simmer on the fire as well.
The Supa is to be drunk from the earthen crock, sharing around the table, and so we did – drinking warm wine souop, sipping rakija, and remarking on the stunningly fresh, and delicious food.
If you are ever in Istria, make it a point to stop by this amazing, tiny, wonderful, stunning dining experience!

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Stancija Meneghetti – a retreat that is star worthy

Stancija Meneghetti

**picture heavy post**

After we settled in to the Hotel Lone, meaning we dumped our bags, dropped our jaws at the amazing location, and looked around, we were whisked off to our next Istrian Adventure locale of Stancija Meneghetti, just outside of town, to experience the farm, the guest house, and the delicious wine.

Meneghetti is a beautiful old villa, located in the heart of Istrian vineyards.  From our location in the middle of the scrubrush, one could hardly tell we were a stone’s throw from the Adriadic, but the cooling breezes and climate are a large influence here.  As we drove through the countryside, I wasn’t quite sure if our Istrian guide, Marko, was disposing of us – or taking us to a great wine location!  But finally, after passing several questionable sites, we arrived at the old iron gates of Meneghetti, and the brush cleared to show a beautiful property.

Once a private villa available for rentals, Villa Meneghetti is now a luxury boutique hotel, with four distinctly elegant rooms, two swimming pools (gah!), and a unique wine & food experience.

00000109The dining room is a rustic part of the old villa, complete with a beautiful collection of old coffee grinders, and kitchen equipment.

Built in the vicinity of the biggest Austro-Hungarian stronghold in this area, Stancija Meneghetti was the place of rest for officers and their guests. There they could hide from the blazing Mediterranean sun or get warm beside an Istrian fireplace, have a glass of wine and eat home-made cheese and smoked ham. Like many other estates at the Mediterranean, this one is a mixture of urban and rural elements, modern and traditional ones, surrounded by intact nature.

Built of white Istrian stone, the same one that glitters like lace on St.Marcus’ Square in Venice, Stancija Meneghetti is harmoniously incorporated into the central part of an ample, cultivated space, like an island in the sea of peace and green foliage. Conceived as a separate “station” with independent production of basic ingredients of healthy and currently so popular Mediterranean cuisine, it continues the tradition of producing best olive oil and wine.

But enough about the history!  What about the wine?  What about the food?  As luck might have it, and also hunger, we were able to keep our Funky Zagreb tour guide Mladen, over for lunch.

00000139 (2)00000138First up, the 2011 Malavazija, which for the rest of the Wine-Premacy, was paired with an ingenious Crab Shake.  These spectacular spectaculars are an ingenious display of layered ingredients, served in a covered dish which the diner is encourage to shake vigorously.  Of course for me,  since I didn’t want to cut my vacation short with a seafood induced ER visit, I had the most delicious St. Jacob’s Shell (Scallops) with cauliflower.  Malvazija (Malvasia) is the indigenous white grape of the region.  There will be many more Malvasia’s to come, so stay tuned on that!

00000147After the seafood course, we moved on to the pasta.  As this part of Croatia is very near Italy, the food is heavily influenced by that.  These delicate pillows of cheese filled heaven were served with cauliflower.  Now OK, i’m the first to say I hate cauliflower but this changed my life.

The third course was Adriadic tuna tartare, which is not something I can accurately describe, unless you’ve actually had Adriadic tuna.  There is a unique flavor in the tuna, that is much more delicate, salty, adn special than the tuna we get here in the states.  Paired with the Merlot, this meaty fish dish was out of this world.

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The last course was a pork chop, paired with the Crveno, a red blend

merlot

 

.  The richness of the wine, which was poured with flair from a beautiful decanter by our lovely host at the villa, was perfectly paired with the creamy pork (complete with amazing balls).

Finally, we enjoyed a chocolate mousse tower, floating on a pillow of whipped cream, with an olive oil based.  Olive oil is used in many dishes, and should not be limited to just the main courses.  The peppery spiciness

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was an elegant contrast to the richness of the mousse, and paired with the dessert wine (and of course, a touch of Rakjia), it was a roman candle end to a 4th of July worthy meal.

The unique experience at Meneghetti gave me a peek in to the luxurious world of Istrian food and culture,

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with a warm welcome.  The stories, the laughter, and the wine of the people that make this their lives, truly impacted me.

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Our chef, Bojan, is half of a dynamic duo that blends the cultural history and traditions of Istria with a modern presentation, which will set your head to spin.

My suggestion?  Get ye to Meneghetti!  Packages with accommodation and a wine experience start at 170 Euros.  That is a bargain for a villa where Brad & Angelina stayed and plalyed!  A truly amazing afternoon.

Special thanks to the good people of Meneghetti and the Istrian Tourist Board for providing the Wine Premacy with a unique and endearing experience to kick off our Istrian Adventure!

 

 


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Rovinj – an Italian gem, with a distinctly Istrian culture

00000396-2After our adventures in Hum, the Wine-Premacy piled back in our trusty questionable mini van, and hit the road to Rovinj.  Sitting at the western edge of the Istrian peninsula, Rovinj is a city of cultural crossroads, and crumbling Venetian glamour.

 

The old fortified hilltown can still be seen with the main city gates, build during the Venetian rule, along with the city walls.  While most of the walls are gone now, there are still spots that you can see them, and the shape of the hilltown follows the original town walls.

The stunning views of the Adriatic from the top of the church hill, you can nearly see Venice.  You can certainly feel the influence, and imagine the crowded summer speedboats that make the day trips from Venice.

00000409-200000412Rovinj (Rovigno in Italian) has been Venetian, Austrian, Yugoslav, and now – Croatian.  This is seen in the architecture, particularly the old city gates that were remnants of the Roman rule, and Venetian grandeur.  Now, it is quite clearly Istrian, with heavy Italian influences.  Our guide, Michaela, was quick to point out that many older local residents still speak a distinct dialect of Italian that is most closely related to Venetian, as well as Croatian.  You are also likely to find them speaking English and some German, to accommodate the tourist trade.

One of my favorite parts of travelling is experiencing the local diversity.  This part of Europe fascinates me, as cultures collide and borders are fluid.  What is a line on a map to the people that live there?  Italy?  Austro-Hungarian?  Roman?  Yugoslavian?  Not really; Istrian!

A sleepy fishing village in the off season, the multicultural mix of residents, food, and architecture made for a great walking tour.  Meandering around the small town, you can see the old tobacco factory, one of the primary industries in this region.  The modern factory employees many local residents, but

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this historical building now houses city offices and stands over the old town like a grand dame.

 

You can feel the closeness to Italy in Rovinj, and if you look the other way, you would swear you were in Tuscany or Venice.  In fact, Rovinj was a little Venice of sorts, with two islands that were completely separated by a grand canal, which was filled in in the late 1800s to connect the two pieces.  This canal is now the wide main street, but it’s clear that there is a separation

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between the two sections of town.

As you hike up the hill to the cathedral, you are in a classic Italian hill town, with meandering narrow lanes sloping down to the sea.  Sitting on the western edge of the town, the famous bar to the left offers gorgeous views, rocks to sit on, and live music.  Can I go back?

This charming town is a perfect stop while you are in Istria.  I wish we had more time here, but I plan a return visit soon.  Easily accessible from both Venice and several European gateways, this is an affordable Adriatic vacation!

 

Our erstwhile mob was housed in the modern Hotel Lone, just off the main square, and a quiet walk along the waterfront.  This modern

hotel is part of a unique collection of hotels in Croatia, with a focus on design, functionality, harmony and elegance. Arriving at the front door, you almost feel as if you are being dropped off at an airport.  From the other side of the hotel, you can see the wave design melding in to the hillside, giving the appearance of a boat.

Our rooms had large balconies, which, if I were there longer, I would have spent a lot of time on.  The large rooms had every possible amenity and were very comfortable.  I had a hard time prying myself out of the bed!  With a command center located by the front door as well as the bed, we could control all of the lights and room functions with a single touch.  Every amenity was of the best quality, and the large business center would be an ideal location for a wine conference.

We were treated to dinner in the Restaurant On, one of the hotel’s dining options.  Here, the Central European food is served with simple and creative plating, with a focus on flavor and freshness.  My halibut with pea puree had the most intense color, and simple, yet intense flavors.  It was a late dinner after a long day, and while we enjoyed the fresh and delicious food, I was remiss in taking pictures of my food.

The Hotel Lone was a perfect home base for our day of adventure walking around Rovinj, but also for our afternoon adventure to Managhetti (more on that shortly).


 

 

 

 

Does Zagreb have Open Table?

Bistro Karlo, was an elegant restaurant in an old house just off the main square of Zagreb.  Marcy had engaged her social media workforce to find a great place for us to eat on our free day in Zagreb, and @Visit Croatia had slyly indicated that it was, indeed, Zagreb Restaurant week.  What a find!  While Liza and I were getting post flight massages (yes, you can hate us now), Marcy went to work finding a great locale.

Our first choice was either closed, or booked, so our next option – Bisto Karlo, seemed liked a terrific choice.  The owner, a sommelier as well as chef, and his staff were top notch and greeted even my own sneakered feet with pleasure.  We were the only people in the restaurant, which wasn’t that surprising for a Sunday night, for a while and had all of their attention . This wasn’t really that much of a shock, since you have three American’s who are clearly wineaux.  The head waiter dabbled in acting, and was a charmer and a comedian.  All of the staff were absolutely enchanting, and we let our dinner linger as long as we could.

As it was restaurant week, we had our choice of two set menus.  I chose the Fish Menu, as did Marcy, and Liza chose the pork option (which she tells us about here).  Once our orders were in, we set about thinking about the wine.  One of the reasons Marcy chose this place was the extensive Croatian wine list, most of which were available by the glass.  Since I am a newbie to the wines of the region, I told Karlo to pick his favorite pairings, and I am epically glad I did.  Since Marcy and I ordered the same menu, Karlo made sure we had some unique wines between the two of us, and there was a riotous game of pass the wine glass between the three of us.

The first course was a pannacotta of cod fish, with freeze dried strawberries and beet sprouts.  Now, this is clearly not a pairing I would make myself, and I was not sure about the flavor of panncotta flavored with – dare I say it – my favorite <dripping sarcasm> bacalao (salt cod).  However, when it arrived, the creamy pannacotta only had a hint of the sea, and while creamy, was not sweet.  The strawberries were that unusual European variety that grows in the south of Spain, and while fresh and delicious, is not terribly sweet.  Coupled with the bitterness of the beet sprouts, it was a stunning dish.  This was paired with Karlo’s own Pink Elephant Posip.

Next up, a fresh salad of spinach leaves, with fresh sardines, lightly fried.  Now I am NOT a fan of the sardines we get here, but these little fishes – crispy and melt in your mouth delicious – were something to remember.  With this dish, Karlo served the  KrauthakerSyrah, which was so good I had to have another glass with the salmon!  Who says you can’t have red with fish?

Finally, the salmon.  This was most likely the best salmon I’ve had to date, and was cooked just to the point of setting; Liza described it as having a custard like consistency, and while I’d go a bit firmer, it was just perfect.  Paired with an odd sauce of white chocolate, the pairing was surprisingly delicious and playful on the palate.  The Syrah was perfect for this as well.

Just another fabulous day in Zagreb!  Oh and the cost of this epic 4 course dinner plus the free entertainment?  Less than US$50 each.

 

Hum – smallest little city in the world

00000042Hum is a tiny little hamlet, still surrounded by it’s hilltop walls, in the middle of Istria.  A small remnant of medieval life clinging to it’s roots, it has entered the Guinness Book of World Records as the smallest town in the world.  While it might not be the smalled in size, it’s officially a town and has it’s own government.

Getting to Hum can be a challenge, and we found ourselves backtracking the highway on local roads with signs pointing in every direction.  There is no GPS out here, so we just threw caution to the wind – and maybe said a small prayer to the rakija gods – to find this hidden treasure.

Seventeen turns, 3 misguided dead ends, and one near miss with a local, and we were on the right road to rakija!

How’s that for the little guy!  But there is more to Hum than meets the eye.  This castle (really, that’s what it is, a castle and the court around it), is a center point for the now lost Glagolitic script, which is considered to be the earliest form of the written Croatian language – and be the forefather to modern Cyrillic.

But…since this is a post about wine tourism, what about the wine?  All around the steep and sloping hillsides, you can see the vineyards that roll on to the coastal borders of Istria.  Here in Hum however, they are more known for Rakija.  Rakija is the Croatian word for Grappa, and is typically made from distilling the alcohol that is produced from the leftovers of wine making, like grape skins.  Here in Croatia, Rakija can also be made from a base alcohol of brandy, applejack, or other forms of fruit liquor.

As we meandered around Hum, Mladen – our intrepid Funky Zagreb driver, tour guide, comic relief, and all around Mad Max replicant, pointed out the Rakjia museum & shop.  Yipee!  What a way to break up a long drive!hum - mladen

Here, we tasted many of the flavors, including Biska, the most famous – made from mistletoe, or Medcina, made from honey, red wine, apple, pear, and so many more.  In Croatia as well as other parts of this region, everyone makes their own Rakjia.  It is a point of pride as to who makes the best, and the secret recipes are a much guarded treasure.  Try as we might, we just couldn’t get the secret out, although Mladen did give us a sample of his famous walnut upon our return to Zagreb.

After imbibing in several flavors, we all left, happy, warm and well stocked.  And, according to legend, rakjia cures cancer, and can be used as liniment for sore muscles.  I think I’ll try it!

And, if you’re in the mood for a real treat, Hum hosts an annual Rakija festival every October.  Bring your best attempt and share in the fun!

After Hum, we were back on the road to Rovinj, and the coast.  Stay tuned for the continued adventures of the Bourne Wine-Premacy!

Where am I? Italy, Croatia, Austria, Istria!

istraAfter our snowy and rainy day of exploring Zagreb, the intrepid Mousekateers set off to explore Istria, the dangling participle of Croatia.  This peninsula of land that is tucked under the Trieste region of Italy, and just under the former Yugoslav region of Slovenia, now a thriving independant country of it’s own.  Hanging out in the middle of the Adriadic, it has been part of Venice, part of Yugoslavia, and now part of Croatia.  Istria is distinctly – Istrian.

Are you Italian?  Are you Croatian?  I am Istrian!

But first, how does one get to Istria (Istra in Italian)?  From Zagreb, in the northern plains, and no where near the coastal riviera of Dalmatia, we had to get over a high mountain pass, around an inlet, and over to the other side of Istria to the gorgeous port city of Rovinj.

So how in the world were three wine & travel writers, with all of our luggage and booming voices, supposed to accomplish this?  Marcy, Liza and I really didn’t want to deal with the headache of renting a car in Europe, and weren’t comfortable driving in a country that had a language more foreign than a French wine label.  So…

Mladen to the rescue!  A former engineer, Mladen Car offers a wide variety of biking,

funky zagreb

hiking, walking, and driving tours in both Zagreb and the rest of Croatia.  Known as Funky Zagreb, he loves Mad Max, beer, and showing off his town.  Growing up in Zagreb, with the sense of humor that rivals a stand up comedy open mike night, I cannot recommend Mladen’s services highly enough.  In fact, I’m already thinking of my next visit, when we can explore some of the places that we didn’t have time to see on this visit – like the barrel maker, a great restaurant in Rovinj, and his favorite beer bars in Zagreb.

With the mini van packed to the gills with bags and wine writers, we set off for our first stop – Hum, the official Smallest Town in the World, and the capital of Rajkia (Croatia’s answer to grappa, but more on that later).

There is a change when you pop through the other side of the tunnel and end up high above the large port city of Rijeka.  At the crossroads of a multi-cultureral stew, Rijeka is the gateway to Istria.  Passing through town, you can see the hustle and bustle of Italy, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and eastern Europe coming together.Now, back to Istria.  

While it will be quiet in the off season, I am looking forward to exploring wine capital of Croatia!  Istria has been heavily influenced by Italy, and there are medieval hill towns reminiscent of Tuscany, and vineyards clinging to the hillside slopes with sweeping view.

Istria is roughly the shape of a heart, or triangle, and is separated from the rest of Croatia.  The best part of this area is that is one of the most widely known wine regions in Croatia.  It’s a particularly fascinating part of the region since it has been a land in conflict and rule for over 1000 years.  After the fall of Rome, Istria belonged to several warring factions of Europe.  Most recently, it has been part of the Republic of Venice, part of Yugoslavia, and now, part of Croatia – and yet, it maintains  it’s separate and distinct identity.  While many people speak Italian, they also speak Croatian.  In places that are closer to the current boarder of Slovenia, they might speak Slovenian, Croatian, Italian, and – quite possibly – German.

Only 2 hours from Venice by boat, our first stop, Rovinj, is a summer tourist destination that brings in hundreds of thousands of overnight visitors as well as day tripper.  When we arrived however, it was a sleepy local fishing town that we were eager to explore.
So sit back, get a glass of Rakjia, and stay tuned!