Tasting No. 201 – July 30, 2018- Eastern Europe Wines

Club del Vino


Capri Ristorante, McLean VA

Georgian traditional kvevri jugs buried in a winery in Kakheti. – Source Wikimedia.org

1. Presenters and Participants

Wines presenters: Jorge Claro, Cristian Santelices

Participants: Jorge Claro, Ruth Connolly, Clara Estrada, Alberto Gómez, Jaime Jaramillo, Peter Lapera, Orlando Mason, John Redwood, Jorge Requena, Alfonso Sanchez, Cristian Santelices, Ricardo Santiago, Germán Zincke

Type of Tasting: Open

2. Tasting Overview  

The  main objective of this tasting is to explore wines from Eastern Europe made with native varieties less known in the west.  These are the wines:

  1. 2015 Benvenuti, Anno Domini, Malvazija, Istria, Croatia 
  2. 2015 Parallel 43 Selection, Trianguli, Mavrud, Danubian Plain, Bulgaria
  3. 2015 Naotari, Saperavi, Dry Unfiltered Red Wine, Kavareli, Kakheti, Georgia
  4.  2013 Dignac, Skaramuca, Plavac Mali, Vrhunsko Vino, Peljesac Peninsula, Croatia 

3. The Menu

  1. Lobster Bisque
  2. Octopus and Potatoes
  3. Veal Ravioli in Aurora Sauce
  4. Beef Medallions in Mushroom Sauce with Vegetables
  5. Dessert/Coffee

4. Information on the Wines

(The information below has been compiled from various internet sources) .

2015 Benvenuti Anno Domini, Malvazija, Istria, Croatia

The Wine: The Anno Domini 2016 is especially distinct and unusually expressive for Malvazijas: it contains typical varietal, flowery-acacia-almond elements, but also deep tertiary nuances of serious orange wines ranging from dried citruses and apricots, to spices such as sumac. The new Anno Domini is very full in the mouth, delightfully plentiful, with unusual earthy effect which we have not previously identified in Malvazijas, and with a strong mineral ending. The Anno Domini is a great wine worth certainly between 93 and 95 points, justifying the Benvenuti brother’s thesis that 2016 was one of the best Istrian harvests of the century. “This complex Malvazija has exceptional minerality, it is full-boded, with pronounced characteristics of the variety and fruitiness. For better quality of grapes, we have minimised the yields of our vineyards in Turkovo, located at an altitude of 350 meters. Malvazija Anno Domini was aged in oak barrels for 24 months, following a 15-day maceration. With great potential for ageing, the 2016 vintage was made in 5.000 bottles.” Food pairing: Roasted meet, pasta with strong sauces.

Malvazija is a white grape originating on Croatia’s Istra peninsular, and now the second most planted variety in Croatia after Graševina. It produces mainly varietal wines, often with a slightly green hue and an appealing honeyed tang. The variety is also known in north-east Italy as Malvasia Istriana. Like albariño is to the seaside shores of Galicia in Spain, malvazija is the signature white wine of Istria, an axe-shaped peninsula that slices into the Adriatic Sea along Croatia’s northern coast. Here malvazija vineyards stand like sentinels not far from the rugged, salty shore and then majestically rise up the pastoral highlands of the interior, where they thrive alongside acacia trees, olive groves, and truffle oak forests in the region’s patchwork of red, white, brown and grey soils – each to subtly different effect. Despite the name that would place the variety among the branches of the very large malvasia bianca family tree, malvazija istarska is specific to Istria, although the variety can also be found in the neighboring Koper appellation in Slovenia, as well as in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia area of Italy

The Winery: The Benvenuti winery is a story of family, tradition and terroir. They are situated in the quiet Istrian village of Kaldir in Croatia, where they grow three grape varieties – Malvasia Istriana, Teran and Muscat. Throughout history, these varieties have been giving the best results in Istria.  They vineyards are situated 400 metres above sea level planted on sandy soil and face south in the vineyards of the San Salvatore (once the location of the village of Kaldir). The annual production of Malvasia is approx. 70,000 bottles. Nikola and Albert Benvenuti have in recent years become some of the most ambitious and serious Croatian winemakers. Their aspirations and scope is best described by international results: 95 points at Decanter for the 2013 Teran and a gold medal at the International Wine Challenge for the Malvazija Anno Domini 2015.

Read more at: http://www.benvenutivina.com/en/vina.html

2015 Parallel 43 Selection, Trianguli, Mavrud, Danubian Plain, Bulgaria

The Wine: The 2015 Triangulus Bouquet is an autochthonous variety from Thracian Mavrud indigenous Bulgarian that offers up vibrant red and tangy black berry fruit with dried brush and earthy notes that warrant comparison to traditional, with distinguished aromas of blackberry and piquant paper accent. This wine is aged for two years in neutral barrel before release.

Mavrud, is a dark-skinned grape variety of Bulgarian origin. Its precise provenance is generally accepted to be Asenovgrad, an appellation in the West Thracian Valley of southern Bulgaria.

The grape’s name is derived from the Greek “mavro”, meaning black. The grape has been depicted as a low-yielding, late-ripening, small-berried grape, which is able to produce a spicy, tannic wine with a capability of ageing. The wines produced from this grape are high in tannins and acidity with plenty of flavors of stewed-fruit on the palate providing a mouth-feel of glycerol. It also exhibits herbal properties, providing the wine a therapeutic finish. All these features lead to a fruity and spicy varietal with high amount of tannins, distinguished maturing capacity, excellent acidity, local character and applauded for good quality. The grapes harvest in the end of October in the region of Plovdiv.

Mavrud wine can be excellently paired with lamb, marinated beef, rosemary potatoes, desserts such as mousse, maple pie, mascarpone pie, bread pudding, cheesecake, lemon cake, etc.

According to the Bulgarian legends, all the vineyards were ordered to be destroyed during the supremacy of Bulgarian Khan Krum. Soon after a lion ran away from its cage and the city was terrorized. Anyhow, a brave man referred to as Mavrud tackled and slayed the lion. The king sent for Mavrud’s mother to know about the cause of such bravery. She replied that she had saved a grape vine secretly, produced wine and this was the source of the courage of Mavrud. Khan Krum immediately ordered for the re-plantation of vineyards

The Winery: Prallel43 is a family-owned wine importer and wholesaler based in Northern Virginia, specializing in importing wines from Eastern Europe, a region with long wine-making traditions and great potential for interesting, world-class wines of both international and regional varietals.  The wines from the upper Thracian Valley come from the alluvial soils in the collar of three massive mountain chains. Part of those wines are grown in the Southwestern-most corner of Bulgaria and the region of Melnik. This region is sunny and dry, with sediment-rich, pebbly and sandy soil.

Read more at: http://www.parallel43.com/

2015 Naotari, Saperavi, Dry Unfiltered Red Wine, Kavareli, Kakheti, Georgia

The Wine: There is a nice interplay of beady tannins, forceful acidity and fruit, with clear red forest berries, cranberries and sweet spices. Because it is aged in clay jars and is unfiltered, there is a slightly chalky but not unpleasant feel in the mouth. This wine is a good example of a well-made Saperavi.

This dark ruby colored Saperavi opens with black olive and black currant like bouquet. The finish is dry and its moderate tannins build up and last for quite some time. This Saperavi would pair nicely with grilled steak and excellent with mature cheeses of different styles.

Saperavi (Georgian: literally “paint, dye, give color”) is an acidic, teinturier-type grape variety native to Georgia (country), where it is used to make many of the region’s most well-known wines. It is also grown in small quantities in the Niagara and Finger Lakes regions of New York State as well as former USSR countries. Its leaves are 3-lobed, large, and roundish. The berries are medium to large, elliptic or round depending on the type, dark bluish, and thin-skinned; with a maturation period of approximately 5 months and moderate productivity.  Sapravi wines have a characteristic bouquet, a harmonious taste, and a pleasant astringency. Its alcoholic strength ranges from 10.5-12.5% and titrated acidity 5-7%. It is known to have been in production since 1886. Saperavi grapes produce very deep red wines that are suitable for extended aging. It has the potential to produce high alcohol levels, and is often blended with lighter varieties. It is by far the most dominant Georgian red grape in terms of overall production.

The Winery: Naotari Family Vineyards & Cellar was founded in 2012 by Koba Kvatchrelishvili and his two sons, Rezo and Alex Kvatchrelishvili. Koba is in love with the traditions of Kakhetian wine making; traditions that have existed in Georgia for thousands of years and in Koba’s family for generations. Kakhetian wine making centers itself around two things: 1) Qvevri, the traditional terra-cotta (clay ) amphora type that are buried underneath the ground and are used in each stage of the winemaking process, and 2) Skin contact, Kakhetian white wines spend approximately 6 months in contact with their grape skins developing complex and amber colored wines.

Naotari Vineyard approach is centered around small batch wine production focused on uniqueness and an authentic expression of the Chikaani terroir and Kakhetian traditions. Annually they produces a very limited quantity at around 3,000 bottles, which are unfiltered while no additives or artificial yeast are used in winemaking. The Naotari family Vineyards & cellars produce their wines using Qvevri method -an 8,000-year-old uniquely Georgian method that utilizes a huge amphora, Qvevri, buried underneath the ground to allow wine fermentation and aging in an even, naturally cool condition. Clay is the happy medium between stainless steel and oak. Like oak, clay is porous, allowing for an exchange of oxygen. Like steel, clay is a neutral material, so it doesn’t impart additional flavors.

Read more at: http://www.georgianwinehouse.com/brand/47/Naotari/winemaker

2013 Dignac, Skaramuca, Plavac Mali, Vrhunsko Vino, Peljesac Peninsula, Croatia  

The Wine: Dingač vine is grown in a special location in the Dingač valley where the soil composition, slope (30-70%) and many hours of sun result in top quality wine. The wine is technologically processed and, following a period of 2 to 4 years, offered on the market. The Mediterranean climate with its short, mild winters and long, warm summers full of sunshine gave birth to wines boasting with ideal ratio of alcohol, acid, minerals, tannin, color, proteins and vitamins. The Skaramuča Dingač has won the bronze medal on the biggest American wine fair in San Francisco, among 4,500 contestants from all over the world.   Dingač is a high-quality wine with deeply ruby red color and subtly pronounced varietal aroma. Dingač is a typical Plavac with fruit characteristics and unique by harmonious fullness of flavor. It is ideal with red grilled meat and sauces and aged cheeses.

Plavac Mali is the most planted red grape variety in Croatia (to be precise, on the Dalmatian coast of Croatia). Plavac Mali is probably the best-known Croatian wine, and if you are just starting to get to know Croatian wines and haven’t tasted it before, it should definitely be at the top of your list. The wine plavac mali is a very powerful, robust red wine, rich in taste and high in alcohol and tannins.

Plavac mali has a very interesting history of origin that has caused many wine experts to become obsessed with tracing its origins. For a long time plavac mali was confused with zinfandel, the famous Californian wine. Plavac mali has even been subjected to DNA research and has starred in the documentary ‘Dossier Zinfandel’. We now know that plavac mali is a cross between Crlenjak Kaštelanski (ancestral Zinfandel) and Dobričić (an ancient red wine grape variety from the Dalmatian coast) grapes. How the grapes found their way from a small Mediterranean country to California has been tickling the brains of wine historians, plant experts, winemakers, and even geneticists for a very long time

The Winery:  The Skaramuča family vineyards are situated on prominent locations on Pelješac peninsula and are a part of Pelješka Župa and Dingač area. On the Dingač southern slopes the vineyards spread on an area of around 20 ha.

The highly renowned Croatian winemaker, Ivo Skaramuča is the owner and the founder of the Skaramuča brand wines. Although the winemaking history is as old as the family Skaramuča itself, the real success tale starts in 1992 when the Croatian legislation recognizes private grapes growing and winemaking, which gives the Skaramuča brand a chance to position itself among the top Croatian wines. Today Skaramuča is one of the biggest Croatian private entrepreneurs in winemaking and the owner of the largest vineyard in the Dingač area.

The beautiful Dingač slopes feature numerous plavac mali groves nurtured and developed by Mr. Skaramuča over the past two decades, now possessing 165,000 plavac mali vines. They produced 70,000 bottles of placav mali in 2017.

Read more at: http://dingac-skaramuca.hr/en/wines/dingac/

4.  CV Members Rating

View full evaluation here: 201 Summary of Scores

Best Rated Wine: 2013 Dignac, Skaramuca, Plavac Mali, Vrhunsko Vino, Peljesac Peninsula, Croatia

Best Buy: 2013 Dignac, Skaramuca, Plavac Mali, Vrhunsko Vino, Peljesac Peninsula, Croatia

5. Technical Notes 

Notes compiled by Jorge Claro and Cristian Santelices.

The Wine Treasures of Eastern Europe.  

The classic Old-World wine making regions, such as Bordeaux, Burgundy and Piedmont, are all located between 40˚ and 50˚ latitude, where climates are generally favorable for fine wine production. Much of Central and Eastern Europe falls within the same zones. With wine making histories that began prior to those of France, Italy or Spain, the region could be considered the original “Old World” of wine.  What follows is an overview of the most important wine producing countries in the region.

Hungary.  One hundred years ago, Hungary was one of the most important wine producers in Europe. Every royal court in Europe clinked glasses filled with precious gold Tokaji (“toe-kye”) wine, while other lush Hungarian whites and reds were lauded and enjoyed throughout Europe. In addition, it should be noted that Hungarian Oak is one of the three major types of oak, after French and American, that is used to make wine barrels. Unfortunately, due the aggressive assault of phylloxera in the 1880’s, two world wars, and forty years of communist collectivization we don’t see many Hungarian wines penetrating the international market. In the US, it is very difficult to find quality Hungarian wines.

Hungary is bouncing back. Countless small estates replanted and cultivated across the country are turning out beautiful wines–a result of traditional winemaking culture mixed with a modern sensibility. With 22 wine regions growing hundreds of varietals, the country offers a multitude of great wines to explore.

The country is located between the 46th and 49th parallel which is actually the same latitude range as many of France’s top wine regions from Northen Rhone to Champagne. Hungary’s rolling hills are rich in volcanic soils and limestone–idyllic soil types for fine winemaking.  Hungary’s four top wine producing regions are Eger, Tokaj, Villány and Somló.

Croatia.  You’ve most likely already had a wine that originated in Croatia, you just don’t know it! In 1994, grape geneticist, Dr. Carol Meredith, discovered that Zinfandel (aka Primitivo) is identical to Croatia’s Tribidrag (or Crljenak Kaštelanski). Tribidrag also happens to be the parent grape of Croatia’s most popular red wine, Plavac Mali. So, if you love Zinfandel, you already love Plavac Mali!. Plavac Mali is the primary red wine of Croatia and grows mostly along the Dalmatian coast. It is a wine that is rich and full of flavor, higher in both alcohol and tannin, with lower acidity, and has flavors of blackberry, dark cherry, pepper, carob, dry figs, and spice. Plavac Mali translates to “small blue,” and this grape is so important in Croatia that it was the first to have its own appellations – Dingač and Postup, which are both located on the Pelješac peninsula in South-Central Dalmatia. Croatia has many indigenous grape varieties that are not very well-known internationally, partly due to their complicated names such as Pošip, Malvazija Istarska, Grk, Teran (In Italy, Terran is called Terrano) Graševina also known as Welschriesling and one of the most popular white wine grapes in Croatia.

Georgia.  Georgia is one of the oldest wine regions in the world. The fertile valleys and protective slopes of the Transcaucasia were home to grapevine cultivation and Neolithic wine production for at least 8000 years. Due to the many millennia of wine in Georgian history and its prominent economic role, the traditions of wine are considered entwined with and inseparable from the national identity.  Among the best-known Georgian wine regions are Kakheti (further divided into the micro-regions of Telavi and Kvareli), Kartli, Imereti, Racha-Lechkhumi and Kyemo Svaneti, Adjara and Abkhasia. UNESCO added the ancient traditional Georgian winemaking method using the Kvevri clay jars to the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage lists.

This video illustrates the Kvevri method of wine making: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NN5ziogyxP0

There are five main regions of viniculture, the principal region being Kakheti, which produces seventy percent of Georgia’s grapes. Traditionally, Georgian wines carry the name of the source region, district, or village, much like French regional wines such as Bordeaux or Burgundy. As with these French wines, Georgian wines are usually a blend of two or more grapes. For instance, one of the best-known white wines, Tsinandali, is a blend of Rkatsiteli and Mtsvane grapes from the micro regions of Telavi and Kvareli in the Kakheti region.


There is additional information on this tasting here: Additional Information Wines from East Europe

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