Monday, March 2, 2009

Zagreb Wine Gourmet Festival 2009- a taste of Croatia

On February 27th and 28th entaste was a guest at Zagreb Wine Gourmet Festival 2009, appropriately held at the Museum of Arts and Crafts (MUO) in Zagreb. The event has gathered 140 top-class wine makers from Croatia, and surrounding region. There were about 500 great wines to taste plus carefully chosen complementary gourmet foods such as fine olive oils, Istrian truffles, honey, oysters, cured hams and other delicacies.
Although Croatia is a country that can easily inspire overindulgences with all the local delicacies and some of the finest wines produced from both international and indigenous grapes, this kind of events are still quite rare for Zagreb. I sometimes feel that the locals don’t fully appreciate the quality of their surroundings, perhaps grown accustomed to all the richness offered so freely. Croatia is a place where people have been taking their time over drinks for centuries and all the important business meetings were held over a hefty meal and a bottle of homemade liquor, leaving wine somehow neglected. There are few wine bars, and outdoor cafes tend to serve a weak selection of wines. Perhaps because of this the festival, even though well frequented, did not attract the crowds it surely deserved.
In any case, it was a must visit for any foodie and wine lover, epicurean Shangri La... I got lost already the first day, seeing all the famous Croatian wine producers, as well as some important Italian and Austrian names, but also all the new young winemakers whose wines I hastily wanted to taste. Even though I had two days, it was hardly enough to try all the wines I wanted, so I decided to focus on Croatian wines (with some exceptions such as Masi Riserva di Costasera that I simply could not resist…). Although I am Croatian, I have been living abroad for certain number of years, and have not had a chance to familiarise myself that much with the local wine industry. This event helped to satisfy my curiosity on where the Croatian wine industry stands at the moment.
The fact that I am not a professional wine taster and do not have a trained palate can hinder giving very detailed overview, however although not trained, my palate is very refined and inconsiderately follows Wilde’s advice to be satisfied only with the best. That is probably one of the reasons why I am every restaurant’s ‘favorite’ client but also why it is hard to win me over with food and even more wine. And some Croatian wines certainly managed to do that… As well as certain Croatian winemakers with their passion, dedication to winemaking and some very innovative techniques, even organic/biodynamic production, which is so popular these days.
I have tasted some divine Istrian Malvasia (one of the most popular white grape varietals, semi-aromatic with a large flower-fruit aroma potential) that was already one of my local favorite grapes. On the other hand, Grasevina (known as "Welschriesling" in Austria and Germany and one of the most planted grapes in Croatia), which in my mind before had quite bad connotations, suddenly turned to a very pleasant surprise. When it comes to red wines, Plavac Mali is probably the only varietal most people associate with Croatia, and don’t get me wrong, the wines can be amazing (and there were a few of them on the festival), but are very susceptible to flaw. Besides, they were familiar, and I wanted something new. I discovered some outstanding Teran (indigenous Istrian red grape), but as well interesting Pinot Noir (not very frequent in Croatia) and Shiraz. I think it would not be fair to mention specific names, as there were simply too many good ones, each of who deserves a special story.
So I left Zagreb Wine Gourmet Festival with my palate satisfied and still buzzing from all the different aromas, in a deep state of content having discovered all those wonderful new Croatian wines to treasure for the future delights but also recommend to all of my foreign friends coming to visit. When it comes to Croatian wines, bear in mind that the best place to sample them is Croatia itself. They are as wonderful and as diverse as the scenery in Croatia and I can assure you that the sights will follow you whenever you taste the wine again, as every mouthful evokes the territory where it has been made.
Congratulations to the organizers for great job and in a hope for many more of similar events and a more international audience.

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