I have a soft spot for Slavic wines. My surname is Bohemian (which most people think is just a term for hippies and artists that lived in Paris circa 1900.) No, actually they are considered “West” Slavs and have been around for centuries. The Bohemian Kingdom began in 1189, under the umbrella of the Holy Roman Empire, and has been part of most European political empires ever since. But wine? What kind of “cultura del vino” do the Slavs have and why should anyone care?
Well, it is really just simple geography and a lesson in the flexibility of our current and past geo-political borders. You see, most of our current 2011 map used to look very different 15, 20, 40, 100, 125 years ago. National borders like river banks always seem to change year to year. The current border between the Czech Republic and Austria used to not exist, as is the case of the border between Italy and Austria or Italy and Slovenia. These borders have shifted multiple times, sometimes even within generations.
So, what about the vines? Well, they just stayed right there. Vines are not political. They only care about soil composition, water, sunlight, and who is tending to them. National borders? To the vines this is meaningless. Some of the most exciting wines these days are coming from former CSS, Soviet, Eastern Bloc, Communist (or whatever you wish to call them) states. I’m talking about wines from Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Georgia, Hungary, Moldova, Romania, Russia, Slovenia, Slovakia, and Ukraine. Yes, for centuries these areas have been making wines, and in recent years, places like Croatia, Georgia, and Slovenia have blasted on the wine scene with some stand out wines made from traditional grapes such as Crljenak Kaštelanski, Rkatsiteli, and Refosco grapes.
I visit the winebusiness.com wine news aggregate every day. Reading and researching all of the current wine news that is out there. I remember seeing an article by the Palate Press that was titled “Re-Unifying a Wine Region That Now Spans Three Countries.” I remember thinking that I should read this, as it must have something to do with these borderless wines. Indeed it did. It wasn’t until about a month later, while posting on the Terroirists wine blog, did I notice a comment by someone named Wayne Young. Normally, there are only about 3 other people besides me that post on this blog (wine blogs have so far to go), so this name stuck out. The name had a website attached to it, so I clicked on it and it brought me to the Bastianich blog. Well, I knew that they were the winery that launched the “Adriatico” brand, so I posted a comment to Wayne’s comment asking what his thoughts were on the wines. He was very excited that I heard of the new wines and emailed me privately. Wine is a Conduit.
The “Adriatico” lineup of wines is the inventive and historically accurate creation of the Bastianich winery. This new line up of white wines paid homage to indigenous grape varieties grown in Friuli (Italy), Goriška Brda (Slovenia), and the Istrian Peninsula (Croatia). So, who in their right mind would create a wine brand around three obscure white grape varietals from a mystical place called “Adriatico?” These are not household names. So, what is it really about? This brand is certainly about sharing amazing wines, but they aim bigger than just that. It’s more about breaking down misconceptions about whole wine regions, about varieties, about unknown winemakers. Most importantly, they aim to create a ‘real’ place while simultaneously destroying invisible boundaries that limit our choices and pleasures. For the Bastianich family, it is about being proper stewards to the total wine region that unifies the commonalities of these three wine cultures and peoples.
Well, first, let me just say how much I respect this endeavor. For me, the “Adriatico” line is such an important gift to the wine world, and we have the Bastianich family to thank for this. Here we have in one brand the three most important white wine varieties of the three most important wine regions along the Adriatic Sea:
Tocai Friuliano (Italy), Ribolla (Slovenia), and Malvasia (Croatia)…all under one brand, united as they were centuries ago.
I received these samples right before Christmas (thanks Santa Wayne) and I’ve let them rest in my wine cellar undisturbed. Knowing that the wines had arrived in the USA in November then shipped across the country in December, I had a feeling that they would be a bit travel shocked. So, after enough rest, I just had to open these Christmas presents and try them out. I knew that I needed to pay my own homage to the Bastianich family and Wayne for these wines, so I invited a few close friends of mine over for dinner. To accomplish this feat, I had to make a dish that would compliment all the wines and feed 4 hungry people. To go with the Bastianich wines, we must have a Bastianich recipe! It was my first attempt at making Lidia Bastianich’s Vermicelli with Clam Sauce and it went over very well and complimented the wines beautifully. My friend Jesse brought over some fatty and briny Hama Hama Oysters (delicious) to pair with as well.
The wines showed beautifully, the Tocai had amazing acidity and a freshness that really held up to the extra pinch of red pepper flakes that I put in the pasta (it was a cold and rainy day). The Ribolla has a generous mouth feel and great citrus zest combined with a briny minerality that really elevated the clams and the oysters on the half shell. The Malvasia was probably my favorite, only because I could not stop smelling it. Hands down, it had the most complex aromatics, very floral, very delicate. I remember all of us commenting at one point or another about it during the evening, so I curiously looked up what day it was on the biodynamic calendar and sure enough it was a flower day. Damn, Wine is a Conduit. All in all, we were left fat and happy, my friends and I were honored to have had the opportunity to try the wines and expand our own palates. Most importantly, it was the wines that brought us together, people with different backgrounds, and different histories, all united for one meal under one banner, “Adriatico”.
I strongly suggest that you go out and find these wines, buy all three, open them up together with friends and family and share in the exploration of this historically rich wine region. You too can become a citizen of “Adriatico.”