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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Wine Tasting in Slavonia

Golden fields of rapeseed flowers dominate the Slavonian countryside in Spring

Last weekend, we paid a visit to Slavonia - the bread and fruit basket of Croatia. (N.B. Slavonia is a region in Croatia, Slovenia is a country to the north of Croatia). It is a region of fertile flat land and rolling hills, covered in vineyards and apple trees, although rapeseed seems to be the main crop in Spring. We were hosted by the Krauthaker winery, reputed to be the best winery in Croatia. 

The picturesque town of Pozega

 Before, visiting the winery proper, we were treated to a sumptuous lunch by our host (whom I shall refer to as the Mystery Man with the Bandaged Thumb) at the hotel Grgin dol in the town of Pozega. The Mayor of Pozega, Prof Vedran Neferovic; the Mayor of Pleternica, a slim attractive woman called Antonija Jozic, and  Ambassador Levchenko from Ukraine and his wife, Inga, joined us for lunch. Rather surprising, as I was expecting the usual salad, bread and cheese one gets at wine tastings.

Old chapel in the midst of a lush garden in Pozega

Lunch at the hotel Grgin dol with the Mayor of Pozega, on the
near right and the Mayor of Pleternica, seated at the far right hand. 

The visit to the Krauthaker winery followed after lunch. The owner, Vlado Krauthaker, was a tall mustacheod man with a dry sense of humour. He has been voted best winemaker in Croatia in 2002 and 2006. Vlado showed us first his modern winery with its enormous stainless steel 'drums.' Each of us were given a wine glass and allowed two sample wine directly from the stainless steel drum. Only about 1/10 of the glass was filled and we took a few sip. If you can't finish your wine, you can pour it into a small flask the winemaker carried around with him. 

Among the guests was the manufacturer of Orljava Shirts, Luka Balenovic. He said to Yean, "I think you must be size 41... I'm quite good at sizing men but women are more difficult..."
Vlado interrupted him, "Are we here to talk about wine or shirts?"
(More laughter)

As we were leaving, Yean commented, "to work in a winery, you either have to be a sommelier or a drunk..."

Inga interjected, "Or a drunk sommelier..."

Levshenko and Yean. Note the massive steel 'casks' to the left...

 Levshenko, Inga, Vlado Krauthaker and Yean
at the wine tasting

From the modern winery, we drove a couple of kilometres to the actual Krauthaker winery, which is located in the beautiful valley of Kutjevo, the main wine producing region of Slavonia. The vineyards of Kutjevo is situated on the southern hills of the Krndija Mountains. It is an ancient wine-growing area, cultivated since Roman times.  Here we were shown a traditional winery, located in a cellar made of red bricks with barrels made of fine Slavonian oak. The elegant building of bricks, cement and wood also housed a showroom on the ground floor with an impressive wine tasting round table plus a restaurant-style dining room upstairs. 

Krautheker's main product is Grasevina - a uniquely Croatian white wine. Grasevina belongs to the Riesling family of wines, made from Welschriesling grapes but is less acidic than Riesling and to me, more appealing. 

Luka and Yean at the wine cellar

We tasted about a dozen varieties of wine (I lost count) but the best was, I thought, Muscat, a deep golden deliciously sweet dessert wine. We also tried Traminac, another type of dessert wine made from raisins not grapes and therefore very very sweet and concentrated! According, Inga Levchenko  (a budding sommelier), Grasevina is going to be the next big news in the world of wine - the toast of wine connoisseurs everywhere...

Among the dry white wines we tried were: Grasevina, Sauvignon, Pinot Sivi, Riesling and Chardonnay. I loved the pale golden Sauvignon (awarded a gold medal in Bordeaux in 2005) and the clear and almost colourless Pinot Sivi (Pinot gris); the Riesling was good too but not as good as Grasevina. The Chardonnay, which was cloudy, I didn't like so much. It seemed a have a bitter aftertaste, but than I'm no connoisseur of wine... Their Mitrovac Chardonnay won the gold medal in the Chardonnay du Monde wine competition in 2002.

The winery also produces Syrah, which I did not try. According to Inga, Croatian red wine is nothing to shout about (this is also the consensus of most of the people I know). She loves Shiraj from Australia and thinks its wonderful, with rich bouquets of blueberries etc

Wine is matured in traditional oak barrels in the cellar...

The vineyard outside the winery in the evening light...

We were expecting to leave the Krauthekar winery at about 6.30 pm and were surprised to be told that Vlado had ordered dinner for the whole group! So the wine tasting was followed by a sumptuous dinner, and another surprise, we were joined by Mr Alojz Tomasevic, the Prefect of Pozega-Slovenia County and Josip Budimir, the 26-year-old Mayor of Kutjevo, who had just been elected the week before... Josip is still a student at the Faculty of Economics, Osijek University.

The wine tasting takes place at a round table... the young man
beside Inga is perhaps the youngest mayor in Croatia,
26 year old Josip Budimir.

Inga Levschenko and Vlado Krauthaker, pouring a glass of wine

We left the Krauthaker winery at almost 9 pm at night and had to drive all the way back to Zagreb, but it was well worth the trip. A toast to Slavonia: Salut! Cheers! Zivjeli!