Istrian merlot from Moreno Coronica
Croatia and its wines seem to be on my radar lately. It all started late last year right before I went to Argentina. I was given a sample of two to try and although I wasn’t able to try them until 3 months later, I thought, hmmm, interesting and not bad at all. Forward to a week and a half ago and I’m visiting a friend in a small spa town near Padua tweeting about hanging out and wondering out loud what wine I would find here.
A tweet from @pc_wines tells me I should come to Istria as I’m very close. How close? About 1.5 hrs by train close. So off to the train station to buy a ticket to Trieste from which the wonderful folks of Pacta Connect Wines (Trevor and Judith) would pick me up and drive the last 30 minutes to Umag, their base in Istria.
Trevor and Judith are huge fans of Croatian wines, having come across the wines of the region over 6 years ago, they were smitten and ever since then have been scouting out the best wines of the region and importing them to the UK. They’re not interested in cheap or mass produced wine, they’re looking for quality wines from producers who care about their wines and which are hopefully good value for money.
They like to work with small producers and one of the first ones we visited was Moreno Coronica. We drove out to visit his vineyards in the village of Koreniki, his family have been in the area so long that they even have their very own village. I later found out that that is quite common but still, you’re own village! Istria was part of the Venetian empire until the early 19th century and between the world wars, Istria was considered part of Italy which explains why Moreno’s 84 yr old father prefers to speak Italian.
The area around the winery was a hive of construction. Moreno is busy building a brand new winery and workmen were all about. Although he uses modern winemaking techniques and equipment, he is expanding production and building a new tasting room. Moreno decided we should visit the vines first and see where his wine comes from. The very first thing I noticed as we drove up was the red colour of the soil. The land of Istria is famous for it’s red soils which give it’s wines their distinct mineral notes and mixed up in the soil are limestone rocks of various sizes embedded with ancient sea fossils, worth noting for the character that this type of soil can give a wine. The vineyard was situated in a natural amphitheatre and the vines planted in various directions for optimal growth.
Moreno picked up a chunk and rapped it with is knuckles, “See, soil and clay”, he said, “very good for the vines”, the mixture providing good irrigation for the vines. We were looking at his merlot plants which were already growing vigourously. I asked him if he did any pruning now but he said that he preferred to wait later in the season. Despite the fact that it was mid April, the field was in full vine. We drove around to visit the indigenous vines that he also grows and there was a marked difference. The malvasia (white) and teran (red) vines were just beginning to bud.
Although Moreno his building his reputation on malvasia, many think his malvasia is one of the best in Istria, I was struck by his merlot. Moreno gave me a bottle of his 2007 merlot to take back to Italy and I opened it once I got back to my friend’s house. The reds of Istria have a reputation for being overly oaked and this was no exception. The first thing that hit me were strong notes of jammy fruit, vanilla and oak. I thought this was a bit odd as Moreno had remarked that his whole philosophy regarding using oak was to use it to enhance the wine, “when you remove the wine from the oak barrel, the oak should smell of wine not the other way around…” So why was the oak so predominate? Since the wine was a few years old, I decided to decant it while we were cooking dinner. After about 45 mins the wine had changed substantially, now there were spicy, subtle red and black fruit aromas and flavours, a good does of rocky notes, beautiful structure and rounded tannins, all the vanilla and jam had disappeared, it had turned into a well balanced wine with good acidity and was excellent with the steamed mussels we were eating. What a difference decanting makes.
A lovely memento of my trip to Istria and something to look forward to in the future. Croatian wines are definitely up and coming, pick one up if you can.