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Istria is a heart shaped peninsula located at the top of the Adriatic Sea. It changed hands many times throughout its history, belonging to the Venetians, Austrian Empire, Italy, and Yugoslavia. Today, most of the peninsula is within the borders of Croatia. Traveling through the peninsula, it is hard to ignore the Italian influence, especially in western Istria. Medieval hill-top towns and rolling villages support Istria’s “The New Tuscany” moniker. The local producers are doing everything they can to push Istrian wines to the forefront of Croatia’s quality revolution.
Istrian Red Wine Grapes
Viticulture has always been important in this land, regardless of who controlled it in the past. Malvazija is the main grape here and it’s easy to find fresh and fruity bottlings of this white grape. The red grapes grown include Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Teran (Terrano), Refošk (Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso), and Borgonja (Blaufränkisch). *Teran is a grape that Istria claims to be its own, it is part of the Refosco family. It also grows in neighboring Italy where it is known as Terrano. When made into wine, the grape gives off wonderful red berry and blood iron flavors. The only problem is the searingly high acidity that the grape possesses, making varietal wines that rip off tooth enamel. Producers are getting better working with the grape. Many winemakers experiment with dropping grapes and later picking times. Today, varietal Istrian wines made with Teran can be excellent. Refošk is known in nearby Friuli-Venezia Giulia as Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso. It is known for making tart and fruity wines. We have tasted some serious examples in both Italy and Croatia that have black pepper and leather notes, almost like Syrah from The Rhône. Borgonja is actually Blaufränkisch which is native to nearby Austria. In Istria, it’s often blended and very rarely seen as a varietal wine. Refosco (cousin of the Teran grape) has high acidity as well but makes dense and delicious wines when handled right.
Super Istrian Wine
Winemakers have started blending their local grapes with the ubiquitous Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The Teran and Refošk can add acidity, while Borgonja adds spice these red wine blends. These Istrian wines can be unique, yet strangely familiar to wine lovers with experienced palates.
- Domaine Koquelicot Nomad 2013
A French man and an Istrian woman make up the husband-wife team of Domaine Koquelicot. Their white wines and sparklers are taking the local wine scene by storm. This is their only red wine, a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Teran aged in 300 L French oak for two years. Wonderful nose of meat, blood, red berries, and toast. This is juicy and red fruit driven on a medium-bodied frame. This needs more time in the bottle for the oak to integrate but the fruit, acidity, and tannins are very good.