Regional profile: Istria

This heart-shaped, northwest corner of Croatia has been billed as the ‘New Tuscany’ and is home to a diverse range of exciting wines. But will they find their place on the world stage? Simon Woolf reports

Six Istrian wine producers to watch

Istria: know your vintages

  • 2013: Good potential, but inconsistent. Very mixed autumn weather, requiring difficult decisions about when to harvest. Likely to be better for whites.
  • 2012: Very hot and dry. Malvazijas are ripe but lacking character. Vintage required considerable expertise to achieve good results.
  • 2011: Good, consistent vintage, with some excellent reds and full-bodied Malvazijas.
  • 2010: Poor, rainy year. Still some good wines from top producers, but in general avoid the reds.
  • 2009: Outstanding, long-lived wines (whites and reds). Superlative Teran.

Six producers to watch

Geržinić
This tiny, up-and-coming estate is run by brothers Marko and Marino Geržini´c, two of the youngest, hardest-working producers in the region. Their purist winemaking focuses on vintage and terroir expression: their varietal Teran is a superb and typical rendition of the variety, which spurns the new oak many other producers use to soften the edges.

Giorgio Clai
Master and maverick in equal measure, Clai returned to his native Istria after a career as a restaurateur in Trieste and 20 years of ‘making wine as a hobby’. His fiercely individual wines are made in a traditional, non-interventionist way. Clai’s skin-contact whites are one of the pinnacles of the ‘orange wine’ style – few European winemakers have managed to achieve this level of finesse, balance and pure drinkability.

Piquentum
Half-French, half-Croatian Dimitri Brečević returned to his fatherland in 2002, bringing winemaking experience from both Old and New Worlds (Domaine de Chevalier is notable on his CV). His characterful expressions of Malvazija, Refošk and Teran are produced with a very light hand. Brečević cares deeply about terroir: ‘We still have a lot of work to do to understand Istria’s complex soils and varieties.’ The winery is famously unique, situated in a disused military bunker that officially ‘doesn’t exist’.

Cattunar
The largest family-run winery in the region – quality is high and still improving. Franco Cattunar’s 45ha of vineyards encompass the whole range of Istria’s soil types, and the portfolio includes individual bottlings of Malvazija from grey, black, white and red soils. Other highlights include the dry, late-harvest Malvazija Collina, Teran Barrique and Muškat Ruza.

Kozlović
Gianfranco Kozlović almost singlehandedly put Malvazija Istarka back on the map as a quality wine variety, and his unoaked Malvazija remains a textbook example. The Kozlovićs have not stood still, and in 2011 built an impressive modern winery that is becoming a tourist attraction in its own right. The estate now includes a parcel of vines in the prestigious Santa Lucia ‘cru’ and its output is complex, elegant and extremely ageworthy.

Benvenuti
A small, long-established estate situated in the inordinately pretty mountain village of Kaldir, looking over the valley to Motovun. Brothers Alfred and Nikola could rest their laurels on their superb Malvazija and Teran, but the sweet wines produced from Muškat Momjanski and Malvazija are the icing.

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