Sunday, 29 July 2012

Sommelier Trip to Slovenia and Croatia, by Neil McAndrew

Slovenia and Croatia in 36 hours was always going to be a tall order but we are all ready to go and looking forward to an incredible trip. We are taking a group of clients to see Marjan Simcic and Matosevic in Croatia. The group includes myself and Neb, Isa Bal (Head Sommelier, Fat Duck), Joao Pires (Head Sommelier, Dinner by Heston Blumenthal), Jacques Savary De Beauregard  (Head Sommelier, Home House), Colin Manning (Owner, 60 Hope Street Liverpool), Igor Sotric (Head Sommelier, China Tang at Dorchester) and David Seccombe (General Manager, Christopher’s Covent Garden). 

We get into Trieste and within 20 minutes we are already into the beautiful Goriska (collio) Brda (hill) region. Collio claims all the plaudits internationally but the Slovenian side of the border boasts a much more individual terrain with more hills and more specific micro climate.

We enjoy a glass of Ribolla and a selection of stunning starters at the funky Hotel Gredic before heading off to lunch where we taste Marjan Simcic's classic range including Sauvignonasse (tocai frulianio) and Pinot Grigio. We know all about Marjan but tasting the wines in situ only adds to the obvious quality and individuality of the wines. Lunch finishes and we leave to explore the countryside. Steep meandering roads lead to a lookout tower, from which you can view everything within 20-30km - from the Alps to the coast.  

Marjan is the 5th generation of the Simcic family who have been making wine in Ceglo since 1860. He grows a wide range of grape varieties including: Pinot Grigio, Tocai fruliano, Ribolla, Merlot, Pinot noir, Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. Is there anywhere else in the world where you have such a diverse range of varietals within an 18 hectare area (6 hectares are in Italy, the rest in Slovenia)?

The most striking component is Marjan-a cross between two other Bancroft stalwarts, the late Didier Dagueneau and Yves Gras from Santa Duc but with ten times the passion! His wines are a true expression of his character, complex, taught and edgy with purity that sets him apart from everyone in the Collio let alone Slovenia. He believes in complete ripeness of his grapes - from the skins to the fruit & the pips, and doesn’t compromise at any stage.

Dinner was not served until after 11.30pm and went on until 4.30am, but proved to be truly memorable. The food was exceptional from succulent pig cheek to quail and ginger but the real star was the endless stream of old vintages including 1996 Merlot Opoka and the first vintage 1997 of his cult dessert wine Leonardo - named after Marjan's son who is a budding footballer and  has eyes on a contract with Milan one day! The wine recently won Gold and the overall Critic’s Choice award in the 2012 Sommelier Wine Awards. We are huge fans of this wine and no words can describe it – you just have to taste a bottle!

It’s a privilege to spend time with a top winemaker in complete control, his passion is bordering on manic but his wines sing in complete harmony. The value for money is unbeatable and his Pinot Noir compares to the finest Burgundy’s but is great value too. The unique 'opoka' soil adds another dimension. Check out his website for more details.

4 hours sleep tonight and off to Croatia to see Matosavic in the morning!

Written by Neil McAndrew, Managing Director

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