9 am Monday morning, a few sleepy but smiley faces- we were all still digesting what was an incredible marathon of superb Slovenian food and even better wines. We all had a different favourite Simcic wine from the last night that underlines the sheer quality that runs throughout his range. Joao was impressed with the Opoka Sauvignon, Isa with that ultimate sweetie Leonardo, Colin and Neil could not resist Opoka Merlot, David was drawn in between red and white Teodor and Igor found Chardonnay Selection irresistible. Still we were unanimous that there is no compromise in the quality of Marjan's organic and biodynamic wines. Marjan's unparalleled passion coupled with the great potential of his Collio/Brda terroir help to produce really exceptional wines.
A few double espressos later we were on our way to the neighbouring Istrian Peninsula to visit Croatian star winemaker Ivica Matosevic. Not completely intentionally (we missed the right turn!), our journey lead us through the swathes of unspoilt forests and hills of Slovenia and Croatia. These are the famous hunting grounds full of pheasants, wild boars and deer. Istria is also famous for truffles and if we add oysters and fresh fish from the Adriatic, it is no wonder that this area is fast becoming one of the gastronomic hot spots of Europe.
Finally, we arrived to our destination. The Matosevic Cellars are based in the village of Krunčići, in the heart of the Istrian peninsula and yet just a short distance from the coast of Limski Bay. The grapes come from two different locations - Bujštine in the north-west of Istria and from the village of Grimalda, where the grapes are grown for Matosevic's white and red blends that are named after the village. Ivica, who is currently the president of the local winemakers association, is very scientific in his approach to winemaking. The Istrian white speciality is Malvasia Istriana and the majority of Matosevic’s cuvees are very different expressions of this wonderful grape.
Still we started with a most welcomed glass of sparkling Chardonnay (temperature was 33°C) to accompany a superb selection of fresh oysters picked that morning from the Adriatic Sea. Ivica introduced us to the local oyster master Emil Stosic who skilfully explained the difference between all the spices on offer and gave us an engaging talk on their natural habitat. Here we were also joined by the charming Duilio Balic from the local champion olive oil producer Oleum Viride. During lunch he gave us a master class on the sublime selection of his extra virgin olive oils.
At lunch we finally had the opportunity to taste some of Matosevic’s superb wines that perfectly matched the local Istrian cuisine. Our sommeliers had the opportunity to come up with the matches. Guest chef in the Matosevic kitchen was legendary local chef Pino Kuhar from the village of Kuhari. His name translated means Pino Chef from the village of Chefs! How reassuring.
We started with the fresh, unoaked Malvasia Alba 2011 – a fragrant aperitif with white flower fragrance that went well with our first course - fresh Minestrone soup made with vegetables from the Matosevic garden.
Our next course - beef cheeks boiled in sea water, served with lightly cooked green cabbage and cauliflower called locally "obrazine i koromac" were served with the Malvazia Robinija 2008. This was so delicious and melted in our mouths – it complimented the creamy texture and wood notes coming from the Robinia. This cuvee is aged for 12 months in local Acacia oak and the extra weight from time spent in this aromatic oak with sweet spice complemented the beef really well.
A selection of cheese was next, complemented by Grimalda red 2012. This is a blend of 85% Merlot and 15% of the local grape Teran. Yields are small, limited to 1kg per plant that is evident in the high concentration, finely balanced by freshness and a measured influence of French oak. At this point in the day, it was time to take a break from the food and visit Matosevic Cellars.
It was obvious that Matosevic’s scientific approach is based on the use of modern winemaking techniques combined with the best traditional methods and use of local materials. Fermentation usually takes place in steel at low temperatures in order to preserve the gentle fragrances and primary fruit flavours. There were a number of local Acacia and French Oak barrels in the cellars but we found out that he also matures many of his cuvees in steel after some months in oak. As a result, Matosevic’s wines appear well measured and display aromatic as well as secondary complexity.
Finally we finish our visit with tasting a selection of other Matosevic cuvees and some mature vintages. Aura Chardonnay 2011 displays fresh stony fruit character. Malvasia Barrique 2009 is a complex, creamy textured wine benefiting from 12 months in French Allier oak. Long and developed, it was the perfect complement for the remains of the mature goat cheese. Next up, the White Grimalda 2008. This is a blend of 50% Chardonnay, 25% Sauvignon Blanc and 25% Malvasia Istriana and is aged for 12 months in Allier and up to a further 24 months in stainless steel and bottle. This is certainly a long runner with plenty of life ahead but is already showing all the complexity and development gained from 4 years of ageing. A really vibrant and serious wine.
Our next wine was probably the pick of the bunch: Malvasia Antiqua 2008. This cuvee is made only in the best years from a selection of the oldest grapes. It spends 30 months in a combination of French oak and Acacia wood. It is the most traditional of Matosevic’s cuvees, exhibiting superb yet not overwhelming weight, elegant perfumed fruit coated in sweet spices and lifted with great acidity. Superb!
Lastly, we were delighted to taste some mature wines that proved that all the wines we had already tasted have a long life ahead and would develop further complexity without losing that wonderful original life-giving freshness. Millennium Anima 2000, Barrique 2006 and Robinia 2004 proved just that.
Sadly at this point we needed to leave and after a few coffees, we were on our way. Of course it is wrong to judge an entire winemaking region simply by looking at the very best winemakers. However, if we were to judge the regions by Simcic and Matosevic standards, the Brda and Istria regions have a great future and can happily compete with the very best.
Written by Neb Gusic, Director