We spent Sunday afternoon sipping wine with a group of winemakers from Bosnia and Herzegovina. That sounds pretty random, I know, but the invitation didn’t come entirely out of the blue — it came from Blue Danube Wine Company. Let the wine adventure begin.
Blue Danube Wine Company
Blue Danube Wine Company was founded by Frank Dietrich and Zsuzsanna Molnar to bring the wines of Eastern Europe to the U.S. During frequent trips to Eastern Europe the couple enjoyed many wonderful wines, but found the wines were unavailable at home. Blue Danube Wines became the solution to the problem and the current portfolio includes wine from Austria, Bosnia Herzegovina, Croatia, Georgia, Hungary, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia and Turkey.
This adventure was set in motion by my Instagram post last week of a wine and food pairing we enjoyed a few days earlier. The wine, 2015 Brkić Greda Žilavka, is made by Josip Brkić and his family in Čitluk, Bosnia and Herzegovina. This wine is imported by Blue Danube Wine, who commented on the post with an invitation to attend a reception for a group of winemakers from Bosnia Herzegovina.
It was all very last minute, but we knew we wanted to attend. We booked a hotel room, braved Sunday afternoon traffic into the Bay Area and planned to take Lyft to Frank and Zsuzsa’s home and back to the hotel. Check, check and check.
We arrived to a warm welcome from Frank and Zsuzsa (and Thea Dwell who is everywhere!) We were quickly handed wine glasses, introduced to Pasko Brkić, son of Josip Brkić, whose family owns Brkić Winery. Brkić winery is located in Čitluk near Mostar. In no time I was sipping the second delicious Brkić wine in a week or so. I couldn’t believe it.
That wine, 2015 Brkić Mjesečar (moon walker), is named for the moon cycles that play an important role in the Biodynamic viticulture and winemaking employed in its production. Brkić is the only winery in Bosnia Herzegovina making Biodynamic wines.
This 100% Žilavka (Gee-lavka) is bright and fresh with flavors of pears and minerals and nice body. It is made by fermenting individual grapes in Bosnian oak barrels for about 9 months. After 3 months the grapes are stirred and by 9 months about half the volume is wine, half is grapes. The wine is transferred using gravity flow only. I couldn’t have guessed this is a skin-contact wine.
Next Pasko poured his family’s Brkić 2017 Čitlučka Žilavka. This is a Žilavka made “in a modern way”, as Pasko put it, meaning it is made in stainless steel. It is a bit lighter in body and very flavorful with generous stone fruit, melon and hints of pineapple. All of these flavors are kept light by juicy acidity.
The final Brkić wine we tasted was the 2015 Brkić Plava Greda. It is made with 100% Blatina (Blah-tina), also a variety indigenous to Bosnia Herzegovina. This interesting red wine stole my heart with it’s light, savory, red fruit style. It is complex but not weighty.
All of the Brkić wines are charming. All fermentations begin spontaneously with indigenous yeasts. They have a focus and purity of flavor that stands out. And, the alcohol levels are all under 13.5%. A perfect combination.
Throughout the afternoon we tasted several versions of Žilavka, which is referred to as the most authentic variety of Bosnia Herzegovina by the winemakers, and it is made throughout the region. Blatina is the major red grape variety indigenous to the region along with some Vranac (Vra-nitz) closer to Montenegro.
Bojan Anđelić makes wine at his family’s Anđelić Winery in Trebinje (Tre-bin-ya). Trebinje sits near the southern tip of Bosnia Herzegovina that extends between Croatia on the coast and Montenegro inland.
He characterizes the weather as very warm in summer (95º F or so) and mostly dry. Winters are cold, but without snow. In general there is no threat of spring frost in Trebinje (a slight threat does exist in Čitluk).
There is ample water for irrigation, but only young vines are irrigated. Occasional summer rains make irrigation largely unnecessary. This year the grape harvest is expected to begin a bit early, in mid-August, and last through mid-September.
Bojan explained that the major difference between winemaking in Trebinje and Čitluk is the red grape variety Vranac, which is more common in Trebinje than Čitluk. Vranac is a variety from Montenegro that holds its acidity in warm temperatures. Because Trebinje is so close to to Montenegro it is the predominant red grape variety he uses in winemaking.
In the past couple of years Bojan planted Žilavka and Vranac that is being farmed organically. “This is my focus now,” he told us.
We tasted 2016 Anđelić Žilavka made in all stainless steel. It is fruit-forward with flavors of stone fruit and citrus. There is a similarity of flavor among all of the stainless steel fermented Žilavka wines we tasted.
The 2011 Anđelić Vranac we tasted has lots of red and dark fruit flavors with interesting savory notes and well-integrated tannins. The flavors are still very youthful and this is a delicious red wine on its own or with a meal. Bojan doesn’t make this 100% Vranac every year, only when the grapes achieve proper flavor and acidity. His Andelić Tribun has a bit of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot blended with the Vranac.
Miro Ćorić from Andrija Winery described the difference between Bosnia Herzegovina’s two major grapes very eloquently, “Žilavka is for smiles, Blatina is for love.” He described the land around Čitluk, where his family’s winery is located, is extremely rocky. Stones must be removed in order to plant vines. His family’s winery is the oldest in region, it was established in 1954, and exports to about 14 countries.
We tasted two Žilavkas, the first was blended with another white indigenous variety (and bottled for the Soccer World Cup) and the second was 100% Žilavka. Both exhibited the now familiar flavors of stone fruit, melons and citrusy acidity.
We enjoyed a taste of 2015 Andrija Winery Blatina that was dark, complex and delicious.
I hope if you see wines from Bosnia Herzegovina in a wine shop or on a restaurant wine list you will try them. Žilavka may be difficult to say, but it is easy to drink. Call it the Z wine if you need to, just give it a try. Blatina and Vranac are flavorful and easy to drink on their own or with a meal. One of the things I appreciate most about these wines, and the red wines in particular, is that they are complex, savory and delicious but with very modest alcohol levels.
Another source for wines from the region is the Blue Danube Wine website. Give their wine list a look and consider taking a wine adventure for yourself.
Thank you to Frank and Zsuzsa for setting our wine adventure in motion.
One more thing I learned from this dedicated group of winemakers: živjeli (gee-voli) … Cheers!