Indigenous Wine Workshop-Dalmatia’s Modern Tradition
An oxymoron, perhaps, but one that makes sense in the context of both Testament and Black Island wineries. These two wineries are responsible for growing vines and making wines in relatively significant quantities, especially from a Croatian perspective, where there are no truly large wineries.
So how can a tradition be modern? Firstly, if you focus on indigenous varieties, and secondly if you are dedicated to lending the finished wine what is often described as a “local character”.
Now, if you listen to the PR, every other winery does it… “tradition meets modern winemaking” and all that jazz.
Check once… check twice… more often than not, you find that a real balance between tradition and modern technology is actually not achieved that often. And even in those few cases, there’s always the difficult question: will it be recognized for what it is?
The latter was the focus of a recent workshop held at Vinart Grand Tasting, Croatia’s best wine festival, where some as yet unreleased wines were presented. Both Testament and Black Island wineries are already known for their work with indigenous varieties, such as Pošip and Babić: white, red, and even a sparkling rose.
Merga Victa Rose
We started with Merga Victa Rose, a rose’ made from Plavac Mali on Korčula. Roses, and rose hip in particular, clearly announce their presence on the nose, while raspberries and wild strawberries dominate the palate. The visuals are stunning, too: there’s an unreal, almost fluorescent raspberry color. Despite all its head-on intensity, it doesn’t feel artificial at all. The mouthfeel is all about ripe fruit, not about residual sugar. The wine is well balanced with refreshing acidity. Infectious. Crunchy.
This refreshing start was followed by what might have been a bit of a heavy load: a blend of Debit&Maraština. This, however, turned out to be an effortless blend by Testament winery, a playful interplay between two grapes that were once the most widespread white varieties in Dalmatia. Given a couple of minutes to open up in the glass, there’s a saltiness in the aftertaste that comes into focus, leaving a sensation of dryness lingering on the palate. Nowadays, Debit is normally perceived as a wine to be drunk young for its tingling freshness. Maraština, also known as Rukatac further south, is usually a more structured wine that develops with bottle aging. This particular blend, however, shows a serious progression on the palate, building up to ever more balance and depth. Definitely more ambitious than many other modern interpretations of Debit…
Merga Victa Pošip Sur Lie vs Testament Zenit
Pošip, on the other hand, is nowadays the most widespread white variety in Dalmatia. This workshop gave us an opportunity to compare two Sur Lie Pošip wines. Merga Victa Pošip Sur Lie needed some time in the glass to fully take shape. It was grapey and yeasty, with some influence from wood ageing. Next up, along came a beautifully structured Zenit, an aged Pošip from Testament Winery. Vintage 2018. There are dried fruit and herbs, but there is also a tannic feel there. Extraction from fine lees is evident. It tastes yeasty, with bread notes piling up on top of all the spice. If called upon to lighten up the palate, Zenit will do a good job with spicy dishes, but it is also structured enough to handle heavier dishes with ease.
Testament Plavac Mali
There can be no doubt that Plavac mali is Dalmatia’s flagship red. A plethora of different styles and expressions exist, but there are always some common-denominator aromas that make it easily recognizable. Sage, carob, figs, dried cherries… As a rule, tannins are expected to be a bit pushy, but can often soften with some wood aging. Acidity, however, is normally on the low side, which, with Plavac Mali, is considered crucial for countering overripeness and achieving a good balance. This is exactly what Testament Plavac Mali does for you. A very appreciable tannic load, has good aromatics, and is very dynamic on the palate. It’s a balanced wine with just the right amount of evenly distributed acidity: a typical, sun-drenched, full-bodied Plavac.
The last new entry was a rare treat indeed: a traditional “Prošek”, from Babić grapes dried on the vines. It’s neither syrupy nor sticky! The concentrated sugars are not in the least heavy, making the wine very easy to drink. It lingers long on the palate, with hints of crushed frozen grapes. Very fresh and fully satisfying.
Sometimes, if you want to do better than the good old ways, you need in-depth knowledge of tradition AND of modern technology. And then, on top of that, you need to have a clear idea of what kind of performance you expect from your wines. Only then, and if everything aligns, even more clarity and character will materialize.
Such is the thoughtful, tradition-inspired winemaking of Testament and Black Island wineries.