Friday, September 28, 2012

Out Of The Blue Wine Tasting: Blue Danube Wine Company


The wines of Slovenia and Croatia don't get a lot of exposure except to certified wine geeks who seek out these gems.  Blue Danube Wine Company specializes in importing wines from eastern and central Europe from their base in northern California.  We are all richer that they do.

The Out of the Blue tasting event was held on September 17, 2012 at Los Angeles wine bar Bacaro.  I'm ashamed to say I had never explored the place before, but the discovery is a good one.  The small, rustic interior has chalkboard wine menus featuring small-production wines from all over the world.  They even carry some of the hard-to-pronounce items imported by Blue Danube.  They also have a great kitchen, and I'll mention the food after we cover the wines that were poured at the event.

Frank Dietrich and Michael Newsome were pouring as fast as they could to a small, but appreciative crowd that seemed quite knowledegable about the wines.  I seemed to be one of the few who stumbled over the names of the wines and wineries.

Dietrich told me that "Slovenians like their white wines aromatic."  "Aromatic" and "floral" kept popping up in my tasting notes so much I was beginning to feel I had a tired palate that day.  There were plenty of "nutty" flavors on hand, too - sometimes going hand in hand with the floral aspect.  Grapes like Yellow Muscat and Malvasia are used quite a bit in the whites, but we also see a lot of Ravan (formerly Tocai Friulano,) Rebula (known as Ribollo in Italian,) Pinela and Pinot Gris.  Chardonnay and Riesling also turn up from time to time.  It's worth noting, there were only a handful of wines poured which sold for more than $20 per bottle.

We started with a couple of nice sparkling wines produced by Kogl, in Eastern Slovenia.  One was made using Riesling, Yellow Muscat, Chardonnay and Furmint grapes, while the other was all Pinot Noir.  Both were toasty, and the latter showed a darker fruit flavor.

The western part of Slovenia was represented by Kabaj and Batic, which poured whites that are largely nutty tasting and reds that are lean, acidic and slightly tart.  I don't know if it has been tried, but cold-climate producers in the U.S. should get some cuttings.  My favorite Slovenian white was the Batic 2008 Pinela, a funky and complex wine showing straw and guava flavors.  I was wowed by the Kabal '08 Merlot - smokey and tart on the nose with great dark fruit and acidity on the palate.  Dietrich says, "it's still very young."  The Batic '09 Cabernet Franc is showing beautifully, with red fruit and an herbal note.  It is quite expressive.

Croatia is crazy about Malvasia.  Examples from Coronica, Terzolo and Piquentum exhibited savory tendencies that are irresistible.  As for the Croatian reds, Stoka's '09 Teran provided a hard edge for the raspberry fruit.  Dingac Winery puts the minerals up front in their '10 Peljesac and throws in some spice for their '08 Postup, a single-vineyard Plavic Mali wine from high up on a hillside.

Milos scores with their '08 Plavac and '05 Stagnum, two reds with great acidity and an amazingly light touch with the fruit.  Both are extremely focused wines.

Tastes of tapas were served by the crew at Bacaro LA.  A crostini with salmon and red onion on a spead of parsley cream cheese was a hit, and so was the one with blue cheese, apple and pepper sauce.  A panini of mozzarella and rosemary honey was reordered quickly, while a morsel featuring eggplant, sea salt and basil also had many fans.

Danny was the guy in charge, and he told me they had been open there - just south of the Santa Monica Freeway near downtown Los Angeles - for about five years.  He says Bacaro has a full house nearly every night, with grad students and profs from USC joined by locals and folks from as far away as Santa Monica.  Their small plates menu is delicious, and their wines keep things interesting.  Danny says that's why the wines imported by Blue Danube are such a good fit there.  They complement the food in taste as well as spirit.


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