Day of the Open Vineyards – Istria 2016

By 1 June 2016

The last Sunday in May is a great time to be in Istria, as TCN's Peter Ellis discovered on May 29, 2016. 

May is a great month for wine lovers in Istria. After the VINISTRA wine fair, the last Sunday in May is always the Day of the Open Vineyards, when around seventy of Istria's winemakers throw open their doors and welcome allcomers.

They offer free tastings and often food and it is a major sales opportunity for them. You don't have to buy and no-one pressures you to do so, but for many visitors it is an ideal opportunity to stock up on wine for the year. It is a pity that it is not better publicised by the authorities, as the winemakers go to a lot of effort to make visitors welcome. The list of participating vineyards only appears a few days before the event.

The vast majority of people going to the wineries have been before and look forward to it every year. Naturally, they visit their favourite vineards, but also take the opportunity to try others that they haven't tried before.

This year, I did it with two American friends, who live here permanently, one of whom took on the responsibilty of driving. We planned it carefully, starting with the furthest ones and working our way back towards home, winery by winery.

Our first was Fiore, on the South side of Savudria. Whilst not one of the better known wineries, they are producing some excellent wines, particularly their Merlot, that won a Gold Medal at Vinistra, as well as a good Malvazia. Although they have only been producing wines themselves for four years, they have been major growers who had been growing grapes specifically for other people for many years. Even now, they still sell large quantities of grapes to people like Agrolaguna, whose rigorous checking throughout the growing process ensures consistent quality.

We were received by the incomparable Lili, who quickly made us feel at home with a plate of snacks, including prsut wrapped grissini, cheeses and mortadella.We started with the refreshing sparkling Malvazia 'Campo', before moving on to the still 2015 Malvazia Istarsko, then the award winning, lovely soft Merlot. We finished with the Merlotino,their Merlot based liquer, which Lili told us is great poured over ice cream !

Cuj was not far away, so we made that our second stop. Cuj are known for their Teran, Malvazia and olive oil, all of which are good and which we enjoyed with a variety of home made pates and cakes, whilst sat on their pretty terrace. Their 2013 BarriqueTeran is sixteen months in oak barrels.

Capo was our third stop, in the village of Fernetici, near Brtonigla. Capo does a variety of interesting wines and we tried all of them. We started with their sparkling Pinot Grigio/Pinot Noir/Malvazia cuvee. They favour star signs for their names and our next wine was their Virgo Malvazia, which had a very pleasant 'nose'. We followed it with their Pinot Grigio Rose, then their Barrique 2010 Sauvignon Blanc, which was another with a nice nose. Their Barrique 2009 Chardonnay didn't disappoint either, and nor did their 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc cuvee. We finished with their 2010 Cabernet Franc.

Practically next door, in the same village, we moved on to the little family winery of Novacco and admired their beautiful labels. The labels back up some excellent wines. Their Muskat Zuti 2015 had won them a gold medal the week before and their 2014 Sauvignon Blanc Rose a silver.

We then made our way to Vina Fakin, at Batalj, near Motovun, where the hospitality was particularly generous. As if his nine gold medal winning Terans, Malvasias and Muskat Zuti were not enough, Marko had pulled the crew in from his Motovun restaurant and we were presented with a delicious plate of pork filet with black truffles, wild boar with njoki and salad, all beautifully presented. It was certainly a good recommendation for his restaurant ! We met up here with some tourists from Seattle, who had come across the winery by accident and were amazed by the hospitality. Brought up on the usual tourist stuff about Rovinj, where they were staying and Dubrovnik, they were astonished at how wonderful inland Istria was.