Amongst the four wine regions of Slavonia & Danube, Central Croatia, Dalmatia and Istria & Kvarner, the latter is perhaps the one which has been most dynamic recently. This is best illustrated by the story of Giorgio Clai. It is now twelve years ago that the native Istrian gave up his restaurant "La Pergola" in Trieste in Italy to start afresh and try his luck as a winegrower in his home village of Krasica. The wines that Giorgio now pours into 20,000 to 25,000 bottles, depending on the year, are certainly "bastanza specifico", rather special, as the 56-year-old explains in Istrian-Venetian dialect.
The self-taught winemaker does almost everything exactly how it is not taught at wine-making school: He works bio-dynamically in the vineyard under strict observation of the phases of the moon, he cares by hand for his six grape varieties which are grown over seven hectares, and all of the grapes ferment spontaneously. Clai even sometimes leaves the white ones to macerate with their skins in wooden barrels over a period of several months.
The result, also to the surprise of the winemaker himself, is very expressive "orange wines". The "Sveti Jakov", for example, made purely from the autochthonous Malvazija Istarska, has an intense aroma of citrus peel, apricots, candied fruits and caramel and noticeable tannins conquer the palate with all their might. The salty, mineral-rich finish lingers in the mouth endlessly. Clai's "Ottocento", a blend made from Malvazija, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris, meets the tongue with a sharp edge with aromas of almond and walnut, a polyphenol structure and great liveliness.
With a mischievous grin, the self-taught winemaker sits on a bench in the shade in front of the house, wife Vesna at his side, takes a good gulp of "Sveti Jakov“ and enjoys the extensive view over the hillside vineyards, olive groves, orchards and limestone villages down to the sea by Novigrad. What is this that can be read on the wall of Giorgio's house? – "Thank God that I was born in Istria!"
For several years now, the focus of the peninsula, which belonged to the Habsburg Empire from 1815 until the end of the First World War, has been on quality tourism with the goal of becoming one of the biggest destinations for connoisseurs in Europe with access to the sea. More and more lovers of gourmet products are discovering the enticing back country along the coast with artists' villages such as Grožnjan and Zavrsja, the little town of Motovun, the truffle centre Livade or Momjan and Buje. A "culinary triangle" has developed in the north-west of Istria which also includes the Konoba Stari Podrum ("Old Cellar") where chef Mira Zrnić generously grates truffles from the valley over the home-made "Fuži" pasta. This is accompanied by air-dried ham ("Pršut"), scrambled eggs with wild asparagus and freshly grilled mushrooms, served with great warmth by her charming daughters Ingrid Franceschini and Marinka Zrnić.