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Balkan Heritage

Charles W. Borden

We were invited to Guilly’s Restaurant (aka steakhouse) by its new owner, Daniel Stanic, an Austrian-Croatian expat who has updated Guilly’s menu and also added Croatian and Slovenian wines to the list. The wines of these countries are experiencing a post-Yugoslavic renaissance, with a number of new investments being made in this ancient wine region. Slovenia is adjacent to and Croatia just across the northern Adriatic from Italy’s Friulia region, known for its crisp white wines; so it is not surprising that whites should dominate Slovenia and Croatia as well.

Miljenko (Mike) Grich

This region’s grape heritage is strong and lovers of California’s Zinfandel have Croatia to thank for this grape. Recent DNA studies solved the mystery of Zinfandel’s origin by tracing it to the Crljenak grape, apparently brought to North America from the Austrian Imperial Collection by a New York nurseryman. Another Croatian contribution to California wine history has been legendary Napa Valley winemaker Miljenko (Mike) Grgich (Grgich Hills), who in 1976 shocked the wine world when his Chateau Montelena Chardonnay 1973 was selected best in the world in a Paris blind tasting. In the ‘90s, Grgich returned to Croatia’s Peljesac peninsula north of Dubrovnik to produce red and white wines.

For our Balkan foray, our panel members had no trouble finding Guilly’s; for it was one of Moscow’s first quality restaurants. On the surface, Guilly’s is the same warm, subterranean haunt that it was even in its days as a private club in Soviet times, with wall and ceiling in its garderobe area papered with expat and local business cards. There are still five steak selections on the menu,but Stanic has decided to re-position Guilly’s as a restaurant, “we have hundreds of items on the menu but just five steak items; we can’t call ourselves a steakhouse,” he states. He has added some new items that reflect his roots, including a Beef Stroganoff that won raves at the tasting.

We were arranged at two long tables in the main dining room – our usual Knights of the Vine at one and some Slovenian and Croatian guests of the host at another. Sasha, the dedicated importer of the Croatian wines was there with comments, which were illuminated by Daniel’s Croatian guests.

A word about Sasha – he is one of those few pioneers in Moscow’s wine community who decided to bring the best from their country to the city’s wine lovers. Other pioneers have done so with selected California, Italian, Swiss, and Australian wines. These dedicated souls have a difficult task – the amount of wines that they import is small and they must work through the license of a larger importer that takes a hefty cut. Then they must find a restaurant that will put their wines on the list without the usual listing fee. They can forget about supermarkets due to entry costs. These wine lovers almost always face a money-losing proposition, but we must thank them for bringing us variety and quality.

The white wines were mostly Croatian, and the reds Slovenian. The wines of Croatia come from three principal areas: the Istria district along the northern coast, the Dalmatian Adriatic coast that includes thousands of islands stretching to Dubrovnic, and an inland region surrounding Zagreb that produces wines closer to the traditions of Eastern Europe. We started with the Krauthaker Grassevina. Located in eastern Croatia, Krauthaker is one of Croatia’s best-known producers. Grassevina produces an aromatic, light wine that has made it popular in Eastern Europe. From Kobola Winery on the Istrian peninsula, we tried a white made from Malvasia Istriana, which is also the basis of some of the best wines of Friuli. We compared Chardonnays from both Croatia and Slovenia; however neither showed the full character of this classic grape. The Slovenian Chard was from Batic, an apparently organic winery just across the border from Friuli. We ended with a semi-sweet Muscat from Kabola, which was typical of the dessert type wines one finds from this grape in Eastern Europe.

The Santomas Cabernet Sauvignon was classic and well received. Santomas sits 350 meters overlooking the Adriatic Sea, just south of Trieste. From Bagueri Winery near Goriska Brda north of Trieste we tried a good Merlot, which featured rather strong cherry and plum notes.

Rojac Winery is another small winery near the Italian border, which gave us a blend of several grapes, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah. We finished with a red Croatian that appeared to be Sasha’s pride, Zlatan Plavac Grand Cru, a dense red wine that is produced from Plavic Mali grapes on the island of Hvar just south of Split on the Adriatic Coast.

There were few complaints about the wines and a couple were very good. For a Moscow wine adventurer, it would be worth another visit to Guilly’s to sample Daniel’s Slovenian and Croatian wines, and his Beef Stroganoff (with the Santomas Cab). Some of the Croatian wines should be available at the U Yara wine shop on Leningradsky Prospket, which is owned by the importer, OKV.

Adventurers

Joel Babb, investor
Kim Balaschak, Director, Saatchi Russia
Jim Balaschak, Partner, Deloitte
Timur Beslangurov, Managing Partner, Vista Foreign Business Support
Maja Bogdesic, Director, Avenir Recruiting
Charles Borden, Director, Meridian Capital
Frank Duseigneur, Winemaker, Chateau Le Grand Vostock
Michael Geutebreuck, Security Consultant
John Harrison, Editor, Passport Magazine
Rick Tompkins, Vice President Eurasia, Halliburton International
Pavel Uroda, Chief Upstream Operations, Sibir Energy
Tony Wong, Director, Schering Plough Russia

Ortega Easy Rating System

I love this wine! 5 pts.
I really like this wine! 4 pts.
This wine is good! 3 pts.
This wine is not that good! 2 pts.
I don’t really care for this wine! 1 pt.










Winery Wine Country Year Price Rating
White Wines
Krauthaker
Kabola
Krauthaker
Batic
Kabola

Grassevina
Malvasia Reserve
Chardonnay
Chardonnay Riserva
Muscat (semi-sweet)

Croatia
Croatia
Croatia
Slovenia
Croatia

2004
2003
2003
2003
2003

1,350
1,750
1,750
2,480
1,625

3.00
2.91
2.89
3.48
3.36
Red Wines
Santomas
Bagueri
Rojac
Zlatan Plavac

Cabernet Sauvignon
Merlot
Stari D’Or
Grand Cru

Slovenia
Slovenia
Slovenia
Croatia

2001
2002
2003
2003

4,510
4,020
2,210
4,130

3.67
2.78
2.93
3.52
Prices in rubles from Guilly’s wine list.



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