By the end of the 20th century, Orange wines elaboration was having a rebirth after being forgotten for many years. It was in this region of Istria where they came to life again. Istria is an area including parts of Italy, Slovenia and Croatia and besides many great Orange wines producers, is also home to one grape variety that offers great results: Malvasia Istriana. We’ve been talking about a few producers making brilliant dry wines with this grape, wineries that have vineyards more than 80 years old and they produce Malvasia wines in a wide array of styles: bone dry, aged in steel tanks, oak-aged and with some really vinification processes. Today we will talk about Orange wines made with Malvasia Istriana. And since we are in Istria, we will talk about one producer making this kind of wine. And we will go across the border of Italy and Slovenia to Croatia, where we will find Clai Wines.

The village of Krasica, 40 milometers away from Trieste in Italy, is home to Giorgio Clai’s winery. This winery is a small family business owning eleven hectares of field, three of them are devoted to olive trees and the remaining eight are vineyards. Here Giorgio mostly plants autochthonous varieties, and just a small amount of international ones for his blends. When we talked about Friuli in Italy, we saw that there is a special climate conditions due to the fact that the area is in between the Pre-Julian Alps and the Adriatric Sea. Here in this area of Croatia the Ucka Mountain and the sea air coming up the Mirna River meet creating this special microclimate to cultivate vines and olives.

Clai’s vineyards are planted with Malvasia Istriana, Refosco and Muscat. With these grapes, they produce six different labels either as single varietals or blends.

The fields are worked in an organic way, the fertilization is minimal and when needed, using only organic and natural manures. No use of any systematic treatments: herbicides, insecticides, commercial fertilizers, etc.

Once the grapes have been harvested, the fermentation occurs spontaneously on the skins and without the addition of enzymes, added yeasts or malolactic bacteria. After this, the ageing takes place in wood barrels of different sizes with a long stay on the lees. Around a year later the wines are bottled without any filtering.

Clai produces two single varietal wines. We won’t say which is better, but our heart certainly goes to the Malvasia Istriana. SV. Jakov Malvazija comes from vines giving 1-1,5 kilograms of fruit. Depending on the year, the must stays in contact with the skins a period between two and four months in open vats, without the addition of selected yeasts and enzymes. Then the wine ages in large wooden casks of 25 hectoliters. In 2015 the production was 6,000 bottles. Not a single bottle in 2014 as the harvest was really difficult due to so much rain and a small amount of fruit.

The second single varietal is the Brombonero Refošk, produced with local Refosco grape. Same process and elaboration method as the Malvasia. Brombonero 2014 experienced the same situation as SV. Jakov as well and in 2015 the production was 4,000 bottles.

Then we have two blends: a white one and a red one. The white blend is Ottocento Bijeli, produced using Malvasia Istriana, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Sauvignon. In 2014 they produced around 9,000 bottles increasing this number up to 12,000 in 2015.

Ottocento Crni is the red blend, using Refosco, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. In 2014 they produced around 9,000 bottles bumping up to 10,000 in 2015.

Tasel is their sweet wine based on White Muscat. And finally their sparkling wine PjenuŠavo Vino, elaborated with Malvasia Istriana, Chardonnay and Plavina. This wine is elaborated under the classical method of fermentation in the bottle and it ages 24 months on the lees.

Soon we will talk to Giorgio Clai about his wines and his winemaking philosophy.

Photos (C) Clai Winery

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