Eastern European Wines for Thanksgiving

Eastern European Wines for Thanksgiving

Last week, we presented wines from Italy to pair with the food on your Thanksgiving table. This week, we are travelling to Eastern Europe in order to bring some new and interesting options to your holiday feast. A visit to Eastern Europe must include wines made from grapes local to the region. Off we go.

The 2016 Piližota Babić is produced on the outskirts of the historic town of Šibenik in Dalmatia, Croatia. (Yes, I was trying to see how many different accent marks I could use in a single sentence. Sheesh, the way blog writers get their kicks.) The grape is, indeed Babić, which is a red variety that is native to Croatia. The wine is fermented in open top stainless-steel tanks, and then put to rest for about 6 months, in large used Slavonian oak barrels, before coarse filtration occurs and subsequent bottling. The aromatics found on this wine are reminiscent of ripe dark fruit like blackberries, blueberries, plums, and figs, alongside earthy notes typical of the grape. The palate on the wine displays similar characteristics to the aromas with bright acidity, petite tannins, and a bit of gaminess.

The winery notes state that the preferred serving temperature for this Babić is slightly chilled, to about 55 degrees (cellar temperature). Traditionally, it is served with red meats, game, grilled sausages, cured meats and cheeses. For big events, it is served with spit-roasted lamb and roasted potatoes. The wine should complement your Thanksgiving meal when paired with roasted turkey, baked ham, sausage stuffing, and butternut squash seasoned with sage, which would match the earthiness.

Our next Eastern Europe (poetic license definitely taken as it is closer to central European) wine is the 2019 Steindorfer Apetlon Rouge, from the Burgenland, in Austria. Three of the reds of note in Austrian wines are featured in this wine which is a blend of 40 percent Blaufränkisch, 30 percent St. Laurent, and 30 percent Zweigelt. Blaufränkisch is considered to be native to Lower Styria, in Slovenia, which coincidentally, is where our next wine comes from. The dark skinned Blaufränkisch came from a natural crossing via pollination, and happens to share one parent with Chardonnay. (For the wine nerds or wine-curious in the crowd, the shared parent is Gouais Blanc.)  

The next grape that is part of our Apetlon Rouge is St. Laurent, which is native to Austria. In keeping with our familial theme with the grapes comprising this wine, the noble grape Pinot Noir is one of the parents of this grape. The final grape in this blend is Zweigelt. Any guesses on its parentage? If you said that it is a crossing of the other two grapes in this blend, you would be correct and deserve great bragging rights, and surely a fist bump. The crossing of Blaufränkisch and St. Laurent yielding Zweigelt and was intentional. 

Now that I am able to dig myself out of the rabbit hole of grape parentage, let us get back to the Steindorfer Apetlon. The wine was aged for 17 months in some second-use and some third-use French oak barrels, so that the oak characteristics do not overwhelm the fruit in this wine. This blend has ripe cherries and black plums, with a nice weight on the palate with a smooth yet firm finish. The Apetlon wine will pair beautifully with Thanksgiving dishes like roasted turkey, mac and cheese, sausage stuffing, and more. If you manage to sneak something spicy onto your menu, this is your wine. 

Our white wine is the 2021 Kobal Furmint Šipon Old Vines Selected, from Styria in Slovenia. (I told you we were headed to the home of Blaufränkisch.) The terms Furmint and Šipon are both names for the grape variety in this featured wine. This is a dry white, and the winemaker makes two different wines from the grape, then blends them together so that he can merge the characteristics of both the variety itself and the terroir of the vineyard.

Wines made from Furmint often have aromas that remind you of tropical fruits, peaches, nectarines, or other orange blossoms, and herbs. The flavors of this wine are complex and may feature ripe pineapple, apple, pear, lemon zest, with a finish that might seem like Pez candy (for those of us of a certain age, we remember). The finish shows zippy tartness and fruity sweetness despite the fact that the wine is dry. The ripeness of the fruit may fool you into thinking there is sweetness here. This is a wine that would be delightful on your Thanksgiving table when paired with turkey, grilled or steamed vegetables, and young cheeses. 

Our fourth wine we will be tasting this weekend is 2020 Zlatan Pošip Vrhunsko Vino, from Dalmatia, Croatia. The grape is Pošip, and it originated from the island of Korčula, off the coast of Dalmatia’s mainland. It is one of the few surviving indigenous varietals dating back to the fourth century, BC. It is a very aromatic wine, with honeysuckle florals with other aromas of apricot, yellow apple, bosc pear, citrus notes of lemon-lime, grapefruit, and a twist of ocean-salty air minerality. It is a rather full-bodied white wine that traditionally pairs with lobster and shrimp scampi in a brudet sauce. For your thanksgiving meal it will do well against your herbed or brined turkey, smoked salmon, hors d’oeuvres, or hard cheese and charcuterie board. The winery is Zlatan Otok. Its name comes from the first name of the winemaker, Zlatan, followed by the Croatian term for island which is Otok. The island where the vineyard is located is Hvar. The winemaker has been named “Winemaker of the Year” in Croatia multiple times.  


Another of our wines from Zlatan is the 2015 Zlatan Otok Plavac Mali Hvar Vino. The grape is Plavac Mali and gets its name because of its small blue grapes and in the Croatian language plavo means blue and mali means small. Plavac Mali is a crossing between Crljenak Kaštelanski (ancestral Zinfandel) and Dobričić, so if you like wines made from Zinfandel or Primitivo (Italy), you may very well like this wine. 

This Plavac Mali wine is aged in large wooden barrels or stainless steel and then in bottle for four months, prior to release. The goal of winemaking here is to preserve the beautiful fruitiness and allow the minerality and salinity found in this wine to show through. You may find the aromas and palate to display dark fruit flavors of black cherries and plums, along with baking spices and herbs. For Thanksgiving, the fruit-forwardness of this wine will be pleasant with the meal.


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