The ancient region of Illyria was a region in the Balkan Peninsula that varied in size over different periods of time. The Illyrians were fierce warriors who controlled the entire Peninsula, which was across the Adriatic Sea from Italy. The name Illyria faded in 15th century, but was revived in the 17th century, and was used by Napoleon. The Kingdom of Illyria was coined from 1818 to 1849 under Austria, and then the name dropped when there was reorganization of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
We say that Illyria is illustrious because authors have written about and used the region in many writings. The extensive history of Illyria by author Charles du Fresne, sieur du Cange, was published in 1746 by Joseph Keglevich. William Shakespeare set his play Twelfth Night in a fictional Illyria, and referred to Illyria in Part 2 of Henry VI. Other authors also used Illyria as their backdrop, including Jean-Paul Satre in Les Mains Sales, Lloyd Alexander in The Illyrian Adventure, and John Hawkes in The Blood Oranges.
Indira Bayer came to the United States in 1996 from the former Yugoslavia. In 2016, she established the Wines of Illyria, a wine import company, that brings wines from the Balkans to the US, paying homage to the indigenous grapes and winemaking in the region that dates back over 2,000 years. Native grapes from the region include the varieties Vranac, Blatina, Plavac Mali, Zilavka, Malvazija, Posip, Tamjanika, Trnjak, and others.
Ms. Bayer will be joining us in store at City Vino on April 15th, and we hope that you will come meet her and discuss wine. In anticipation of her April visit, and to whet your palate for wines from this part of the world, this weekend March 5th (11 am to 5 pm), we will feature four wines from Illyria.
The first wine in our Illyrian tasting is the 2019 Wines of Illyria Stone Cuvée, which is comprised of 90 percent Zilavka, and 10 percent Bena, from the Herzegovina region. This clean and refreshing white has flavors of green apple, lychee, honey, ripe apricots, star fruit, and anise, with a slightly nutty undertone and an herbal finish. There are scents of chamomile and verbena. The juicy acidity makes it a great wine for pairing with fried foods like soft shell crabs, chicken, or French fries. This is a good partner wine for chicken and seafood dishes, or a chair in the yard in the setting spring afternoon sun.
Our next Illyrian wine is the 2019 Carski Blatina Rosé. This dry rosé is made from the Blatina grap—another native variety from the Herzegovina region. The wine has a lovely salmon hue with flavors of citrus, peaches, and apricots. The grapes for this rosé are picked two to three weeks before others of the same variety would be picked to make red wine. The earlier harvest of the grapes for the rosé brings higher acidity and brightness to the wine. The grapes are fermented by spontaneous fermentation, so no cultured yeast is added, and the winemaking relies on ambient yeasts from the skins of the grape, and that which is in the air in the winery. Pair this wine with Caesar salad topped grilled shrimp, octopus, or chicken, and you may find some berry notes surfacing from this wine.
The red in our tasting from Illyria is the 2016 Citluk Vranac, which is 100 percent Vranac, and the most common variety of the illustrious and historic region. The wine is fermented in a tank and punched down turbulently twice a day (mixing skins back into wine as they rise to the top), to extract more tannins from the skins. Then thirty percent of the wine is barreled in Bosnian-made barrels, and the rest in stainless steel tanks. This is a full-bodied red with dark berries, cocoa, licorice and cinnamon on the palate, and one that is made to accompany meat or aged cheeses.
The final wine in our tasting is the 2019 Carski Vinogradi Emporia Zilavka. This wine is similar in composition to our first wine, at 95 percent Zilavka and 5 percent Bena, but for this wine the juice is fermented with the skins for 10 to 12 hours, making it what is known as an orange wine. The alluring aromatics in this wine include jasmine, honeysuckle, ginger, lime, and orange rind. On the palate, you may find additions of honeydew melon, pineapple, and other tropical fruits. This is a medium-bodied wine, with concentrated flavors and a hint of nuttiness on the finish, and a small dab of residual sugar left to balance the wine. Mild cheeses and fish or chicken dishes with a mango or melon salsa would be lovely pairings.
We hope you are available to join us this weekend to get introduced to Illyrian wines, and also to come and try other wines along with Wines of Illyria’s Indira Bayer on April 15th. Cheers to the illustrious Illyria.