Original Zin: The Real Story of This Unique Grape

We read an article recently in a reputable publication that proclaimed Zinfandel as California’s “heritage grape,” and went on to describe this grape varietal as “a quintessentially American phenomenon.  It’s zesty, rugged and loud, challenging to rear, a lover of barbecue.”  This characterization of Zinfandel is not uncommon and we have even heard more casual wine consumers refer to Zinfandel as “American’s wine grape.”  As charming as this characterization is, it does not stand up to reality or, more importantly, science.

grape genetics.jpg
Some people take their grapes really, really seriously!

The story of original sin involves a fruit and a man named Adam; in his case, the fruit was allegedly an apple.  In the case of “original Zin,” a man and a fruit are again involved, but in this case the man is named Miljenko and the fruit is a grape.  As Adam was fascinated by the apple, Miljenko Grgic (Americanized to Mike Grgich when he came to this country), had a deep fascination with grapes.

grgich and family.jpg
Meeting the legend himself at Grgich Hills

In 1959 Mike Grgich arrived in Napa Valley and started working at Souverain Cellars & Vineyard where he encountered Zinfandel grapes on their property.  Studying the canes, leaves, clusters, berry color and size, and, eventually, the juice the grapes produced, Grgich was convinced that Zinfandel was anything but a “quintessentially American phenomenon.”  To his eye, Zinfandel and the indigenous Plavac Mali grape from his native Croatia were one and the same.  Zinfandel, therefore, originated from his native Croatia.  For many years, he steadfastly maintained this conviction and shared it with anyone who would listen.

plavac vs. zinfandel.jpg
Okay they do look alike …

In 1990 Mike Grgich made his first return trip to Croatia since leaving the country thirty-six years before in 1954.  To him, the similarities between Plavac Mali and Zinfandel were still apparent during this trip and he remained convinced they were the same grape varietal.  On his next trip, in 1993, Grgich stepped it up a notch and actually took Napa Valley Zinfandel clusters, leaves and canes with him to Croatia to do a literal physical side-by-side comparison.  His conclusion?  The same grape.

Almost 5 years went by before Grgich took a step that would settle the question once and for all as to the relationship between Plavac Mali and Zinfandel – a step that would prove Grgich both right and wrong.   This step involved connecting with Dr. Carole Meredith, a professor in the renowned Department of Viticulture and Enology at the University of California, Davis.  Her area of expertise was – and yes, this really is a thing – grape genetics.  As a grape geneticist, Dr. Meredith studied the genes of grapes to understand how those genes contribute to making the grapes and vines they way they are.  She had a particular interest in the history of wine and understanding where specific grape varietals came from, which made her a perfect investigative partner for Mike Grgich.

carole meredith.jpg
Professor Meredith receiving the Order of Danica Hrvatska medal from the Croatian government

In 1998 Carole Meredith and Mike Grgich got together and he shared with her his opinion about Zinfandel and Plavac Mali.  This visit inspired Carole to go to Croatia herself that same year to see for herself if she could definitively solve the Zinfandel-Plavac Mali puzzle.  She took samples from over 150 Plavac Mali vines from vineyards in the most renowned growing areas of Croatia, including the Peljesac Peninsula (where Mike Grgich has a winery today called Grgic Vina) and the island of Hvar.  Upon returning to U.C. Davis with her samples, Dr. Meredith performed a series of genetic tests on them and reached a definitive conclusion:  Zinfandel and Plavac Mali were not the same grape.  What she did discover through her tests, though, is that these two grapes are related.  As she put it, Plavac Mali is the “son” of Zinfandel; in other words, Zinfandel and another grape together produced Plavac Mali.  So after nearly 50 years of believing Zinfandel was his native Plavac Mali, Mike Grgich turned out to be wrong.  But something interesting would happen soon after that would make him right again, sort of anyway.

Never one to give up, Carole Meredith continued her work, having connected with two professors from the University of Zagreb who were looking for help in using DNA tools to understand better the indigenous Croatian grapes and how they would be impacted by modern development and globalization.  The three professors continued to search for the elusive connection to Zinfandel and, lo and behold, they found it!   Near the port town of Split on Croatia’s Dalmatian coast, nine Crljenak Kastelanski vines were found that DNA testing determined to be a 100% genetic match to Zinfandel.  As it turns out, Zinfandel was not Plavac Mali but it was indigenous to Croatia.  Subsequent historical research has shown that Croatian Zinfandel (also known as Tribidrag) was planted as far back as the 15th century.  What the Italians call Primitivo is also Zinfandel, having originated from the Croatian Tribidrag and been imported to Italy some 200-300 years ago.

tribidrag grapes.jpg
Crljenak/Tribidrag grapes growing in Croatia

We were so intrigued by this story that we made a trip to Croatia in late 2016 and soaked up as much wine and vineyard knowledge as we could.  We trudged around the Peljesac Peninsula where Mike Grgich’s beloved Plavac Mali grows on steeps slopes just meters from the sea.  Over the course of 2 ½ weeks we tasted dozens of Croatian wines and fell in love with the character, depth, and complexity of their wines.  Our favorite?  Crljenak Kastelanski (or Tribidrag if that’s easier to pronounce).  We loved this wine so much that we are now importing a Crljenak Kastelanski produced by Vina Matela.   We recently tasted this wine with an 86-year old winemaker partner and he proclaimed: “This is one of the best wines I’ve ever had.”  We have to agree.

Wine consumers that are looking for “California Zin” should ignore the Vina Matela offering as it will not live up to expectations.  Frequently fans of California Zinfandel use terms such as “jammy” or “fruit bomb” to describe their favorite wine.  Matela’s Crljenak Kastelanski has nice fruit on the nose and the palate but is a much more complex, rich, and balanced wine.  Fruit aroma and flavor are matched with a strong earthiness driven by the unique conditions of the mountain soil in which the grapes are grown.

You can purchase Matela Crljenak Kastelanski at  Click on “Countries” and then “Croatia” to find this wine along with our complete range of white and red Croatian wines for sale.  Readers of this blog can enter “Friends15” at checkout for a 15% discount.  For those interested in a broader exploration of the Croatian red wines, we also offer two different Plavac Mali wines, one from winemaker Tomic and the other from Edivo.  We will provide a deeper review of each of these wines in Croatian Wines, Part III.

Irene Ingersoll

February 6, 2021

Grateful for Great Wine at Gratus

We lived in Napa for nearly five years and did our best to visit wineries across all of the far-flung American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) that make up the larger Napa Valley AVA.  Of course, we tasted on the valley floor at many wineries on Highway 29 . . . along Silverado Trail . . . on the mountaintops (Howell, Spring, Diamond, Veeder.   But somehow, there is one location that we had not visited:  Pope Valley.   Sure, we were aware of its existence, nestled on the other sound of Howell Mountain on the way to Lake Berryessa.  And we had had several wines made from fruit grown in Pope Valley.  But it wasn’t until a fortuitous introduction to Thomas Wargovich, the vintner at Gratus Vineyards in Pope Valley, that we had occasion to make our way there.

In fairness, there are some valid reasons why we’ve not visited any tasting rooms there.  First of all, Pope Valley is somewhat remote and not really on the way to or from anywhere else that we typically visit.  Second, and more important, there really are not too many tasting rooms there open for visitation.  This might be the reason that Pope Valley is not at AVA yet, but we expect this status will come at some point as vineyards there produce most of the grapes that go into Napa Valley-designation wines.

So we set out one Saturday right before our Europe trip to visit Thomas at Gratus Vineyards and taste the wines that we had been hearing quite a bit about from wine bloggers over the previous several months.  Seemingly, Gratus wines had become a bit of a cult hit with wine geeks of late (and for good reason we would soon learn).  The drive from our home in Mare Island to Pope Valley was about an hour as we took the back way through Green Valley and Suisun wine country, eventually crossing into Napa and taking the beautiful winding roads to Thomas’ property.  We knew we were in for a visual treat as we entered the Gratus Vineyards’ gate and made our way up the stunningly picturesque driveway winding its way up to Thomas’ home.


Now this is a nice driveway!

Once we got to the top of the hill and parked we could see that a great deal of landscaping and planting had been done over the years, which Thomas confirmed for us when he gave us the tour of his property.  Since purchasing the estate in 2001, Thomas has planted over 300 different types of trees and other plants; on the Fall day we were there, the explosion of color was eye-popping.

After our tour, Thomas took us down to a quaint tasting room on the property where we settled in to get a taste of some of the wines we had been hearing so much about, and to learn more about Thomas and the Gratus Vineyards story.  I have to say, the wines really are special and I understand what all the fuss is about: Gratus makes elegant, balanced, creative wines that capture the essence of the terroir but also have an Old World sensibility that I always appreciate.

We kicked off the tasting with the one white wine that Gratus produces – their 2018 Rhone White Blend ($29).  Most of the wine tastings we attend in Napa Valley seem to kick off with one of two white wines – Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc.  While I enjoy both varietals when done well, I am getting bored with them lately, especially the trend of making 100% stainless steel versions that produce wines with little to no body or mouthfeel.  By contrast, the Gratus Rhone White Blend was a lively, interesting, luscious white wine, a blend of  Grenache Blanc (50%) and 15% each of Marsanne, Rousanne and Viognier, and 5% Picpoul Blanc.   This wine was aged in neutral oak for seven months which contributed beautiful color and texture and flavor.  The wine balances fruit and acidity nicely and is excellent quality for the price.

We next tried a rose wine, a 2016 on Gratus’ new label L’ovey.  Thankfully, this was not another rose of Pinot Noir but instead an intriguing blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot made in the saignee method.  This wine has a vibrant salmon color, intense floral and strawberry notes on the nose, and on the palate more strawberry.  While this is a dry  wine with nice acidity, there is some sweetness on the palate and lots of body.  Nicely priced at $23.

While we definitely enjoyed the white and rose, the “wow” moments of our tasting came when Thomas transitioned us to the Gratus red wines.  Our first red wine tasted was the 2016 Gratus Malbec, a deep and dense purple color filling my glass.


Even better than I was expecting

I have had Malbec wines from France and Argentina and this 2016 Gratus Malbec resembled neither – or perhaps, more accurately, it had the best attributes of each resulting in perhaps the best Malbec I have had yet.  There was lovely black fruit on the palate without being excessively fruit forward; there was nice acidity and integrated tannins that make this a wine perfect for food but easily consumed without.  At $55 a bottle we think this is a steal for such a high-quality Napa Valley red wine and it makes us wonder why more vintners aren’t planting this varietal in the valley.

Our next red wine was the 2016 Gratus Red Blend – 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Malbec and 5% Petite Sirah.  This is a big, bold, tannic powerhouse of a wine that begs to be consumed with a slab of meat.  Intense and bold aromas and flavors, a beautiful and long finish.  At $80 a bottle, it is still a bargain compared to 3-digit Cabernet-driven wines from other Napa wineries; a very nice wine.

We moved on to a single-varietal Cabernet, the 2016 Gratus Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, another big, bold wine.  In some ways I would consider this a classic “Napa Cab” – beautiful fruit, powerful aromas, nice tannin, silky texture.  However, there is more to this wine than just the fruit:  the wine is elegant, structured, and, like the rest of the Gratus wines, there is a strong backbone of acid that balances the fruit.  This wine is $120 a bottle and is as good a Cab at that price as we have tasted.


A classic Napa Cab

Our final Gratus wine of the tasting was perhaps my favorite – the 2015 Petite Sirah.  While this is not the most commonly-grown varietal in Napa Valley, we have always enjoyed the three Petite Sirah offerings at Vincent Arroyo.  The Gratus PS was as good as anything we have tasted in Napa Valley.  When Thomas poured it into the glass, I marveled at the dense, inky color and spent several minutes just savoring the aromas – spice, earth, stewed meat, dark fruit.  A beautiful wine and, at $50 a bottle, one to stock up on before it is all gone.


Delicious Gratus Vineyards wines


After tasting through the entire portfolio of Gratus wine, I was having such a good time getting to know Thomas and learning about the winery’s history that I canceled by lunch reservation.  Perhaps in part because of our somewhat shared family histories (I was born in Ukraine, Thomas’ ancestry is Czech and Polish), we really hit it off.  He even showed off by speaking in Russian, a language that he studied in college.  Instead of leaving to eat at Cook Tavern in Saint Helena, we proceeded to Thomas’ wine cave under his house where he keeps his personal collection of wines.


This is what I want to have when I grow up – my own wine cave

Thomas was so gracious with his time – and his wine, sharing a few bottles of his personal collection with us (and a couple of friends who popped in to join us).

We chatted all afternoon and I feel like it was the start of a real friendship.  It is always a treat when the people making the great wines are also great people.

Thomas was a cardiologist by career until the fateful day a medical convention brought him to the Bay Area and a side field trip to Napa Valley.  He fell in love with the Valley and decided to buy a spread and, as the old saying goes, one thing led to another . . . One day, he scrapped the medical career and decided the wine business would be his full-time vocation.  Partnered with winemaker-extraordinaire Robbie Meyer, Thomas is producing wines he can be proud of.  Visit the Gratus website and pick up some of these beauties before they sell out. Production is limited.  To buy wines, go here:  Buy Gratus Wine.  To learn more about Thomas or the Gratus story, go here:  About GratusAbout Gratus


Irene Ingersoll

November 29, 2019


Stunning Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC

Back in mid-2016 we connected via Twitter with The Vinum, an Italian winery located in the small town of Ortona in the Abruzzo wine region.  As it turns out, my husband was planning a surprise Europe trip for the two of us and he arranged for us (to my total surprise) to meet the husband and wife that own the winery.  On the rooftop restaurant at the famous Danieli hotel in Venice, overlooking the Grand Canal, we had a fantastic meal and enjoyed some of their wines.   This dinner inspired us to start importing The Vinum wines to the United States.  As we looked over their portfolio, one of the wines that caught our eye was their 2016 Montepulciano D’Abruzzo DOC, a dry, rich and juicy red wine.

2016 The Vinum Montepulciano D’Abruzzo DOC



This wine, produced from 100% Montepulciano grapes, is referred to affectionately at The Vinum as “Il Rosso” – the red wine.  Made from organic grapes grown on The Vinum’s estate vineyards, this is a powerhouse wine.  Our tasting notes:  Visually this wine is stunning, dark, almost inky, with a silky appearance when swirled. On the nose, wild berries meld together with earth in this solid savory red. The juicy straightforward palate doles out ripe black cherry, crushed raspberry, anise and cinnamon alongside chewy tannins. This wine has a lush, almost syrupy mouthfeel.”

Price $25.00

10% discount available to our readers – simply enter Wine10 at checkout.   Our wine store is here: Topochines Vino Web Store

For those that are less familiar with Montepulciano, we recommend a visit to the excellent wine site below to learn more about this grape and what foods pair best with it.

I Love Wine Homepage

A link to the article is here:  About Montepulciano.

Here are some interesting excerpts from that article:

  • Montepulciano wine comes from the region just east of Rome and is one of the most famous wines in the country, earning its reputation as an easy red wine that goes well with pasta and pizza.
  • While the wine has a domestic reputation of being a relatively cheap table wine, several varieties planted in the region of Abruzzo have shown quite a bit of promise, producing a high-quality red wine with a dark tint and a deliciously sweet note, especially after a bit of aging.
  • Montepulciano d’Abruzzo was declared a DOC (Denominazione di origine controllata, an Italian abbreviation for the controlled designation of origin) in 1968, with an additional guaranteed designation of origin granted to the wines produced around Teramo.
  • For the wine to be labeled as Montepulciano, there is some blending permitted, with most wines containing up to 15% of Sangiovese, which can give the final product various secondary flavors depending on the region the Sangiovese comes from.
  • Four regions on the Adriatic coast of Italy produce Montepulciano, all having different styles and names, but all containing this fine grape. Aside from Abruzzo that produces Montepulciano d’Abruzzo (DOC), Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Colline Teramane (DOCG), and Controguerra Rosso (DOC), there is also the region of Marche to the north, going all the way to San Marino, that produces Rosso Conero (DOC), Rosso Piceno (DOC), and Offida Rosso (DOCG), as well as Molise and Apulia to the south that produce Biferno and San Severo Rosso respectfully.
  • Montepulciano wine was originally meant to be a wine that accompanies pizza or pasta, but as it turns out, this pairing is even better with more developed western comfort foods, especially those rich with animal fat. For those that are trying a Keto diet or a Paleo diet, this is the perfect wine choice, as it is very low in acidity and sugar, and complements the decisions made in these diets perfectly. The wine will go perfectly alongside strong red meats like beef but also complements chicken and lamb.
  • While not the best combination, as that title goes a bit north, both the lighter varieties of Montepulciano and those that are aged go incredibly well with KFC chicken. The mix of herbs and spices from the Colonel are tastefully dissolved in the similar flavors of the wine.

We hope you check out our wine store and consider getting a bottle of The Vinum Montepulciano.

Irene Ingersoll

October 24, 2018

New shipment of Croatian wines is in!

In December of 2017 we started selling Croatian wine on our online wine store Topochines Vino Wine Store.  In a few short months we sold out our entire inventory of Croatian wines, most of them produced from indigenous grapes but a few stellar labels using international varietals.  Sadly, we sold out our last couple of bottles right before the commencement of the World Cup and did not have any supply to help our Croatian-American friends celebrate Croatia’s improbable and inspiring run to the Finals.  Today, our warehouse is bursting with Croatian wines – some of the favorites from our initial shipment, but we have expanded our offering to include a number of new varietals, styles (e.g.,we now have several sparkling wines), and some classic Croatian wine producers.

Below is a breakdown of our shipment, “by the numbers”:

  • 24 – unique Croatian wines
  • 17 – red wines
  • 13 – different varietals
  • 12 – unique wineries
  • 12 – wines under $30
  • 10 – different wines featuring Croatia’s “national” red grape, Plavac Mali.
  • 5 – white wines
  • 4 – new wineries not previously on ours site
  • 4 – wines priced at $20 or under
  • 2 – sparkling wines
  • 2 – offerings of “Original Zin,” ie, the wine proven to be the original source of Zinfandel
  • 1 – wine aged under the Adriatic sea

For those already familiar with Croatian wines, this portfolio will contain many known producers and some traditional wine styles and varietals. As noted above, we have 10 different Plavac Mali selections available from multiple vineyard locations and appellations.  Croatian wine newbies would do well to start with any of these Plavac Mali wines as this varietal is as close to a “national” wine as you can get in Croatia.


Plavac Mali grapes from Croatia

For those that prefer white wine, we have several wines made from Croatia’s indigenous Posip grape, one of our favorite varietals because it produces such an aromatic, full-bodied wine.


Korcula is the most famous spot for Posip

While we have great appreciation for classic varietals and more well-known wineries, we have to admit to having a soft spot for unique blends, creative wine-making styles, and downright batshit crazy inventions.  Our latest shipment covers this entire gamut; here are some highlights:

Griffin Sparkling Rosé – $29.00

Griffin Portugizer Rose.jpg

Okay, you’re thinking, what’s so unique or creative about a sparkling Rosé wine? Well, that’s not the interesting part.  What makes this wine stand out from the crowd is the underlying varietal: Portugiser.  This varietal is very aromatic and has lots of fruit flavor on the palate.  In many white wines, aroma and flavor are lost during the fermentation process and it can be difficult to enjoy the varietal’s characteristics.  However, winemaker Ivancic Griffin uses cryogenic maceration prior to fermentation to slow the process and preserve color, aroma and flavor.  We haven’t had a sparkling Rosé like this one – it’s delicious!

Griffin Dark Side Sparkling – $33

Griffin Dark Side sparkling portugizer

This is by far the darkest sparkling wine we have ever seen, let alone consumed.  When we first tried it in The Basement Wine Bar in Zagreb, Croatia, it was described as “Black Champagne.”  Also made from the Portugiser grape, this sparkling wine is ridiculously aromatic and retains the flavor characteristics of the varietal almost as if it were a still wine.  Cryogenic maceration prior to fermentation is also used with this sparking wine.

2017 Feravino “Dika” Graševina – $15

Feravino Grasevina 2017.jpg

Chance are you’ve never had a wine from this obscure varietal before, even though it accounts for about a quarter of every wine bottles sold in Croatia.  At $15 a bottle, what are you waiting for?  If you knew how much it cost for us to transport this wine (a) by truck from the winery, (b) to a consolidator’s warehouse in Italy, (c) to be placed on a large container vessel, (d) to cross the ocean to New York City, (e) to get on another truck to cross the United States and (f) arrive in our Napa warehouse – well, you’d wonder how we only charge $15.  Suffice it to say we’re just about giving this wine away.  Feravino’s take on this varietal is crisp, refreshing, a nice blend of fruit and acidity.  This is a very aromatic wine with lots of fruit and flower on the nose.

2015 Feravino “Miraz” Frankovka – $17

Feravino Frankovka 2015.jpg

We expect that Frankovka will also be a new varietal to most people, although extreme wine geeks may know it by its other name, Blaufränkisch.  This is a rich and powerful wine.

Okay, these wines are unique, right? Are you ready for “batshit crazy”?  How about a wine that ages under the Adriatic sea and has to be deposited and collected by scuba divers?

2012 Edivo Plavac Mali “Navis” – $149

edivo navis 2012.jpg

You probably have some questions about this wine.  Like, what’s that on the bottle?  It’s what you would expect to be on a bottle that has been under the sea aging for a couple of years – barnacles and other sea stuff.  You might wonder if this wine tastes salty.  Because this wine is not cheap, we only allowed ourselves to “steal” one bottle out of our inventory, but I swear I could smell and taste salinity when the bottle was opened.  After  decanting this sensation dissipated and the wine was truly exceptional.  This is a bottle for real wine geeks who want to try something 100% unique.

We hope this gives you a sense for some of the really interesting wines we have for sale and whets your appetite to go to the website and try some.  Readers of this post can purchase any of the Croatian wines at a 10% discount by entering “Wine10” at checkout.  This discount code will apply to wines from any other country as well.  Cheers!

Irene Ingersoll

August 20, 2018



Travel to Croatia: Planning the Itinerary

We recently encountered a travel company that has the type of experience in Croatia and surrounding countries that we wish we knew about when we planned our first trip there.  Read to the bottom for contact information and to obtain a discount on their services for being a Topochines Vino reader!


Some travel is less intimidating than others.  For instance, if we travel to other states in the U.S., this is generally not intimidating because the currency stays the same, everyone speaks the same language, no visa or passport is required, and most of the hotels and airlines are well-known to us. Traveling outside of the U.S. can be more intimidating, but much of Europe feels manageable because of the single currency (Euro), the well-known landmarks (Eiffel Tower, Grand Canal in Venice, Colosseum in Rome, etc.), and the availability of literally hundreds of tour companies and guide books available to make any trip worry-free.

When we decided to go to Croatia at the end of 2016, though, the intimidation factor was pretty high despite the destination being a European country.  Although they joined the EU in 2013, Croatia has yet to adopt the Euro as its currency; the Kuna is still its currency of record.  Further, our familiarity with the local language is as close to zero as you can get, and their alphabet has a number of unique letters and characters that really threw us off.  While there are an increasing number of tourists going to Croatia – drawn by their beautiful beaches, their affiliation with Game of Thrones, and the relatively economical cost of travel – travel resources are not as deep as they would be for Spain, France, Italy or other popular continental destinations.

When we planned our trip, we did so without any assistance beyond what we were able to find out using Google and reading travel blogs.  So much of what we read turned out to be nonsense, including the dangers of traveling by car (crooked police pull over foreigners rampantly and give them tickets, while locals pretend to have car trouble and rob tourists who pull over to help).  We were literally traveling blind, though, because we did not have much reliable information about the places we wanted to visit or stay.  In the end, we managed to have a fantastic trip but we realized that we missed so many beautiful places because, well, we just didn’t know better.

We recently came across a travel company that we wish we had known about when we were planning our first-ever visit to Croatia: Adriatic Travel, started over 44 years ago by Niko Hazdovac, a native of Croatia who moved to the United States.  After a career as a merchant marine officer, Niko started Adriatic Travel to provide those with Croatian ancestry a reliable way to visit their homeland or the homeland of their parents and grandparents.  Today, Adriatic Travel is still a family run travel agency with deep roots in Croatia as well as surrounding countries.

Adriatic Travel has a wide range of services and experiences for travelers looking to soak in everything Croatia has to offer.  For those that prefer to cruise, they offer trips on both sailing ships as well as motorized vessels.  Examples of their cruises include:

  • Venice to Dubrovnik (or vice-versa)
  • Zadar to Dubrovnik (or vice-versa)
  • Round-trip from Dubrovnik to Split
  • Dubrovnik to Porec.

A full list of their Adriatic sea cruises can be found here:  Sea Cruises.


For those desiring a bit more adventure on the seas, Adriatic Travel also offers charter cruises priced by the week for small groups of a dozen or so.  Longer charter trips come with captain, sailing crew, chef, and waiters to provide a luxurious on-water experience.  “Bareboat” charters – those with no crew – are available for those that are bold enough to commandeer their own vessel.  Adriatic Travel can set up many different craft charters from catamaran, sail boats, speedboats, and more.  More information on their charters can be found here:  Charter Cruises.


Of course, not everyone wants to travel by boat when they visit Croatia, especially given the number of sights on land and inland.  For travelers who would like to explore the cities in more depth, visit wineries, and tour some of Croatia‘s stunning national parks, Adriatic Travel offers escorted land tours.  Some of the most intriguing for us are:

  • Croatian Food and Wine Tour, which starts in Zagreb and ends in Dubrovnik. In between, travelers will visit several wineries and partake in the delicious local foods.
  • Dubrovnik to Venice, with stops in beautiful Kotor, Montenegro; a day at the stunning Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia;  a visit to Lubljana in Slovenia;  ending in the magical city of Venice.
  • Belgrade to Zagreb, with many exciting stops in between including Montenegro and Slovenia, along with several stunning stops in Croatia.

A complete list of planned excursions are here:  Escorted Tours

Croatia zagreb.jpg

croatia dubrovnik.jpg

When we traveled to Croatia we managed to visit Slovenia (for a few hours) and Bosnia & Herzegovina (for two days).  Unfortunately, we missed Montenegro and Serbia; next visit we will make sure to visit both countries as we have heard amazing things about them.

In addition to the various tours and excursions we have mentioned, Adriatic Travel also offers assistance with air reservations, car reservations, and one-way transfers and private excursions with driver.  We rented our own car but we have to say it would have been much more convenient (and safe!) to have taken advantage of an excursion to visit wine country.

Croatian vineyards.jpg

If you are thinking of making a trip to Croatia or any of the Balkan countries (Slovenia, Montenegro, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Serbia), consider Adriatic Travel.  You can contact Peter Hazdovac at  Friends of Topochines Vino will receive $100.00 off per person when they book any tour or cruise with Adriatic Travel.  Let us know if you are planning to travel to Croatia or if you already have we would love to hear about your experience.

John & Irene Ingersoll

April 10, 2018

Great Wines of Lodi, Part III: Bokisch Vineyards

This is the third and final installment in our series on the superior Lodi wineries that we visited over the course of a weekend last month.  We published our three-part series in the chronological order of our winery visits.  We were so impressed with Lodi that we have added wine from three wineries to our online web store,

It surprised us to hear that there is a winery in Lodi making outstanding wines exclusively from Spanish varietals.  We wouldn’t have guessed it from the name: Bokisch Vineyards.  After all, Bokisch is as Spanish as, well, Ingersoll (our name).  It turns out that Bokisch Vineyards’ co-founder, Markus Bokisch, is half-Spanish on his mother’s side. Our mother/mother-in-law (Mamá) is also from Spain. This shared upbringing – spending time in Spain during summers and holidays with aunts, uncles and cousins – was one of the things that motivated us to visit Bokisch.  That, and recommendations from over a dozen wine experts imploring us to add Bokisch to our Lodi itinerary.

Our host for the Bokisch tour and tasting was co-founder Liz Bokisch, wife of the aforementioned Markus.  She greeted us as we came in and spent nearly two hours telling us the Bokisch story, giving us a visual tour of the vineyards,  and sharing their portfolio with us.  We started our tasting with Albariño, a classic Spanish wine common to the Rias Baixas region in the northwestern province of Galicia.  We had side-by-side tastings of two different Albariño wines – the 2016 Terra Alta Vineyard and the 2016 Las Cerezas Vineyard.  Although made from grapes sourced from vineyards just a few miles from each other, these two wines were by no means identical. The Terra Alta version was a bit more crisp, having aged 100% in stainless steel.  The Las Cerezas, meanwhile, saw some time in oak which yielded a softer mouthfeel and a longer, rounded finish.

We continued on with the white wines and sampled some delicious wines made from grapes indigenous to Spain.  Our next wine was the 2016 Garnacha Blanca from Vista Luna Vineyard.  Many wine drinkers have encountered this grape varietal as Grenache Blanc, common to the  Rhône region in France; however, the varietal is native to Spain.  Bokisch’s Garnacha Blanca is very light in color, with aromas of apple and stone fruits, and flavor of apple and pear.


Crisp, refreshing and delicious Grenache Blanc

Our next two wines were made from grapes that sound very similar but are genetically distinct:  Verdehlo and Verdejo, the former a classic Portuguese grape, the latter the star of Spain’s Rueda wine region.  We enjoyed both wines but the Verdejo was a real revelation to us, perhaps because we were expecting a simple, crisp, refreshing white wine.  Of course, the Bokisch 2016 Verdejo was all of these things, but so much more. In addition to the expected aroma and flavor of citrus and stone fruit, the wine was more full-bodied than we expected with a nuttiness on the palate.  We attribute this more complex aroma and flavor profile to the fact that the wine was aged in new French and Acacia barrels.  While most white wines are best consumed within a couple of years of purchase, we believe the Bokisch Verdejo is capable of ageing due to its structure and complexity.


After making our way through the Bokisch white wines, it was finally time to turn our attention to their roster of vino tinto.  In our opinion, Tempranillo is the king of all Spanish red grape varietals, although we are biased by the fact that Mamá only liked wine from Rioja.  However, Liz blew us away with two of their other reds, the 2014 Bokisch Garnacha and the 2014 Bokisch Graciano.  Wine aficionados will know that in the past couple of years Garnacha/Grenache have become popular red wines, both for their flavor as well as their relatively low prices.  This Bokisch take on Garnacha was true to the Spanish expression:  lovely rose and strawberry aromatics complemented by a bit of spice.  On the palate the strawberry was complemented by cranberry and raspberry and a spicy finish.  Certainly Mamá would not approve of our saying this, but Garnacha is currently our favorite red wine.

Our next Bokisch red wine was a single-varietal wine made from the Graciano grape, which is not so common in the U.S. but a key grape in Spain’s Rioja region.  Because of its deep color and intense flavor, Graciano most often finds itself blended in with Tempranillo in Rioja’s highest quality wines and contributes to their ability to age.  Recently, some bodegas in Rioja have started making single-varietal wines from Graciano.  After tasting the 2016 Bokisch Graciano, we are looking forward to sampling some 100% Graciano when we go to Rioja later this Spring.



A wine geek’s wine

The first thing that captured our attention when Liz poured the Graciano was its color.  Often wine notes will refer to a wine as “inky,” but usually that means darker purple.  This Bokisch Graciano really is inky – a dark and brooding color. On the nose, there were no red fruits, just more darkness – blackberry, plum, coffee, dark chocolate.  On the palate, the fruit was balanced beautifully with acidity with strong tannins leading to a long finish.  We like to think that Mamá would have enjoyed this wine as it resembles the strong, masculine, dry Rioja wines that she loved the most.

Our final Bokisch red wine was the 2014 Tempranillo, a faithful representation of this Rioja varietal and a wine that we are sure Mamá would have enjoyed, albeit grudgingly.


This Bokisch Lodi Tempranillo honors the style of Rioja

Dark ruby in color, the Bokisch Tempranillo presented aromas of cherry, plum, cedar and a hint of clove.  On the palate, dark fruits mixed with earth, resulting in a more balanced Tempranillo than we have encountered from other U.S. wineries.  Having spent 18 months in new American and French oak, the wine has a luscious, almost silky texture without tasting over-oaked.

After we made our way through what seemed like the entire portfolio of Bokisch wines, Liz let us know that they have a second label (Tizona) that features wines that are not native to the Iberian peninsula.  Markus and Liz wanted to keep the Bokisch label purely focused on Spanish wines, but also wanted to offer wines that are more classically Lodi.  We tasted a Tizona Zinfandel that was rich, structured, balanced, and a fantastic addition to the Zinfandel offerings in Lodi.  We also tasted the Bokisch 2016 Late Harvest Graciano, a ridiculously good dessert wine that we also purchased and consumed almost immediately after arriving home.

A hallmark of a great winery – and winemaker – is when the portfolio of wines smell and taste consistent.  This consistency comes from having a specific approach to viticulture and enology:  how to tend the grapes; when to pick; yeast inoculation protocol; and ageing.  Markus Bokisch is in charge of the grape growing for the 80-acre estate parcel that surrounds the winery and he has consistent practices for how he tends his vines.  100% of the Bokisch Vineyards are certified organic as well as sustainable; in fact, Markus Bokisch provides vineyard management services on over 2,800 acres of vines within 5 of the Lodi Sub-AVAsand Clarksburg AVAs.  Many of these vineyards have been or are being converted to organic-certified.  Complementing Markus’ organic farming practices are winemaker Elyse Perry’s hands-off approach in the cellar.  Her respect for each grape varietal is evident in the fact that the Bokisch Spanish wines resemble their Spanish counterparts in their aroma, flavor and texture.

John & Irene Ingersoll                                                                                                                  March 20, 2018

We are in the process of adding three Bokisch wines to our online wine store,  We will publish an update when these wines are available.


Moscato D’Asti DOCG – the ultimate dessert wine

There are dessert wines . . . . and then there is Moscato D’Asti. At just 5.5% alcohol, this fizzy, lightly-carbonated wine is the perfect companion to almost any dessert.  Made from 100% Moscato Bianci grapes, this wine has been a hit with everyday wine drinkers as well as trained wine experts (including one of the world’s few Master Sommeliers).

2016 The Vinum Moscato D’Asti DOCG




If you’re thinking, “Oh, I’ve had Moscato before,” we have to point out that this is not just Moscato, but Moscato D’AstiHere are our tasting notes:  Light straw in color with a pleasantly frothy mousse of tiny bubbles. Incredible aromas of orange blossoms, white peaches and rose on the nose. Mouthwatering apricot and mineral flavors. Weightless, vibrant, refreshing.”

Price:  $18.00

For our readers, we are offering 15% off this or any of our wines – simply enter Friends15 at checkout.  Our online wine store is here:  Topochines Vino Web Store