Today I want to talk about one of my favorite wineries in Croatia–Kairos. Fantastic wine, a gorgeous location, and a Croatian cooking experience…what more can you ask for?
Primer on Croatian Wine
First–a few words about Croatian wine. Croatian wine producers do not adhere to strict labeling rules–some wines are labeled with the grape variety, some by the region, and others with names made up by the wine maker. Like all other major European wine producing countries, the majority of wine produced in Croatia is pretty average, wine to talk over, not about. The combination of these two factors can make selecting a great bottle challenging.
The first step in understanding Croatian wine is familiarizing yourself with the country’s unique and extremely diverse geography. Croatia is shaped roughly like a boomerang, with one arm extending east towards Hungary across the mountains and Slavonian plains and rivers, and the other stretching south along the rocky Dalmatian coast, across the Adriatic sea from Italy.
There are four major wine producing regions in Croatia:
Slavonia–the eastern part of the country, bordering Serbia, Bosnia, and Hungary–is comprised primarily of large volume producers churning out white wines of Germanic variety and style.
Norther Croatia (the area radiating out from the capital)—a cooler region—produces some delightfully crisp whites, some very drinkable bubbly, and a few interesting (but often tart) reds.
Istria–the northern peninsula bordering Slovenia, just a stone’s throw from Italy—is known for delicious Malvazias (a white wine with flavors of apricot and almond) and perfectly acidic red Terans.
Dalmatia—the thin strip of land stretching south from Zadar along the Adriatic sea towards Montenegro—produces a wide variety of delicious and unusual local whites and reds, as well as international varieties. However, the stars are all native.
Istria and Dalmatia seem to garner the most international attention, likely because these two coastal regions are the most heavily visited by visitors. Dalmatia, in particular, attracts many admirers and is home to some of Croatia’s most visited cities–Dubrovnik, Split, and Zadar, as well as most of the country’s (over 1000) islands.
Plavac Mali, a local grape (the name means little blue one) grown all along the coast, is the primary wine grape in Dalmatia. The hot, dry climate means that these wines are generally rich, full bodied, tannic, and high in alcohol. They are usually spicy with flavors of dark berries and stone fruits.
What many people don’t realize is that Plavac Mali is a relative of Zinfandel (one of my personal favorites). Most Americans associate Zinfandel with California (and unfortunately sometimes with something unpleasantly sweet that comes in a box). However, recent DNA analysis has shown that Zinfandel is actually the same grape as Italian Primitivo (most frequently grown in Apulia) and Croatian Crljenak/Tribidrag. Scientists now think that the grape originated in Croatia.
Because of the region’s warm climate, most Croatian Zinfandels are high in alcohol and tend to have deep dark fruit flavors, and often taste of anise or pepper. They are delicious when served along side creamy pastas, flavorful dark meat like Dalmatian lamb, or with tomato-based dishes like pizza.
Kairos and Babe Vineyards
Ok, now on to Kairos! Kairos is hands down my favorite Zinfandel producer, and might even be my favorite winery in Croatia. At the moment, Kairos produces four wines–Plavac Mali, Zinfandel, a Cuvee, and a Plavac Mali Rose. I’ll be honest the Rose doesn’t blow me away, but the Plavac Mali is fantastic and the Zinfandel is to die for.
In addition to producing what is in my opinion the best Zinfandel in Croatia, Kairos boasts an idyllic location. Perched high on a hill above the medieval city of Trogir, with views stretching out over the Adriatic, sits an enormous contiguous vineyard planted in rocky karst soil. The karst provides excellent drainage, and the constant light breeze from the Adriatic keeps the grapes cool, preserving brightness and freshness in the wine. The rocky soil, hot Dalmatian sun, and low rainfall reduce the yield of each vine and concentrate the flavor in each berry.
The vines are tended in a traditional way, without pesticides (the wine is classified organic), with very little intervention from the winemaker.
Nestled along side the vineyard is a small stone cabin, completely off the grid and self sustainable. The perfect place to sit and watch the sun set over Dalmatia’s largest city in the distance while you sip your wine.
Cooking Croatian Food and Tasting Croatian Wine
I have made several lovely visits to Kairos, but this summer I arranged for an extra special visit and cooking class with a few good friends. After a lovely day at Plitvice Lakes, we made our way towards Trogir. In the evening, we drove to Babe Vineyard, where we were greeted with a refreshing glass of Rose and a stroll through the vineyards. We admired the vines and soaked in the gorgeous views, and then got down to business.
An impromptu kitchen was set up on the deck of the stone cabin with a few burners, cutting boards, and a pile of fresh ingredients. We started with a gorgeous salad, which took full advantage of the region’s summer bounty, topped with Dalmatian herbs from the garden next to the vineyard. Then, we made a delicious pasta with fresh fava beans, Dalmatian prosciutto, and freshly picked anise. We ended our meal with some local soft cheese topped with lavender and a drizzle of honey.
While this wasn’t a traditional cooking class—we didn’t sharpen our knife skills (ha!) or master any complex sauces—we enjoyed every minute spent chatting about Croatia, sipping delicious wine, and eating delicious traditional Dalmatian food. We talked and sipped until the stars came out.
Plan Your Visit
In my opinion, any trip to Split should include a stop at Kairos. The vineyard is not exactly easy to find, which is ok, because they are not prepared for walk ins anyway. The best way to arrange a visit (or a cooking class!) is to visit the Kairos website and email them at vinakairos @ gmail . com.