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June 29, 2016 | Kult Plave Kamenice

ALHAMBRA Turning a Quiet Island into an Epicentre of Croatian Wine Scene

Foto/Kult Plave Kamenice

We cautiously looked around the walk-in vinoteku in Alhambra, the best northern Adriatic hotel in the pastoral Čikat Bay in Lošinj. Cautious, because there were three of us in the vry small place cooled with precision, Lafite and Latour preying upon us from the shelves. There were four various Perignons and Cristal, Palmer and a few Bâtard-Montrachets, and a d’Yquem from the legendary 2001, one of the best vintages in Sauternes in the last half century.     

We love to touch bottles, inspect them carefully, study both labels: it is a pleasant professional deformation which we do not want to give up. However, we constantly had that anxious feeling that one wrong elbow could knock over a Chateu Lafite standing exactly two centimetres from the shelf’s edge. In the end we successfully completed the inventory of this excellent wine cellar, and had a few glasses of nonvintage Jacquesson along the way.

Alhambra opened less than a year ago. Due the winter break, it has actually been open for only a few months. Nevertheless, the head sommelier Kristijan Merkas has managed to gather a rather impressive collection of Premium wines from around the world. It is a collection which can measure up to the best Croatian wine lists of private restaurants.

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It surpasses the offer of any Croatian hotel – not including Monte Mulini’s restaurant Wine Vault, whose list is significantly more extensive than Alhambra’s, but it contained (at least until the end of last year) a large number of unusable wines, purchased when the hotel opened.

Alhambra’s list contains 250 wines for now, and the aim is to purchase by the end of the year about another one hundred labels from all parts of the world, as well as increasing the proportion of Premium French wines,” says Mr Merkas, who worked for a long time with Mario Mendek, a man with an unusual biography, but with undoubted expertise in wine, “We would like for all of our Bordeauxs to be from the four main vintages of this century. They are, of course, 2000, 2005, 2009 and 2010.

” We believe that those among our guests who understand wine, and who are willing to pay for premium quality, must indeed drink the best wine. We don’t want to offer them big labels from bad vintages, except for the cases when those big wineries, even in bad vintages, succeeded in making truly Premium wine, which can be verified by the ratings of each wine.”

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Priscilla Incisa della Rochetta led Sassicia Masterclass with sommelier Kristijan Merkas

Merkas’ approach to forming wine lists is very proficient, but also highly commercial. A sommelier needs to respect the demands of the market. For instance, if a guest and their friends spend about one hundred thousand euros this summer in a Lošinj villa, then it is logical that in Alhambra’s restaurant Alfred Keller the guest can select their favourite Bordeaux vintage, and can decide between the 1998 P2 and the regular Perignon from the fantastic 2002.

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Gurus from Goriška brda, Marjan Simčič, Aleš Kristančić Movia and Aleks Simčič

Understandably, Alhambra did not just focus of imported wines, because even in ultra-expensive five-star hotels, the drink local rule still applies. Apart from that, the management and staff at Alhambra see it as their natural duty to affirm Croatian wines. 

Therefore, d’Yquem rubs shoulders with Bodren bottles from the champion 2005 and 2006 vintages, and zborni and Traminer ice wine from Iločki podrumi, as well as ice wines from Đakovo; while in the cellar of Villa Augusta, which is next to the main Alhambra building, there is a cabinet of Croatian rarities, such as the 2003 Stagnum or the Šember 2002 Pinot Blanc.

Alhambra’s exciting wine list is not just the result of one sommelier’s enthusiasm. Rather, it is the strategic direction of the hotel’s owner, Jadranka, to establish Alhambra as the centre of the wine scene in Kvarner, and the entire Adriatic.

Jadranka’s management correctly identified the fact that wine tourism among hotels with high ratings does not exist. On the other hand, regardless of how much some foreign guests would like to drink local wine, they also want to enjoy a high-quality selection of the best wines in the world. And that is precisely the experience that Alhambra wants to make possible: at the end of the day, it is interesting to try leading world and leading local wines, side by side.

The current 95 Decanter points for Veralda’s Istrian, or perhaps the long-time presence of Matošević’s Antika on the wine list of  Blumenthal’s Fat Duck, show that the results of such comparative tasting do not need to be predictable. 

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Alhambra wine classes instantly gained popularity

So as to maximally affirm Alhambra as the hub of the Adriatic wine stage, its sommeliers and managers have launched quite an impressive programme of thematic workshops and dinners. At the end of April they promoted the legendary Californian Opus One, which returned to Croatia after more than ten years of absence; at the end of May three gurus and reformers of the Slovenian wine industry Marjan Simčič, Aleš Kristančič Movia, and Aleks Simčič performed together for the first time in Croatia, while in mid-June there was a Sassicaia master class, one of the most important Italian wines.

No one in Croatia has succeeded in preparing a dinner s vertikalom Sassicaia’s ranking. Alhambra’s wine strategy is terribly useful for Croatian tourism and gastronomy. Not only because of raising the bar of five-star hotels, but, more importantly, because of the return to big international wines in our restaurant and hotel offers, from where such wines began disappearing during the economic crisis. Alhambra is already doing a massive job not only for its island, for its guests, for importers who finally have someone to whom they can offer the best international wines, but also for the entire Croatian food and wine culture.