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June 29, 2016 | Kult Plave Kamenice

BELJE Perfect Pairing of Mystic Old Cellar and New High-Tech Winery

The 2006. Chardonnay Goldberg is alarmingly fresh: its golden colour reveals its first decade of age, tertiary aromas of wax and honey open up on the nose, mixing with still strong primary fruity aromas of pear and apple, with soft hints of citrus. It is a wine of complex taste, somewhat atypical combination of fruity-honey sweetness and strong Chablis-like minerality with an exemplary oily texture.

It is indeed a very, very good Goldberg, deservedly awarded the silver medal at this year’s Chardonnay du Monde, Burgundy’s unofficial world championship of Chardonnay. We really don’t know of any other Croatian Chardonnay that not only is in such a good shape after 10 years, but received a prestigious international award.

At Belje Old Cellar (Stari podrum) in Kneževi Vinogradi, we tasted the silver 2006. Goldberg in company of chief eonologist Mirjana Zovko. The atmosphere in the cellar reminds of Champagne, with its large wooden barrels and wine archives. Belje winery kept traditional, centuries-old identity of wine production in Baranja embodied in one of the most spectacular wine cellars in Europe, merging it with the ultra modern production technology of the new winery.

Oldest and youngest wine’s success

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The Old Cellar was built almost 500 years ago

Graševina 2015. also won a silver medal at Mundus Vini this year. They won a silver medal for Grasevina 2015. this year. This basic, quality Grasevina with a white label and a screw top, is sold in supermarkets for less than 30 kuna.  Now, we really don’t know of any other Croatian wine with an international award and a retail price of less than 30 kuna. Such simultaneous succes of oldest and youngest Belje wines symbolises their significance.

Belje is a traditional, old wine company, picturesquely and romantically represented by Stari podrum in Kneževi Vinogradi. On the place of their cellar legendary Turkish emperor Suleiman built a station for his cavalry in 1526, following the great victory in the Battle of Mohács. When Prince Eugene of Savoy defeated the Turks at Zenta 170 years later, he was given a huge estate in Baranja, spread on both sides of Drava River, including Hungarian Villany, where internationally famous red wines are produced. He built a two-storey cellar on a nearby hill, and commissioned the planting of vineyards that later made Baranja famous throughout Europe.

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Belje chief winemaker Suzana Zovko

Today cellar hides rows of large Slavonian oak barrels in which reds and some of the noblest white Belje wines age. The awarded 2006. Goldberg was produced there. Old Cellar is one of the main tourist attractions in Slavonia and Baranja; its archive of about 20.000 bottles survived the last war in Croatia and the oldest wine, a 1949. Cabernet Franc, is on display in the subterranean atrium between  row of barrels and a large tasting room. The other tasting room is located at street level.

And while the mystic quality and patina of Stari podrum create a feeling of special nobility of its wines, the new Belje winery located in the middle of a vineyard, is one of the most modern in Europe. The award-winning 2015. Grasevina was made ther. The 8 million litres capacity of the winery is impressive. Scores of various steel tanks are managed centraly from a few control panels, the laboratory is equiped with top of the notch analytical devices and the entire massive plant is led by only  two oenologists. More than 140 million kunas are invested in this new production building whose gently sloping outer lines fit prefectly with Baranja vineyard landscape. It was the largest investment in Croatian winemaking history.

Decanter World Wine Awards

The authentic tradition and cutting age modernity contribute with the terrroir to the great success of Belje wines, and their international winning streak that starteg with 2008 Merlot at the Decanter World Wine Awards. The winery maybe plays the biggest role in the consistence of quality in Belje portfolio. “We adapt vinification to the requirements of each harvest,” said Ms. Zovko, explaining the obvious differences in style, but not in quality among vintages of the same variety.

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Belje new archive starts with 2006. vintage

Some of the wine for the 2014. Premium Grasevina spent a few months in wood because it was a hard vintage and wines lacked the body. On the other hand,  no trace of wood is felt in the excellent 2015. Chardonnay, even though the wine also spent time in large oak barrels. The 2015 Chardonnay is radically mineral, very elegant and reminiscent of basic Chablis. The 2015. High-quality Grasevina definitely deserves a place in Premium wine category: it is a fresh, elegant, complex wine full of  Granny Smith apples and wild flowers aromas not typical for Grasevina variety. It’s a happy wine, and thanks to low alcohol (about 12 per cent) can be consumed in fairly large amounts.

The 2011. Grasevina also stood out among twenty or so wines we tasted at Stari podrum this spring, as did the 2011. Chardonnay (both wines have a good five to six years ahead of them). We also singled out the excellent 2013. Grasevina, probably the best Belje has ever produced, and the unusual 2006. Goldberg Grasevina.

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Belje vineyards

Goldberg is one of the best Belje positions, the early harvests keep freshness of the white variety, while the later harvests give higher sugar concentration and even some botrytis which Grasevina rather likes. That afinity is obvious in many excellent Austrian sweet Welscrieslings including Kracher and in Krauthaker dessert wines.

Belje 2006. Grasevina is an unusual combination of mature, mineral, almost dry white wine, and hedonistic dessert wine, full of noble rot and dried fruit aromas. Belje will soon be releasing the 2006. Chardonnay and 2006. Grasevina: both wines could surprise consumers and professionals alike. A winerythat won prestigious international awards for a luxury mature wine and a very cheap young wine in the same year, definitely deserves to be a part of Slavonia and Baranja tourism identity.