Wines of Croatia and Bistro Ristoro are a Perfect Pairing

ABOVE: Plavac Peljesac Red Badel 1862 d.d. 750 ml is available in Ontario at the LCBO (#460873).

Ten short years ago, the Republic of Croatia became part of the European Union and has since become a top tourist destination for Canadians. The former Yugoslav country adopted the Euro this past January and joined the Schengen zone. Travel between Croatia and European countries is now easier, making Croatia an ideal stepping-off point for Canadians travelling to Eastern or Western Europe.

A highlight of travel is being introduced to a country’s food culture, and nothing accompanies a meal better than a wonderfully paired glass of wine.

Recently, the European Union and Badel, the largest and oldest producer of wines and spirits in Croatia, hosted an evening of Croatian wine and food at Bistro Ristoro in Ottawa’s ByWard Market.

For those unfamiliar with the Clarence Street eatery, the restaurant is close to Sussex Avenue and tucked away from the hustle, bustle, and sometimes craziness of the ByWard Market.

If you have ever walked past 17 Clarence, you have likely noticed the enormous wood-fired oven in the restaurant’s back corner. Other Ottawa eateries now feature similar ovens, but their dough sets Bistro Ristoro apart; it’s made fresh daily according to a century-old recipe.

Owners Vlado and Lydia say that their unique recipe and wood oven are a hit with customers who return for their pizza and the array of Mediterranean cuisine that is all made from scratch. Nothing served at Bistro Ristoro is ever frozen, and this freshness, combined with a passion for food, you can taste with each bite.

The European Union dignitaries and guests at the June 7th Badel Wine Tasting Dinner were served an array of dishes, including delicious shrimp kebabs with arugula salad, a tarte flambé made with crème fraiche, red onion and double smoke bacon, and a lamb pot that featured a bread pot. The final dish was grass-fed sirloin cubes paired with a fresh mix of Majorcan tomatoes, onions, and green peppers.

Our wine specialist for the evening, Apostolos Gerakinis from Toronto-based United Stars, perfectly paired wine with each course.

We sampled a wonderful Badel Vesak Grasevina Cabernet Sauvignon that, despite being lighter and fresher, had incredible depth of character, with notes of pepper. The flambé and lamb pot were paired with a big, bold, yet juicy and flavourful Badel Plavac Peljesac Syrah. The final grilled red meat course was paired with a Badel Korlat Cabernet Sauvignon, a wine that enhanced the grilled meat’s flavours.

Gerakinis explained that Croatia is among the oldest wine-growing regions in the world, dating back to Roman times. However, due to the area’s politics, wines and spirits were mass-produced for the East-Block countries of the former Soviet Union.

It is truly fascinating how many wine-growing regions there are worldwide, yet each one creates distinctive products. According to Gerakinis, Croatian wineries have re-jigged their production processes and returned to a craft-oriented winemaking approach.

The wines we tasted were simply fantastic, very well-priced, and worth trying. Look for Croatian wines at the LCBO in the Eastern Europe section, and Gerakinis advises anyone interested in a specific wine to ask their local LCBO about obtaining it. The intended result is a more fruitful selection on store shelves!

Start your Croatian wine journey with a visit to Bistro Ristoro; the menu includes a selection of Dalmatian wines. When you are there, say hello to Vlado and Lydia.