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Clai Brombonero & Clai Sv Jakov: Two Iconic Croatian Wines

Reading Time: [est_time] Updated on 27 November 2018: We were invited to the launch of the new vintages of Clai Sv. Jakov Malvazija and Brombonero Refošk. The wines were tasted over dinner at Dubravkin Put in Zagreb,

Clai Winery Cellar

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Updated on 27 November 2018: We were invited to the launch of the new vintages of Clai Sv. Jakov Malvazija and Brombonero Refošk. The wines were tasted over dinner at Dubravkin Put in Zagreb, Croatia. Nearly everyone was impressed with the new vintages.

Giorgio Clai has been called the “Godfather of Istria.” He is a well-known figure in not only Croatian wines but the world of minimal intervention wines as well.

Clai Winery is located in the northwest corner of the peninsula of Istria. Giorgio ran a successful restaurant business in nearby Trieste, Italy before coming back to Istria and starting a winery. He farms organically (certified) and utilizes Biodynamic principles. Giorgio prefers long macerations and depends on spontaneous fermentation utilizing wild yeasts.

Clai Brombonero Refošk & Clai Sv. Jakov Malvazija

The two entry-level wines from Clai are the Ottocento Crni and Ottocento Bijeli. These are both excellent wines in their own right and worth seeking out.  The Sv Jakov and Brombonero are reserve wines and can be difficult to get. The Brombonero has a waiting list every vintage and is often thought of as Croatia’s finest red wine.

Giorgio doesn’t keep a large archive of his own wines. He either drinks or sells most of his production. Because of this, it can be extremely difficult to do a vertical comparison of his wines, especially the reserve wines. Last year we attended a Clai workshop at the Vin Art Grand Tasting and compared both the Sv Jakov and Brombonero 2009 and 2013 vintages side by side. Just a few months after the workshop, we located a few bottles of the 2011 vintages in Belgrade, Serbia.

The Clai Sv. Jakov is a macerated white wine made from Malvazija Istarska (Malvasia Istriana). The Clai Brombonero Refošk is a dark, structured red wine made from Refosco dal Penduncolo Rosso.

You can watch and learn about Giorgio Clai & Clai Winery in this video (starting at 8:12). 

Clai Wines: The Tasting Notes

  • Clai Sv. Jakov Malvazija 2016

The latest vintage of Clai Sv. Jakov Malvazija is the most impressive one that I’ve tasted. It has notes of tangerine & peel, dandelion, apricot, and sweet peach. Full bodied with intense minerality and a bitter almond finish and a touch of chewy tannins. The texture and nuances on the palate are what makes this truly special.  95/100

  • Clai Sv. Jakov Malvazija 2015

This is a ripe and rich version of Sv. Jakov. It is full of yellow peach and yellow flower flavors. This is one of the richer and more textured versions of this bottling. This wine is highly structured and needs more time in the bottle to show its best. Our only gripe with this wine is that the alcohol sticks out a bit more in this vintage.   91/100

  • Clai Sv. Jakov Malvazija 2013

This is full honeycomb in color. Ironically honeycomb, yellow flower, perfume, and ripe peach flavors dominate. This smells as if it would be sweet but it is dry, rich on the mouth and tangy with a beautiful bitter flower and tangerine finish. This isn’t for everyone because the bitter flower flavors can take over, but for wine nerds, this is a real treat.  93/100

  • Clai Sv. Jakov Malvazija 2011

You can see our tasting notes in the Exotic Wine Travel Facebook post below.   94/100

  • Clai Sv. Jakov Malvazija 2009

Tangerine color. This is more earth and mineral-driven than other vintages, thanks to the aging. Ripe peach, yellow flower, and vanilla spice round out the flavors. Rich and full on the palate, the fruit takes over with a savory feel. This has a smooth and long finish.   93/100

  • Clai Brombonero Refošk 2015

Can the Clai Brombonero Refošk 2015 become as great as the 2009? It’s very possible after ten years in the bottle. This wine knocked my socks off… again. It’s full of red fruit, cedar, tobacco, white pepper, and mineral. Intense and concentrated, the wine is full bodied without being too fat. Small and grainy tannins, this vintage is again the real deal.   94/100

  • Clai Brombonero Refošk 2013

Dark, almost black in color. This wine is full of blackberry, leather, pepper, and mineral notes with a touch of violets. Real dense on the palate, it feels almost like a high structured Merlot. Fruity with high flavor intensity and a long finish, this has the stuffing to last a long time. This still hasn’t shed all its baby fat, more time in the bottle will reveal greater beauty.   93/100

  • Clai Brombonero Refošk 2011

Deep and dark with chocolate, leather, tobacco, blackberry, and violets that transition the flavors into red cherry. This has a lot of life ahead of it. Tannins are firm but not overly hard. The wine does a great job of keeping Refosco DPR’s wildness while being refined at the same time. Very juicy acidity equals a wine that is drinking well now but can keep for much longer.   94/100

Clai Brobonero Refosk
  • Clai Brombonero Refošk 2009  

Giorgio Clai says that this wine is the best wine he’s ever made. The 2009 Brombonero Refosšk is still pitch black in color. It is taking on some forest floor notes at 8 years of age. Black plum, blackberry, leather, and pepper flavors dominate. This is very juicy on the palate and has a long life ahead of it. The finish has a touch of black pepper.   96/100


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Cover photo courtesy of Clai Winery.

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