TCN’s Slobodan Kadic visits Varazdon’s Spancirfest, enjoying Turkey with “mlinci” and “zlevanka”, before heading off to the Wine City.
“First, let’s go to the Theatre Square to freshen up, and then we will continue to the centre of the town” – that was the warm, but curt welcome given to me, after a three-hour drive down the road through Podravina, by Marija Barić, a long-time journalist for Varaždinske Vijesti, my personal guide through the streets of Varaždin and the Špancirfest.
Since ancient times, Varaždin has been a town which the guests admired and the residents loved. With all its peculiarities, it is situated on the edge of the Pannonian Basin in the northwest of Croatia. For years now, it has been the host of Špancirfest during the last week of August. As a festival of the town, a carousel of music, laughter and dance with aimless strolls down the charming streets, in addition to many musical treats, it has become a place where you can increasingly find great authentic food with fine wines from Croatia and abroad.
While we were wandering down the decorated streets full of smiling people, a variety of smells lured us to approach various stalls… At the very beginning, there was a fine Belgian chocolate offered by a nice saleswoman from Osijek… then a smell of pork rinds and “kulen” from Valpovo… several restaurants and then the Wine City which was designed by our well-known wine expert Saša Špiranec. According to the renowned guide of 100 Croatian restaurants published by the Gastronaut Club, the memories of aristocrats’ banquets in the Varaždin area at the crossroads between Zagorje, Međimurje and Podravina are reflected in today’s specialties of the region, mainly meat dishes with rather complicated recipes. Therefore, in many restaurants in Varaždin you will encounter meat “z lodrice” (meat preserved in spicy fat), the “prge” cheese, cottage cheese with red pepper, homemade ham and goose liver.
“Among hot appetizers, the best known are the ‘štruklova’ soup, the Zagorje potato soup or perhaps ‘gorički’ goulash. If you plan to walk around for a long time, for the main course you should try roast turkey, a duck or goose with ‘mlinci’ or stuffed with buckwheat porridge, stuffed chicken, corn ‘zlevanke’ or stuffed veal breast”, says Karin Mimica, the head of the Gastronaut Club.
Also, do not forget a dessert, salty and sweet “štrukle”, strudels with various fillings, the Zagorje pumpkin pie or the “bregove” pie. Our travels have led us to the Verglec restaurant known for the sounds of organ grinder whose traditional instrument entertains the guests… after which we joyfully continued to dance through the day.
And what about wines, you may wonder?
Slowly and with our stomachs full we “limped” towards the Wine City, where daily presentations of fine wines were organized. We immediately noticed the stalls of Kutjevo and Belje, but it is only normal to first spot the winemakers from Slavonia, especially those whose wines are close to your heart. One of the new features of this year’s 17th Špancirfest is the Wine City, set up on 600 square metres in the courtyard of the baroque palace Sermage.
During the ten days, the gallery of old and new masters was turned into a small town with wooden and glass houses and terraces with comfortable cushions where you could drink a glass of selected wines and enjoy themed tastings from morning until late evening.
“The idea of the project was to give the Špancirfest and the visitors a little ‘wine chic’. There are about twenty selected wineries which are selling wines by the glass, but also by the bottles for a promotional price”, said Sasa Špiranec, a wine journalist and writer.
Wineries from all over Croatia were presented, from Istria and Zagorje to Slavonia and Dalmatia, including Belje, Krauthaker, the Association of Kutjevo Winemakers, Prigora Vina, Freixenet, Belović, Dvanajščak-Kozol, Mežnarić, Bolfan, Stina Vino, St Hills, Iločki Podrumi, Mladina, Jeruzalem, Zlatne Gorice, Skaramuča and Istrian winemakers with their IQ Malvasia and IQ Teran wines. The concept of the Wine City was that each day should have its own “theme”. So, the Friday, August 21, was the day for bubbles, followed by a story about the flavours of Croatian hills, “graševina” and other Slavonian wines, Malvasia wines, “black” Dalmatia, Zagorje hills, Slavonian red wines and the duel between Teran vs Bordeax. The last weekend in the Wine City was reserved for two special themes: on Saturday, “pošip” and other Dalmatian white wine varieties; and on Sunday dessert and sweet wines.
So, you could choose to come to the Wine City only on certain days or on all days!
And, to end our story, every year we again discover Špancirfest as a unique experience. We listen to its stories which we do not know how and when will end, all accompanied by the accelerated rhythm of lights, smells and sounds. A true tick-tock tick-tock!
Selectors of the themed wine tastings
The selectors of the themed wine tastings were: Nina Levičnik, Sasa Špiranec, Rene Bakalović, Elvira Belović, Zlatko Gall, Ivo Kozarčanin, Sanja Muzaferija, Morana Zibar and Lada Radin, Leo Gracin and Jelena Šimić Valentić.