By Madison Gable
A grin spreads across Doris Srpek’s face as she leans over to pour wine into the two large stemmed glasses on the table, placed carefully for the tasting. The original exposed brick of the vaulted cellar just below Kaptol Street frames her figure as she slowly maneuvers to retrieve a weathered map of Croatia’s four wine regions and props it against a crooked wooden coat rack. With the same enthusiasm and stance as a grade school teacher, Srpek, co-owner of Bornstein Wine Bar and Shop, launches into an explanation of Croatian wine. The dimmed lighting envelops the low-ceilinged room in a warmth equal to that of the Plavac being sipped around the table.
Bornstein is one of the oldest wine bars in Zagreb and operates out of a 200-year-old brick-walled cellar; the bar also boasts a terrace with a view of the Zagreb cathedral. Doris and Ivan Srpek have owned the establishment for the past four years. Beginning with just a shop, the Srpek’s eventually expanded the business to a bar as well to be able to allow their customers to taste their collection. Srpek explains that she and her husband decided to keep the name Bornstein because “it stands for the beginning of the wine scene in Croatia.” The establishment not only serves as a bar and shop, but also hosts six different varieties of tastings, as well as occasional dinners. The tastings offer a rich collection of Croatian wines as well as an assortment of tapas that include domestic olive oils and cheeses.
A “Wine Flights” tasting, available without prior reservation, includes a range of Croatian wines from the outskirts of Zagreb to the Adriatic Coast. Srpek chose to present a Pušipel, a white from the cool, humid hills of the Croatian uplands. She described the grape as “a forgotten variety,” most likely inherited from Hungary, that winemakers in the Međimurje regions are reviving. From the Istria region, Srpek served a Malvazija Istarska. She explained that the grape was from ancient Greece, but that this strand was uniquely Croatian. This white is dry but fruity, and a summertime favorite for Croats. Next on the roster was a Dingač, a red that originates from the Plavac grape in the Dalmatian Islands. Srpek expounded on the Dingač’s label, explaining that illustrations of donkeys can always be found on a Dingač bottle because traditionally vineyards utilized donkeys for the harvest. The grape grows in steeply hilled vineyards of Dalmatia, where no machinery is used in the September harvest, even today. Srpek sums up the demanding process with, “Everything is hands, hands, hands.”
Bornstein Wine bar and Shop serves as an ideal mode for discovering the culture of Croatia and Zagreb specifically. Knowledge about wine seems inherent to Purgers, Zagreb locals, who have close relations to the wine industry either through business, family or the sheer enjoyment of drinking it. Sharing this knowledge forges a connection between visitor and local, and allows any traveler to feel a resonance with Zagreb’s culture.