An institution not only of the Croatian wine scene, but of Zagreb itself, the supremely located Bornstein Wine Bar and Shop is not only the oldest wine shop in all former Yugoslavia, but the charm of its 200 year-old arched basement is more than matched by the selection of wines contained therein, and by the charm and energy of its most recent owners, Ivan and Doris Srpek.
I made my first visit a few days ago, expecting to be impressed by the stylish historic interior of this fine building in the heart of the former religious quarter (and where the landlord is still the local church), just as the winemaker of Hvar had been when they hosted a tasting there a couple of years ago - see Hvar winemaker Ivo Dubokovic chatting to TCW's Zeljko Suhadolnik at that evening, above.
And I was impressed - of course I was - how could one not fail to be with such a spectacular basement teeming with atmosphere, tradition and some of the very best wines Croatia had to offer, as well as a more than reasonable selection of international wines at more than reasonable prices. But Bornstein for me was much more than a good wine collection and a picturesque historic building with a proud history.
One only had to sit with owners Ivan and Doris for a few minutes to unmask the passion and enthusiasm they have for what they do, and how they do it (It was no surprise to learn that Doris was one of those fabulous ladies from Women on Wine, who also hold several events at Bornstein). Located not far from the cathedral at Kaptol 19, Bornstein has always been a famous wine shop, and a quick trawl of the Internet has it listed in many of the international media visits to Zagreb, and with good reason. But wine does not sell itself, and there is a lively programme of tastings, live music and other events to raise the profile of Bornstein, which has help add to its reputation.
As too has the decision to open a wine bar to compliment the shop. The best of both worlds for tourists who come in to buy that souvenir. Breathe in the history, try a selection and go home with that special bottle or three. Owner Ivan, whose roots are in this part of the world moved back from Australia, with a track record in gourmet hospitality. More than ably assisted by wife Doris, it shows, and while there is not a full kitchen (for now at least), the nibbles and delicacies to accompany the wine selection is divine - DO insist on the home-made chicken liver pate.
Inside or outside, asked my friend who suggested we meet there? It was not a particularly warm day, and the cellars inside were supreme, but Bornstein offered something which one does not come across too much in the cafe culture of Zagreb - a more private outside space away from passers by. It was something I had a craving for once I saw the spacious courtyard behind the main building, so there we sat, with a magnificent view of the cathedral, which sat majestically in the background, and which I can imagine looks especially romantic at night.
It was late afternoon, and both Ivan and Doris had a little time to sit and chat, but always with one eye on the customer. Three giggling Korean female tourists arrived to buy some souvenir wine, left contented after a few minutes with their purchases, this time to buy some wine. They left - as I did - extremely content at the service.
One of the decisions they had to make when taking over was whether or not to buy the business itself, and hence the name. They decided to do so, a wise move, and all that tradition and history is a huge bonus when promoting this idlyllic slice of wine heaven, although I suspect with these two at the helm, the future looks equally as bright.
A word on the pricing. I have previously written about something called 'the Beleca Test', which I have found to be a useful tool when comparing the prices of wines at restaurants in Croatia. Beleca is a white wine made by my friend Andro Tomic. Either that or his Plavac, which retail at the same price are available in over 500 places in Croatia, and most good restaurants and wine bars will have some Tomic presence. So far, I have found prices on the Beleca Test ranging from 140 to 300 kuna retail. So how did Bornstein the wine bar compare?
"We sell the Beleca for 135," said Ivan. The new price to beat.
Meet Ivan in the video below - one half of a lovely couple. Opening times above, and visit the official Bornstein website here.