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Croatia: A Wealth of Flavors and Experiences! (Part 2)

Editor’s Note: As mentioned in Part 1 of this series, although this article is not directly related to either Spanish or Portuguese wine, we feel it’s important to occasionally give you a head’s up on various other wines we stumble across around the world. This article is based on a trip we took to Zagreb per the invitation of the Zagreb Wine Gourmet Festival to speak about social media and wine. If you have any questions, please make sure to contact our residential experts listed at the bottom of the post. Cheers!

Having given you our very basic culinary impressions of Croatia, it’s now time to move onto wine, a vinous delight in Croatia! Mind you, our time both in Zagreb and at the Zagreb Wine Gourmet Festival was incredibly limited, but from the hodge-podge of wines we tasted, ranging from phenomenal to quaffable, there was an undeniable trend towards quality.

I suppose the best way is to explain Croatian wine is that it’s generally broken up into two wine areas: coastal (Primorska) and continental (Kontinetalna). 90% of the wines produced in the Continental region in the north of Croatia are white, and of those white wines, the native grape Graševina is the most widely planted. Other aucthonomous grapes include: Diše?a Ranina, Moslavac (aka, Šipon, Pušipel), Plavec Žuti and Škrlet. The remaining 10% consist of several international red varieties such as Blaufrankisch, Pinot Noir, Merlot and Cabernet Franc, but sadly, nothing indigenous to Croatia. Of the 7 sub-regions in the continental area look out for Slavonia (which is NOT Slovenia, a common error I made when not vigilant) and Zagorje.

Along the southern, southwestern and western coast along the Adriatic Sea, which includes 1,100 the islands, you’ll find the famed Croatian red wine region. Coastal Croatia embodies 5 wine-growing sub-regions that are further subdivided into 31 viticultural areas called “wine-growing hills” (vinogorje). Along the northern coast, and Istria, you’ll find the local red variety Teran (related to Italian Refosko), as well the acclaimed Malvasia Istriana grape and Yellow Muskat. In southern Dalmatia, the red variety Plavac Mali is especially famed, as is Pošip on the Island of Kor?ula.

Admittedly, as this was our first time in Croatia, we were a little overwhelmed by the numerous grapes and regions we couldn’t pronounce or recognize. Unlike taking a trip to France, chockfull of a million tiny regions you’ve never heard of, the grapes and general winegrowing areas are undeniably well known. Croatia, on the other hand, was like taking a trip in the world of Charlie and Chocolate Factory, where every bottle contained a new grape, a new region and a new producer. However, there were some rising star grapes that are worthy of chatting about!

Plavac Mali (pronounced Plahvahts Mahlee) is said to be a cross between Crljenak Kaštelanski (Zinfandel) and Dobri?i?, Plavac Mali tends towards higher alcohol wines (almost never below 13%) with low acidity and big tannins – a statement I can attest to! Prior to visiting Croatia, it was suggested by Croatian wine lovers that we seek out this dominate grape, as a result of its versatile character and overall quality. However, of the dozen or so we tried, we generally found these wines to either be absolutely stunning, or at times, hot – where the alcohol failed to integrate successfully. There were, however, a few examples that we fell in love with, including the Madirazza, Dinga? barrique 2006 and the Korta Katarina 2007 Plavac Mali from Pelješac, South Dalmatia. Interestingly, Plavac Mali is the only Croatian variety that does not have the name of the grape on the bottle when produced from quality regions, but instead, the area where it comes from. Keep your eyes out for the regions of: Dinga?, Postup (Pelješac) and Ivan Dolac (Hvar).

Of particular interest for us was the rare grape Babi? (bah-bich), an indigenous red grape variety of Northern Dalmatia. This grape loves poor stony soils and tends to thrive on the ancient terraced slopes of the Bucavac vineyard, a UNESCO World Heritage List site under the Protected Cultural Landscapes category. While Babi? is thought to be related to Dobri?i?, these wines tend to be more refined and elegant with a earthy dark fruit character showing loads of spice, dried figs, herbs and cigar box. Make sure to look out for the Gracin 2008!

In regards to whites, the Graševina (Welschreisling) is the most planted white grape in Croatia, grown throughout the inland areas, but most especially in the Kutjevo municipality and around Ilok. We, unfortunately, did not explore this grape enough to suggest any prime examples for you to seek out, but Anthony Rose did on a press trip to Istria a few years back. Allow us to point you in his direction to get a better understanding of its merits.

The Malvazija Istriana (or Malvasia) was by far one of our personal favorites! Once thought to be a relative of Malvasia (or Malmasy), which produces a sweeter style wine, Malvazija Istriana is a separate variety and shows its best when dry. Grown in Istria, along the Adriatic, it’s heaven in a bottle! We tasted amazing late harvest examples of this grape, not to mention big, bold austere whites that expressed amazing mature white fruit, minerals, dark spices and Mediterranean herbs such as oregano and sage. Fabulous discoveries included the Roxanich 2007 Malvasia Antica (unbelievable wine in the orange wine style of Italy), the Kozlovi? 2006 Malvasia Santa Lucia and the Clai Sv. Jakov Malvazija 2009.

Beyond the wines mentioned above, also seek out the 2007 Tomac Amfora, a blend of rare, local varieties that showed unbelievably well, as did the wines from Misal. Based in Istria, we had the opportunity to try a wide range of Misal sparkling wines, of which the Misal Blanc des blanc and Misal Millennium were most notable.

What we’re mentioning here doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface as to what we experienced, but it’s clear that we’ve caught the “bug”. We’re eager to explore the coastal regions now, spending time in both Dalmatia and Istria.

If you’re interested in seeking out more information on Croatian wine, please don’t seek us out, we’re much better suited to help you in Spain and Portugal. Instead, go to some very qualified individuals, such as Cliff Rames. Cliff is the founder of Wines of Croatia, and succinctly summed up Croatian wines in a recent interview by saying, “I believe that once people hear the story of Croatia and the winemakers, see the beautiful places where these grapes grow, and taste the terroir and character in these wines, Croatia will become a player on the world wine scene. I truly believe that – I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t!” We couldn’t agree more. The following names are linked to their Facebook page for more information:

Cliff Rames: The father of the Croatian wine movement in the USA, as well as the Wines of Croatia website

Darrel Joseph: Based in Vienna, Darrel has a soft spot for Croatian wines and has dedicated much of his recent work to this country.

Saša Špiranec: One of Croatia’s leading wine writers, who is not only an expert, but a wonderful guide.

And if you have any Croatian wines you suggest seeking out, please let us know!


Gabriella Opaz

(all flights, accommodation and most meals were paid for by the Zagreb Wine Gourmet Festival)

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