Croatian wine is making a big splash!

Croatian sunset

Croatia, located in the Adriatic Sea opposite Italy’s eastern shores, has 1,777km of coastline and 1,185 islands is a fantastic vacation destination! However, there is much more than sun, sand and sea to this country of just 4.5 million residents – they also make outstanding wine!

This isn’t the first time I’ve written about Croatian wine, (this was) but if possible, I am an even greater advocate for this burgeoning region than before, since a recent tasting and dinner held at Notting Hill Brasserie here in London.

Geography

As my good friend Dennis Sunjic likes to say, Croatia is shaped like a boomerang. It’s almost like having two countries in one, separated naturally by a mountain range. The inland or Continental part of the country sits below Hungary and Slovenia while the coastal areas run north to south along the Adriatic Sea.

Within these two areas are three very distinct wine regions – the Continental area of Slavonia and the Danube; Istria on the northern coast and Dalmatia to the south near Dubrovnik.

The yellow and green areas are Continental Croatia; red is Istria and purple is Dalmatia (map courtesy of Saša Špiranec)

These regions have vastly differing soils and climates and therefore are better suited to specific grape varieties; the main ones being: Graševina (Welschriesling) in Slavonia, Malvazija (Malvasia Istriana) in Istria and Plavac Mali (similar to Zinfandel) in Dalmatia.

There is no doubt about the astounding quality coming from Croatia.  Many of the world’s foremost wine critics including Neil Martin of eRobertParker and Julia Harding MW of Jancis Robinson’s Purple Pages have said as much in recent reviews.

It is quite remarkable to think that many of the country’s wineries did not even exist five years ago and are already producing world-class wine! Croatia knows how to make an entrance onto the world scene of wine!

I personally find it so tremendous to be experiencing the ascent of Croatian wine. The wines from France, Spain, Italy, Australia, America etc have been available as long as we can remember, but Croatian wine is just brand new and that’s exciting!

Pronunciation

For English (and American!) speakers, knowing how to correctly pronounce the names and grapes of Croatian wine can be quite a challenge, so here are a few helpful tips:

š = sh            (i.e. Graševina = Grash-evina)

c = ts             (i.e. Mitrovac = Mitro-vats)

ć = ch             (i.e. Galič = Gay-lich)

dž = dj           (i.e. Adžić = Ad-jich)

The seaside town of Igrane

Slavonia & the Danube

The grape variety that excels here is Graševina. This is not an indigenous grape, it is better known in other parts of the world as Welschriesling but don’t let the negative association to that grape turn you away from some of the most interesting wines from Croatia.

These wines are quite tropical and many retain a small amount of residual sugar (in non-geek terms that means some are slightly sweet). Graševina is such a good vehicle by which to express the terroir of the region, with pure aromas and flavours, that it is rarely touched by oak. Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Crni (red), Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon are also grown in the region.

Personal highlights from this region were:

Krauthaker Graševina “Mitrovac” (single vineyard) 2009

Belje Graševina 2009

Mihalj Graševina 2008

Zdjelarevic Grand Cuvee “Nagual” 2007 (Chardonnay / Sauvignon Blanc)

Belje Merlot 2008

Istria

On the north coast of the country, Istria is best known for the white grape Malvasia Istriana. Parts of the region feature terra rossa soils, similar to those in Australia’s Coonawarra. Malvasia Istriana produces light, fresh, fruity, thirst-quenching wines when vinified in stainless steel, and when it spends time in oak, the wine becomes more complex, fuller and creamier. A specific characteristic of this grape variety is bitter almond.

Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Muscat, Merlot, Teran (an indigenous black grape), Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Syrah are also grown here.

Personal highlights from this region were:

Trapan Malvazija “Ponente” 2009

Kozlović Malvazija 2009

Matošević “Grimalda” 2009 (50% Chardonnay, 25% Sauvignon Blanc, 25% Malvasia Istriana)

Saints Hills “Nevina” 2009 (72% Malvasia Istriana, 28% Chardonnay)

Kabola Malvazija “Amfora” 2007

Agrolaguna Merlot “Festigia” 2008

Matošević “Grimalda” 2008 (85% Merlot, 15% Teran)

Trapan Syrah 2008

Dalmatia

This is the southernmost wine-producing region in the country, not far from the walled city of Dubrovnik.  The climate is similar to that of Sicily and parts of Greece so only grape varieties that can stand the heat will thrive here.  Plavac Mali is one such grape.  The characteristics of this grape are quite similar to Zinfandel and for good reason, Plavac Mali is a crossing between Zinfandel and the indigenous grape variety, Dobričić, leading to the belief that Zinfandel originates from Croatia.

One of the small appellations in Dalmatia is called Dingač. There are 60ha designated to the production of Plavac Mali here, shared by about twenty producers. Dingač is extremely steep and it would be impossible for machines to work there, so all the vines must be harvested by hand.

Unfortunately due to time constraints, I was only able to taste one wine from this region (and that was at dinner), the Saints Hills Dingač Plavac Mali 2008 which had only recently been bottled and has yet to be released to the market.  The nose was very herbal (thyme) while the palate was big and robust with massive mocha and chocolate cherries; it’s still very young and needs a bit of time, but has all the hallmarks of becoming a stellar wine.

The Evening

The dinner at Notting Hill Brasserie was fantastic!  The team, led by sommelier Alex Malfitana, provided careful, attentive service through five impressive courses. Seared scallops with lobster and prawn tortellini and lemongrass velouté were paired with the Krauthaker Graševina “Mitrovac” 2009, while cep crusted John Dory with a broccoli purée, white beans, pata negra and cep velouté was accompanied by Saints Hills “Nevina” 2009.

The dark spice and tannins of the Matošević “Grimalda” 2009 was perfectly suited to a roast breast of partridge with creamed cabbage, truffle purée and truffle sauce. The youthful Saints Hills Dingač Plavac Mali 2008 stood up well to the succulent slow cooked venison loin with sweet potato purée, confit red cabbage and the valhrona chocolate sauce that made the wine’s mocha mannerisms sing!  Lastly, the luscious Krauthaker Zelenac IBPB (TBA) 2008 dessert wine captured the essence of the evening when accompanied by the apple tarte tatin with crème fraiche and Calvados sauce.

If I could encourage you to try one new wine this year, it would be a wine from Croatia. In my opinion, the winemakers to seek out are:  Matošević, Saints Hills, Korta Katarina, Trapan and Krauthaker.

Check out my photos from the Croatian wine tasting and dinner on the Wine Passionista Facebook page and read about my 2008 visit to Croatia on the Haidu blog.

For more information on the wines and regions, visit Wines of Croatia.

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I’d love to hear about your experiences with wine from Croatia – please leave a comment below!

There’s Always Time for Wine!

Tara – Wine Passionista

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Leave A Reply (10 comments so far)


  1. Christina Pickard
    4 years ago

    Hi Tara, great to see someone else writing about the beauties of Croatian wine! I just got back from Istria and was so impressed with the quality of the wine there (I love Grasevina too!). Some other winemakers coming on the scene over here who are also fabulous are Giorgio Clai (amazing!!), Corenica, and Roxanich among others. See Parts 1 and 2 of my blog (part 3 coming soon): http://www.winewithchristina.co.uk/index.php/category/blog/. Hope you get a chance to try them sometime. Thanks for the pronounciation key too, v helpful! ;-)


    • Wine Passionista
      4 years ago

      Hi Christina, thanks for your kind comments! Lucky you having just visited Istria, I am hoping to get there next year and will certainly keep an eye out for the winemakers you have recommended. I look forward to reading your reports! Tara


  2. Ilija Brajkovic
    4 years ago

    Hi,

    first of all, thanks for writing about Croatian wines. I live there and I know how good those wines are.

    Just a small correction. For a third picture, you wrote Igrane, but that’s Dubrovnik :-).


    • Wine Passionista
      4 years ago

      Hi Ilija,
      Thanks so much for your comment – you are lucky to be surrounded not only by Croatian wines, but by a beautiful country as well! Thanks for picking up the mistake on the photo! I uploaded the wrong one but have corrected it now :) Tara


  3. Tanja Mamula
    3 years ago

    Hi Tara,

    Hope you made it for VinIstra this year, although the timing was a bit unfortunate, just a wend before London Fair.
    However, you def must try Coronica’s Malvasia as well as his Gran Terano and there is a fab and interesting new guy on the scene: Dimitri Brecevic, Vina Piquentum. The thing is there are many good wine producers in Istria and in the rest of Croatia so please do not come in a hurry ! :-).
    I’ve always been so very annoyed when Croatia is simply not mentioned in wine atlases, guides etc. So pleased things are changing. Also I was so proud when I had found Moreno Coronica’s wine in one fancy wine bar in Chamonix ! The only similar kind of pride I experienced when back in the 80s I saw a huge sculpture of Nikola Tesla at Niagara Falls . :-)
    Get in touch if you’d like an incognito tour of Istrian wine yards and wine makers, I know my way around very well, I grew up there and still spend lots of time in Istria. I’d be very pleased to be your guide.
    Have fun Tara, you have a fabulous job. T

  4. Never mind Notting Hill (Brassiere) and’ wine’s mocha mannerisms sing (ing)’ – Croatian wines are a bit like Croatia, ‘the best kept secret of the Med’ (or something to that effect) – true, but be aware of the hype. For every great bottle, you’ll get a quite few bottles of drinkable alcoholic vinegar (not that locals mind).

    Once Croatia and its wine are not ‘fashionable’ any more, try Herzegivina across the border – some truly amazing, homemade whites of Zilavka sort -believe me, a white as you have never tested before: pure, organic and nothing like staff from Tescos (or Waitrose for your lot).
    On the turist front, definitely try Peljesac peninsula where ‘mi gente’ comes from- if Croatia is the best Med secret, Peljesac is ….
    Anyhow, I hope you’ll publish my contribution, in spite of my philistine inclinations.
    Vinko


    • Wine Passionista
      3 years ago

      Hi Vinko, thanks for your comment – I always welcome opinion and insight :) I look forward to the opportunity to try the wines from the Peljesac peninsula.


  5. Sailing forever
    3 years ago

    I must say this is excellent article about wines in Croatia, and very good promotion of my country, and I thank you for this. I dont know if you are coming to Croatia again, or if you have a chance to buy Croatian wines where you live but I can recommend you wine Babic (Bab-ich :) from the Dalmatian region (area of small town Primosten). Some says that this could be the best Croatian sort of wine. It is strong red wine and it is famous even because the picture of the vineyards where babic is grown is exhibited in main UN conference hall in New York as example of what people can do with they hard work.

    Best Regards

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