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.
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.
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!
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)
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
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
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 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.
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
Tags: Croatia, Croatian wine, Dingac, Grasevina, Korta Katarina, Krauthaker, learn about wine, Malvasia Istriana, Malvazija, Matosevic, Notting Hill Brasserie, Plavac Mali, Saints Hills, Trapan, wine from Croatia, Wine Travel