Text and photos © 2016 Cliff Rames
Debit, a white variety native to Croatia’s Dalmatian coast between the cities of Šibenik and Zadar, was once considered a workhorse grape of great proficiency, so much so (the story goes) it gained its nom de plume during the Napoleonic Era when Dalmatian land owners would barter and pay off their tax debts with their crop instead of coin. This was possible because debit, when unmanaged in the vineyard and left to its own devices, will produce high yields (and consequently simple, one-dimensional wine). So, debit’s proficiency and reliability served the locals well during the Napoleonic era–and later through the 20th century during Croatia’s time as one of the republics in Yugoslavia, when Socialist-style cooperatives demanded quantity over quality.
With Croatia’s independence in 1991, local grape growers were no longer obligated to sell their crops to the state-run cooperatives. Alen Bibić, a visionary who inherited vineyards from his grandfather, seized the opportunity and redefined concepts of marketing, tourist services, and winemaking at his small winery near Skradin in central Dalmatia. In his hands, debit would soon become redefined as well. No longer a thin, uninteresting wine best suited for “gemišt” (a customary mix of white wine and sparkling mineral water), Bibich debit wines became serious offerings across several different styles: sparkling (BIBICh Brut); young, still and fresh (BIBICh Debit); barrel-aged, single vineyard (BIBICh Lučica); and a limestone vat fermented orange wine (Bas de Bas). His debit also proves to be surprisingly age worthy; the oldest vintage on sale at the winery is 1999. Sherry-like in character after 16 years, it still retains remarkable structure and drinkability.
Recently I had the opportunity to enjoy a bottle of the BIBICh Debit 2015, which Frank Dietrich of Blue Danube Wine Company (Bibić’s U.S. importer) declared Alen’s best so far. Pale straw in color, the wine is distinctly marked by saline, chalky minerality. Lemon curd, grapefruit pith, raw almond, green apple, and a salty notes on the finish combine to instill the wine with a crunchy vibrancy and a bitter aftertaste, evoking a desire for grilled sardines served with a salad of fresh greens dressed with lemon, oregano, artichoke hearts, and green olives.