Jako Vino, a recently-renovated winery in the circa 1903 Dalmatinska Vinska Zadruga (Dalmatian Wine Association) building in the town of Bol on Brač island, Croatia, has launched a brand new wine called “Stina”.
Stinais a quality red wine made from the locally indigenous Plavac Mali grape. “Stina” is a local word that means stone – or, more precisely, the high quality white limestone blocks that are quarried on Brač and exported around the world to be turned into great works of sculpture and architecture (“stina” from Brač was reportedly used in the building of the White House in Washington DC and as construction blocks and as sidewalk pavers in various cities, including New York City).
While the verdict is still out on how delicious this wine possibly is (I haven’t yet tasted it or come across any reviews), what stands out is not so much the wine but its label (actually there are currently several different versions of the label, so collect them all!). 🙂
Designed and published by Zagreb advertising firm Bruketa & Žinićand brand consultants Brandoctor, the Stina label is magnificent. Strikingly sleek and eye-catching, it is a marvel of design: at once stark yet beautiful; simple yet powerful; rustic yet elegant…skillfully merging the accidental with the deliberate, the rudimentary with the artistic and wine snobbery with mainstream chic appeal.
As you can see by the photos and video below, the label’s textured white paper background serves as a canvass for free-form, breezy drawings that take their shape and inspiration from what would otherwise be unfortunate and unsophisticated drips of wine down the sides of the bottle.
Which leads me to wonder: In the history of wine drinking, how many prized labels in the hands of would-be connoisseurs and collectors have been ruined by renegade trickles of wine, staining noble depictions of Coats of Arms and names of Great Chateaus with clumsy crimson tears?….
But that doesn’t happen here. Here a wayward drip becomes a serendipitous moment…the muse that manifests as a high-effective and über contemporary brand of folk art: wine label sketching in the blood of Brač stone.
The Jako Vino Facebook pagesays it best (interpreted by me from the Croatian): Stina, which means stone, is the symbol of Brač island. The Stina wine label symbolizes a piece of virgin stone that summons sculptors to shape it; a white canvas that invites artists to paint it; a sheet of blank paper that incites bards to scratch poetic verse on it, or writers and musicians to lay down the words and notes to the most beautiful stories or musical compositions on it.
With all of this clever and creative imagery in mind, I feel inspired to (unofficially) nominate Jako Vino’s “Stina” label(s) as Croatia’s – and quite possibly the world’s – Best New Wine Label Design of the year. 🙂
My nomination means nothing, of course, except to further fuel my own curiosity and thirst (and maybe yours too?). In other words, I can’t wait to taste what’s in that bottle!
If anyone has tried this wine, please let us know your thoughts in the comment section.
You can watch the video showing the label’s creation below. Cheers!
Terra Rota winery (“Vinarija Terra Rota”) vineyards, Kuna,Pelješac wine-growing hills, Southern Dalmatia sub-region, Coastal Croatia.
Terra Rota is a new project at Kuna in the upper interior highlands of the Pelješac peninsula. The winery planted 30 hectares of vineyards – some at an elevation of 480 meters (1,575 feet) above sea level, making them the highest vineyards on Pelješac.
Of the more than 235,000 vines planted at the site, the indigenous red variety Plavac Mali dominates, comprising 95 percent of the total. Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah complete the remaining 5 percent. The vines are currently in their 6th year of growth.
So far Terra Rota has commercially released just one wine, the “Rota Standard”, a 100 percent barrel-fermented Plavac Mali, bottle-aged for a minimum of six months prior to release.
Grk is a white wine grape native to the island of Korčula (a place it shares with Pošip and Plavac Mali) and is predominately planted a low-lying central valley of red sand between the Adriatic Sea and Lumbarda village. Currently there are approximately 40 hectares of Grk planted at Lumbarda at elevations rising to 20m above sea level.
Notice the red grapes at the end of the vine rows. The Grk vine is gynoecious, meaning it only produces female flowers and cannot self-pollinate. As a result, growers must intersperse vineyards with plantings of Plavac Mali grapes to pollinate the Grk.
As a matter of fact, yes – you can find the variety growing all over Croatia. Heck, even the mother grape of chardonnay is Croatian, a little devil of a grape called štajerska belina – or gouais blanc – that long ago made its way to France where it crossed with pinot and sired chardonnay.
While quality is uneven, delicious chardonnay wines are produced across Croatia – from Istria along the coast (called the “Tuscany of Croatia” by the New York Times), to the amphitheater-shaped hills of Plešivica in the northern continental region and the Miocene Epoch-dated Pannonian Sea soils of Kutjevo in Slavonia.
Krauthaker’s Rosenberg100% chardonnayis sublime; while Kutjevo winery’s 2009Chardonnay de Gotho Aureus won a silver medal at the 2011 Chardonnay du Mondewine competition in France. Belje is a leading producer from the Baranja wine-growing (far northeastern Croatia), where among its expansive vineyard holdings is the esteemed 220 meter-above-sea-level, south-facing Goldberg appellation – home of its award winning Goldberg Chardonnay.
From Plešivica Korak Chardonnay is the benchmark beauty, and chardonnay forms 50% of the blend in Tomac’s iconic Anfora wine. If orange wine is your thing, Roxanich Milva chardonnay from Istria is fabulously elegant and complex with its creamy, mineral character and exotic fruit, floral, nut and honey notes.
Chardonnay is sometimes blended with other local grapes, like in Istria where it nicely compliments blends made with the local malvasia istriana (malvazija istarska) grape. Saints Hills Nevina, Matoševic Grimalda Bijelo, and Trapan Levante are a few prime examples.
Cabernet sauvignon? Check out the Podunavlje sub-region of Slavonia, whose terroir (long, warm growing season and ancient loam slopes along the Danube) delivers promising results. Iuriswinery in the Erdut wine-growing hills produces a tasty, food-friendly entry-level cab from their vineyards on the Kraljevo Brdo (King’s Hill) appellation.
In Istria, iron-rich “terra rosa” soils lend nice structure and minerality to the region’s red wines (think the Coonawarraregion of Australia); Agrolaguna (Festigia label), Coronica, Cossetto, Degrassi, Roxanich and Trapan all come to mind as producers who are banging out some really palate-worthy Istrian cabernet sauvignon. In southern Dalmatia, Dubrovački Podrumi(Dubrovnik Cellars) produces the benchmark southern climate cabernet, Trajectum, from its vineyards overlooking the Konavle valley just south of the tourist Mecca, Dubrovnik.
Merlot? It’s just about everywhere, from Dalmatia to Istria to Slavonia. Sometimes it’s good (Agrolaguna Festigia); BIBIChSangreal; Crvik; Frajona; Krauthaker; Roxanich); sometimes – not so much. Often it finds its best use in tasty Bordeaux blends, such as the excellent Dajla Cuvee Barrique from Istravino and the “Vrhunsko” 2007 red cab/merlot blend from Boškinac winery on Pag island.
Most famously, merlot (along with cabernet sauvignon and refosco) was a component in the Clai Ottocento 2007 Crno that Gary Vaynerchukreviewed – and fell in love with – on Wine Library TV. You can see Gary’s reaction – and watch the whole wines of Croatia episode (above).
Cabernet franc is sparsely-planted, but MorenoDegrassiin Istria produces a lovely version full of typical cab franc character (cherry and black fruits with a hint of tobacco and sweet herbs).
That pinot noir (‘pinot crni”) is only grown in a few select spots in Croatia is testimony to the grape’s fickleness and outright hostility toward inappropriate terroirs. But a couple of producers have had some luck with it, notably Velimir Korakin Plešivica and Vlado Krauthaker in Kutjevo (from grapes grown on the upper slopes of Mt. Krndija). Back in cool Plešivica, Šember winery offers a delicate and refreshing 100% pinot noir sparkling wine that tingles with hibiscus and watermelon flavors laced with seashell minerality.
Syrah? It’s emerging in a select few locations in Croatia and is still very much in the experimental phase. Early results though indicate that the grape (syrah/shiraz) seems to enjoy Croatian hospitality. A growing area to watch is the Dalmatian hinterland around the coastal city Zadar, where Alen BIBICh produces his acclaimed Sangreal Shiraz and Benkovacwinery cultivates 103 hectares of vines that spawned the award-winning 2007 Korlat Syrah.
In Istria, Bruno Trapan has seriously invested in syrah and is hedging his bets that it will do well on his 5 hectares of vineyards located 50-55 meters above sea level at Šišana near Pula. Trapan 2007 Shuluq Syrah received a “Commended” rating in the Decanter 2010 World Wine Awardscompetition. That said, I suspect that the international marketability of Croatian syrah will face many challenges, especially in light of the recent – and sad – downturn in global demand for syrah.
Let’s not forget Zinfandel. Technically, Zinfandel is a native Croatian variety called Crljenak Kaštelanski and its story and genetic links to Croatia have been widely documented. But because some Croatian producers are preparing to release wines labeled as “Zinfandel”, we will briefly mention it here. Zinfandel (aka Crljenak) is native to the Kaštela region of central Dalmatia, near the city of Split. Further south on the Pelješac peninsula, well-respected producer, Marija Mrgudić of Bura-Mugudić winery, planted Napa clones and is preparing for the first release of Croatian Zinfandel. Although the jury is still out on whether this grape can deliver as much potential as plavac mali (the variety that historically supplanted it) – or if American zinfandel producers will opposethe use of the “Zinfandel” moniker on labels from Croatia – it is an interesting development and can only help draw positive attention to Croatia’s winemaking culture.
Sauvignon blanc? Riesling? Pinot gris? Pinot blanc? All are planted in Croatia (where they are known as “sauvignon”, “rajnski rizling”, “pinot sivi”, and “pinot bijeli” respectively) and have a long history of being consumed locally as table wines, particularly in the cool continental regions. But a number of producers have invested in vineyard and cellar in order to improve quality and raise the profile of these varieties – especially sauvignon blanc and riesling. A very promising producer is Bolfanin the Zlatar wine-growing hills of the Međimurje–Zagorje region. The Bolfan portfolio includes some very intriguing, pure and refreshing whites across all styles (dry to sweet) from an array of grapes grown on its 20 hectares of stunningly beautiful “Vinski vrh” (Wine Summit) vineyards; the Bolfan ’08 Riesling Primus is drinking beautifully now with an off-dry, richly extracted profile of golden apples, pears and honey with hints of petrol and wet stone minerality. Tasty!
For sauvignon blanc, watch for the award-winning Badel 1862 Sauvignon Daruvar and ZdjelarevićSauvignon from Slavonia. Not surprisingly, sauvignon blanc seems to have found its sweetest spot in the Plešivica area with its cool, moist and sunny slopes that grace the bowl of the area’s naturally-formed amphitheater. There Korak, Šember and Tomac produce crisp, lovely citrus and herbal examples.
Gewürztraminer (“traminac”) does very well in the far-eastern corners of the Slavonia and Podunavlje regions, where it is made into everything from dry, spicy whites to unctuous, richly floral and delicious late harvest and ice wines. Iločki Podrumi is a leading producer in the Srijem wine-growing hills and in certain frosty years Kutjevo wineryand Iločki podrumi make a luscious Ice Wine (“Ledeno vino”) from the variety.
So yes…wines made from familiar international varieties can be found in Croatia – and to a lesser extent on export markets.
That said, international varieties are not the future of Croatian winemaking or marketing program. The “Golden Promise” (I would argue) lies in Croatia’s rich array of indigenous grape varieties. Their individual stories are screaming to be told and are sure to pique intrigue among – and stimulate the palates of – savvy foreign wine buyers and adventurous consumers.
Ray Isle, Food & Wine magazine’s executive wine editor, recently presented “Five Grapes to Expand Your Wine Horizons” in an article for CNN’s Eatocracy blog. Unfortunately none of the grapes he mentioned was from Croatia (the list did include blaufrankisch, known in Croatia as frankovka). The point is, wine drinkers who seek the magic of discovery must look beyond mainstream varieties and venture into uncharted territory: The land of native grapes with charming, sometimes tongue-twisting names.
Once blessed with over 400 indigenous grape varieties, the Croatian Ministry of Agriculture’s official list of cultivars today contains 192 varieties, of which 130 are considered autochthonous (indigenous) to Croatia or the region. Of that number, only three dozen or so are commonly found in modern commercial wines. The “Big Three” of course are graševina, malvasia istriana, and plavac mali, which are – in descending order – the most widely planted wine grape varieties in Croatia.
In our next post we will introduce the “Big Three” – and go beyond, presenting you with the “Magnificent Seven”, a fabulous handful of Croatian wine grapes that you should know. These varieties were selected based on their commonality, the quality of the wine they produce, and their accessibility and presence on both the domestic and export markets.
For fans of even lesser-know varieties, fear not. We will subsequently venture beyond the Magnificent Seven and explore a gaggle of other quirky, interesting and uniquely Croatian grape varieties that did not make the first round. Stay tuned to meet the whole gang – the wild and wonderful Grapes of Croatia! 🙂
As it should, the Croatian wine story continues to unfold in wonderful and exciting ways.
Indisputably the best way to experience the story is to visit Croatia and taste the wines in their native setting. Only then, as you inhale and taste their ambient aromas and flavors, do you fully understand their pedigree of origin and expression of terroir. Along the way, hopefully they will warm your heart and soul too.
And so it was on February 17, 2012 in the snow-covered medieval town of Imotski, in the cool dim light of “the Courts” (an event space with stone walls and vaulted ceilings that was built by the Croatian priest and missionary, Don Ivan Turić). There over 40 winemakers, sommeliers, wine enthusiasts and buyers gathered to taste and experience the Croatian wine story as told via a selection of 35 regional wines.
The event was organized by Udruga Mediterra (the Mediterra Association) and co-hosted by Grabovac Winery. Udruga Mediterra is a promotional association founded in 2010 by Miroslav Mirković, who also produced the beautifully-filmed Croatian Wine Story DVD released last year.
“The Croatian Wine Story event is one of the most important wine festivals in Croatia” says Mirković. “In one place we gather some of the most significant Croatian winemakers and present what is new in the Croatian world of wine.”
To assess the export potential and price-to-quality value of the wines that were presented, Mirković assembled a panel of judges to taste and score each wine, with winners announced at the conclusion of the event. This year’s panel included judges from Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro. They were:
Franjo Francem, president of the Croatian Society of Enologists Ante Grubišić, enologist, Croatia Vito Andrić, a wine journalist, Croatia Dejan Živkoski, vice president of the Association of Sommeliers of Serbia Žarko Radonjić, president of the National Association of Sommeliers of Montenegro
The wines were judged in four price categories:
1) White wines priced 7 Euros or less.
2) White wines priced more than 7 Euros.
3) Red wines priced 10 Euros or less.
4) Red wines priced more than 10 Euros
Here are the top wines in each category, as chosen by the jury:
~Best white wine (7 Euros or less): Enjingi 2007 GraševinaLate Harvest.
~Best white wine (more than 7 Euros): Iločki Podrumi 2009 Gewurztraminer.
~Best red wine (10 Euros or less): Badel 1862 Korlat 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon.
~Best red wine (more than 10 Euros): Plančić 2006 Pharos Grand Cru.
The runner-up (2nd place) wine in each category was as follows:
~Red wine (10 Euros or less): Josić 2009 Cuvee Ciconia Nigra
~Red wine (more than 10 Euros): Korta Katarina 2007 Plavac Mali.
Guests of the event were also treated to a variety of local food specialties, including Gligora Paški cheese; Bilaja extra virgin olive oil; Marko Polo extra virgin olive oil (Blato1902); and Grbić extra virgin pumpkin seed oil.
Udruga Mediterra’s members include over 60 winemakers and related producers from regional countries such as Croatia, Slovenia, Serbia, Bosnia, Montenegro, Macedonia and Austria. The main objectives of the association are to market regional wines in Croatia and in foreign markets; to develop wine and food brands; to assess the potential of products for export and increase the number of exports; to promote and develop regional cultural-wine tourism; and to educate consumers.