Grapes of Croatia: The Internationals

By Cliff Rames © 2012

Got Chardonnay?

Chardonnay

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.

(photo © 2012 by Cliff Rames)

Krauthaker’s Rosenberg 100% chardonnay is sublime; while Kutjevo winery’s 2009 Chardonnay de Gotho Aureus won a silver medal at the 2011 Chardonnay du Monde wine 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.

Tomac Anfora (photo © 2012 by Cliff Rames)

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 grapes at Krauthaker vineyards (© 2012 Cliff Rames)

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. Iuris winery 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.

Agrolaguna Festigia (© 2012 by Cliff Rames)
Terra Rosa soils, Istria (© 2012 by Cliff Rames)

In Istria, iron-rich “terra rosa” soils lend nice structure and minerality to the region’s red wines (think the Coonawarra region 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

Merlot? It’s just about everywhere, from Dalmatia to Istria to Slavonia. Sometimes it’s good (Agrolaguna Festigia); BIBICh Sangreal; 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 Vaynerchuk reviewed – 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

Cabernet franc is sparsely-planted, but Moreno Degrassi in Istria produces a lovely version full of typical cab franc character (cherry and black fruits with a hint of tobacco and sweet herbs).

Pinot Noir (photo courtesy http://www.loirevalleywine.com)
Šember sparkling pinot (© 2012 by Cliff Rames)

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 Korak in 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 (Shiraz)

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 Benkovac winery cultivates 103 hectares of vines that spawned the award-winning 2007 Korlat Syrah.

Trapan 2007 Shuluq Syrah (photo courtesy http://vinopija.wordpress.com)

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 Awards competition. 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.

Zinfandel grapes on Peljesac (© 2012 Cliff Rames)

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 oppose the 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

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 Bolfan in 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!

Bolfan wines (© 2012 Cliff Rames)

For sauvignon blanc, watch for the award-winning Badel 1862 Sauvignon Daruvar and Zdjelarević Sauvignon 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 in Kutjevo (© 2012 Cliff Rames)

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 winery and Iločki podrumi make a luscious Ice Wine (“Ledeno vino”) from the variety.

Iločki Podrumi Traminac Ice Wine
Iločki Podrumi "Ledeno vino" (© 2012 Cliff Rames)

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! 🙂

Wines of Croatia News Round-Up for February 19, 2012

In case you missed anything, here is a round-up of the latest links to the news articles, blog posts and videos that highlighted Croatia, its wine or wine culture.

1. Wines of Croatia Blog: Valentine’s Day with the Donkey, the Poet & the Saint

February 7, 2012

Wine reviews: Celebrating Valentine’s Day with Vinarija Dingač 2006 Dingač, Miloš 2006 Plavac, and Saints Hills 2008 Dingač.

 

 2. Brava Wine Blog: En Primeur Malvazija 2011 Tasting in Zagreb

February 13, 2012

Sommelier April Amys Torzewski shares her highlights from the Vinistra En Primeur 2011 Malvasia Istriana tasting in Zagreb and reserves a special place on her palate for the wines of Ivan Damjanić.

 

3. Vinologue: Milicic Wines with Video

February 13, 2012

A visit to Miličić winery on the Pelješac, courtesy of Vinologue and an interesting video blog by Percy Von Lipinski. 

 

 

4. Lajf2012 Blog: Zlatan Plavac Grand Cru Croatia

February 14, 2012

One lucky person spent Valentine’s Day with a bottle of Zlatan Plavac 2002 Grand Cru – and discovered what the nectar of the gods tastes like.

 

 5. News Press.com: Zinfandel Evolution Retraced

February 14, 2012

A brief history of the California-Croatia zinfandel connection.  

 

 

6. Wines of Croatia Blog: Vinistra Celebrates a Successful First En Primeur Tasting of Malvasia

February 16, 2012

 A short report from the February 13,2012 “en primeur” tasting of 2011 malvasia istriana in Zagreb.

 

 

7. Vintage Wine Picks Blog: Belje Grasevina 2009

February 18, 2012

 A tasty review of Belje 2009 Graševina by Vintage Wine Picks in Toronto, Canada.

 

 

P.S. We love to hear from you!

If you have comments or other news to share, please comment on this post or email us at info@winesofcroatia.com

 

90-Point Slavonian Graševina? Yes We Can! Part III of the Neal Martin Report

 

 

 

 

 

Share

Editor’s Note: With this report, Robert Parker’s influential “Wine Advocate” journal has published its first-ever review of a selection of wines from Croatia. The report and subsequent scores were written and posted by Neal Martin of www.wine-journal.com and  www.erobertparker.com and are reprinted here with permission.

In  Part III of his report, we present Mr. Martin’s reviews and scores (based on a 100-point scale) of wines from the Slavonia region of northeast Croatia, which Mr. Martin tasted in May 2010.  The opinions and reviews contained herein are purely Mr. Martin’s work and are subject to copyright and may not be republished elsewhere without permission of the author.

In the previously published Part II of his report, Mr. Martin discussed his perception of the “wrongs and rights” of the Croatian wines he tasted. For your convenience and introduction to the tasting notes and scores presented here, below is an except from the relevant section of text from that post.     

I am convinced that Grasevina can produce fine white wine, indeed I fondly recall an impressive flight at the International Wine Challenge last April. Probably the best thing that anyone did was change the name and banish the associations we have with the much-derided Laski Rizling. Grasevina is easy to pronounce and provides a hook for some lovely, fresh, aromatic Croatian wines that perhaps need to work on their length: abundant flavour on the front palate but not the back-end to really make an impression.  Growers need to watch those yields because they can engender bland, anonymous wines if not kept in check.

(photo courtesy of http://www.vina-kalazic.com

Part III: Tasting Notes of Slavonian Wines

2003 Enjingi Venje Late Harvest White Blend – 83
This Slavonian white is a blend of Grasevina, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris and Gewürztraminer (just the kitchen sink missing!) The nose is simple and quite buttery, lacking a little delineation. The palate has a pleasing waxy entry and nice weight, marred by too much alcohol on the anonymous finish. Tasted May 2010.

 
 

(photo courtesy of http://www.Limun.hr

 

2006 Enjingi Grasevina Late Harvest – 75
This just does not work at all. Simple marmalade tinged nose, the palate lacking definition and complexity on the raw finish. Tasted May 2010.

2003 Enjingi Venje Barrique Red Blend – 80
A strange nose: dark berried fruit, woodbines, smoke, thyme…some sulphide issues just lurking in the background. Sweet entry, a lot of residual sugar here rendering the finish very cloying. Tasted May 2010.

2008 Mihalj Grasevina – 85
This has a simple, primal nose with green apple, nettle and a touch of lemon. The palate is lacking complexity but the balance is good enough, with pear and kiwi fruit on the crisp finish. Fine. Tasted May 2010.

2008 Galic Grasevina – 87
This has a light minerally nose with white flowers, greengage and a touch of white asparagus. Nice definition. The palate has a ripe entry, good weight with touches of lemongrass, citrus fruit, nutmeg and good poise on the finish. Fine. Tasted May 2010.

 
 

(photo courtesy of Vinopija

 

2008 Galic Sauvignon Blanc – 77
Simple grassy nose, primal and simple on the palate. Rather dull. Tasted May 2010.

2008 Galic Pinot Noir – 72
Already showing some maturity, the nose is flaccid and the palate dull and lacking vigour. Tasted May 2010.

2008 Krauthaker Merlot – 83
This has a rounded, slightly honeyed nose with redcurrant jam, small red cherries and a touch of wild strawberry. The palate is fleshy and ripe but lacking structure and freshness towards the finish. Tasted May 2010.

2009 Krauthaker Grasevina – 82
Delivering 14% alcohol, this has a simple nose of cooking apple, pear and nettle with good lift. The palate is medium-bodied with primal, grapey flavours dominating. Not bad, but rather unexciting. Tasted May 2010.

2009 Krauthaker Mitrovac Grasevina – 83
This has a light pineapple, pear and lanolin nose with good definition…light and airy. The palate is quite rounded on the entry with hints of dried honey and melted butter, but the finish is very flabby. Tasted May 2010.

2008 Krauthaker Grasevina Mitrovac – 85
This is better than the 2009, with fresh pineapple and pear on the nose, touches of white flower developing with time. The palate is ripe on the entry with ginger and apricot, rather too much caramel dominating the finish through. Tasted May 2010.

 
 

(photo by Cliff Rames)

 

2009 Krauthaker Chardonnay Rosenberg – 89
Matured in stainless-steel and new oak, the palate is well defined with citrus lemon, apricot and acacia honey with well integrated oak. The palate is well balanced, fruit-driven and generous with hints of dried orange peel, apricot and ginger, though it just needs more clarity on the finish. But otherwise this is a very confident Slavonian Chardonnay. Tasted May 2010.

2008 Zdjelarevic Grasevina – 83
This has a rather innocuous nose of melon, pineapple and crab apple, the palate nicely balanced but short and overtly simple on the finish. Quaffing pleasure but nothing more. Tasted May 2010.

2008 Zdjelarevic Chardonnay – 87
This Chardonnay has a simple, slightly smoky, introverted nose with moderate definition. The palate is ripe and primal, a little tight at first but loosening in the glass. Notes of lime, green apple and lemon zest on the finish that demonstrates good persistency. Tasted May 2010.

 
 

(photo courtesy of Blue Danube Wine)

 

2008 Zdjelarevic Grand Cuvee Nagual (White) – 90
A blend of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, this really is quite impressive. The nose has fine definition with cooking apple, wild nettles and a touch of undergrowth. Hints of linden developing with time. The palate has a ripe entry with fresh lively citrus fruit, an almost sherbet quality on the fresh finish that reminds me of a fine Marlborough Sauvignon. Tasted May 2010.

2008 Kutjevo Grasevina de Gotho – 86
Lovely tropical fruit on the nose with orange-blossom, mango and passion fruit, leading to a phenolic entry on the palate, pear skin and gooseberry flavours mingle with nectarine and pine. It does lack focus, but an intriguing wine. Tasted May 2010.

 
 

(photo by Cliff Rames)

 

2008 Kutjevo Chardonnay de Gotho Aureus – 86
This has a fine nose of apricot, marmalade and dried honey. The palate has moderate acidity with light touches of marmalade, quince and dried nectarines. Good acidity and length, if not the complexity of a great Chardonnay. Tasted May 2010.

2008 Feravino Grasevina – 86
This Grasevina has ripe apple, lime leaf and a touch of damp moss on the nose. Good definition. The palate is fresh on the entry with greengage and a touch of apricot, racy acidity, nice tension if lacking some length. Tasted May 2010.

 
 

(photo courtesy of Feravino)

 

2008 Feravino Frankovka – 77
This is over-extracted and rather volatile on the nose. The palate is sweet, over-extracted and cloying on the anonymous finish. Tasted May 2010.

2009 Belje Grasevina – 90
This is a lovely Slavonian Grasevina, with hints of pineapple, water cress and apricot on the nose with a faint tang of something sweet…toffee popcorn! The palate is ripe with good acidity, vibrant fruit of dried apricot, mellow and nectarine with very good weight on the finish. Excellent. Tasted May 2010.

 
 

(photo courtesy of http://www.belje.hr)

 

2008 Belje Merlot – 86
A clean, soft, quite fleshy nose with wild strawberry, cigar box, smoke and dried herbs. Quite complex for a Merlot. The palate is medium-bodied and does not quite have the complexity of the nose, spicy red-berried fruit, mulberry and a touch of cooked meat/spice, but just lacking a little freshness on the finish to merit a higher score. Tasted May 2010.

2008 Daruvar Grasevina – 89
This has fine definition on the nose with light aromas of acacia, honey, fine lees and a touch of orange-blossom. The palate has a ripe entry with light honeyed nose, lemon peel and quince jelly, viscous towards the sweet finish balanced by good acidity and crispness. This is a well crafted Grasevina. Tasted May 2010.

P.S. from Editor: In Part IV, we will present Mr. Martin’s notes and scores for Istrian wines.

Share