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! 🙂

A Report from the 2011 Zagreb Wine Gourmet Festival – Part 3

Text and photos (unless otherwise noted) Copyright © Cliff Rames 

Museum of Contemporary Art Zagreb (photo by Igor Franic)

In Part 2 of this 3-part report, we went inside the festival to explore the venue, meet the VIP guests, and hear about the round table workshop. In Part 3, we provide some general observations about the wines, offer some “names to watch out for”, and mourn a missed opportunity to leave the festival in style. Živjeli!

[Note: The views presented here are strictly my own and are in no way intended to reflect the views of the festival organizers or its sponsors and partners]

Photo by Siniša Škaberna

The Wines

Let me begin by saying, two days was not enough time to taste everything, even if it were not for the crowds and the less-than-ideal tasting conditions. Perhaps the organizers would consider extending the festival by one day next year? Just an idea….

Based on what I succeeded in tasting (see special note below), it was clear the quality of Croatian wines continues to rise. While a few of clunkers could be found here and there, a greater number of delicious treasures could be discovered and enjoyed at nearly every table. Overall the wines were well-made, full of character, expressive of a unique terroir, and very drinkable.

It was also great to see so many of the well-established, bigger wineries investing in new winery technology, newly designed packaging, and updated marketing strategies – thereby demonstrating an understanding that they cannot rest on their laurels if they are to survive in the current market environment.Agrokor Vina, a conglomerate that owns several wineries and nearly 1,700 hectares of vineyards, has recently invested heavily in redefining its brands and market presence. The results are now in bottle: many of their brands are very approachable, value-driven, quality wines with attractive packages offered at affordable prices. This could easily propel Agrokor to the lead as a producer of competitive, value-driven gateway wines, especially for the export market.

Not to be outdone, many of the traditional industry-leaders and well-established wineries have stepped up their games, becoming more active with social media, introducing new wines and labels, and taking steps to ready themselves for the international market.

Krauthaker wines

These key players include: Krauthaker (the man who put premium Graševina on the map and whose TBA Graševina landed a much-celebrated place on the wine list of Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck  in London)….

Photo courtesy of Feravino winery

Feravino (their new “Dika” and “Miraz” Graševina labels are very approachable and tasty); and Kozlovic (his 2009 Malvazija was the stand-out favorite of Decanter’s Sarah Kemp)… 

  
 

Matošević wines (photo by Jeff Tureaud)

Matosevic (watch out for his new “Grimalda” wines, a red “Super Istrian” blend and a white Malvazija/Chardonnay/Sauvignon Blanc blend); Kutjevacki Podrum (their “De Gotho Aureus” 2009 Chardonnay just took the silver medal at the 2011 Chardonnay Du Monde competition in France)….

Kutjevo award-winning Chardonnay

Then there’s: Bura-Mokalo (this dynamic duo of a brother/sister winemaking team are the early pioneers of “cult” Plavac Mali wines; watch out for a new Zinfandel release this year); BIBICh (his new limestone “kamenica”-fermented, long-macerated Debit may take the orange wine category to new heights)….

Winemaker Ivo Carić

Caric (produces a lovely, fresh, seafood-friendly white from Bogdanuša, an indigenous variety native to Hvar island; also produces an interesting Beaujolais-style young Plavac Mali called “Novello”; just introduced some very cool new labels too!); and Zlatan Otok (their first-ever commercial production of Crljenak Kašelanski has been scoring very well and is making history as the first-ever commercial production of the “original Zinfandel”).

Even more exciting was to see a new generation of rising-star winemakers who are truly making names for themselves with wines that are clean, well-made, expressive of place, and cleverly and attractively packaged.

Piquentum Malvazija label

Names that come to mind as examples in this category are: Dimitri Brečević (his “Piquentum” Teran and Malvazija wines from Istria are generating a lot of excitement); and Benvenuti (making some very impressive sweet wines from Malvazija Istriana and Muscat of Momjan under the “San Salvatore” label).

Winemaker Marko Geržinić (Photo courtesy of http://www.Facebook.com/tasteofcroatia)

Then there’s: Marko Gerzinic (noted for his beautiful stainless-steel fermented Teran and consistently good Malvazija); Franco Radovan (his young Malvazija wine is incredibly pure and fresh; cute label too!)…

Bruno Trapan

Bruno Trapan (with cigar in hand, this young upstart winemaker has rocked the domestic wine scene with a number of recent awards and high scores, especially for his macerated and mature Malvazija wine, “Uroboros”; he recently opened a brand new winery and tasting room in the style of a train depot, called “Wine Station Trapan”)….

Bire Grk

Watch out for the “other” white wine of Korčula island (more commonly known for the Pošip grape), made from the indigenous Grk variety (producers Cebalo and Bire are pioneers of Grk wine and are working hard to revive interest in the grape and the quality of the wines); and Grabovac (one of the only producers of sparkling wine in the Dalmatia region, Grabovac is noted for their unique wines made from Kujundžuša and Trnjak – two obscure native grape varieties from the Dalmatian hinterland).

Other names to watch out for: Roxanich (a winery with a rockin’ name, owner Mladen Rožanić is considered the father of the “Super Istrian” red blend; he also makes a wonderful extended skin maceration, wood-aged “Antica” Malvazija that is almost an orange wine;); Moreno Coronica (his ’07 “Gran Teran” is a profound expression of Istria’s native son red grape); Velimir Korak (making elegant Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in the cool Plešivica region); Boris Drenški “Bodren” (for award-winning TBA and ice wines)…

Clai Sveti Jakov Malvazija (image courtesy of Clai winery)

Giorgio Clai (an organic/biodynamic winemaker who produces somewhat inconsistent yet fascinating, terroir-driven wines); Moreno DeGrassi (his “Terre Bianche” blend of Malvazija, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier was the fan favorite at the Gala Dinner).

More names to watch: Leo Gracin (“the Professor”; a consultant and winemaking pioneer of the indigenous Babić red variety of northern Dalmatia; his 2008 vintage was another favorite of Decanter’s Sarah Kemp); Frano Milos (long considered a “traditionalist” among Plavac Mali producers, the increasing involvement of his very attractive, twenty-something son and daughter in his marketing and social media activities has injected new energy into his brand; his “Stagnum” Plavac Mali is a cult favorite)….

Luka Krajančić (photo by Željko Tutnjević)

Luka Krajančić (his Pošip “Intrada” and “Sur Lie” is taking the native Pošip white grape from Korčula island to a whole new level; world class juice!)….

(image courtesy of Saints Hills winery)

Finally, there’s Saints Hills , whose “Nevina” and “Dingač” wines are well on their way to achieving cult status (Ernest Tolj’s winery now stands poised to release a new and exciting Plavac Mali rosé this spring, “St. Heels” with a sexy, craftily cheeky and irreverent label depicting a pair of women’s high heel shoes. We also eagerly await the first-ever vintage [2010] Plavac Mali wine from the new “St. Roko” vineyard at Komarna).  

Saints Hills St. Roko vineyard at Komarna

[Special Note: To all the winemakers I didn’t meet, I’m sorry! It was impossible to make it to every table, and my selection of who to visit was completely random, subject to the surges of the crowd, and dependent upon how much time I had between meetings in the café. I didn’t mean to miss this opportunity to meet you and taste your wines. For what it’s worth, I am very aware of whom I missed, and I hope to one day have another chance to visit you and taste your wines.]

The Food

Okay, how can I put this diplomatically….? I spent most of the time at ZWGF starving.

Starving is an odd way to pass the time at a festival that touts the word “gourmet” in its title. The fact is, there was very little to eat, at least I couldn’t find much. Yes, there were the 16 food vendors with their tooth-pick-harpooned nibbles and bites, and the 15 Kuna sandwiches at the café bar….But it was the “gourmet” part that I needed – and was so sadly missing.

Okay, yes – there was the cooking demonstration tent. A couple of us, lured by the scrumptious aromas coming from within, tried unsuccessfully to grab a plate or two of the gourmet dishes prepared by guest chefs. These small plates were randomly handed out to lucky mouths in the audience (the system for receiving one of these tasty-looking offerings seemed to entail being in the right place at the right time) – but not to us.

Mouths watering and defeated, we went to the information booth to ask about our dining options in the vicinity. The friendly (English-speaking)information desk girl told us to go to the shopping center across the highway, where (we were told) there were surely some fast food places….

Having learned my lesson, the next morning I really filled-up at the breakfast buffet in the Westin Zagreb hotel. For an inclusive hotel breakfast, it was really quite an extensive and satiating spread. 

The Slide

It was not until the festival was over that I realized my greatest disappointment of the trip: I had missed “the Slide”.

The Slide? Is it an art exhibit? A secret restaurant?  

Nope. It’s a huge metal tube that corkscrews all the way through the center of the Museum of Contemporary Art Zagreb, traveling down from the 4th floor to street level. Given the opportunity, a person could slip into the shiny tube and slide all the way down to the bottom, where he/she would be spit out onto the sidewalk outside the museum. The slide looks like this:  

(Photo courtesy of http://gallery-photo.net)

Riding that slide down and out would have been the grandest and most memorable exit from any wine festival ever, anywhere, anytime! Period.

Maybe the museum is not such a bad venue after all. Maybe the organizers will decide to hold ZWGF there next year.

The crowds? Who cares! The hunger? Never mind!

A good whirl on that giant silver slide would have made all of those things just a second thought…a pesky inconvenience…the price of greatness!

In fact it should be mandatory. Everyone should be asked to leave the festival on the slide. What a hoot that would be!

In a recent article for Wine Spectator, Matt Kramer wrote that “terroir” is no longer enough to sell wine; most wine regions today hold some claim or another to terroir. What we need more of (writes Kramer) is “narrative”. The question then becomes, what “stories” do the wines or wine-producing regions have to tell?

Photo courtesy of http://www.fightpink.org

As silly as it may seem, I mention the slide here because (for me) it suddenly became such a wonderful component of Croatia’s somewhat quirky and complex wine story – a memorable detail that sets ZWGF apart from many other wine expos and festivals.

Despite a few minor glitches and lessons learned, ZWGF demonstrated that Croatian wine producers are ready and able to join hands with the world of wine and take the plunge into the future. While the journey has just begun, the twisting way forward – if smartly navigated with poise and passion – promises to be a lip-smacking, exhilarating ride.

Sweet Wines: Finding “Much Delight in Amphora” (Part VI of the Neal Martin Report)

 

 

 

 

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.

This is Part VI – the final installment – in our series of post from Mr. Martin’s report, presented here for informational purposes. The statements, suggestions 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.   

Tasting Notes: Sweet Wines

2007 Daruvar Grasevina Izborna Berba Prosusenih Bobica – 88
This Grasevina is a selection of dried berries. It has a tight nose: tangerine, dried honey, white flowers and honeycomb. A viscous entry on the palate, well balanced with dried honey, creme brulee, toffee and apricot, just lacking a little poise and cohesion on the finish but good length. Tasted May 2010.

(photo courtesy of Badel1862)

 2009 Krauthaker Grasevina Izborna Berba Prosusenih Bobica – 87
This lacks a little vigour on the nose that is intended to be TBA in style but not pulling it off in terms of purity or complexity. It’s a shame because the palate has an engaging fresh entry with yellow plum, honey, nutmeg and ginger, maintaining that freshness right to the end. Not quite there this time, but one to watch. Tasted May 2010.

Krauthaker's Grasevina sweet wine on the tasting menu of the Fat Duck restaurant

2006 Kutjevo Grasevina Izborna Berba Prosusenih Bobica – 89
This has a lovely, well-defined nose which is more Muscat than Grasevina: acacia honey, orange-blossom, quince and almond. The palate has a slight nuttiness on the entry counterpoising the thick honeyed fruit, good weight, just a little cloying towards the finish but I like the purity on the smoky finish. Tasted May 2010

2007 Ilocki Podrumi Traminac Ledena Berba – 85
This Slavonian Gewurztraminer icewine has  a lucid golden colour. The nose is fresh and lifted with pineapple, honey, tangerine and lemon zest: good definition. The palate is well defined on the entry, very pure with lychee, pineapple and honey, but loses its way towards the finish, fading far too rapidly. Tasted May 2010.

2008 Mladina Traminac Ledena Berba – ?

Strange fruit salad nose, cloying palate dominated by residual sugar. Undrinkable. Tasted May 2010.

2008 Agrolaguna Muscat Ruza – ?
Weird nose of a Hornby train set: very metallic. That palate is barely drinkable, completely out of balance and volatile. Tasted May 2010.

2007 Bodren Chardonnay TBA – 83
From northwest Croatia, this Chardonnay TBA style wine is rather cloying on the nose: saccharine, unclean with some odd damp moss notes. The palate is better, cleaner and crisper on the honeyed entry but the finish is lacking purity and poise. Tasted May 2010.

Bodren's sweeties (photo by Cliff Rames)

 2008 Bodren Cuvee Ice Wine – 88
This has a fresh, honeyed nose with acacia, honeysuckle and a touch of quince: good definition and purity. The palate has a honeyed entry with good acidity, nice sense of tension here with quince, peach and marmalade, very fine focus on the finish, not complex but certainly a level above other Croatian ice wines. Tasted May 2010.

 2008 Tomac Riesling – 87
This sweet Riesling has a touch of lime, orange peel and butter on the nose. Vibrant grapefruit and mango dominated palate that could do with more harmony, but it has good length and clarity. Fine. Tasted May 2010.

 2007 Tomac Amfora – 90
From North Croatia, this Chardonnay (50%) sweetie is blended with local varieties from the Plesivica region. It has a fine minerally nose with limestone, orange-blossom, lychee and gooseberry. Good definition. Ripe on the entry with touches of butterscotch, vanilla pod and frangipane. Very fine and intriguing. Tasted May 2010.
Tomac Amfora (photo courtesy Tomac winery)

 2006 Kabola Amfora – 90
This Malvasia from Istria has a light nose of honey, melted butter and nutmeg, succinct and well defined. A touch of dried honey on the entry, waxy texture, hints of lanolin and hazelnut, leading to weighty, dried fruit, nectarine and smoke tinged finish. Very natural. Excellent. Tasted May 2010.  

Clai Sveti Jakov (photo courtesy Clai winery)

2008 Clai Sveti Jakov – 89
An Istrian Malvasia with a very intriguing nose of dried honey, yellow flowers, musk and quince. For some reason, it brings to mind a perfume that my grandmother always wore (and nobody under the age of 70.) The palate is medium-bodied with a waxy entry, good acidity, dried fruit, nectarine, a touch of ginger and dried apricot. Nice weight and cohesion. Serve this slightly chilled.  

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

Robert Parker’s “Wine Advocate” Reviews Croatian Wines – Part I

Share

Editor’s Note: With this report, Robert Parker’s influencial “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.

Neal Martin of eRobertParker.com
 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

The Wines of Croatia: An Introduction

Apart from a debauched weekend in Prague with vague memories of an absinthe bar and a school-friend’s wedding in Ljubljana when the nuptial solemnity was ruined by a flotilla of Slovenian ‘Gay Pride’ floats manned by hirsute men in latex sailor suits congregating directly outside the church, I have very little experience of Eastern Europe. The nearest I have ventured to Croatia is a highly enjoyable soiree hosted by eRP Forumite Leo Frokic in Westchester last June and even then I collapsed on his kid’s bunk bed with acute jetlag.

Eastern Europe has been ill served by Wine-Journal and one could argue, ill served by wine journalists in general (with one or two notable exceptions.) Let’s not turn a blind eye to the fact that it has not been easy to shake off the tag of a ‘poor man’s’ wine, the kind of cheap-looking bottles you see languishing on the shelves next to the cat food in corner shops, the unpronounceable, vowel-less names and dodgy-sounding grape varieties. Against a funky sounding New Zealand or Chilean wine with a snazzy eye-catching label, I can understand why they may remain unappealing to conservative consumers. But the revolution in Croatia and other Eastern European countries has been underway since the mid-1990s and perhaps it is time we began to take notice.

I noticed that this month, Mark S. posted a few notes on Bulgarian wines and I posted my own Wine-Journal article on some wonderful Hungarian wine back in January. To further redress this imbalance, I will present two reports from countries: Croatia and later on, Slovenia. My feeling is that the Eastern European countries have the potential to become major international players, as wines improve and as perceptions of a more open-minded generation change. I must stress that these reports take an objective approach to the wines of each country. I read too many fawning, patronizing reports whose objective is to pat the ‘underdog’ on the back, instead of pointing out where they may be going right but perhaps more importantly, where they might be going wrong.

This first article looks at the wines of Croatia, inspired by a very well organized generic tasting event organized by the Croatian Chamber of Economy at the Inter-Continental Hotel in London back in May 2010. As far as I am aware, the country’s wines have not been covered in detail in The Wine Advocate, so in this case, allow me to present a potted history, the basic geography and the main grape varieties.

History

Croatia’s viticultural heritage stretches back over 2,500 years, after the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius Probus commanded vast swathes of land from Germany down to the Danube to be turned over to vineyards. Although there was a short interregnum in regions occupied by the Ottoman Empire, viticulture continued over many centuries with an emphasis on European varietals. After diseases decimated the vines in the 19th century, these varietals tended to be replaced with those from German and Austria, swayed by the ruling Habsburg family.

In the 20th century, the trend was more towards French varieties, although Istrian and Dalmatian varieties survived the ravages of disease and today, sixty indigenous varietals remain, the most important of which I have outlined below. There are presently 33,000-hectares under vine in Croatia, equally split between continental and coastal regions, home to 800 wineries producing wines of controlled origin.

The Croatian wine industry really started to gel and modernize in the so-called “Wine Spring” in the mid-1990s, a period that witnessed a new generation of winemakers such as Gianfranco Kozlovic, Andro Tomic and Davor Zdjelarevic enter the limelight.

map courtesy of http://www.BlueDanubeWine.com

The coastal region consists of Istria, Hrvatsko primorje and Dalmatia, the latter warmer due to its proximity to the Adriatic and therefore producing generally riper, simpler, more alcoholic wines.

Continental Croatia comprises of four wine regions: Danube Region, Slavonia, Central Croatia and North-Western Croatia. The climate is generally one of cold winters and hot summers. Western regions planted with aromatic varieties such as Muscat and Riesling whilst Eastern regions err towards Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Grasevina, with a strong emphasis on white wines (approximately 90%.) These are extremely broad generalizations and of course, the Croatian viticultural landscape is far more complex than I have described here.

White Grape Varieties

Grasevina – this is most successfully cultivated in the sub-regions of Baranja and Ilok next to the Danube and Kutjevo in central Slavonia. It was rather abused under socialist regimes since it can be a high yielding variety and its synonyms, Welschriesling and Laski Rizling, meant that consumers misconstrued the grape variety to be an inferior Riesling, when it is nothing of the sort. Recently there has been a reassessment of Grasevina, a grape that can produce excellent quality in the right micro-climate and in the hands of a conscientious winemaker. Its wines can be aromatic, green apple and citrus aromas in cooler climes, exotic and floral in warmer.

Malvazija Istriana

Malvasia Istriana – recent ampelographical studies have indicated that Malvasia Istriana is only very loosely related to the Mediterranean Malvasias.  It is a sweet grape variety whose naturally high yielding nature demands control in the vineyard. It generally produces aromas of nectarine and peach and occasional minerally accents, particularly toward the western coast, whilst southern Istrian Malvasias can be more exotic. Look out for bottles labelled “IQ”, an indication of quality and traditional values designated by the Association of Istrian Winegrowers.

Posip

Posip – an increasingly popular indigenous variety that is a hybrid of bratkovina and zlatarica from Korcula. It is an adaptable grape variety and whilst most of it is fermented in stainless steel, some is being matured on their lees in barrel.

Chardonnay – widely grown over Croatia, though particularly respected in Slavonia.

(Also Riesling, Zlahtina, Sauvignon Bijeli (Sauvignon Blanc) and Traminac (Gewurztraminer), Debit, Grk (a perfect grape variety for Scrabble players), Skrlet, Vugava and Kujundzusa.

 

Red Grape Varieties

Plavac Mali

Plavac Mali – known as the “king of the Croatian red wines” and can be found under “fantasy names” named after geographical origin such as Postup and Ivan Dolac. It is very adaptable to Mediterranean climates and poor soils. It can be prone to over-crop so quality can vary, though generally it produces high alcohol wines up to 16 percent and high levels of residual sugar. It can produce rich, heady aromas of baked fruit and prune.

Babic – this indigenous variety needs a poor soil and can retain the acidity well. It can obtain vegetal notes in its youth and needs to achieve full physiological ripeness and therefore, high alcohol levels. Much is aged in barriques.

Teran

Teran – this indigenous variety was more prevalent in the 19th century. It can easily achieve high acidity levels up to 10g/L and tends towards aromas of ripe blackberries with vegetal accents.

(Also Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Frankovka, Pinot Crni (Pinot Noir), Plavina.. Plus we must mention Mr. Zinfandel…Crljenak Kastelanski.)

(To be continued…)

Share