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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 – 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 – 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 – 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.)
ZAGREB (Croatia), September 3, 2010 – After a rigorous selection process, it was announced that Saints Hills Winery, together with the Bura/Mrgudić family winery, were chosen to represent Croatia at the 19th annual international Merano Wine Festival, one of the most exclusive and most elegant oeno-gastronomic events in Europe. The festival will be held November 5 – 8, 2010 in Italy’s picturesque resort town of Merano.
With its selection, Saints Hills 2008 Dingač becomes the first Plavac Mali wine from the Dingač appellation of Croatia’s southern Dalmatia region to be chosen for representation at this prestigious event.
To guarantee that the highest quality and most exclusive products are represented at Merano, only a limited number of wines are selected for recognition and participation. A panel of wine experts carefully evaluates each wine, and only those that achieve a minimum of 86 out of 100 points can be included in the “presentation and tasting of top class unique wines from all over the world”. Each candidate wine must also demonstrate a verifiable pedigree of origin and be “characterized by their intensity, complexity, elegance, and extraordinary personality”.
With 89 points, Saints Hills 2008 Dingač successfully secured a place among the 462 “chosen” wineries (336 from Italy and 126 from the rest of the world) who will be presenting their wines for tasting at this year’s festival. An estimated 5,000 visitors from around the world are expected to attend.
In addition to the 2008 Dingač, Saints Hills will also present its 2009 Nevina (a blend of Malvasia Istriana and Chardonnay).
The Merano Wine Festival is widely recognized as an important “meeting place”, a venue where representatives from wineries, hotels and restaurants, as well as wine writers, sommeliers, and other wine and culinary professionals can gather to network, taste the selected wines, and exchange information. Saints Hills Winery’s participation is a major opportunity to promote not only its own wines but also Croatia as a wine-producing country with a rich array of indigenous grape varieties and a unique terroir.
“As a winery, to be included in the Merano festival is tantamount, for example, to being a musician who is asked to play at one of the world’s greatest music halls”, observed Ernest Tolj, owner and winemaker at Saints Hills Winery. “This is huge recognition for us, especially since we are one of the newest wineries in Croatia and our wines are just now entering the market in Croatia.”
Tolj adds: “I would like send a message to the participants of the Merano Wine Festival: Premium quality wines – wines that have the unique characteristics of their specific terroir – exist in our part of the world.”
Established in 2006, Saints Hills Winery – in collaboration with one of the world’s most famous enologists, Michel Rolland – produces wines from vineyards it owns in Radovani (Istria), Pelješac (Dingač) and Komarna (Dalmatia).
The inclusion of the Saints Hills 2008 Dingač and 2009 Nevina at the Merano Wine Festival couldn’t be timelier: Exports of Croatian wines to Western Europe and the United States are increasing, and Saints Hills wines are poised to enter the U.S. and U.K. markets in the coming months.
Saša Špiranec, one of Croatia’s leading wine writers and experts, notes that participation in prestigious wine events like Merano not only shines a global spotlight on the individual producers who are present but also on the whole country’s wine industry.
“At the moment, Croatian wines are trying to find their place among very strong competition on the international market. Participation in events such as Merano is an opportunity to present the potential of Croatia’s indigenous varieties and show that they can stand equally alongside the international competition”, Špiranec added.
Saints Hills Winery recently presented its wines at several international tastings, most notably in London and New York, and generated a lot of interest in Croatia’s indigenous varietal wines. Julia Harding, a Master of Wine and member of Jancis Robinson’s eminent team of wine reviewers, tasted the Saints Hills 2007 Dingač at the London International Wine Fair in May 2010. Her score of 16.5 points (out of 20) was to date her second-highest rating of a Croatian wine.
Article by Saša Špiranec, courtesy of Playboy Magazine – Croatia
Translated and Edited by Cliff Rames, Wines of Croatia
By now many people have heard a lot of great things about Saints Hills Winery, but not many of us have actually tasted the wine. It’s like a Ferrari: everyone knows it’s a great car but very few of us have actually ever driven one.
The owner of Saints Hills Winery is smart and passionate. More important, he manages to skillfully combine these two very opposite characteristics. The truth is, passion and intelligence are two things in business that don’t always merge successfully – except, perhaps, in the wine business.
A good business strategy is not a guarantee of good wine. But a sincere emotional bond between the winemaker and the product is – thank God – usually a good start toward great wine.
Of course it is not a good business strategy to produce and bottle your first vintage and then, instead of releasing it onto the market, you give it away to friends. Needless to say, that approach is not profitable.
It is even less rational to release your second vintage and limit its distribution to just a dozen or so places, before giving away the rest. This approach, of course, only compounds the financial losses.
Along comes the third vintage, a wine that you feel meets the criteria of experienced and refined gourmets, and then you release the entire batch onto the market.
This decision is based in emotion, not business. It is the passionate next move of an artist who finally pulls away the curtain to reveal his creation for all to see and judge.
That is exactly what Saints Hills Winery owner, Ernest Tolj, has done. After five years of preparation, he has finally released the Saints Hills 2009 “Nevina” white wine, a blend of Malvasia Istriana and Chardonnay, as well as a red wine made from Plavac Mali, the Saints Hills 2008 Dingač.
And the wines are brilliant!
In today’s world, many affluent lovers of wine desire to produce wine under labels embossed with their own names. Once they realize that a winery has a hunger for money that is like a bottomless pit, most give up on the glorious notion of being able to sit in a restaurant with business partners and order a wine named after them.
Ernest Tolj is by far in a different camp. A serious businessman with huge ambitions, Tolj manages to merge business savvy and an unbelievable passion for wine into a clear and balanced production and marketing strategy.
He is also cognizant that he must absorb the losses of the past two vintages and carry them forward for at least the next three years. That, in fact, was the plan from the start.
And the current distribution plan is no less ambitious: Saints Hills wines will simultaneously enter the markets in Croatia, Serbia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Until now, no other winery in Croatia has achieved such a feat.
Such an ambitious plan requires the assistance of top notch people in the profession. Not surprising then that Mr. Tolj has hired the most important enologist/wine consultant of our time: Michel Rolland from Bordeaux, arguably the creator of some of the best wines in the world.
The grapes that will provide the backbone to Saints Hills wines are Malvasia Istriana (white) and Plavac Mali (red) from vineyards in Radovani, Istria (Malvasia) and the Dingač appellation (Plavac Mali) on the Pelješac peninsula – two wine-growing regions that currently show great potential.
Saints Hills 2009 Nevina
Nevina is a brave and successful blend of Malvasia Istriana and Chardonnay created in such a way that the Istrian terroir and the Malvasia character are preserved, with the Chardonnay simply serving to strengthen the structure and enrich the flavors. Perhaps Nevina is the harbinger of a new trend in Malvasia winemaking. Based on the preliminary results, I would hope that it is.
Nevina is an extraordinarily rich wine full with intense aromas and flavors. The color is light yellow with hints of green and reflections of gold. The alluring bouquet is harmonious and successfully merges together a range of diverse aromas. First on the nose are aromas of minerals infused with ripe peaches and spicy vanilla. As the wine opens up and the aromas unfold, intense tropical fruit notes emerge, such as grapefruit, pineapple and a hint of banana. On the end, yeasty notes dominate and deliver notes of bread crusts with butter and a hint of hazelnut. An unbelievable rich and attractive nose!
On the palate, the flavors are fully in balance with the array of aromas on the nose. Immediately an expression of minerality takes hold and, despite the soft acidity, provides an appealing sensation of freshness on the palate, as well as structure and a lasting finish.
A fresh and fruity profile rises on the mid-palate and fills out the body, only to return to the same mineral expression that dominated the early stages, only now it is slightly rougher and less polished.
The finish is great, very long lasting, and characterized by minerals and stone fruits. It is mild and pleasantly bitter, with a poignant aftertaste. Simply – a great wine.
Saints Hills 2008 Dingač
This wine has raised the bar and shifted the boundaries of experience. I have never tasted such a developed Dingač wine at such an early age. The 2008 vintage is already showing a level of development that other Plavac Mali wines from the 2006 vintage are just entering. With this first vintage, Saints Hills Dingač has already risen to become one of the five best Croatian Plavac Mali wines.
Its deep color shimmers with dark ruby, blood-red reflections, and garnet hues. The bouquet is intense and very beautiful, revealing spicy notes of black pepper, cedar, and dark chocolate interwoven with abundant fruity notes of plum, cherry, and dried figs.
This wine is full and powerful on the palate, yet it is also soft and endlessly smooth. The flavor is extraordinary with a pleasantly sweet attack that abounds with ripe black fruits infused with a sprinkle of piquant spices. However, the fruitiness is somewhat reserved on the mid-palate thanks to the heavy impact of tannin and alcohol, both of which will give the wine strength, backbone and stability in the long run.
Despite these extreme yet beneficial characteristics, the wine remains balanced, harmonious, and drinkable, with a body that is full with richly extracted flavors. Some expression of minerality emerges on the finish, which is rarely found in Plavac Mali. As the palate evolves, the wine returns us to its earlier fruitiness and sweetness, delivering a pleasant, long finish that gives rise to the fruit and spice notes from the nose, along with a hint of hazelnut on the very end.
Footnote from the Playboy Editors: Nevina and Dingač brought so much joy to our columnist that he proclaimed them “brilliant”. Now we wait to find out how much these wines will cost. We hope they won’t be as much as that Ferrari he mentioned!
After it was discovered that Croatia is the ancestral homeland of Zinfandel, we have now learned that Chardonnay – the most popular white grape variety in the world – has roots in Croatia. What a great time for wine…!
In an article entitled, “A Banned Variety was the Mother of Several Major Wine Grapes”, which was published in the science journal, Biology Letters, a group of scientists revealed the results of DNA profiling: the two parent grapes of Chardonnay are finally known, and one of them is Croatian. Chardonnay is in fact a cross between the French variety Pinot Noir and an indigenous Croatian variety, Štajerska Belina.
Štajerska Belina – or Gouais Blanc, as the French call it – used to be one of the most common grapes in the Middle Ages, spreading from France over central and all the way to Eastern Europe.
Despite its formerly ubiquitous presence, global experts generally agree that Štajerska Belina originally comes from Croatia.
Historically, Štajerska Belina (Gouais Blanc) was considered a inferior variety that was mainly planted by farmers and peasants. In France, Gouais Blanc was typically planted in the flatlands for peasant consumption, while the nobility grew the grapes of the Pinot family in the highlands.
Because of its poor quality, Štajerska Belina was eventually banned and became extinct in France. In Croatia it can be found in the vineyards of the northwest and central parts of the country, but it is rarely bottled as a single-varietal wine and is mostly consumed locally as a homemade blended table wine.
The Croatian origin of Chardonnay is further evidence of the region’s contribution to the development of modern day viticulture. For the second time since the Zinfandel discovery, a Croatian indigenous variety has entered the lexicon of the international wine community. Isn’t that fantastic?
While Štajerska Belina is not as highly esteemed as Zinfandel, its contribution to the world of wine cannot be denied.
It is interesting that Gouais Blanc (or Štajerska Belina, one of countless synonyms) crossed with Pinot Noir to produce not just one of the world’s most important grape varieties, Chardonnay, but others as well. Crossings of the same two grapes also spawned such notable varieties as Gamay (the famous grape of Beaujolais), Aligote, Auxerrois, Franc Noir, and Melon.
We could say these grape varieties are all different children of the same parents. Interestingly enough, the children are both red and white varietals. For instance, white Chardonnay and red Gamay. It’s the same as with puppies – when the parents are of different colours, the pups are white, black and mixed.
Today Croatian winemakers can introduce their Chardonnays to the world with more courage – after all, it is partly Croatian.
Even though Chardonnay has been present in our vineyards for many decades, its quality was never worthy of the best international wines like the ones from Burgundy’s Montrachet or California’s Napa Valley.
Yet in the last ten years we have witnessed the arrival of names like Krauthaker Rosenberg, Kutjevo de Gotho Aureus, and Korak Sur Lie – Croatian Chardonnays that can stand next to the best wines without any hesitation.
Chardonnay likes poor soil and limestone, conditions that are not common in the Continental wine-growing region of Croatia. Unfortunately, in Dalmatia – where there is plenty of limestone – the climate is too hot for Chardonnay.
However, the Istria regional of Coastal Croatia offers some hope, with Matošević winery leading the way that other new faces on the block have started to follow. Two examples are Meneghetti and Saints Hills (who blends Chardonnay with Malvazija).
An Excellent Croatian Chardonnay:
Meneghetti Bijelo 2007
To be fair, Meneghetti Bijelo is not a pure Chardonnay but is a blended wine – probably with Pinot Gris and Malvasia (the producer does not mention the blend components on the label). However, the Chardonnay character totally overpowers the other possible varieties in the blend. Its style is reminiscent of the popular Collio from the Italian Friulli region or the neighboring Slovenian Brda region, areas which have climates and soils similar to Istria. Some of the best Chardonnays in the world (Silvio Jermann) also come from that region.
The aroma is intense, steady, rich and very sophisticated. Abundant aromas of the yeast are mixed with dried fruit, vanilla and traces of citrus fruits. Hints of wood are still strongly present, so it is best to wait two years before consumption to allow for the wood to integrate. The taste is extraordinary, full and lively at the same time, with ideal acids, lightly creamy, markedly mineral, with exceptionally long and lasting aftertaste. This wine is similar to the previous vintage, but it is richer and more harmonious, with – and this is very important and too rare in Croatian Chardonnays – a potential for long-lasting ageing.
Croatian wine is making a concerted effort to reach UK wine glasses. Last month, the Fine Wine Croatia group, around 30 producers working together, came to London to show their wares.
The wines had been carefully selected to avoid overwhelming UK journalists and other members of the wine trade with too many different indigenous varieties, which I found pretty frustrating as I would have preferred to have tasted a little more widely, although the proliferation of wines made from Malvazija Istarksa (or Malvasia Istriana), the most widely planted white variety that makes up about 10% of the Croatian vineyard area (total c 32,500 ha/80,310 acres) and about 60% of the plantings in Istria, did show, for example, just how many different styles of wine can be made from it, even among the dry wines. On the whole, based on this tasting, I’d say that Malvazija Istarksa has greater potential for quality than Graševina (aka Welschriesling).
It is extremely difficult to summarise a country’s wines when the regions and winemaking styles are so diverse and when winemakers are testing international markets, but I found the more distinctive whites, generally those made from Malvazija Istarska but also the single example of Pošip, fell somewhere between Friuli and Slovenia in overall character, with a touch of Hungary thrown in – plenty of extract (like Riesling) and with a spectrum of flavours that ranged from crisp and mineral/non-fruity via fresh and more herbal to the weightier more textured wines. The acidity was generally fresher than in other varieties I have come across that share the Malvasia name, in Italy and Greece, for example.
Among the reds, I preferred the wines made from or based on Teran to those made from Plavac Mali, though it is clear to see that for these distinctive dark-skinned varieties, full grape maturity is essential and not always achieved in either – to avoid green flavours in the former and astringent tannins in the latter. According to Ivica Matošević, site selection and green harvesting are critical for Teran (also known as Refosco d’Istria but not the same variety as Italy’s Refosco dal Pedunculo Rosso) to control the variety’s natural tendency towards high yields and consequent poor ripening. This is why he currently blends Teran with Merlot, though he now has some better sited vines that he hopes will produce the sort of fruit he is looking for.
Overall, the reds, especially the more interesting ones based on indigenous varieties, seemed to be more of a work in progress than the whites – or perhaps I just mean that they were very ‘local’ in style – lots of character, a bit up and down in quality, and often needing just a touch more refinement (in terms of refining the fruit rather than ironing out the character). Rather like untamed northern Italians or some corners of south-western France.
I’d particularly like to have tasted more wines from the white-skinned Pošip variety and from the dark-skinned Babić.
This time last year, Richard Hemming visited Croatia and reported on his findings in Richard goes to Croatia. See that article for more background on the landscape, including pictures.
The wines are grouped by variety (or by colour where there weren’t many examples) and alphabetically by producer (sur)name within those groups. Here and more generally in the tasting notes database, we have English translations for the regions of origin that would be too opaque for anyone not familiar with Croatian (eg Western Istria instead of Zapadna Istra), but we have kept the Croatian names for subregions such as Kutjevo.
Coronica Malvazija Istarska 2009 Western Istria 16 Drink 2010-2011
Lemony, a little grassy/herbal. Sour and stony in a fine textural way. Has that delicate graininess of so many Italian whites. Tight and fresh. Invigorating. (JH) 13.6%
Kozlović, Santa Lucia Malvazija Istarska 2006 Western Istria 16 Drink 2009-2011
One year in barrique. Deeper gold than their unoaked, younger wine. Honeyed oranges. Intense, and smells as if there is botrytis there. Developed and oaky – oak pretty much obscures the variety. But the finish is very tangy and rich. Just a little too broad to be fine. Full of flavour though. High alcohol but not too intrusive. (JH) 15%
Matić Malvazija Istarska 2008 Western Istria 16 Drink 2010-2011
Intensely herbal and grassy. Towards boxtree. More Sauvignon Blanc-like but there’s also a light and attractive peachiness. Crisp, clean and modern but less distinctive than some. (JH) 13.1%
Matošević, Alba Barrique Malvazija Istarska 2008 Western Istria 16.5 Drink 2010-2012
Pretty tight, some citrus, touch of creamy oak and oak sweetness on the palate. Fine boned, taut and zesty without that much fruit flavour but that same herbal note as in the unoaked wine. Oak is subtle and balanced and gives a creamy oatmeal palate. Elegant but less distinctive than the acacia-aged wine. (JH) 13.5%
Matošević, Alba Robinia Malvazija Istarska 2004 Western Istria 17 Drink 2006-2012
Keeps fresher in acacia barrels, apparently and it does seem younger. Really fine honeyed nose. Honeyed but not at all oxidised. Slight woody/cedary flavour on the palate. Reminds me a little of mature Chenin with a herbal element. Crisp and dry and rich in the mouth without any fat. (JH) 13.1%
Matošević, Grimalda 2008 Central Istria 16 Drink 2010-2011
50% Chardonnay, 25% Sauvignon Blanc, 25% Malvasia Istarska.
He did the blend because he found similar notes in the varieties – citrus, herbal, mint. Slight mintiness here. Very fresh, doesn’t have quite the subtlety of the varietal Malvasia Istarskas. (JH) 14%
Roxanich, Antica Malvazija Istarska 2007 Western Istria 17 Drink 2010-2013 Skin maceration) 80 days, aged in large wooden vats (70hl and 35hl) for 30 months, bottled without filtration.
Deep gold and bright. Some bruised apple notes, complex, rich, orange and apricot. Powerful, dry, very clean and refreshing even with that amount of tannin. Opens up to more perfume and herbs. Slight phenolic bitterness on the finish but it’s attractive if you are ready for it. Honeyed as it warms up. But still has good freshness. Highly distinctive in this line-up. (JH) 14.1%
Belje Graševina 2009 Baranja 16 Drink 2010-2011
Fresh and citrussy but tastes off dry and quite full in the mouth. And then a tart lemon finish. Modern, bright and clean. (JH) 14.1%
Belje, Goldberg Graševina 2008 Baranja 16 Drink 2010-2011
Much deeper gold. Not much on the nose – a touch of honey. Rich, slightly sour, off dry. Silky and fills the mouth. Apricot flavours. Slightly bitter on the finish but pure and dense. (JH) 14.8%
Feravino Graševina 2009 Feričanci 16.5 Drink 2010-2012
Fine limey Riesling nose, a little mineral. Dry, tight, fresh, clean and zesty. Fine and fresh. Tight and energetic with a light grapiness on the palate but mainly crisp citrus. Persistent too. (JH) 13.6%
Galić Graševina 2008 Kutjevo 15 Drink 2010-2011
Pretty neutral nose. More full bodied and richer than the Mihalj but still rather simple. (JH) 12.8%
Krauthaker Graševina 2009 Kutjevo 15.5 Drink 2010-2011
Slightly grassy. Like a dense Sauvignon Blanc. Crisp and fresh and modern. Citrus on the palate, dry and fresh. Slight phenolic dryness on the finish. (JH) 14%
Krauthaker, Mitrovac Graševina 2009 Kutjevo 15 Drink 2010-2011
More mineral than their straight Graševina and even a little smoky. Off dry, concentrated but a little harsh with a bitter aftertaste. Concentration is there but (tasted on the warm side) not much pleasure. (JH) 14.5%
Kutjevo, De Gotho Graševina 2008 Kutjevo 15 Drink 2010-2011
Lemony Riesling nose. Mineral and citrus. Sort of woody (not oaky) on the palate though it is produced in stainless steel. Bitter aftertaste. (JH) 14%
Feravino Pinot Blanc 2008 Feričanci 16 Drink 2010-2011
10% fermented in barrique. Fresh, clean and dry and a fine example of the variety. A very slight textural grip and a depth unusual for Pinot Blanc. (JH)
Korta Katarina Pošip 2007 Korčula 17 Drink 2010-2012
Clean and delicately limey citrus. Rich and creamy and full bodied but with very good acidity. A distinctive variety. Fine grip but smooth. Rich, lightly honeyed, dense and powerful but still fresh. Complex, fresh, dry and long. (JH) 14.7%
Kozlović Muškat Momjanski 2008 Western Istria 16.5 Drink 2010-2011
Labelled polusuhi, ie off dry. Intensely grapey floral nose. Rose petals too. With a fine tannic grip to freshen it up given the moderate acidity. Medium but not at all cloying with that slight phenolic structure. Highly aromatic – maybe OTT for some. (JH) 12.2%
Roxanich, Milva Chardonnay 2007 Western Istria 16.5 Drink 2010-2014
Deep gold. Shorter maceration than for the Malvazija Istarska. Slightly reductive, honeyed. Really nutty and full of flavour. Chardonnay but not as we know it. Quite tannic but not unnecessarily so. Fresh on the finish and very concentrated. A very distinctive style. (JH) 13.7%
Tomac, Amfora 2007 Plešivica 15.5 Drink 2010-2012
50% Chardonnay plus about seven other locally grown varieties. Pale gold. Spicy orange and apricot. Not totally clean on the palate and rather astringent. Interesting rather than pleasurable. (JH) 12.5%
Arman Franc, Barrique Teran 2006 Western Istria 17 Drink 2009-2014
Very deeply coloured. Elegant and subtle dark fruit aroma. A touch smoky. Firm and juicy and dense. Firm but ripe tannnis. Finesse and freshness. Still so youthful. (JH) 12.5%
Coronica, Gran Teran 2007 Western Istria 16 Drink 2010-2012
A little leafy, and pretty dry. Fresh but could perhaps do with a little more ripeness to balance the tannins? Very juicy and fresh and fruit gets sweeter at the end but tannins slightly prominent for its age and only moderate fruit weight. (JH) 13.5%
Istravino, Dajla Teran 2007 Western Istria 16.5 Drink 2010-2012
Leafy with both red and black fruit. Fine freshness, balance and good fruit. Not complex but a real whole and very youthful with a long fresh aftertaste. Tannins are present but add freshness rather than astringency. (JH) 12.5%
Matošević, Grimalda 2008 Central Istria 16.5 Drink 2010-2012
85% Merlot, 15% Teran. Zesty and lightly peppered red fruit. Really juicy: dry and fresh and jumps out of the glass with energy. Structured without being tannic. Mouthwateringly fresh. (JH) 13.8%
Roxanich, RE Teran 2007 Western Istria 16.5+ Drink 2011-2015
Quite reductive at first on the nose. Very tight and fresh, maybe could do with a little more flesh but there is an elegance and a naturalness that shines through. Aged in big oak. Dry and demanding tannins but not harsh. Needs food. (JH) 13.4%
Korta Katarina, Plavac Mali 2007 Pelješac 16 Drink 2011-2013
Bright mid garnet, wild red fruits, spicy, dry and tense. Tannins still have a firm grip and the texture is rustic but the flavour lively. (JH) 14.7%
Miličić, Dingac Plavac Mali 2006 Pelješac 15.5 Drink 2010-2012
Quite perfumed, almost floral nose. Much softer than the Postup Mare wine. Smooth and flavourful though perhaps a little sweet-tasting on the finish (as opposed to savoury). (JH) 14.5%
Postup Mare Plavac Mali 2006 Pelješac 14 Drink 2012-2014
Odd and marked green bean nose, still very grippy tannins. No fun with high acid to exaggerate the tannins. Needs a good steak to make it more palatable but that wouldn’t really improve the aromas. (JH) 15%
Saint’s Hill, Dingač Plavac Mali 2007 Pelješac 16.5 Drink 2009-2013
Mid garnet. Sweet. soft, blueberry/blackberry fruit. Contrast between sweet almost toffeed fruit and dry but smooth/savoury tannins. Fresh and flavourful but a bit hot on the finish. Distincitve, a little rustic and then a sweet/sour aftertaste. (JH) 15.5%
Zlatan, Barrique Plavac Mali 2007 Hvar 16 Drink 2011-2013
Bright mid garnet, wild red fruits, spicy, dry and tense. Tannins still have a firm grip and the texture is rustic but the flavour lively. (JH) 14.7%
Zlatan, Grand Cru Plavac Mali 2007 Hvar 17+ Drink 2012-2017
Mix of French and Slavonian oak. This is more selective than the Barrique version. Smoky, savoury nose. Powerful, dry and very fine fruit. Firm but not harsh tannins. Needs a lot more time but has all the components to age well. (JH) 14.5%
Enjingi, Venje Barrique 2003 Kutjevo 14 Drink 2008-2011
Zweigelt, Crni Pinot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Frankovka blend. A slightly stinky reductive aroma. Then very sweet and a bit leafy. Very strange and too sweet-tasting. (JH) 14.2%
Feravino Frankovka 2008 Feričanci 16.5 Drink 2010-2012
Frankovka = Blaufränkisch. 50% new oak. Half French, half Slavonian. Pure sweet ripe red fruit. Distinctive fresh fruit with a lovely bite on the back palate, almost a note of citrus. Perhaps a little rustic but in an attractive characterful way. Zesty and fresh. (JH) 13.7%
Feravino Zweigelt 2008 Feričanci 15.5 Drink 2010-2012
Aged in Slavonian oak. Sweet coconut aroma on the nose with lots of dark berry fruit. Straightforward but that coconut sweetness is too much for my taste. (JH)
Galić Pinot Noir 2008 Kutjevo 14 Drink 2010-2011
Sweet fruit, a little toffeed and then hot on the finish. Fresh enough but not much fun. (JH) 13.5%
Roxanich, Superistrian 2006 Western Istria 17 Drink 2010-2015
Merlot 40%, Cabernet Sauvignon 40%, Borgonja (Gamay x Pinot) 20%. 36 months in big oak. You can certainly smell the cassis of the Cabernet here. Sweet dark fruit, a touch leafy, rich and dense and masses of fruit. Lovely freshness, very youthful, very clean and pretty sophisticated. Bright and healthy and youthful. (JH) 13.5%
Suha Punta Babić 2007 Primošten 16.5 Drink 2010-2012
Distinctive yet hard-to-describe aroma: peppery, dry and dense. Seems to have quality potential. Spicy and tense and yet has lovely crunchy berry fruit. Bags of flavour with that peppery aftertaste. I’d like to taste some more examples of this variety. (JH) 14%