Michel Rolland, the world’s leading wine consultant and enologists, recently toured a few wine regions of Croatia. On July 2, 2010, he also attended a tasting of 28 Malvasia Istriana (Malvazija Istarska) wines at San Rocco restaurant in the Istrian town of Brtonigla.
The tasting, organized by Saints Hills Winery with the support of the association of Istrian winemakers, Vinistra, was also attended by a dozen Croatian winemakers, enologists and experts in the field.
After the tasting, Mr. Rolland said that, in his assessment, the 28 Malvasia wines he tried were well-made, refreshing and very approachable. He added that with Malvasia Croatian winemakers have an opportunity to present the international market with a unique wine of a specific character.
The goal of the tasting was to present Mr. Rolland with a cross-section of Malvasia wines that are representative of the wide range of styles available of the market, ranging from simple, refreshing, early-drinking wines to highly extracted, wood-aged versions.
“Malvasia wines are very well made, fresh and refreshing. They are all good, with different characteristics. None of the wines were flawed, which is very good for the future of winemaking in Croatia. Paired with the food I tried in the past few days, the wines were perfect,” Rolland said – adding that still there is room for improving their quality.
Mr. Rolland also had the opportunity to meet with a number of local winemakers and enologists to discuss the history and conditions of winemaking in Istria, characteristics of the grape variety, winemaking techniques, different approaches of vinification, and the long-term the potential of Malvasia.
Among the producers represented at the tasting were Benvenuti, Brčić, Coronica, Clai, Degrassi, Franc Arman, Geržinić, Kabola, Kozlović, Prince, Krulčić, MaDeBaKo, Matošević, Pilato, Piquentum, Poletti, Radovan, Roxanich, Saints Hills and Trapan.
Michel Rolland traveled to Croatia at the invitation of Ernest Tolj of Saints Hills Winery. Support for the Malvasia tasting was provided under the umbrella of the Istrian winemakers association, Vinistra.
Saints Hills Winery, which was established in 2006, owns three vineyards and two wineries, one in Istria and one in Dalmatia (where it produces wine from two distinct vineyards sites, Dingač and Komarna).
Mr. Rolland began consulting for Saints Hills winery two harvests ago. Mr. Rolland’s mission is to assist Saints Hills – in the vineyard and the cellar – to produce wines for the domestic and international markets that are the best expression of indigenous varieties they represent and the unique terroir represented in each of the three vineyard sites where the grapes grow.
“Croatia has several positive conditions for wine production. First of all, it’s a fantastic tourist destination. More and more people are traveling to Croatia, and there they are drinking Croatian wines, which is the best publicity. Once they return home, these tourists will talk about their Croatian wine experience. Secondly, the wines are original and should be in the international market. For international buyers there is always a curiosity factor, because people like new wines from new places. Of course, the bottle should contain good wine!” Rolland explained.
Mr. Rolland said that marketing and positioning will play a key role in the international market, which will very quickly define the price it is willing to pay for Croatian wines.
“Croatia’s baseline market is Croatia, which is also a very beautiful environment in which to promote wine”, concluded Rolland.
(Born in 1947, Michel Rolland is the world’s leading wine consultant and enologist. He has 100 clients in 13 countries and is known for his unique style of consultation in the world of viticulture and winemaking.)
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%
Photos by Ivana Krstulović Carić (unless otherwise noted)
While the diseases and pests that attacked Hvar’s vineyards and wrecked the island’s economy were eventually conquered, viticulture as a way of life never fully recovered to its previous level of importance. Total vineyard acreage fell by over 2,000 hectares to 3,500 hectares under vine. The economic and social impact would be felt for decades to come, resulting in a further decline in production as many residents of the islands (including Hvar) abandoned their vineyards and homes to go abroad to seek work and a means of steady income.
However, a local family, led by Niko Duboković Nadalini – a powerful ship and land owner, winemaker and the mayor of Jelsa – spearheaded an effort to restore the vineyards of Hvar. They introduced modern method of grafting grapes onto phylloxera-resistant American rootstocks and shared the technology with local wine growers. Their winery in Zavala* earned numerous world-class wine awards in those times.
Yet after the nationalization* initiatives of the early 20th century, their winery was abandoned. Today most of their vineyards are overgrown with pine trees and macchia*, although certain sections have recently been replanted with young vines by local winemaking families, such as the Carić family in Zavala and Zlatan Plenković.
World War I brought the Italian occupation of Hvar, during which time the Croatian language and culture were suppressed. Soon thereafter Hvar was absorbed into the newly-founded Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenians, which later became the Kingdom of Yugoslavia.
The Great Depression (1929-1932) had an obviously negative impact on wine production, and many winemakers and co-operatives, because of large debts, imploded and ceased to exist. As a result, the local population set off on another large exodus to distant countries such as the USA, Chile, Argentina, New Zealand and Australia, where they hoped to find new lives and jobs.
Today you can still find living witnesses of this hard time. My grandmother, Danica, still recalls her mother’s sad sighs while she was baking bread. “A board of bread, one hectoliter of wine”, she would say. This meant that to buy 20kg of flour, one had to sell 100 liters of wine.
Modern mechanization, vehicles and roads were unheard of in these times. In order to reach the vineyards on the south slopes of Hvarske Plaže and the wine cellars of Ivan Dolac, wine-growers were required to climb over steep heights of Vorh Mountain.
It is interesting to note that before the arrival of phylloxera, mostly white indigenous grapes were grown on the south slopes of Hvar: Bogdanuša, Mekuja, Parč, Kurtelaška, Vugava. Only later did Plavac Mali, the most widely-planted red grape in Dalmatia, come to dominate and prevail in the area.
Up until World War II, every town on the south side of the island had its own quay where boats would dock to buy wine. Traders would visit wine sellers, sample the wines and set their prices. The price of wines from Hvarske Plaže was always significantly higher than those from the north side of the island where the grapes were of lower quality and sugar levels.
Transporting the wine from the cellars to the boats was a challenge due to the steep slopes. Donkeys often bore the burden of carting the wine from villages situated far from the sea to the docks. Once at the sea, the traders would fill wooden barrels with the wine and then throw them into the sea, where they were picked up by the boats.
Sometime after World War II, Peroslav Carić (Slavko) noticed a new invention – rubber hoses – while visiting a marketplace, and he purchased some 2000 meters of hose. His idea to use the hose for pumping wine from the seaside stone reservoirs into the barrels was a success, and he soon offered his service to all the villages on the south side of Hvar, as well as a few on the island of Brač.
With the building of the Pitve–Zavala tunnel in the early 1960s, life became easier for the locals, who no longer had to each make wine in their own cellars and then transport it to the buys. Instead they transported the grapes through the tunnel to the big wineries on the north side of Vorh Mountain for processing.
But this progress was not necessarily good news. The large wineries, such as Hvarske Vinarije, Dalmacijavino, and VinoProdukt (today the cooperative Svirče), shifted into quantitative winemaking. Quality diminished but was offset by positive developments regarding modernization and better organization of production, brands and sales.
Thanks to the hard work of Ivo Politeo, Hvar achieved its first wine with Protected Geographical Origin status, “Faros”, which was produced by Dalmacijavino from locally indigenous Plavac Mali grapes from the south slopes of Hvar. This is Croatia’s second wine with protected status, the first being Dingač from Pelješac.
The era of Socialism brought further degradation of quality and the number of acres under vine, due to the disparaging attitude towards agriculture and farmers.
Today it is estimated that there are only 300-500 hectares of vineyards on Hvar, a huge decline from the 5,750 hectares of the mid 19th century. However, a reassessment of current vineyard acreage is underway, which will hopefully provide more precise data about present day viticulture.
When faced with the global economic problems of the present day, we can’t help but wonder what kind of a future awaits us. One thing is clear: we should endeavor to preserve the things most dear to us – our heritage and our vineyards – because crises come and go. Vineyards do not grow overnight.
We must learn from the mistakes of our past. Ironically, the vineyards that my family cultivates today were purchased by Ljubo Carić, my husband’s father, even though the same land was once owned by his father, Juraj Carić. In fact, when widowed with six children, my husband’s grandfather sold all his lands on the prime southern slopes to buy land on the north side of Vorh Mountain, which he thought would be easier to work.
Unfortunately, he lost almost all the value of his investments and savings when the Austrian Crown (currency at the time) was converted to the Yugoslavian Dinar. He never accomplished his dream of growing quality grapes in his new vineyards.
Note: More about the development of wine production on Hvar and the relationships between local winemakers will be covered in subsequent articles. Stay tuned!
Postscript from the editor: On May 31, 2010, the winemakers of Hvar joined together to establish their own representative association (“udruga”). Elected to be president of the Association of Hvar Winemakers is Mr. Andro Tomić of Bastijana winery in Jelsa. Marija Gabelić was chosen as vice president, and the author of this article, Ivana Krstulović Carić, will serve as secretary. The association’s mission will be to promote Hvar as a wine destination, revitalize abandoned vineyards, and protect & promote native grape varieties.
* Key to Terms in the Article:
Stari Grad: the “old town” on Hvar, also known as Pharos.
Neretvans: Citizens of the Principality of Neretva (7th century). Neretva is a river valley and its surrounding delta area in south Dalmatia, Croatia.
Svirče, Sveta Nedilja, Jelsa, Vrboska, Stari Grad, Hvar, Zavala: Towns on the island of Hvar.
Hvarske Plaže or Plaže: a sub-appellation on the island of Hvar – considered the best on the island. Translated as “Hvar’s Beaches” or simply “Beaches”. The name came from the fact that the vineyards are located on slope above gravel beaches of Hvar’s south shore.
Nationalization: The act of seizing land or other private property and converting it into public ownership, as occurred during the communist years when Croatia was part of former Yugoslavia.
Macchia: Scrub land biome in the Mediterranean region.
Photos by Ivana Krstulović Carić (unless otherwise noted)
Since the arrival of Greek colonists in 385 B.C., the Dalmatian island of Hvar, Croatia has endured many changes. Rulers, empires and foreign armies have come and gone. Today the marks and scars of these events remain a part of the island’s cultural-historical identity and economic position in the region, and the ethnic composition of the island reflects the genetic patchwork left behind by the influx of settlers over time.
But one thing remains virtually unchanged. This is a tale about the continuity of winegrowing and winemaking on Hvar, which has survived the many rises and falls caused by wars, social unrest, vineyard scourges, and economic hardship.
In the beginning, From the Aegian island of Paros the Greeks brought grapevines and planted them in the fields of Stari Grad, thus establishing the island’s first vineyards. The Greeks then divided the fields of Stari Grad*, also known as Ager (originally named Chora) into 73 equal parcels and allocated them to the local settlers.
One year after their arrival, a conflict between the Greek settlers and the local Illyrian tribes broke out. With the help of Dionysius I of Syracuse’s fleet (winner in the war against Carthage and ruler of Sicily), the Greeks were able to defeat the Illyrians and strengthen their hold on the island.
According to Roman historian, Appian, the Illyrian mainland tribes considered wine from Hvar a valuable commodity. Clay amphora bearing the seal of Pharos, which were recently excavated near the Neretva River in southern Dalmatia, affirms the importance of wine in the cultural-historic lifestyle of the region.
During the time of Demetrius of Hvar, a great soldier and confidant to Queen Teuta of Illyria, Hvar returned to Illyrian rule.
In the 2nd century B.C. the Romans conquered Hvar and brought with them the methods to improve the local production of wine. The Romans built many villae rusticae in the fields of Stari Grad and elsewhere on the island, where the owners would reside for the greater part of the year.
During this time, in the city of Salona, the capital of the Roman region of Dalmatia, a Christian group was founded and guided by Domnius of Antioch (better known locally as Saint Duje). Since Hvar was a major port between Salona and major cities of the Mediterranean, the teachings of the Christian Gospel quickly spread among the islanders, an influence that remains today.
After the fall of Salona (7th century A.D.), some of the city resident fled to the islands, subsequently followed by the Slavic tribe, the Croats. The Croats soon adopted the traditions and winemaking skills that would sustain the continuity of grape cultivation and wine production until the present day.
During the Middle Ages, Hvar was subjected to a revolving door of rulers: the Neretvans*, Croatian kings, Byzantine, Hungarian, Croatian-Hungarian kings, and finally the Venetian Republic all took their turns.
Despite all the turmoil, vine cultivation and winemaking endured and continued to be the backbone of the local economy. In the Middle Ages, two-thirds of arable land was owned by the Hvar Commune, and the remaining third belonged to royalty and the Church.
Public lands were offered for rent to the workers, royalty and the Church. Strict rules governed the division of property and the payment of land rent. Grape growers were required to pay 1/6 of the yield to the royalty and the Church. Discontent led to unrest, and under the leadership of Matija Ivanić, a civil uprising (1510-1514) broke out. The mission: to secure equality between the common folk and the royalty.
The uprising was followed by a period of Turkish incursions. The Turks raze the towns of Hvar, Stari Grad and Vrboska. Turkish invasions all along the coast led to demographic changes, as a large number of Croats from the Neretva region and the Makarska coast fled to Hvar in search of safety.
Hvar eventually came under control of the Venetians and continued to develop – despite ups and downs – as an economic center of Dalmatia. Wine exports were the leading source of revenue, although Hvar was also well known for its production and export of dried figs, olive oil, almonds, carob and other Mediterranean produce.
In the time leading up to the mid-19th century, Hvar was again subject to periodic regime change, coming under control of the Austrians and subsequently the French (beginning of the 19th century). It also came under attack by the British and Russians, during which time commerce was interrupted and the local economy stagnated.
Austria again gained control of Hvar in the middle of the 19th century. As a result, Hvar gained access to new markets in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which boosted the importance and production of wine.
Toward the end of the 19th century, the scourges of phylloxera, peronospera (downy mildew) and oidium (powdery mildew), devastated and ruined the vineyards of France and Western Europe. Wine from Dalmatia suddenly came under higher demand, prompting the residents of Hvar to expand their vineyard holdings to 5,750 hectares. With the increased production and revenues, many wine-growers enlarged their homes and converted the ground floors into wine cellars. The future suddenly seemed bright, and Hvar enjoyed newfound prosperity.
To minimize the power of and offset any threat from the buyers and traders, many of the smaller local wine growers decided to organize themselves into the first island cooperatives. One such cooperative, Svirče *, remains today.
But the unfortunate cycles of history soon took a turn, and the economic boon turned into catastrophe. The Wine Clause, a mandate that allowed Austria to import cheaper wines from Italy, forced a drastic and devastating 350-500% decrease in the price of Hvar’s wines.
If that were not enough, the vineyards of Dalmatia – including Hvar – were also attacked by peronospera and oidium, followed in 1909 by the ravaging effects of phylloxera. The glory days of viticulture on Hvar seemed to die a slow death, leaving the population without the means to earn a living, and the local economy teetered on the verge of collapse.
A record of these dark days is still visible, engraved in 1901 in a stone panel on the chapel in the village of Ivan Dolac*, which says:
In honor of the Mother of God, this Church was built by Ivan Carić of the late Juraj. Since 1852 oidium and peronospera have ruined the grapes. These were hard times. Root pests came from Zadar, and the vines whithered. In fear we await our doom. My People! Devastated by this affront from God, heed the Virgin Mother Mary. And may God protect us from these three evils.
Text and photos by Cliff Rames, Wines of Croatia (unless otherwise noted)
17th annual Vinistra wine expo was held April 29 – May 2, 2010 in Poreč, Croatia. Organized by the eponymous regional association of winegrowers and winemakers, Vinistra (http://vinistra.com/), this year’s expo featured 130 exhibitors and 535 wines.
Without doubt most of the wines I tasted were serious, well-crafted products that came very close to delivering authentic, world-class representations of Istria’s unique terroir. Taste after taste I was struck by the consistency of quality and the emergence of a distinct “Istrian style”, particularly in regard to Malvazija and Teran, the two distinctly indigenous grapes in the region.
Malvazija Istarska (Malvasia Istriana): As Croatia’s second most widely-planted grape variety (after Grasevina), Malvazija is certainly one of the most important players in Croatia’s impressive portfolio of native varieties. Vast improvements in wine making over the last 10-15 years, as well as the successful promotional initiatives and quality control program implemented by Vinistra, have resulted in Malvazija emerging to the forefront as one of Croatia’s most recognized and respected wine offerings.
Malvazija has definitely arrived on the scene, and my impression is that most producers are successfully achieving excellent expressions of the grape in three distinct styles: fresh and early drinking; mature and heavily extracted; and sweet.
The majority of Malvazija on display at Vinistra reflected the fresh, early-drinking style that is more approachable to the average consumer: dry, crisp, lighly aromatic with notes of citrus, apple, green herb, and raw almond – a real palate cleanser and perfect pairing with the regional delectable seafood dishes.
I was particularly surprised by the wines of Franko Radovan, a producer with whom I was previously unfamiliar. His fresh 2009 Malvazija was focused and lean, showing a pure fruit, refreshing and vibrant character with a stiff mineral backbone for structure. If I had to describe his winemaking style in a word, it would be “precise”. Cool label, too!
Less present but hard to ignore was a small number of fascinating Malvazija wines in the mature (“zrela”) style. I found these “yellow wines” to be complex (hence easily misunderstood) creatures, showing a highly extracted and viscous expression of the grape that is unique, deeply fascinating and delicious. If I had to categorize the style of these mature Malvazijas, I would struggle but be tempted to compare them to Vernacchia di San Gimignano from Tuscany (for the tamer versions) or the white wines of the Jura or Savennières (for the more extreme versions).
Oak and acacia (or a combination of the two) are the typical woods used for barrel aging Malvazija. I find acacia wood and Malvazija to be an intriguing combination, and when controlled and done right it is a marriage made in heaven: the bride voluptuous and sexy in veils perfumed with acacia flowers, dried honey, orange zest and spiced pear. Too much acacia and the wine will become distractingly smoky with a distinct bacon aroma. Standouts in my tastings included Roxanich 2006 “Antica”, Trapan 2008 “Uroborus” (a Gold Medal winner with 85.5 points), and Kozlović 2001 “Santa Lucia”.
The only sweet Malvazija I managed to tasted was the Benvenuti 2009 (a Gold Medal winner with 86 points), which was pleasant and easily drinkable. However, to my taste it did not offer the same depth of character, structure, sizzling acidity and luscious fruit that the fabulous 2007 Benvenuti sweet Muscat “Momjanski” (also a Gold Medal winner with 88.17 points) delivered.
One curious note: the oldest Malvazija to receive a medal in the adjunct World of Malvazija competition (see below) was the vintage 2000 Kabaj from Slovenia, which received a Silver Medal. The oldest Croatian Malvazija was from Matošević, the 2005 Alba Robinia, which ranked in 6th place and also received a Gold Medal. The majority of Malvazija medal winners were wines from the 2009 vintage, including the #1 wine, Ma-De-Ba-Ko (see below).
Teran: A difficult variety to nurture and harness, in the right hands Teran will produce a deliciously food-friendly and serious wine. But poor viticulture practices and inattentive winemaking can result in astringent, overly-acidic and thin wines best mixed with the local olive oil and utilized as vinaigrette for salad.
To my great satisfaction, none of the Teran wines I tried at Vinistra fell into this condemning category. Most were well-balanced and firmly-structured, with a striking harmony between the black cherry and black raspberry fruit character, a savory, cured meat wildness, refreshing acidity, and rustic yet not over-bearing tannins.
Simple Teran wines are typically pleasantly ruby red in color, translucent and unpretentious, somewhat like basic Chianti. However, I was intrigued by how many of the Terans I tried at Vinistra were showing a more serious dimension: these were very richly colored – nearly black and opaque – wines, with a mouth-filling presence, and a brambly black fruit, savory meat, smoky quality.
However, many of the Terans I tried were still tightly wound-up and unrestrained – really wild beasts, which I surmised may indicate some potential for cellar aging, at least for 3-4 years. Even so-called “Table Wine” versions, like the “Piquentum Teranum” from Vinski Podrum Buzet, were richly satisfying stuff.
Istria is often called the “Tuscany of Croatia”. Could Teran become the Sangiovese of Istria? And could the better versions from specific Terre Rosse locations achieve a Vino Nobile di Montepulciano comparison? Hmm…I’m not sure. I find that there is also Northern Rhone Syrah quality to some of these wines with their gamey, black pepper notes.
However you want to see it, one can’t deny that something special is happening here with Teran. I believe that Teran is well on its way to becoming a world-class product from a region that until now has been primarily known for its white wines (Malvazija, Muscat and Chardonnay).
Teran from Istria is definitely a WTW (“Wine to Watch”) in my book. Excellent examples include Arman (Teran Barrique), Cattunar, Istravino, Legović and Tomaz.
World of Malvazija Competition
During the week prior to Vinistra, the organizers hold the annual World of Malvazija (“Svijet Malvazija”) competition, whereby Malvazija producers are invited to submit their wines, which are then tasted blind and rated by a panel of judges. The winners are announced just prior to the start of Vinistra.
The somewhat surprising World of Malvazija first place award (with 88.2 points) for dry Malvazija went to the newly released “Ma-De-Ba-Ko” 2009 Malvazija. This is quite an honor for a wine that has not yet reached the consumer market. But with its distinguished pedigree (it is a joint project between four winemakers, Matošević, Degrassi, Kozlović & Joe Bastianich), and the marketing resources and prowess that comes along with the Bastianich name, it was probably an inevitable result.
I found the wine to be very light and easy drinking, not heavily extracted or alcoholic, if somewhat simple and clinical. Plans are to send 10,000 of the 15,000 bottle production to the U.S. (via Dark Star Imports in NYC), where it will retail for about $15. Perhaps Ma-De-Ba-Ko Malvazija will serve as a quality “gateway wine” that Croatia needs for export, a wine that will open doors for consumers to enter the world of the Wines of Croatia. Let’s hope!
While it would be impossible to report on every producer present at Vinistra, I feel compelled to mention three here, for different reasons:
I had heard about the two Benvenuti brothers even before I arrived at their booth. “All the girls love them”, they said. “They are so handsome – like models!”
I must say, after trying their wines, I’m in love with them too. Okay, maybe not them physically (as handsome as they really are), but their wines, especially the luscious Muskat Momjanski dessert wine (which by the way just won a Silver Medal at the Decanter World Wine Awards).
I mention Giorgio Clai not for his participation in Vinistra but for his absence. Where was he? I was shocked to learn that he did not have a booth at Vinistra, apparently because of some rules regarding wine classification. While his extreme winemaking style may not be to everyone’s taste, few people can disagree that the man is a great winemaker and an asset to the Croatian brand. Let’s hope that whatever conditions prevented him from representing his wines at Vinistra are rectified next year.
On a positive note, I had the great honor of meeting Mr. Clai on the floor of main hall, and he was as charming and friendly as can be. Unfortunately I did not have time to take him up on his invitation to visit his winery near Bijele Zemlje, which I’m certain would have been quite an amazing experience. Rumor has it that there are some interesting new wines cooking in his cellar.
While present at Vinistra with a highly-trafficked booth, Roxanich strangely did not receive a single medal and was not mentioned in the official Vinistra catalogue of awarded wines. This is especially relevant given the fact that Mr. Rožanić just received two 2010 Decanter World Wine Awards medals, a Bronze for his 2006 Merlot, and a Commended for his 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon.
I’m not sure what the story is behind the Roxanich’s lack of Vinistra awards, but I suspect it might be another classification issue. If anyone knows the answer to this Vinistra mystery, please let us know (I have also sent an email to the winery requesting their perspective).
A unique and charming touch to this year’s show was the inclusion of Serbia, Montenegro, and Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH) as “guest regions”. These up-and-coming wine countries also have a number of interesting indigenous varieties, and the quality of their wines is definitely on the rise.
Producers from Serbia included Božidar Aleksandrović, Miodrag Radovanović, Miroslav Kovačević, and Word of Wine by Živojin Đorđević. Montenegro was represented by Plantaže, Tažex–biotehnički institut, Burić, and Vučinić.
From BiH, guest wineries included Josip Brkić, Zdravko Rožić, Manastir Tvrdoš, and Radovan Vukoje.
I certainly appreciated the spirit with which these formal arch-rivals were invited to come together under one room to celebrate their common love of wine. It reminded me of the old quotation: “Water divides nations, but wine unites them”.
In the End
Vinistra was a great experience, and I am thankful to the organizers for inviting me to participate in the round table discussion.
Of course the biggest honor and thrill for me was meeting many of the region’s top winemakers and their teams, all of whom were friendly, generous with their pours, and eager to share their insights, knowledge and – more often than not – fabulous senses of humor.
Fact is, I spent more time talking than tasting, which was fine except that now I regret not trying wines from the other 80 or so exhibitors I missed. Without doubt, two days at Vinistra was not enough. Maybe 18 will be a luckier number!
Text and photos by Cliff Rames, Wines of Croatia (unless otherwise noted)
17 must be a lucky number. Not only was the 17th annual Vinistra wine expo considered by many attendees to be one of the best ever. It was also my first time in attendance. How lucky can you get!?
Held April 29 – May 2, 2010 in Poreč, Croatia, Vinistra (http://vinistra.com/) is the annual wine expo organized by the eponymous regional association of winegrowers and winemakers. Founded in 1994, Vinistra currently has over 100 members, making it the largest membership-driven association in Croatia that represents a regional body of wine producers. Vinslavonija? Vindalmacija? Not yet….
photo courtesy of Vinistra
The 17th Vinistra wine expo featured 130 exhibitors and 535 wines, of which 215 were wines produced from Malvazija Istarska (Malvasia Istriana), the local indigenous grape which accounts for the majority of white wine production in the region. The other “signature” wine of the region is Teran, made from the red Teran grape, thought to be closely related to but genetically distinct from Italian Refosco.
To my freshman eyes, the array of sites, sounds, aromas, flavors and other sensual delights on display at Vinistra – such as olive oils, cheeses and fig products – were irresistible and amazing. I was in heaven!
While it was impossible to note every detail and visit every stand at Vinistra, I can offer some general information, observations and opinions – some of which were made after hours of continuous swirling, sipping, tasting and swallowing (for some reason, call it “the spirit of the moment”, I did not strictly abide by my no-swallow rule. Combined with the jet lag, I may have distorted or missed a few things…).
The Opening Ceremony
April 29, 2010, around 13:00. The Istrian sun was blazingly hot, especially for those of us standing under it in suits and ties. It all started with the obligatory singing of “Lijepa Nasa” by a lovely girl in a red dress. By the time the obligatory speeches began, most people around me had broken out into a noticeable sweat and were patting brows with handkerchiefs. Yet given the recent downpours, water spouts and flooding in Istria, I guess we got lucky.
Regarding the opening ceremony, there are two things of note:
1) Missing from the official opening ceremony was a vital member of the planned delegation, Croatian Minister of Agriculture Petar čobanković. His absence significantly dampened the overarching hopes that the Ministry would be inspired by Vinistra to take a more proactive role in the promotion and marketing of Croatian wines.
2) Ivica Matošević, who is the current president of Vinistra, did not give a speech or make welcoming remarks at the opening ceremony, even though he was standing near the microphone. I was disappointed. Mr. Matošević is a very charming, witty and iconic figure among Croatian winemakers, and I was looking forward to hear his remarks, especially in light of the apparent snub by the Minister of Agriculture.
The expo was housed in the Žatika Sport Centre, a relatively new multi-purpose facility near the town center in Poreč. The expo hall was brightly lit and festive, with red the dominating color and giant grape-cluster-shaped balloons hanging from the ceiling – a memorable and endearing touch.
Off to the sides of the main hall were small conference rooms, where the organizers of Vinistra conducted various seminars and workshops – including a round table discussion centered on the theme of the “International Branding of Croatian Wines” (see below).
While we are on the subject of the Venue, there is one more thing I must mention:
The Dust: Okay, this is silly but worth mentioning: Leading to the steps of the Žatika Sports Hall is a long pedestrian promenade that seemed mismatched with the sleek, shining metal sides of the building. Instead of an equally pristine walkway of concrete or asphalt, the hall’s promenade was laid with crushed stone and gravel that was heavily interspersed with white, chalky dust. This dust, to the dismay of many of Vinistra’s well-appointed visitors, had a penchant for clinging to clothing and shoes. It was especially visible on dark surfaces like the once-shiny black shoes I was wearing.
As proof of my accusation against the dust, I offer the following evidence: a photo of Croatian president Ivo Josipović. Now, I’m not certain of the president’s every move during his short stay at Vinistra, but I couldn’t help but notice the incriminating white ring around the bottom of his shoes in this picture:
The Round Table
While there were several mini-seminars and round table discussions during Vinistra, the highlight was on Friday, April 30, when a comprehensive discussion about the “International Branding of Croatian Wines” was held for the public & press. Again, the presentation was designed to adress the Minister of Agriculture and other key government officials in the hope that they would become motivated and create a government-sponsored wine marketing board. As I previously noted, these key individuals did not show up. But it was a solid discussion that was well-covered by the press, so hopefully the message was transmitted beyond the walls of the meeting room.
Another fascinating seminar was conducted by Croatian wine writer and consultant, Saša Špiranec, about the aging potential of Malvazija Istarska. Mr. Špiranec comparatively tasted Malvazija from a number of different vintages going back to 2000 from several different producers in search of the sweet spot – the age and wood-treatment (oak versus acacia) that best delivered Malvazija’s true potential.
My hands-down favorite in the comparison was the Kozlović 2001 Santa Lucia Malvazija, a coupage of wine ages in oak, acacia and stainless steel that showed beautiful oxidized notes of orange candy, vanilla, dried flowers, caramel and honey.