Croatia – Land of Malvazija

 

photo courtesy of http://www.mastersofwine.org

 

By Julia Harding MW

Reprinted with kind permission from the author, courtesy of www.jancisrobinson.com

Photos by Cliff Rames (unless otherwise credited)

 

 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.

MALVAZIJA ISTARSKA

Benvenuti Malvazija Istarska 2008 Central Istria 15 Drink 2009-2010
Green fruit – greengage. Light and dry and fresh but rather slight. (JH) 13.4%

Clai Bijele Zemlje, Sveti Jakov Malvazija Istarska 2008 Western Istria 17 Drink 2011-2015
Deep gold, delicate floral honey. Gentle peach and apricot. So much more elegant than the Kabola Amfora. Fresh, fine grip, dried apricot. Zesty, tangy, intense and long. Full of life and alcohol not particularly intrusive. (JH) 15.1%

Clai Sveti Jakov (photo courtesy of Clai winery)

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%

photo courtesy of Coronica winery

Kabola, Amfora Malvazija Istarska 2006 Western Istria 16 Drink 2009-2012
Deep gold, honeyed, very spiced. Intense, dry, a bit harsh but you can’t ignore it! Probably needs food to tame it a little. (JH) 14.8%

Kozlović Malvazija Istarska 2009 Western Istria 16 Drink 2010-2011
Lemony, orange peel, pretty aromatic. Taut and crisp and a fine sour finish. Straightforward and refreshing. Something slightly smoky, almost coffee like. (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%

Kozlovic wines

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 Malvazija Istarska 2008 Western Istria 16 Drink 2010-2011
Fresh, lightish, subtle rather than neutral, some citrus, light herbs on the nose. Crisp, dry, tight and clean. Persistent though pretty linear. Mineral and long. (JH) 13.5%

Matosevic wines

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%

Roxanich Antica

Trapan, Ponente Malvazija Istarska 2009 Western Istria 16.5 Drink 2010-2011
Very fresh and on the greener side of citrus. Mineral, dry, tight. Persistent and elegant. (JH) 13%

Trapan, Uroboros Malvazija Istarska 2008 Western Istria 16.5 Drink 2010-2013
70% aged in acacia, 30% in oak, for one year. Lightly smoky and honeyed but still that finely herbal citrus character. Well balanced and zesty. Full but not overblown. (JH) 13.6% 

 
 

Trapan Uroboros

GRAŠEVINA

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%

Krauthaker

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% 

 
 
 
 

Kujevo de Gotho Grasevina

OTHER WHITES

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%

photo courtesy of Korta Katarina winery

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 Riesling 2008 Plešivica 15 Drink 2010-2012
Eyewatering acidity, peachy more than citrus on the nose. Rather severe. (JH) 13.3%

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% 

 
 
 
 

photo courtesy of Tomac winery

TERAN

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%

Arman Teran

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%

Istravino Dajla wines

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%

PLAVAC MALI

Korta Katarina, Reuben’s Private Reserve Plavac Mali 2006 Pelješac 15.5 Drink 2010-2013
Medium  garnet. Soft, sweet, Rioja-like nose. But then that grip! Firm and dry tannins but still has sweet juicy fruit. Food needed! (JH) 14.2%

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%

Korta Katarina (Plavac Mali on right)

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%

Saints Hills Dingac

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%

 
 

Zlatan Otok wines

OTHER REDS

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%

Gracin wines (photo courtesy of http://www.secretdalmatia.com)

www.winesofcroatia.com

 

Perfect Food & Wine Pairings in Dalmatia, Croatia

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(Original content by Cliff Rames; competition results translated & adapted by Cliff Rames from the report by Dalmacija Wine Expo. Original report can be viewed at: http://www.dalmacijawineexpo.com/novosti/perfect_matsch/)

Now for something short and sweet!

One of the more interesting events at the recent Dalmacija Wine Expo, held May 13-15, 2010 in the seaside resort town of Makarska, Croatia, was the “Perfect Match” wine and food pairing competition.

photo courtesy of Dalmacija Wine Expo

Some of the most experienced chefs from some of Croatia’s best restaurants in Dalmatia joined together to prepare a selection of traditional gastronomic delights that are representative of Croatia’s seaside cuisine.

photo courtesy of Dalmacija Wine Expo

These dishes were then paired with various wines from the different wine regions of Croatia. Then a panel of 30 judges, which included chefs and journalists, rated the pairings and chose the top 5 perfect matches.

photo courtesy of Dalmacija Wine Expo

Below are the results of the match up, one in each of five wine-style categories. Most interestingly is the fact that one winning “perfect match” (#1) was a pairing between a traditional coastal seafood dish and a wine from the continental (inland) region of Croatia. Another winning match was a wine made from an international variety and not an indigenous grape, paired with a domestic specialty from the Dalmatia region.

photo by Cliff Rames

As they say, sometimes the best marriage is one of opposites!

1. In the category of fresh, young, light-bodied wines, the winner is:

Cmrečnjak Silvanac Zeleni ’09 (Sylvaner) paired with cuttlefish salad with an emulsion of olive oil and citrus.  (Runners-up in this category included Grabovac 2009 Kujundžuša & Štampar 2009 Sauvignon Blanc.) 

photo courtesy of http://www.coolinarika.com

2. In the category of fresh yet mature, full-bodied wines, the winner is:

Kunjas Pošip ’08 paired with marinated Bonito fish with roasted pine nuts, shallots & raisins.  (The runner-up in this category was Grk Pillos Bire 2008.)

  
 
 
 
 

photo courtesy of http://www.coolinarika.com

3. In the category of mature, full-bodied white wine & rosé, the winner is:

Grabovac 2008 Chardonnay sur lie Grand Reserva paired with homemade pasta tossed with shrimp and asparagus. (The runner-up in this category was Krauthaker 2008 Chardonnay Rosenberg.)

Photo © Flickr user Allerina and Glen MacLarty

4. In the category of mature yet soft red wines with predominately fruity character, the winner is:

Kunjas 2008 Pagadebit paired with lamb, fava beans and peas. (Runners-up in this category included Crvik Canavia 2008 Merlot; Festigia 2008 Merlot; & Plavac P.Z. Kuna 2008.)

   
 

photo courtesy of http://www.coolinarika.com

5. In the category of mature, full-bodied red wine, the unanimous winner is:

photo by Cliff Rames

Saints Hills Winery 2008 Dingač (Plavac Mali) paired with veal cheeks a’la pašticada (a traditional piquant sauce made with tomatoes, red wine, Prošek, Mediterranean herbs and spices). 

photo courtesy of http://www.coolinarika.com

Now imagine we are by the Adriatic Sea in an outdoor café filled with friends and lovers; a full moon is shining; the evening breezes are cooling our sun-warmed skin; live Klapa music is playing (it’s ok to sing along!); and all of the food and wine mentioned above is spread out before us on the table….Perfect indeed!

photo courtesy of http://www.digitaljournal.com

I hope to see you there….

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A Report From Vinistra (PART II)

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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.

Below is Part II of my report from Vinistra. If you missed Part I, you can find it here: https://winesofcroatia.wordpress.com/2010/05/19/a-report-from-vinistra-part-i/

 

The 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.

Arman vineyards

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.

WoM Logo courtesy of Vinistra

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.

This year, there were 215 submitted wines. Of these, 30% – or 64 wines, received a Gold or Silver medal. You can view the results here: http://vinistra.com/wom/rezultati-2010

 

MA-DE-BA-KO

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:

 

Benvenuti

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).

photo courtesy of Istra-Gourmet.com

Clai

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.

Mladen Rožanić

Roxanich (Rožanić)

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).

                                                                   ***********

photo courtesy of Wines of Serbia on Twitter

Guest Regions

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”.

 
 
 

photo courtesy of Vinistra

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.

photo courtesy of Vinistra

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. 

Bruno Trapan

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!

If you made it this far, thanks for reading!

 

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A Report from Vinistra (PART I)

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.  

photo courtesy of Vinistra

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 Venue

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:     

photo courtesy of Vinistra

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.  

photo courtesy of Jutarnji List

For more information about the round table discussion, please see our previous post:  https://winesofcroatia.wordpress.com/2010/05/12/vinistra-2010-round-table-international-branding-of-croatian-wine/)

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. 

 

(to be continued…)

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VINISTRA 2010 Round Table: INTERNATIONAL BRANDING OF CROATIAN WINE

Presentation by Cliff Rames, Wines of Croatia, on Friday, April 30, 2010 at Vinistra in Poreč, Croatia.  (Note: this is the complete presentation, presented here for posterity. Not everything in the presentation was articulated at the round table due to technical issues with the slide projector.)

photo courtesy of Jutarnji List

INTRODUCTION – the Time is Now

Anyone who ever has surfed the waves knows: timing is everything. If you don’t catch the wave at the right moment, it passes you and is gone.

The time is now. The wave has arrived. It is time for Croatia to commit to branding its wines for the international market through a well-funded and professional strategy of promotion, education and branding.

A general rule to keep in mind:

Good Timing + Quality Product + Successful Marketing = Sales $$$$ (helps Croatian economy & sustains wineries)

TIMING

>USA now #3 in wine consumption (hectoliters); wine consumption growing every year.  

>Wine Consumption per capita in USA:

  • 1999: 2.02 gallons (7.65 liters)
  • 2009: 2.50 gallons (9.46 liters)

>10 year growth of 24%.

>Imports account for 31% of total U.S. wine sales.

>Wine sales in U.S. have surpassed beer in total sales $$$.  

>Wine awareness among Americans is growing:

  • Many new wine schools & wine education programs.
  • Many new, young sommeliers.      
  • New sommeliers are thirsty for discovery – wines that are off the beaten path and non-traditional. 
  •                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                >Fastest growing market segment is the 70 million people that make up the “Millennial” generation (Gen X) (age 23 to 30)

    >This group:

    • Is plugged into social networking (Facebook, Twitter, blogs, etc.)
    • They want to interact with what they are interested in.
    • They seek AUTHENTICITY.
    • They want an excellent quality to price ratio.

    >Gary Vaynerchuck of Wine Library has built on Empire by marketing wine to this group.

    Wine Library TV – Episode #798: Tasting the Wines of Croatia

     

    CHALLENGES TO MARKETING

    1. Croatia is an unknown entity. Most people don’t know where Croatia is or that the country produces wine.  Its native grape varieties and names of producers are hard for non-Croatian speakers to pronounce.

    2. U.S. importers of Croatian wines are small and have limited resources for promotion. Wines are “hand sold” door-to-door without any advertising or marketing budgets. 

     

    POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS 

    1. Expand current promotional activities, implement a marketing strategy, and create a public-private source of funding for promotional activities conducted by Wines of Croatia, Vinistra, Fine Wine Croatia, and others.
    2. Tell Croatia’s wine story. The STORY MUST BE TOLD in a simple, attractive and professional way!

    THE POWER OF THE STORY 

    A. Good Story = Brand Interest

    B. Excellent Quality to Price Ratio  =  Positive Consumer Experience

    A + B = Brand Loyalty

    American market is very democratic; Americans are very brand loyal consumers. Americans appreciate AUTHENTICITY. But they are FICKLE: they know if the product fails them, there are thousands of other choices.

    U.S. consumer expectations:

    1. A Good Story (AUTHENTICITY)

    2. Consistency of Quality

    3. Value (excellent Price to Quality Ratio)

    Important note: “Value” does not have to mean “cheap”; but the wine should have a “WOW factor” – it should be BETTER or MORE INTERESTING for the price than other international wines at the same price.

     **You can have best story in the world, but if product does not deliver positive experience at a VALUE PRICE, then you lose the consumer.

    IMPORTANT TAKING POINTS FOR CROATIA’S STORY 

    1. Croatia has a Wine Heritage & Tradition, which = Authenticity.
    2. Croatia has specific & unique “Terroir”. 
    3. Croatia has Unique Grape Varieties that grow nowhere else in the world.
    4. Croatia has the “Zinfandel Story”.

    A good story should provide details or facts that relate to something the consumer can understand (e.g., the “Zinfandel Story”).

    The STORY must answer the question: Why should I care?

    Then the PRODUCT must deliver the answer to: “Why should I buy this again?”

    A good story must also successfully balance: Romance + IntrigueFacts & Useful Information

    THE TIME IS NOW TO TELL THE CROATIAN WINE STORY!

    Remember:

    Old saying: “A rolling stone gathers no moss”.  

    New saying: “A wine bottle with a great marketing campaign gathers no dust”.

    Wines that have a strategic marketing plan and a well-told story sell better than wines without a support from a wine marketing board. 

     

    A WINE MARKETING BOARD FOR CROATIA? 

    Ideally, any wine marketing board should be a public-private partnership; meaning, partially government (public) funds and partially private (wineries, other vested interests) funds. 

    The model exists; it is not new! Many major wine-producing countries have state-sponsored wine marketing boards:

    Argentina: http://www.winesofargentina.org/en 

    Austria: http://www.austrian.wine.co.at/eindex.html 

    Chile: http://www.winesofchile.org/ 

    Germany: http://www.germanwineusa.com/ 

    Greece: http://www.allaboutgreekwine.com/ 

    Hungary: http://www.winesofhungary.com/ 

    Spain: http://www.winesfromspainusa.com/WFSUSA/WFSUSA.htm

    Even Macedonia! http://www.winemk.com/

    SUPPORT THE TROOPS

    The Wines of Croatia (www.winesofcroatia.com) and Fine Wine Croatia (www.finewinecroatia.com) projects have made some progress, but it is not enough. We need support from the government and wineries to launch a large-scale, professional and well-funded marketing campaign that utilizes various channels of communication, such as:

    >Social Networking/Websites

    >Written and Video Blogs

    >Advertisements in Wine Journals & Websites

    >Organized Tasting Events

    >Sponsored Trips to Croatian Wine Regions for International Sommeliers, Journalists & High-Profile Members of the Trade.  

    THE MARKETING CAMPAIGN 

    Should be:  Smart. Professional. Sustainable.

    Smart: Answers questions; Relates to consumer; Interactive

    Professional: High quality production/publications; Articulate; Attractive

    Sustainable: Seizes the momentum (“catch the wave”); Builds new momentum; Has long-term commitment & strategy.

    It will be hard work, but together we can make it happen. The time is now!

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    The Donkey Delivers: Dingač Plavac Mali “Kolekcija 04”

    Facing the blue, blue Adriatic Sea, the sun-drenched limestone karst slopes of the Pelješac peninsula are a sight to see: tumble-down white stones and jagged outcrops lie interspersed with olive trees, drought-stricken Mediterranean scrub brush (rosemary, thyme, oregano, curry-plant) and perilously-perched and un-trellised vineyards.

    Dingač vineyards

    Welcome to Dingač (“Ding-gahch”), the most prestigious of all Croatia’s wine regions, where Croatia’s most revered – and eponymously-named – wine is made from Plavac Mali, Croatia’s most-cultivated red grape variety.   

     

    History

    Croatia – especially the coastal region and islands – has a cultural history that for centuries has revolved around the traditions of viticulture and wine-drinking. Historical records indicate that grapes were cultivated in the area as early as a few centuries before Christ. Wine jugs (amphora), goblets and coins adorned with grape motifs excavated in the region reveal the integral importance of wine in daily ancient life. The earliest written mention of the Plavac Mali grape was in 1821.

    Old vine Plavac Mali at Dingač

    Today, Plavac Mali vines of a hundred or more years old can still be found scattered throughout the region.

     The Region

    In 1961 Dingač became Croatia’s first recognized appellation with “Protected Geographical Origin” (followed in 1967 by a neighboring area, Postup).

     

    Dingač is a small, dangerously steep area of vineyards interspersed on the south-facing slopes of Pelješac, a long, mountainous peninsula that stretches almost 40 miles (63 km) into the Adriatic Sea just north of the historic walled city, Dubrovnik, in the Southern Dalmatia wine region.

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

    The vineyards are only accessible via a single-lane, unlit tunnel excavated in 1973. While driving through it, I found myself praying against earthquakes. But that’s another story…

    The Dingač Tunnel

    While an exact size of the Dingač appellation is uncertain due to the fragmented way the vineyards are planted, it is estimated that the total area under vine is no larger than 200 acres (80 hectares), with most individual plots consisting of just a couple acres each scattered across the mountainside. 

    The Wine

    Dingač – the wine – is made from the primary native red grape of the region, Plavac Mali, a grape that resulted from a spontaneous crossing of Crljenak Kaštelanski (Zinfandel) and Dobričić.

     

    With the vines positioned at 20-34 degree angles toward in the hot Mediterranean sun, Plavac Mali from the Dingač slopes achieves extreme ripeness from direct sunlight, as well as light reflected off the white stones and sparkling sea. The extreme light, heat and summer drought conditions frequently cause the berries to shriveled and raisin.

    Plavac Mali vines in September

    Wines from these intensely sweet, prime grapes can be big and luxurious, delivering dark, dried-fruit flavors on an off-dry to dry, tannic, full-bodied and often alcoholic frame. These are among some of the most expensive cult wines in Croatia.

    The Dingač Winery

    While some of the most highly regarded Dingač wines are made by small, family-owned wineries (e.g. Bura; Miličić), the biggest and best-known winery in the area is Vinarija Dingač, a cooperative owned by Badel 1862 that produces about half a million liters of wine a year.

    Vinarija Dingač

    The large winery can be seen just to the left of the entrance of the Dingač tunnel. Its line-up includes five Plavac Mali wines: the basic “Plavac”, the young, fruity and off-dry “Pelješac”, “Postup”, “Dingač”, and “Dingač Kolekcija”. These labels are commonly – and sometimes affectionately – referred to as the “donkey” wines.

     

    The Donkey

    In the old days, local vineyard workers would utilize horses and donkeys to tend the vineyards on the Dingač slopes, as well as to cart the grapes to Potomje, the town on the opposite side of the mountain where the Vinarija Dingač stands today. While beasts of burden are no longer used to harvest grapes at Dingač, the donkey is still a common sight: on the labels of Vinarija Dingač wines.

    “Kolekcija 04”  

    Last Sunday, Easter 2010, I treated myself to a bottle of Vinarija Dingač “Kolokcija | 04”, the winery’s rarest and most expensive bottling. The “04” designates the year in which the wine was bottled; the vintage was 2002, meaning the wine was aged in barrel for two years.  My bottle was numbered #821 of 16,100 bottles (500 ml size) produced.

     

    Medium garnet in color, the wine was translucent and beautiful in appearance – like a ruby that has collected the light of an orange setting sun.

     

    Even more striking was the nose: the wine cast off aromas like a series of veils shed by a beautiful princess: aromas of dried fig, rosehip preserves, plum and carob were lifted on a cloud of menthol vapor that carried hints of licorice, wet iron, old wood, and sweet Mediterranean spices. So refined, elegant and pretty -I was in love and couldn’t stop sniffing its perfume. Even more amazing, I could detect the aromas leaping from the glass from half a meter away.

     

    On the palate the wine delivered an interesting array of sensations: elegant yet rustic, sweet yet savory, it tasted of dried dark fruits, cured meat, and licorice bark couched in a mineral-driven frame with soft, smooth tannins. The long finish left a Port-like sweetness (the wine is dry) that was completely and utterly delicious.

    At 13.5% alcohol, the donkey delivers the goods. Very impressive!  

     

    Pair with aged hard cheeses and a few very special friends.

    While “Kolokcija | 04” is not imported in the US, the other wines in Vinarija Dingač’s line-up are. You can find them via www.BlueDanubeWine.com (west coast) and http://oenocentric.com/ (east coast).

    Text and photos by Cliff Rames (except where indicated)

    Related Posts:

    https://winesofcroatia.wordpress.com/2009/12/21/a-taste-of-dalmatia-%E2%80%93-without-leaving-home/

    https://winesofcroatia.wordpress.com/2010/02/11/wine-chocolate-can-bura-dingac-find-true-love-this-valentines-day/

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    The 1985 Dingač

    PROWEIN EXPO IN DÜSSELDORF: CROATIAN “FINE WINES” UNCOVERED

    Article by Sasa Špiranec

    Interpreted and translated by Cliff Rames from the original Jutarnji List article: http://www.jutarnji.hr/sajam-u-dusseldorfu–otkrivena-hrvatska–fina-vina-/665653/?pageNumber=1#page_1

    Photos by Mark Miščević/CROPIX

     

    Let us brand the Wines of Croatia by saying: “Our wines are not inexpensive, but they are unique and very good.”  Remember: you cannot taste Graševina, Plavac Mali, Malvasia Istriana, Babić, Pošip or Teran anywhere else but in Croatia!   

    What are the prospects for Croatian wines on the European and world markets?

    This is a question that has recently become a subject of great interest among winemakers in Croatia.  The answer to the question has in fact grown quite urgent: for the first time in a decade and a half, Croatia produced a surplus of wine that cannot be sold on the domestic market. It now appears that export is simply a question of survival.

    Judging by the results of this year’s ProWein expo in Düsseldorf, Germany, the outlook appears bright, provided that we do not make any wrong steps in the branding of Croatia as a wine region. We must also rapidly endeavor to facilitate the placement of wine as Croatia’s most desireable, hand-made export product. 

     

     

    Interest from the U.S.

    For the purposes of presentation, the Croatian Chamber of Commerce and the Ministry of Agriculture have created a visually attractive and visitor-accessible exhibit booth so that numerous Croatian winemakers can showcase their latest products to the most professional wine audiences in Europe.

    In Düsseldorf, Croatia’s delegation of wineries were part of a group of 3,300 exhibitors from 50 countries. The number of ProWein visitors from around the globe reached 35,000, with most being importers, sommeliers, wine retailers, wine buyers and journalists.

    Representing Croatia were many of the largest and most important wineries, as well as a small contingency of family producers who, while few in numbers, were big in their presence. The wineries present in Düsseldorf were (in alphabetical order): Adzic, Agrokor, Arman, Badel 1862, Benvenuti, Blato 1902, Cattunar, Dalmacijavino, Degrassi, Diwine, Dubrovnik Podrumi, Enjingi, Feravino, Galic, Izvori života, Jurjević, Katunar, Korta Katarina, Krauthaker, Kutjevo d.d., Gospoja PZ, PZ Vrbnik, Roxanich, Suha Punta, Trapan, Veralda, Matošević, Zdjelarević, and Zlatan Otok.

    Some of the exhibitors experienced immediate and positive results from their participation: Marijan Arman, for example, reported that this is the first wine fair where he received a purchase order and signed a contract.  Usually, the fair is just the first contact.

    Agrokor scored a significant if not symbolic victory, not so much in terms of quantity but for boosting Croatia’s image as an exceptional wine region. Namely, the buyer for a wine shop in Ulm, Germany, after tasting the wines at the Croatian booth, ordered 20 cases of Goldberg Graševina and 15 cases of Dajla Teran. In other words, a solid amount of not inexpensive, premium wine for just one wine shop. Agrokor also entered into an agreement to cooperate with an importer from Dubai.

    Frank Dietrich, owner of Blue Danube Wine Company in the U.S., also entered into agreements with Krauthaker, Gracin, Dubrovnik Podrumi, and Roxanich. Other deals were made, and each winery took home at least a few dozen contacts.

    Croatian Wine Booth Attracts Interest

    The Croatian wine booth at the ProWein expo also attracted numerous journalists, the most significant of whom was Vaterlaus Thomas, editor of wine magazine Vinum, which is published in Germany, Switzerland and Spain.  Also stopping by were Jan van Lissum, the editor of a Dutch magazine, and Daniel Guryča, publisher of a Czech wine journal.  A number of curious sommeliers eager for knowledge about new varieties and wine regions also visited the Croatian booth. Therefore, interest in Croatian wines exists!

    It was an interest expressed not in the sense of “ah, you have finally arrived!” after which all the free wine samples would be meaninglessly snatched up and inconsequently consumed. Rather it was an interest based in the belief that Croatia could be the “next big thing” on the market of fine wine. 

    The emphasis here is on “fine wine”. The future of Croatian wine regions does not lie in the production of cheap wines. Rather, in the crafting of quality wines that are not expensive yet are also not cheap.

    To demonstrate this point, the wine buyer from the wine shop in Ulm, who purchased wine from Agrokor, did not choose the cheapest wine or most favorable deal; he chose the best wine Agrokor had to offer. 

    When the future of Croatian wines is debated, typically one hears the cries, “Croatian wines are too expensive!”  This is partly true as a general statement and is mostly valid for wines from Dalmatia, where production is very small due to the geographical limitations of many vineyard areas (such as Dingač). Croatia is a country that produces comparatively small amounts of wine and cannot compete with Australia or Chile – countries known for high-volume, cheap wines that have only just begun offering more expensive and higher quality wines.

    Another important point is that Croatia, unlike Chile and Australia, has an array of native varieties that deliver a completely unique and original wine experience. Securing the interest of just a small percentage of wine lovers in the world’s most important markets would satisfy the export requirements of Croatia’s current production.

    Unique Wines

    Therefore, let us brand the Wines of Croatia by saying: “Our wines are not inexpensive but they are unique and very good.” 

    And remember: You cannot taste Graševina, Plavac Mali, Malvasia Istriana, Babić, Pošip or Teran anywhere else but in Croatia! 

    Yes, like Chile and Moldova (and so many other places), Croatia has Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay. These wines must be just as good and even cheaper than the competition in order to be of interest to and succeed in a world already flooded with similar wines.  

    In the end it doesn’t take a lot of skill or savvy intellect to sell something at the lowest price. Perhaps we have the intelligence and capacity for something better than that.  Presentations like ProWein in Düsseldorf contribute greatly to the development of a marketing message around the concepts of quality and originality. But more must be done. Not just in Düsseldorf but everywhere we go: London, New York, Singapore, Shanghai, etc.

    However, a sobering dose of reality exists: Croatia is still relatively unknown to wine lovers around the world. Its anonymity resulted in Croatia’s booth in Düsseldorf being located at the farthest reaches of the very last pavilion, in the company of other relatively unknown wine-producers like Slovenia, Hungary, Romania, Macedonia, etc.

    Thus, we still have many challenges ahead and lots of work to do! 

    Distinguish Ourselves with Quality

    The Wines of Croatia must distinguish themselves with a level of quality that separates them from other wines in the region. Only in this way can we possibly achieve a better position at the next international wine expo and not get into the habit of lowering prices in order to be noticed at the rear of some far-flung the pavilion. 

    Let us be aware of two truths: Good things have worth; and small can be good.

    These truths apply to Croatian wines indeed. But to ensure our future success, the strategy for continued promotion should be as follows: conduct intelligent marketing presentations; and organize specialized wine tasting events for the media, wine trade and sommeliers.

    Most importantly, we must back-up our claims to quality by ensuring only the best and most representative Croatian wineries are chosen to exhibit on the world stage.  

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