Vinarija Krauthaker vineyards, Kutjevo, Slavonia, Croatia – April 2012
(Photos © 2012 Cliff Rames)
Krauthaker estate vineyards, Kutjevo wine-growing hills, Slavonia region, Continental Croatia.
By Cliff Rames © 2012
As a matter of fact, yes – you can find the variety growing all over Croatia. Heck, even the mother grape of chardonnay is Croatian, a little devil of a grape called štajerska belina – or gouais blanc – that long ago made its way to France where it crossed with pinot and sired chardonnay.
While quality is uneven, delicious chardonnay wines are produced across Croatia – from Istria along the coast (called the “Tuscany of Croatia” by the New York Times), to the amphitheater-shaped hills of Plešivica in the northern continental region and the Miocene Epoch-dated Pannonian Sea soils of Kutjevo in Slavonia.
Krauthaker’s Rosenberg 100% chardonnay is sublime; while Kutjevo winery’s 2009 Chardonnay de Gotho Aureus won a silver medal at the 2011 Chardonnay du Monde wine competition in France. Belje is a leading producer from the Baranja wine-growing (far northeastern Croatia), where among its expansive vineyard holdings is the esteemed 220 meter-above-sea-level, south-facing Goldberg appellation – home of its award winning Goldberg Chardonnay.
From Plešivica Korak Chardonnay is the benchmark beauty, and chardonnay forms 50% of the blend in Tomac’s iconic Anfora wine. If orange wine is your thing, Roxanich Milva chardonnay from Istria is fabulously elegant and complex with its creamy, mineral character and exotic fruit, floral, nut and honey notes.
Chardonnay is sometimes blended with other local grapes, like in Istria where it nicely compliments blends made with the local malvasia istriana (malvazija istarska) grape. Saints Hills Nevina, Matoševic Grimalda Bijelo, and Trapan Levante are a few prime examples.
Cabernet sauvignon? Check out the Podunavlje sub-region of Slavonia, whose terroir (long, warm growing season and ancient loam slopes along the Danube) delivers promising results. Iuris winery in the Erdut wine-growing hills produces a tasty, food-friendly entry-level cab from their vineyards on the Kraljevo Brdo (King’s Hill) appellation.
In Istria, iron-rich “terra rosa” soils lend nice structure and minerality to the region’s red wines (think the Coonawarra region of Australia); Agrolaguna (Festigia label), Coronica, Cossetto, Degrassi, Roxanich and Trapan all come to mind as producers who are banging out some really palate-worthy Istrian cabernet sauvignon. In southern Dalmatia, Dubrovački Podrumi (Dubrovnik Cellars) produces the benchmark southern climate cabernet, Trajectum, from its vineyards overlooking the Konavle valley just south of the tourist Mecca, Dubrovnik.
Merlot? It’s just about everywhere, from Dalmatia to Istria to Slavonia. Sometimes it’s good (Agrolaguna Festigia); BIBICh Sangreal; Crvik; Frajona; Krauthaker; Roxanich); sometimes – not so much. Often it finds its best use in tasty Bordeaux blends, such as the excellent Dajla Cuvee Barrique from Istravino and the “Vrhunsko” 2007 red cab/merlot blend from Boškinac winery on Pag island.
Most famously, merlot (along with cabernet sauvignon and refosco) was a component in the Clai Ottocento 2007 Crno that Gary Vaynerchuk reviewed – and fell in love with – on Wine Library TV. You can see Gary’s reaction – and watch the whole wines of Croatia episode (above).
Cabernet franc is sparsely-planted, but Moreno Degrassi in Istria produces a lovely version full of typical cab franc character (cherry and black fruits with a hint of tobacco and sweet herbs).
That pinot noir (‘pinot crni”) is only grown in a few select spots in Croatia is testimony to the grape’s fickleness and outright hostility toward inappropriate terroirs. But a couple of producers have had some luck with it, notably Velimir Korak in Plešivica and Vlado Krauthaker in Kutjevo (from grapes grown on the upper slopes of Mt. Krndija). Back in cool Plešivica, Šember winery offers a delicate and refreshing 100% pinot noir sparkling wine that tingles with hibiscus and watermelon flavors laced with seashell minerality.
Syrah? It’s emerging in a select few locations in Croatia and is still very much in the experimental phase. Early results though indicate that the grape (syrah/shiraz) seems to enjoy Croatian hospitality. A growing area to watch is the Dalmatian hinterland around the coastal city Zadar, where Alen BIBICh produces his acclaimed Sangreal Shiraz and Benkovac winery cultivates 103 hectares of vines that spawned the award-winning 2007 Korlat Syrah.
In Istria, Bruno Trapan has seriously invested in syrah and is hedging his bets that it will do well on his 5 hectares of vineyards located 50-55 meters above sea level at Šišana near Pula. Trapan 2007 Shuluq Syrah received a “Commended” rating in the Decanter 2010 World Wine Awards competition. That said, I suspect that the international marketability of Croatian syrah will face many challenges, especially in light of the recent – and sad – downturn in global demand for syrah.
Let’s not forget Zinfandel. Technically, Zinfandel is a native Croatian variety called Crljenak Kaštelanski and its story and genetic links to Croatia have been widely documented. But because some Croatian producers are preparing to release wines labeled as “Zinfandel”, we will briefly mention it here. Zinfandel (aka Crljenak) is native to the Kaštela region of central Dalmatia, near the city of Split. Further south on the Pelješac peninsula, well-respected producer, Marija Mrgudić of Bura-Mugudić winery, planted Napa clones and is preparing for the first release of Croatian Zinfandel. Although the jury is still out on whether this grape can deliver as much potential as plavac mali (the variety that historically supplanted it) – or if American zinfandel producers will oppose the use of the “Zinfandel” moniker on labels from Croatia – it is an interesting development and can only help draw positive attention to Croatia’s winemaking culture.
Sauvignon blanc? Riesling? Pinot gris? Pinot blanc? All are planted in Croatia (where they are known as “sauvignon”, “rajnski rizling”, “pinot sivi”, and “pinot bijeli” respectively) and have a long history of being consumed locally as table wines, particularly in the cool continental regions. But a number of producers have invested in vineyard and cellar in order to improve quality and raise the profile of these varieties – especially sauvignon blanc and riesling. A very promising producer is Bolfan in the Zlatar wine-growing hills of the Međimurje–Zagorje region. The Bolfan portfolio includes some very intriguing, pure and refreshing whites across all styles (dry to sweet) from an array of grapes grown on its 20 hectares of stunningly beautiful “Vinski vrh” (Wine Summit) vineyards; the Bolfan ’08 Riesling Primus is drinking beautifully now with an off-dry, richly extracted profile of golden apples, pears and honey with hints of petrol and wet stone minerality. Tasty!
For sauvignon blanc, watch for the award-winning Badel 1862 Sauvignon Daruvar and Zdjelarević Sauvignon from Slavonia. Not surprisingly, sauvignon blanc seems to have found its sweetest spot in the Plešivica area with its cool, moist and sunny slopes that grace the bowl of the area’s naturally-formed amphitheater. There Korak, Šember and Tomac produce crisp, lovely citrus and herbal examples.
Gewürztraminer (“traminac”) does very well in the far-eastern corners of the Slavonia and Podunavlje regions, where it is made into everything from dry, spicy whites to unctuous, richly floral and delicious late harvest and ice wines. Iločki Podrumi is a leading producer in the Srijem wine-growing hills and in certain frosty years Kutjevo winery and Iločki podrumi make a luscious Ice Wine (“Ledeno vino”) from the variety.
So yes…wines made from familiar international varieties can be found in Croatia – and to a lesser extent on export markets.
That said, international varieties are not the future of Croatian winemaking or marketing program. The “Golden Promise” (I would argue) lies in Croatia’s rich array of indigenous grape varieties. Their individual stories are screaming to be told and are sure to pique intrigue among – and stimulate the palates of – savvy foreign wine buyers and adventurous consumers.
Ray Isle, Food & Wine magazine’s executive wine editor, recently presented “Five Grapes to Expand Your Wine Horizons” in an article for CNN’s Eatocracy blog. Unfortunately none of the grapes he mentioned was from Croatia (the list did include blaufrankisch, known in Croatia as frankovka). The point is, wine drinkers who seek the magic of discovery must look beyond mainstream varieties and venture into uncharted territory: The land of native grapes with charming, sometimes tongue-twisting names.
Once blessed with over 400 indigenous grape varieties, the Croatian Ministry of Agriculture’s official list of cultivars today contains 192 varieties, of which 130 are considered autochthonous (indigenous) to Croatia or the region. Of that number, only three dozen or so are commonly found in modern commercial wines. The “Big Three” of course are graševina, malvasia istriana, and plavac mali, which are – in descending order – the most widely planted wine grape varieties in Croatia.
In our next post we will introduce the “Big Three” – and go beyond, presenting you with the “Magnificent Seven”, a fabulous handful of Croatian wine grapes that you should know. These varieties were selected based on their commonality, the quality of the wine they produce, and their accessibility and presence on both the domestic and export markets.
For fans of even lesser-know varieties, fear not. We will subsequently venture beyond the Magnificent Seven and explore a gaggle of other quirky, interesting and uniquely Croatian grape varieties that did not make the first round. Stay tuned to meet the whole gang – the wild and wonderful Grapes of Croatia! 🙂
Just in time for the holidays! Wines of Croatia is proud to offer for sale – exclusively and for the first-time ever in North America – the beautifully filmed and informative Croatian Wine Story (“Hrvatska Vinska Priča – Putevima Vina”) DVD.
The 115-minute film, directed by Miroslav Mirković and produced by Mandrak Productions, takes us on an eye-opening journey through some of Croatia’s most stunningly beautiful wine regions, including Baranja, the Croatian Littoral, north and south Dalmatia, the Dalmatian Hinterland, Istria, Moslavina, Plešivica, Slavonija, Srijem, and Zagorje-Međimurje.
Your guides on this journey are Franjo Francem, a well-known Croatian enologist, and Nataša Puhelek, the reigning “Croatian Wine Queen”. Together they will take you on a four-season trip throughCroatia, where you will visit some of the country’s leading wineries. From the first bud break all the way to harvest (and ice wine harvest!) you will have an armchair view of the life in the vineyards ofCroatiaand a sneak peek behindCroatia’s unique “wine story”.
For a glimpse of the scenery that awaits you in this film, check out this trailer:
Wineries featured in the film include: Agrolaguna; Belje; Benkovac (Badel 1862); Coronica; Vinarija Daruvar (Badel 1862); Vinarija Dingač, (Badel 1862); Đakovačka vina d.d. (Misna Vina); Enjingi; Gerštmajer; Grabovac; Iločki Podrumi; Istravino; Jakopić; Kabola; Katunar; Krauthaker; Kutjevo dd; Miklaužić; Mladina; Petrovečki; Skaramuča; Tomac; Vinoplod; PZ Vrbnik; Zdjelarević; and Zlatan Otok.
The film contains 31 chapters and is presented in the Croatian language with optional English or Slovenian subtitles available.
Important Note: The film is only available in PAL format (Region 2), which can be played on most computer-based DVD players and multi-format home DVD players. Unfortunately it cannot be played on standard NTSC-formatted (Region 1) DVD players. We tested the DVD on several computers, and it played perfectly each time.
To order your DVD in time for the holidays, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Quantities are limited! The special introductory/holiday price per DVD is $20 USD, plus $6 USPS Priority Shipping (Total = $26) to most U.S. addresses. For addresses outside the U.S., please email us for the shipping price.
Payment should be made via Paypal to the email address email@example.com. Please contact us for more details, if you have any questions, or if you would prefer to pay by check or money order. Sorry – we cannot accept credit cards at this time.
We think that you – or your favorite Croatian wino – will really enjoy this film, so order your copy now, pop open your favorite Croatian wine, and begin your journey down the wine roads of Croatia from the comfort of your own home.
(While this in fairly old news now, for the sake of posterity and future curious minds – and anyone who might have missed it all – here is a recap of the Wines of Croatia Grand Portfolio Tasting event in New York City back in June, along with two videos of the festivities. It was a great day, one that we hope to repeat next year and on in other locations. Stay tuned – and enjoy this look back in time.)
On June 13, 2011, Wines of Croatia – in partnership with the Association of Winemakers at the Croatian Chamber of Economy (Hrvatska Gospodarska Komora) and the Consulate General of the Republic of Croatia in New York – held the first-ever Grand Portfolio Tasting of the country’s top wines.
The event, held at Hudson Terrace in New York City, was attended by 120 sommeliers, wine buyers, journalists, bloggers and other trade personnel.
At this historic invitation-only tasting, nearly a dozen producers from Croatia’s leading boutique wineries poured their terroir-specific wines from the continental and coastal regions of Croatia.
Guests of the Grand Tasting were treated to wines produced from an array of indigenous grape varieties, including Malvasia Istriana, Pošip, Teran, Plavac Mali, Graševina, Malvasia of Dubrovnik, Babić, Debit, Crljenak Kaštelanski, and Žlahtina, as well as international varieties like Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Riesling.
Prior to the rooftop walk-around tasting, an educational seminar was conducted by Certified Sommelier and Wines of Croatia founder, Cliff Rames. Guest speakers at the seminar included Joe Campanale, sommelier and co-owner of Anfora Wine Bar in New York City, and winemaker Ivica Matošević.
Here is a really cool video documenting the day’s events:
Winemakers in attendance included Boris Drenški of Bodren winery; Bruno Trapan of Trapan winery; Ernest Tolj of Saints Hills winery; Franjo Toljanić of Toljanic winery; Ivica Matošević of Matosevic winery; Ivan and Klemetina Juranić of Nada winery; Katharine Anderson Groethe of Korta Katarina winery; and Mladen Rožanić of Roxanich winery.
Here is the full list of wineries represented at the Grand Tasting: Agrokor vina, Badel 1862, Bibich, Bodren, Bura-Mokalo, Cattunar, Coronica, Degrassi, Enjingi, Grgić, Antun Katunar, Ivan Katunar, Karaman, Katunar, Korta Katarina, Kozlović, Krajančić, Krauthaker, Matošević, Miloš, Nada, Pavlomir, Piližota, Piquentum, PZ Čara, PZ Dingač, PZ Gospoja, PZ Putnikovići, PZ Svirče, PZ Vrbnik, Roxanich, Saints Hills, Šipun, Terzolo, Tomić, Trapan, and Zlatan Otok.
Other exhibitors and special guests included Siniša Škaberna of Degrassi winery; Anthony Ritossa of Ritossa Olive Oil ; and Simon Kerr and Šime Gligora of Sirana Gligora (producer of Paški cheese), and representatives of Blue Danube Wine Company, Dalmata Import, Oenocentric, Tasty Wine Company, Vallis Aurea, and VinumUSA (importers).
Representatives of the Croatia Chamber of Economy included Davor Komerički, Morana Stinčić, Igor Barbarić, Ivona Grgan, and Božica Marković. Representing the Consulate General of the Republic of Croatia in New York and joining us as honorary guest was Consul General, Marijan Gubić.
To salute Croatia’s status as a truffle-producing nation, a noted truffle hunter from Tartufino was also on hand to discuss Croatia’s deep historic connection with truffles from the Istria region.
Here’s a link to one more (less refined) video from StyleMTV with extended play of the day’s action.
And here’s a couple more links to some coverage:
A HUGE thank you to everyone who joined us on June 13. We look forward to doing it again and sharing more of these wines with you!
Hanna Lee Communications handled the event management and public relations for the Grand Tasting. A big thank you and BRAVO to Hanna and her team!
On July 28, 2011, Eatingvine.com conducted an online interview with Wines of Croatia founder and Certified Sommelier, Cliff Rames.
Eating Vine is a “central online space for people who love to share what they eat and the wines they drink.” The main focus of Eating Vine is recipe sharing and wine pairing. It is the first food and wine website that pairs user recipes with wines in the individual’s price range.
The forum for the online interview was Twitter, which in social media-speak is called a “twitterview”.
For those of you who are new to Twitter, Wikipedia defines a “twitterview” as follows:
“A Twitterview is a combination of the terms Twitter, a popular microblogging platform, and interview. It is a type of interview for which the medium restricts the interviewer and interviewee to short-form responses. Twitter, from which the phrase was derived, limits users to 140 characters. The concise style of this form of interview encourages participants to be more direct with their statements. Unlike traditional interviews, a Twitterview allows the public to join in on the conversation and become participants themselves. It is typically conducted with a reliance on hashtags, marking the subject, so that online browsers may collectively search, view and track the ongoing dialogue.”
The “hashtag” (#) that was utilized for this particular twitterview was #TVwoc.
Here is the “twitterview” as it unfolded live on Twitter on July 28th. Other public participants who joined in are included as well. The questions asked are in BOLD.
In order to make it easier for you to follow along, we reversed the standard Twitter format that begins the tweet with the user name (@name) of the person receiving the tweet. In our reversed format the tweet begins with the speaker’s user name, indicated by the “@” tag.
@EatingVine: What should American customers expect from Croatian wines?
@WinesofCroatia: They can expect yummy boutique wines of unique character with a distinct sense of place, made from native grapes!
@WinesofCroatia: What are some wines that have been showcased on @Eatingvine?
@EatingVine: Our users enjoy Krauthaker Riesling. We have also seen nice tasting notes Malvasia.
@EatingVine: How many different Croatian wines are now being imported to the US?
@WinesofCroatia: Currently there are around 50 labels available on the US market, mainly on east & west coasts & in Chicago.
@EatingVine: Wow! 50!! Thats great! Out of all those wines – what’s your favorite wine? Why?
@WinesofCroatia: Ah! My preferences change w/ my moods, what I’m eating, who I’m with. Wine should b about adventure & discovery!
@lovefoodloveme: Wanna know more about Croatian wines? Check out the sweet interview bt @Eatingvine and @WinesofCroatia #TVwoc
@WinesofCroatia: What encounters w/ Croatian wines has EatingVine had?
@EatingVine: They seem to be everywhere lately! These wines pair very nicely w/ everything from seafood to red meat!
@EatingVine: So Cliff, where can our American followers currently purchase these amazing Croatian wines?
@WinesofCroatia: In NYC, Chicago, LA, SanFran, NJ. @BlueDanubeWine & @VinumUSA offer nice selections & BDW ships.
@WinesofCroatia: In @EatingVine’s view, how do small country producers like Croatia reach mainstream US consumers?
@EatingVine: Add their tasting notes to #EatingVine, w/ a website link, so users can find out where the wines are being sold.
@EatingVine: We get this one all the time from our readers: What’s the difference between a Žlahtina and a Riesling?
@WinesofCroatia: Žlahtina grows on an island in the Adriatic Sea (Krk); Riesling grows on slate slopes in Germany. Deliciously different!
@WinesofCroatia: Žlahtina is a great seafood wine. An island wine! Toljanic, PZ Vrbnik & Katunar are main producers
@WinesofCroatia: How do you know about Žlahtina (“zhlah-tee-na”)?
@EatingVine: We LOOOVE drinkable wines & Žlahtina is a wonderful drinking wine due to its low alcohol percentage. It pairs wonderfully w/ seafood too!
@EatingVine: So Cliff, what are a few Croatian varietals that American consumers might not be aware of?
@WinesofCroatia: Croatia has over 65 native varieties. Crljenak, which we know as Zinfandel; Pošip, Grk, Debit, Babić – & Žlahtina!
@WinesofBalkans: @EatingVine @WinesofCroatia Yes, of course, together with Dobričić grapes 🙂 Cheers! Awesome to see this twitter action!
@WinesofCroatia: Does @EatingVine know the relationship between Plavac Mali & Zinfandel?
@EatingVine: Good question!! Isn’t Zinfandel one of the “father” grapes of Plavac Mali?
@WinesofCroatia: Yes! Zinfandel (Crljenak) cross bred w/ Dobričić (another red grape) and gave birth to Plavac Mali!
@EatingVine: Hooray! We got it right!
@EatingVine: Blumenthals #TheFatDuck @HestonFatDuck features a few Croatian wines. Any other top restaurant featuring these wines?
@WinesofCroatia: In NYC: Veslo; @anforanyc; Felidia; Marseille; Regis Royal; Del Posto; 10 Bells – to name a few!
@WinesofCroatia: In Chicago: Sixteen at Trump; Lockwood & Potters Lounge; Peninsula; Purple Pig: & Autre Monde.
@WinesofCroatia: In LA & SanFran: A.O.C.; Bar Tartine; Pourtal Wine Bar; Mignon; Bistro SF Grill. @bluedanubewine.
@BlueDanubeWine: We’re very happy to be bi-coastal: Milos Plavac just landed @TerroirNY & @ACoteRestaurant in CA. This is a traditionally made Plavac.
@BlueDanubeWine: There are a few other restos in CA featuring Croatian wine: @LavandaFoodWine in Palo Alto has a full list.
@BlueDanubeWine: Not to forget @LouWineBar in LA. Lou is tops when it comes to taste leadership & flavor exploration. We’ve many Croatian wines there.
@WinesofCroatia: @BlueDanubeWine THX U to @louwinebar for your support . #sharingthelove
@EatingVine: Out of all these beautiful wines, what are some of the most popular Croatian varietals?
@WinesofCroatia: In terms of plantings, the Top 3 are: Graševina (white), Malvasia Istriana (white), and Plavac Mali (red).
@WinesofCroatia: Other favorites include Pošip (white), Babić (red), Teran (red), Debit (white), Grk (white), & Malvasia of Dubrovnik.
@EatingVine: OOhhh I hear Babic’s are lovely! So excited to try some!!
@WinesofCroatia: What kind of wines do you feature on @Eatingvine?
@EatingVine: Our users have added tasting notes for Grasevina, Malvasia and Riesling and growing!
@EatingVine: We have over 23,000 wines to choose from & users add wines that we don’t already have in the database.
@WinesofCroatia: Cool! We’ll have to work on getting more Croatian wine in your database!
@EatingVine: We would love to have ALL the Croatian wines in our database. Can’t wait!
@EatingVine: Who are some of the main producers to look for in stores? What price points to expect?
@WinesofCroatia: BIBICh, Bura, Clai, Coronica, PZ Dingač, Enjingi, Kozlović, Matosević, Saints Hills, Toljanić, Tomić. $14-$65.
@WinesofCroatia: Just want to add that the new issue (Sept) of @wineenthusiast magazine has an article about Croatian wines!
@EatingVine: Well Cliff, I know u have to jet so we’ll sadly have to end this great Twitterview, lets do it again soon. So much to learn!
@WinesofCroatia: THANK YOU @EatingVine for this opportunity to #sharethelove for Croatian wines. Let’s do #TVwoc again sometime! 🙂
@WinesofCroatia: if anyone else has questions, please post w/ #TVwoc hashtag. We will answer throughout the evening!
Text and photos (unless otherwise noted) Copyright © Cliff Rames
In Part 2 of this 3-part report, we went inside the festival to explore the venue, meet the VIP guests, and hear about the round table workshop. In Part 3, we provide some general observations about the wines, offer some “names to watch out for”, and mourn a missed opportunity to leave the festival in style. Živjeli!
[Note: The views presented here are strictly my own and are in no way intended to reflect the views of the festival organizers or its sponsors and partners]
Let me begin by saying, two days was not enough time to taste everything, even if it were not for the crowds and the less-than-ideal tasting conditions. Perhaps the organizers would consider extending the festival by one day next year? Just an idea….
Based on what I succeeded in tasting (see special note below), it was clear the quality of Croatian wines continues to rise. While a few of clunkers could be found here and there, a greater number of delicious treasures could be discovered and enjoyed at nearly every table. Overall the wines were well-made, full of character, expressive of a unique terroir, and very drinkable.
It was also great to see so many of the well-established, bigger wineries investing in new winery technology, newly designed packaging, and updated marketing strategies – thereby demonstrating an understanding that they cannot rest on their laurels if they are to survive in the current market environment.Agrokor Vina, a conglomerate that owns several wineries and nearly 1,700 hectares of vineyards, has recently invested heavily in redefining its brands and market presence. The results are now in bottle: many of their brands are very approachable, value-driven, quality wines with attractive packages offered at affordable prices. This could easily propel Agrokor to the lead as a producer of competitive, value-driven gateway wines, especially for the export market.
Not to be outdone, many of the traditional industry-leaders and well-established wineries have stepped up their games, becoming more active with social media, introducing new wines and labels, and taking steps to ready themselves for the international market.
These key players include: Krauthaker (the man who put premium Graševina on the map and whose TBA Graševina landed a much-celebrated place on the wine list of Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck in London)….
Matosevic (watch out for his new “Grimalda” wines, a red “Super Istrian” blend and a white Malvazija/Chardonnay/Sauvignon Blanc blend); Kutjevacki Podrum (their “De Gotho Aureus” 2009 Chardonnay just took the silver medal at the 2011 Chardonnay Du Monde competition in France)….
Then there’s: Bura-Mokalo (this dynamic duo of a brother/sister winemaking team are the early pioneers of “cult” Plavac Mali wines; watch out for a new Zinfandel release this year); BIBICh (his new limestone “kamenica”-fermented, long-macerated Debit may take the orange wine category to new heights)….
Caric (produces a lovely, fresh, seafood-friendly white from Bogdanuša, an indigenous variety native to Hvar island; also produces an interesting Beaujolais-style young Plavac Mali called “Novello”; just introduced some very cool new labels too!); and Zlatan Otok (their first-ever commercial production of Crljenak Kašelanski has been scoring very well and is making history as the first-ever commercial production of the “original Zinfandel”).
Even more exciting was to see a new generation of rising-star winemakers who are truly making names for themselves with wines that are clean, well-made, expressive of place, and cleverly and attractively packaged.
Names that come to mind as examples in this category are: Dimitri Brečević (his “Piquentum” Teran and Malvazija wines from Istria are generating a lot of excitement); and Benvenuti (making some very impressive sweet wines from Malvazija Istriana and Muscat of Momjan under the “San Salvatore” label).
Then there’s: Marko Gerzinic (noted for his beautiful stainless-steel fermented Teran and consistently good Malvazija); Franco Radovan (his young Malvazija wine is incredibly pure and fresh; cute label too!)…
Bruno Trapan (with cigar in hand, this young upstart winemaker has rocked the domestic wine scene with a number of recent awards and high scores, especially for his macerated and mature Malvazija wine, “Uroboros”; he recently opened a brand new winery and tasting room in the style of a train depot, called “Wine Station Trapan”)….
Watch out for the “other” white wine of Korčula island (more commonly known for the Pošip grape), made from the indigenous Grk variety (producers Cebalo and Bire are pioneers of Grk wine and are working hard to revive interest in the grape and the quality of the wines); and Grabovac (one of the only producers of sparkling wine in the Dalmatia region, Grabovac is noted for their unique wines made from Kujundžuša and Trnjak – two obscure native grape varieties from the Dalmatian hinterland).
Other names to watch out for: Roxanich (a winery with a rockin’ name, owner Mladen Rožanić is considered the father of the “Super Istrian” red blend; he also makes a wonderful extended skin maceration, wood-aged “Antica” Malvazija that is almost an orange wine;); Moreno Coronica (his ’07 “Gran Teran” is a profound expression of Istria’s native son red grape); Velimir Korak (making elegant Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in the cool Plešivica region); Boris Drenški “Bodren” (for award-winning TBA and ice wines)…
Giorgio Clai (an organic/biodynamic winemaker who produces somewhat inconsistent yet fascinating, terroir-driven wines); Moreno DeGrassi (his “Terre Bianche” blend of Malvazija, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier was the fan favorite at the Gala Dinner).
More names to watch: Leo Gracin (“the Professor”; a consultant and winemaking pioneer of the indigenous Babić red variety of northern Dalmatia; his 2008 vintage was another favorite of Decanter’s Sarah Kemp); Frano Milos (long considered a “traditionalist” among Plavac Mali producers, the increasing involvement of his very attractive, twenty-something son and daughter in his marketing and social media activities has injected new energy into his brand; his “Stagnum” Plavac Mali is a cult favorite)….
Luka Krajančić (his Pošip “Intrada” and “Sur Lie” is taking the native Pošip white grape from Korčula island to a whole new level; world class juice!)….
Finally, there’s Saints Hills , whose “Nevina” and “Dingač” wines are well on their way to achieving cult status (Ernest Tolj’s winery now stands poised to release a new and exciting Plavac Mali rosé this spring, “St. Heels” with a sexy, craftily cheeky and irreverent label depicting a pair of women’s high heel shoes. We also eagerly await the first-ever vintage  Plavac Mali wine from the new “St. Roko” vineyard at Komarna).
[Special Note: To all the winemakers I didn’t meet, I’m sorry! It was impossible to make it to every table, and my selection of who to visit was completely random, subject to the surges of the crowd, and dependent upon how much time I had between meetings in the café. I didn’t mean to miss this opportunity to meet you and taste your wines. For what it’s worth, I am very aware of whom I missed, and I hope to one day have another chance to visit you and taste your wines.]
Okay, how can I put this diplomatically….? I spent most of the time at ZWGF starving.
Starving is an odd way to pass the time at a festival that touts the word “gourmet” in its title. The fact is, there was very little to eat, at least I couldn’t find much. Yes, there were the 16 food vendors with their tooth-pick-harpooned nibbles and bites, and the 15 Kuna sandwiches at the café bar….But it was the “gourmet” part that I needed – and was so sadly missing.
Okay, yes – there was the cooking demonstration tent. A couple of us, lured by the scrumptious aromas coming from within, tried unsuccessfully to grab a plate or two of the gourmet dishes prepared by guest chefs. These small plates were randomly handed out to lucky mouths in the audience (the system for receiving one of these tasty-looking offerings seemed to entail being in the right place at the right time) – but not to us.
Mouths watering and defeated, we went to the information booth to ask about our dining options in the vicinity. The friendly (English-speaking)information desk girl told us to go to the shopping center across the highway, where (we were told) there were surely some fast food places….
Having learned my lesson, the next morning I really filled-up at the breakfast buffet in the Westin Zagreb hotel. For an inclusive hotel breakfast, it was really quite an extensive and satiating spread.
It was not until the festival was over that I realized my greatest disappointment of the trip: I had missed “the Slide”.
The Slide? Is it an art exhibit? A secret restaurant?
Nope. It’s a huge metal tube that corkscrews all the way through the center of the Museum of Contemporary Art Zagreb, traveling down from the 4th floor to street level. Given the opportunity, a person could slip into the shiny tube and slide all the way down to the bottom, where he/she would be spit out onto the sidewalk outside the museum. The slide looks like this:
Riding that slide down and out would have been the grandest and most memorable exit from any wine festival ever, anywhere, anytime! Period.
Maybe the museum is not such a bad venue after all. Maybe the organizers will decide to hold ZWGF there next year.
The crowds? Who cares! The hunger? Never mind!
A good whirl on that giant silver slide would have made all of those things just a second thought…a pesky inconvenience…the price of greatness!
In fact it should be mandatory. Everyone should be asked to leave the festival on the slide. What a hoot that would be!
In a recent article for Wine Spectator, Matt Kramer wrote that “terroir” is no longer enough to sell wine; most wine regions today hold some claim or another to terroir. What we need more of (writes Kramer) is “narrative”. The question then becomes, what “stories” do the wines or wine-producing regions have to tell?
As silly as it may seem, I mention the slide here because (for me) it suddenly became such a wonderful component of Croatia’s somewhat quirky and complex wine story – a memorable detail that sets ZWGF apart from many other wine expos and festivals.
Despite a few minor glitches and lessons learned, ZWGF demonstrated that Croatian wine producers are ready and able to join hands with the world of wine and take the plunge into the future. While the journey has just begun, the twisting way forward – if smartly navigated with poise and passion – promises to be a lip-smacking, exhilarating ride.