For the first-time ever, Croatia finds itself featured in a prominent mainstream U.S. wine magazine.
Wine Enthusiast, one of the leading wine journals in the English language, published three articles in the September 2011 print and online issues, all dedicated to Croatia and its wines, food culture, and appeal as a travel destination.
The September issue, which pronounces Croatia as “An Historic Wine Lovers Paradise” on the cover page, also includes reviews of 16 Croatian wines, as well as hotel, restaurant and winery recommendations by region.
Encompassing seven full-color pages (in the print edition), the lead story by Wine Enthusiast Contributing Editors, Lifestyle & Entertaining, Mike Desimone and Jeff Jenssen (AKA: World Wine Guys) is entitled “Croatia – In Living Color”.
In the article the Wine Guys detail their “journey from north to south along the Adriatic coast”, which they describe as an “underexplored jewel by the sea” that “offers rich history, splendid scenery and epicurean delights—starting in Istria, and then down the Dalmatian Coast, with its 1,000 islands”.
The online version of the magazine offers two additional articles. The first is written by Desimone and Jenssen and is called “Exploring Croatia”.
The article provides detailed hotel, restaurant and winery recommendations based on Desimone’s and Jenssen’s experience while traveling in Croatia in October 2010, when they spent a week visiting Croatia’s capital city, Zagreb, as well as Istria and Dalmatia on the coast – regions they described as “a wine and food lover’s paradise”.
The online version of Wine Enthusiast contains a third article by Kristin Vuković with the mouth-watering title, “Consuming Croatia”highlighting some of the “gastronomical delights” one can experience in Croatia. Inside you’ll find two scrumptious recipes, one for Palačinke (Croatian crêpes) and one for Grilled Mediterranean Branzino with Blitva (Sea Bass with Chard).
Kristin’s yummy recipes are matched with wine pairing suggestions by Certified Sommelier and founder of Wines of Croatia, Cliff Rames.
Wine Enthusiast is a wine magazine, so let us not forget the best part: the wines! The September issue contains scores for 16 Croatian wines in its Buying Guide, including labels from Agrolaguna, Belje, BIBICh, Dingač Winery, Grgić, Iločki Podrumi, Istravino, Korta Katarina, Matošević, and Piližota. All wines were reviewed by Wine Enthusiast Tasting Coordinator, Anna Lee Iijima.
Six of the best-scoring wines are highlighted in the magazine under the headline, “Top Wines of Croatia”. Most notably, two wines were awarded 90-points: Grgić Vina 2009 Pošip and Korta Katarina 2006 Plavac Mali.
If you can, we strongly recommend that you pick-up a copy of the September issue and read all about it. Or check it out online (links embedded above). May we also suggest that when you open this historic issue of Wine Enthusiast, you raise your favorite glass of Croatian wine. It is certainly a time to celebrate!
They say that every journey begins with a single step. The publication of these three articles may have been one small step for Wine Enthusiast magazine, but it was a giant leap for the Croatian wine industry.
From this new height the stars on which so many dreams are planted today seem a little closer. To reach them will require much more hard work, a smart and effective marketing strategy, and new investment in people, ideas, tools and material. Beyond the star that is Wine Enthusiast magazine lie many more stars, solar systems and galaxies. Collectively they form the heavens.
Do we have what it takes to get there?
One additional note: We applaud Korta Katarina Winery for having the foresight and business savvy (and resources) to recognize an opportunity. The winery invested some serious cash to purchase a full-page color advertisement in the September issue for its 2010 Rosé. Readers of the magazine – who may feel compelled to seek out a Croatian wine or two – will in the preceding pages notice a very juicy ad for an excellent Croatian Rosé – one that just happens to be available in the U.S. and other export markets.
With that, Korta Katarina became the first Croatian winery to advertise in a mainstream American wine magazine. The bar has been raised; let us strive to leap higher still!
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?
Two weeks ago, I had the great pleasure of attending – for the first time – the 2011 North American Wine Bloggers Conference (#wbc11), which was held July 22-24 in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Coming along for the ride in the hope of finding love was a tote full of Croatian wines, some of which were samples kindly provided by importers (Blue Danube Wine Company, Vinum USA, and Oenocentric), and others from my personal collection. My hope was to share them at some point with my fellow bloggers and winos – or anyone else who wanted to learn about and taste them.
But where? When? I was just a conference attendee, not a sponsor or part of the official program, upon which I consciously did not want to intrude.
To make a long story short, on the last afternoon of the conference (Saturday) Fred Dexheimer MS and I hatched the idea to invite folks up to his room after the evening’s program of activities concluded for an “unofficial” Croatian wine tasting – or as it came to be known, the #afterafterparty.
At 3:45 pm the first tweet went out: “#wbc11 peeps – come join us tonight! Pouring Croatian wines with @FredDexMS…room 606 after 10. The Plavac calls! BYG.”
Then at 8:09 pm: “Native grape jamboree: Plavac! Crljenak! Malvasia Istriana! Posip! Babic! Teran. #Croatiacrawl tonight! After 10, rm 606. #wbc11”. Followed by: “The Donkey calls! Plavac Mali & friends! ##WBC11 peeps come say hi: rm 606 after 10. #Croatiacrawl”.
The rest we left to the mysterious ripples of Twitter and the magic of social networking….
A huge THANK YOU to everyone who heard the Donkey call, retweeted my tweets, spread the word, and showed-up for our little impromptu tasting. Never in my wildest dreams did I expect so many people. Room 606 was bursting at the seams! And the Croatian wine – as Fred tweeted at 11:09pm – “flowed like water”!
Unfortunately, my small allotment of bottles was quickly consumed by many a curious blogger. But not before I had the chance to meet some very special people, folks of all ages who appreciate wines that are perhaps a little different, a bit tongue-twisting to pronounce, sometimes a little funky, but always authentic and interesting.
An extra special thanks to Richard Jennings, who made a valiant effort (despite the growing crush of a crowd) to listen to my descriptions of each wine and record notes. You can read his excellent blog post about the #wbc11 conference HERE, which included these very sweet words: “I did see a Twitter invite, however, for a Croatian wine tasting happening upstairs in someone’s room, from Cliff Rames, who has retweeted my few blog posts about Croatian wines (attracting large numbers of viewers to those posts), so I decided to check that out before heading back to my hotel. I’m glad I did. I got to meet Cliff…and tasted there several of the most interesting wines I tried all weekend.”
A special thanks also to Eric Asimov, Chief Wine Critic for the New York Times, who also stopped by and asked me to choose just two wines for him to taste. As it happened, at that moment I was pouring the Krajančić 2009 Pošip Intrada and Korta Katarina 2006 Plavac Mali, which were fine choices in any event.
As any true professional would, Mr. Asimov quietly tasted the two selections, politely thanked me, then wandered off to enjoy the company and energy of the Room 606 crowd.
OMG! He showed up! Perhaps out of curiosity, perhaps out of boredom, perhaps out of genuine interest….Only Eric knows. But let us hope that one day he wanders over again to taste a bit more and – just maybe – that important day will arrive when Croatian wines appear in The New York Times Wednesday wine column.
For those of you who came out to Room 606 that evening, and for those of you curious about the wines, here is the list of what was served:
1. Krajančić 2009 Pošip “Intrada” – Korčula island, Southern Dalmatia
8. Korta Katarina 2008 Plavac Mali – Pelješac, Southern Dalmatia
9. Zlatan Otok 2008 Crljenak Kaštelanski – Makarska, Southern Dalmatia (corked; removed from line-up)
10. Saints Hills 2008 Plavac Mali Dingač, Sv. Lucia Vineyard – Pelješac, Southern Dalmatia
There may have been a few others, but at some point during the crush of the evening I lost track of the bottles and surrendered any illusion of a systematic tasting. As a dear experienced drinking friend of mine often says, “One tastes like two, two tastes like three, and after three, it’s away all boats.”
And so it was. Until around 1 am – when a nice security officer from the hotel asked us to move to the hotel lobby or break it up. We were too much for Room 606 and apparently for its neighbors too….
All-in-all, it was a wonderful conference – the highlight of which was (for me) the #afterafterparty in Room 606, where for just a little while Croatian wines were the center of attention, making new friends and (hopefully) a few happy memories for those of you who were so kind to come. Thank you again!
One last thanks goes to Fred Dexheimer MS, who is always a source of inspiration. I never cease to be amazed by the man’s energy. It was Fred who was the occupant of the now legendary Room 606 in the Omni Hotel, Charlottesville, and who generously offered the place for the first-ever (albeit unofficial) #croatiacrawl at #wbc11.
Thank you, Fred, for your ongoing support and encouragement. You rock, dude!
If anyone is interested in writing about Croatian wines for your blog, please feel free to contact me at email@example.com.
“Živjeli!” (“Cheers!”, in Croatian). I hope to see you all again at next year’s conference in Portland, Oregon. #wbc12 – the best is yet to come!
On May 10, 2011, Richard Bampfield became the first Master of Wine (MW) to visit Croatia to expressively taste and review its wines.
While in Croatia, Mr. Bampfield hosted an exclusive Master Class at the Hotel Bastion in Zadar. The event, sponsored by Yacht Gourmet Croatia, was designed to introduce guests to the U.K wine market while assessing the quality and potential of Croatian wines as an export product and tourist offering (particularly for the yachting community on Croatia’s Adriatic Sea).
Attending the Master Class were 25 winemakers from Croatia, including Alen Bibich, Andro Tomić, Ivica Matošević, and Mladen Rožanić. Other guests included yacht crews, representatives of luxury villas and rental agencies, and Croatian journalist Rene Bakalović (who published this article in Croatia’s largest daily newspaper, Jutarnji List).
After the Master Class and tasting, Mr. Bampfield noted that many of the Croatian wines he tasted would “hold their own” against similar wines produced elsewhere in the world.
“Croatian wines have the advantage of history, which is a good thing”, Bampfield said in a statement to Croatian TV. “Croatian wines are unique and unlike anything you can find elsewhere. But this has a negative side, too. If people cannot find the wines, then they cannot get to know them. I think the U.K. market is ready for Croatian wines. But Croatia must be smart about its promotion and placement of the wines.”
Alessia Cortesi, owner of Yacht Gourmet Croatia, said that the event was very interesting for the Croatian winemakers, and very important for Croatian wines. One of Yacht Gourmet Croatia’s goals is to promote Croatian wines among wine buyers in the nautical market and demonstrate that Croatian wines are an authentic product that can compete on the same level with many French or Italian wines.
“This event was an excellent step forward for Croatian wines. Master of Wine Bampfield confirmed that the wines are top quality and have potential on the international market. He discovered many of Croatia’s native grapes, some of which he would not otherwise be able to taste abroad”, added Cortesi.
Wines of Croatia was graciously and generously granted exclusive permission to publish Mr. Bampfield’s tasting notes, which follow below for your enjoyment. Cheers!
Tasting Notes by Richard Bampfield, MW
Badel 1862 Sauvignon Blanc, Daruvar 2009
Sweaty Sauvignon, very French, restrained, classy. Pleasing sweetness on palate, real depth of flavour. Dry and refreshing, the residual sugar undoubtedly enhances the character and flavour. Delicious.
Bibich 2009 Debit
Distinctive aromas, green apple, perhaps gooseberry too. Good fruit, pear-like texture, almost like a sherry. Fresh, dry, appetising, enjoyable and easy drinking.
Bibich 2008 Debit Lučica Riserva
Gold. Oaky, old-fashioned. Flat entry on palate, does not have the freshness to support the oak flavours. Oxidative and seems dated in style. Certainly sherry-like.
Boškinac 2009 Grand Cuvee
Golden colour. Alcohol highly evident and lacks freshness of most. Heavy and a bit clumsy.
Degrassi 2010 Malvazija Istarska Bomarchese
Gently unoaked, reminiscent of good, unoaked Chardonnay. Very clean, fresh, mineral notes, persistent although flavours are restrained. Quite neutral on finish, but very fine.
Degrassi 2009 Terre Bianche Cuvee Blanc
Very fresh smelling, modern, expressive. Fresh and persistent, good acidity. Pleasing lightness of touch, very easy to drink, quite international in style.
Figurica 2009 Kulica Coupage
Fresh, apple and nut aromas. Well made, relatively simple, but natural, dry and easy to drink, especially with food.
Korta Katarina 2009 Pošip
Fresh, pears and nuts. Evident cool ferment characters, but well done. Dry, fresh, lovely fruit. Fine, light touch to the oak, natural and appetising.
Kozlović 2010 Malvazija
Clean, light, scented. Light on palate, gently perfumed, good texture. Bright, young and appetising.
Kozlović 2008 Santa Lucia Malvazija
Golden colour. Toasty aromas, orange peel, marmalade. Nice texture and flavour, not dissimilar to traditional semillon-based Graves. Dry, characterful, may not appeal to all.
Matošević 2008 Alba Barrique (Malvazija Istarska)
Sweet oak on nose which tends to dominate. No question that the oak is sweetly flavoured and enhances the flavour of the wine……..but it hides the grape flavour in my view.
Matošević 2008 Alba Robinia (Malvazija Istarska, aged in acacia wood)
Honey, roasted nuts, less overtly oaky than the French oak. Lovely sweetness on palate, good texture, fresh acidity. Exciting wine, finishing brisk, dry and flavoursome.
Matošević 2009 Grimalda Bijelo
Intriguing mix of Chardonnay, Sauvignon and Malvazija. Actually really interesting, with a distinctive and pleasing Sauvignon lift to the aromatics. Fine and complete on the palate, harmonious and fresh. Well judged oak, delicious.
Roxanich 2007 Malvazija Antica
Deep gold. Very perfumed, complex – notes of yeast, marmite, thick cut marmalade, fernet branca. Dry, textured, good acidity, long flavours, evident amontillado sherry character. Touch of alcoholic warmth on finish, very fine.
Saints Hills 2009 Nevina
Aromas not too oaky, note of pepper. Higher in alcohol than most and seems heavy. Appears to have sacrificed flavour for alcohol. But interesting blend of an international variety (Chardonnay) with a local grape (Malvasia Istriana).
Tomac (2007?) Anfora
Deep, orange gold. Complex aromas of poached pears, toast, creme brulee – note of acetate. Somehow smells of ice cream. Dry, assured, pleasing orange-peel tanginess. Surprisingly, not that oxidative. Very persistent, very natural, very good.
Trapan 2010 Malvazija Istarska Ponente
Gently perfumed, touch phenolic, hint of marshmallow. Fine, dry, touch mineral, bit heavier than the others, but the overall sensation of lightness is still very pleasing.
Trapan 2009 Uroboros (Malvazija)
Honey, nuts, creamy. Rich, oxidative notes, but not overtly oaky. Good acidity and very clean finish. Lasts well, fine food wine.
Korta Katarina 2010 Rosé (Plavac Mali)
Subtle, vinous, really smells winey, even of white wine. Lovely flavours, not like any other rose I have tasted, note of pepper, which reinforces the sensation of great freshness. Very good.
Roxanich 2008 Rosé
Mature orange. Stewed strawberries, marmite, almost smells of Rivesaltes, definitely some very attractive grapey notes. Dry, very Burgundian, somewhat surprisingly it tastes of mature red Burgundy! Intense flavour, fresh, dry, persistent. Interesting.
Saints Hills 2010 St. Heels Rosé
High alcohol, dry, but lacking a core of flavour. A bit heavy-handed and lacks the pure drinkability and freshness of a rose.
Tomac Pjenušac Rosé (sparkling)
Pale, red tinge. Excellent, fruit aromas, very bright. Dry, fresh, beautifully balanced, long and elegant. Extremely classy glass of sparkling rose.
Trapan 2010 Rubi Rosé (Cuvee)
Deepish colour, pale red. Touch confected, smells familiar, almost Australian, may be the Syrah component. Plenty of flavour, vinous, tastes off-dry (but is apparently dry). Good, bold style that retains good freshness.
Badel 1862 Korlat Syrah 2007
Fabulous aromas; pepper, ginger, spice; reminiscent of young Grange. Sweeter style of Syrah; intense, ripe, mellow tannins, spicy, savoury and hedonistic. Very generous; lovely current drinking.
Badel 1862 Plavac Mediterano 2008
Meaty aromas, note of liver, notes of green pepper, reminiscent of certain St Emilion. Fresh, fruity, Merlot character persists, but with more overt freshness. Good – and genuinely tastes Mediterranean!
Bibich 2008 Riserva R6
Mature-looking. Warming, pleasing aromas, some of the sweetness of aroma of a Tawny Port. Sweetly fruited, mature but not cedary. Dry and slightly bitter on the finish, comes across as faintly Italian in style on the palate.
Bibich 2008 Bas de Bas
Very deep colour. Lifted, perfumed, strong new oak. Sweet, expressive but not overripe Syrah; very fine. Really intense on the palate, well judged oak, beautifully balanced by an overall sensation of freshness. Seductive, not over-extracted. Well done!
Rich, oaky; perhaps a note of volatility. Bold, high alcohol, big wine. Better suited to the US than the UK.
Degrassi 2007 Merlot Contarini
Really good Merlot aromas, note of meatiness. Good sweetness of fruit and a fine, fruit-forward, appetising appeal that seems to characterise the Degrassi style. Fresh, pure and early-maturing, excellent restaurant wine.
Degrassi 2005 Refosk Terre Rosse
Creamy, spicy, but seems to be tiring. High acidity, bitter cherry characters, very Italian. Very long and very fresh for its age. Definitely interesting but seems better suited to Italian market than British one.
Degrassi 2007 Terre Bianche Cuvee Rouge
Deep, youthful. Very fresh, bright Cabernet aromas. Refreshing, peppery edge to the fruit; juicy, flavoursome; tastes just off-dry. Really enjoyable and the sweetness of fruit is balanced by the pepper character.
Figurica 2009 Cuvee Figurina
Fresh, unusual aromas – a mix of raspberry fruit and gamey characters. Juicy, fresh and flavoursome, apparently with a touch of sweetness. Light, appetising and easy drinking.
Korta Katarina 2007 Plavac Mali
Mature looking. Stewed aromas, alcoholic, big wine, could easily have been made in Australia. Touch of volatility? Reminiscent of Chateau Musar; not a style that would be mainstream in the UK.
Roxanich 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon
Deep, starting to mature. Really classy; pencil-lead cabernet aromas, a sort of restrained Penfold’s Bin 707. Very pure, ripe cassis character; assured, long, tobacco edge, moderate tannins. Great freshness; top class.
Roxanich 2007 Superistrian
Intriguing aromas that remind me of butter, cream and coconut……..but it is not oaked! Fruit comes through well on the palate but not yet as complex as it could be. The firm tannins and grip suggest this will still improve for a few years.
Roxanich 2006 TeranRe
Intriguing aromas, seems to show the meatiness of Merlot but also the rawer meat characters of Syrah; touch of reduction (in a positive way). Very fresh acidity, great flavour; firm but balanced tannins. Tastes like a really classy Pays Catalan. Magnificent.
Tomić 2007 Plavac Mali Reserve
Perfumed, classy – clear oak, but also some lifted fruit and floral characters. Really nicely made, good oak, fine overall balance and intensity of flavour. Warming, but not alcoholic.
Bibich Ambra NV (Debit)
Pale to medium, yellow-brown. Unusual aromas, notes of dried grapes like PX, but also reminiscent of the must aromas of Pineau de Charentes. Compelling on the palate though, great grip and length. Sweet, well done.
Bodren 2008 Chardonnay Ice Wine (Ledeno Vino)
Not as sweet as the Riesling, but still very sweet. Beautifully made and balanced, very complete…….but I cannot help thinking that the relative lack of aroma and character betray the fact that Chardonnay lacks the intensity of flavour to make the best dessert wines.
Bodren 2008 Pinot Blanc Ice Wine
Fresh, pears, stone fruits. Very sweet, good texture and beautiful balance. Really good, with a fresh, peppery finish.
Bodren 2009 Rajnski Rizling Izborna Berba Prosušenih Bobica (TBA)
Very fine, baked apple aromas, lifted, pure, fine Riesling. Very, very sweet, almost liquorous, like apple puree. But well balanced acidity, hugely impressive.
Degrassi 2009 Muškat Bijeli San Pellegrin
Lightly grapey, also a touch soapy. Sweet, some CO2 for freshness, well balanced, but lacking a bit in real grape flavour and verve.
Kozlović 2009 Muškat Momjanski (semi-sweet)
Excellent aromas, reminscent of Muscat blanc a petits grains. Sweet, grapey, floral and bright. Fresh, flavoursome, lovely balance. Not that complex but beautifully done.
Tomić 2006 Prošek Hectorovich
Perfumed and soapy, notes of grapes and orange. Sweet, well balanced acidity, gripping and very fresh. Very good, really zingy – hard to describe the flavours, but it certainly works!
In a charming and sweetly memorable moment from his trip, Joe sent out this tweet on Twitter: “Ok I’m about to fall asleep in Korčula but this picture of vineyards clinging to a mountain is still on my mind http://t.co/LxEWtsj“.
In this exclusive interview, Joe shares some more thoughts and observations about his trip and offers some sage advice for the future of Croatian wines.
1. You just returned from a tour of a few wine regions in Croatia. What are your general impressions of Croatia as a country and as a wine-producing country?
Croatia is country with a ton of stunning natural beauty, like the electric-blue Adriatic coast, breathtakingly steep vineyard sites, endless islands and incredible mountain peaks. It is fascinating to see a country as a relatively new quality wine producing country trying to find its way, sometimes with great success. I think the quality is only going to improve as the vines get older and as winemakers become more experienced and share information with other producers.
2. Was there anything that surprised you? Disappointed you? Blew you away?
I was surprised by the extreme beauty. It was really one of the most stunning places I’ve ever been, and I was not expecting that. I was blown away by the sheer steepness of some of the vineyards, especially in Dalmatia. It is heroic to work them.
I was also surprised by the truffles! Croatia is one of the few places that truffles grow in the world and they were incredibly delicious.
I was disappointed to see a lot of Plavac Mali wines that were unbalanced, too hot and alcoholic, often with 15.5% alcohol or higher and residual sugar.
3. How many of Croatia’s different indigenous grapes varieties did you try through the wines you tasted? Any favorites?
We probably tasted 15-20 different grapes. I loved the white grapes Pošip and Grk for their minerality and crisp acidity, though Grk was just a bit more complex. As for red grapes I thought that Terran had the most potential for its structure and food pairing ability.
4. Were there any particular wines that really impressed you? Any “wow” moments?
Miloš 1994 Plavic Mali showed me that Plavic Mali has an incredible ability to age when it’s made in a balanced style with alcohol kept in check. Also Miloš is one of the few producers making wine a very traditional, natural way. He holds the wines back until they are ready to drink.
5. You visited Tomac winery and tasted his “Anfora” wine. Wines made in amphora are a particular interest of yours. What did you think of Tomac’s version?
I love Tomac’s Anfora wines and his entire philosophy. His wines were balanced, nuanced and delicious. They were also unique but not in a way that would turn off people who haven’t had them before. I also loved his Pinot Noir.
6. Can you offer a little advice on what Croatian winemakers can do better tocompete on the world market, particularly in the US?
I’d say focus on creating wines and flavors that are indicative of Croatia. Embrace your native grapes and create wines that go well with food. Croatia is never going to be able to compete at the lowest end because of cost parameters and there is so much competition for “international-styled” wine. So the only way Croatia can compete is on it’s uniqueness of high-quality, balanced wines.
7. Say one thing that American consumers/wine lovers should know about Croatian wines.
Croatia has an immensely diverse amount of grape varieties and terroirs, creating the opportunity for a wide range of wine styles. There are a few very interesting wines now but these wines will continue to improve.
8. How did you like the Croatian restaurants/cuisine? Do you have a favorite dish? Any food and wine pairings that you really liked?
The restaurants were of an extremely high quality. We ate a lot of extremely fresh fish and the local shrimp were especially sweet and soft. One of the fun things that quite a few restaurants did was that they put out a wide variety of olive oils for us to taste with our breads. One restaurant even had 15 local olive oils on the table.
9. Would you like to return to Croatia someday? Where would you go?
Of course! There are a 1,000 islands and I’d like to explore them all but I want to go back to Korčula first.
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 Duckin London)….
Feravino(their new “Dika” and “Miraz” Graševina labels are very approachable and tasty); and Kozlovic(his 2009 Malvazija was the stand-out favorite of Decanter’s Sarah Kemp)…
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 articlefor 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.
Editor’s Note: With this report, Robert Parker’s influential “Wine Advocate” journal has published its first-ever review of a selection of wines from Croatia. The report and subsequent scores were written and posted by Neal Martin of www.wine-journal.com and www.erobertparker.com and are reprinted here with permission.
In Part IV of his report, we present Mr. Martin’s reviews and scores (based on a 100-point scale) of wines from the Istria region of northwest Croatia, which Mr. Martin tasted in May 2010. The opinions and reviews contained herein are purely Mr. Martin’s work and are subject to copyright and may not be republished elsewhere without permission of the author.
Tasting Notes: Istria
2008 Matosevic Alba Barrique – 86
This Malvasia from Istria has a fine nose with well-integrated oak, notes of fresh green apple and a touch of hazelnut. The palate is ripe with fresh acidity, quite malic on the finish with lime zest and citrus fruit. Simple but well made. Tasted May 2010.
2004 Matosevic Alba Robinia – 82
The Malvasia ‘04 has slightly lower alcohol comparative to others in the range, with a rounded, rather buttery nose with tropical fruit. The palate has a lively entry, but the middle is disjointed and attenuated towards the finish. Tasted May 2010.
2008 Matosevic Grimalda (White Blend) – 87
The blend being 50% Chardonnay, 25% Sauvignon Blanc and 25% Malvasia Istriana, the White Blend has fine definition on the nose with apple-blossom, pear and candle wax. The palate has a ripe entry, lightly spiced with a hint of ginger and watermelon on the clean, crisp finish. In a word: tasty. Tasted May 2010.
2008 Matosevic Grimalda (Red Blend) – 89
A blend of 85% Merlot and 15% Teran, this has a lucid ruby hue. The nose is rounded with boysenberry and mulberry fruit, perhaps just lacking a little definition but clean. The palate is spicy on the entry, good fruit concentration with mulberry, briary and a touch of cloves, crisp and caressing on the finish with a tang of lemongrass on the aftertaste. This is a very fine Croatian red. Tasted May 2010.
2008 Saints Hills Nevina – 88
This blend of Chardonnay and Malvasia Istriana has a lovely, open-knit nose with hints of vanilla and white flowers, though there is some oak to be subsumed. The palate has lively green lemon on the entry, but perhaps just a little too oaky in proportion to the fruit (9 months in new French.) I like the fruit here, but would like to see more of it, so I would afford this another 12 months in the cellar. Tasted May 2010.
2009 Saints Hills Nevina – 89
A lovely fresh nose that disguises the 14.5% alcohol well: fine definition with brioche and pear skin. The palate is well balanced with hints of spice and ginger, showing good weight towards the finish with a faint hint of nutmeg on the aftertaste. This is an absorbing, well made Istrian wine that could actually improve with 6-12 months bottle age. Tasted May 2010.
2009 Coronica Malvazija – 80
This lacks freshness on the nose whilst the palate seems a little ‘soapy’ and far too phenolic. More winemaking than wine. Tasted May 2010.
2007 Coronica Gran Teran – 87
This pure Teran has an attractive nose with bilberry, blackberry, tar and a touch of cloves. Good definition and lift. Supple entry, soft and fleshy but with sufficient tannic structure to maintain balance, plush and very Merlot-like on the finish. Well-crafted. Tasted May 2010.
2008 Matic Malvasia Istriana – 82
There is some under-ripeness on the nose here, dried herbs and undergrowth. It has a soft entry on the palate that is primal and needs more tension. It seems like a case of too rapid ripening and a lack of physiological ripeness. Tasted May 2010.
2008 Benvenuti Malvazija – 82
This has a simple green apple, smoke tinged nose with a touch of kiwi fruit and nettle. The palate has a sharp entry, quite simple and primal with a Sauvignon-like, short, cat’s pee finish. Tasted May 2010.
2006 Arman Franc Teran Barrique – 87
This pure Istrian Teran (12.5% alcohol) has a lifted, high-toned nose with blackberry, black olive, iodine and mulberry fruit, good definition if not exactly complex. The palate has ripe, chewy tannins, a touch of pepper on the entry, notes of mulberry, boysenberry and cassis leading to a fleshy finish with a touch of sourness on the back palate. Fine, joyful even. Tasted May 2010.
2007 Roxanich Chardonnay/Milva – 76
Spending 30 months in seasoned French oak, this has a slight honeyed, very yeasty bouquet, quite Rhône-like in style. The palate has an oxidative character, which does not work for me. Very nutty and smoky on the finish. This is a chore to taste. Tasted May 2010.
2007 Roxanich Malvasia Antica – 78
This has a striking dried honey, lanolin, waxy bouquet that lacks definition and subtlety, whilst the palate is very oxidative in style, raw and dry on the finish. Tasted May 2010.
2006 Roxanich Cabernet Sauvignon – 83
The Cabernet ‘06 has a rather fungal, damp soil-scented nose that needs more freshness and vigour. It seems to have spent far too long in wooden vats (36 months.) Soy-tinged entry, dry tannins, a little disjointed with a tannic finish, I think the Merlot has worked much better for Roxanich in this year. Tasted May 2010.
2006 Roxanich Superistrian Merlot – 88
A blend of 40% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon and 20% Borgonja (Gamay), this has a clean ripe nose with ripe strawberry, redcurrant and dark cherries, quite Saint Emilion in style. The palate is well balanced with firm tannins, a lot of dry extract, blackberry, boysenberry, clove and a saline touch towards the finish. It needs another couple of years in bottle to mellow, but clean and harmonious. This is the best wine from Roxanich at the moment. Tasted May 2010.
2007 Roxanich Teran Re – 84
From magnum, this has rather muffled, animally nose with traces of black olive, clove and a touch of leather. The palate is medium-bodied with chewy tannins, a touch of pepper on the entry, rather chewy with the fruit subdued on the dark cherry finish. Again: too long in oak. Tasted May 2010.
2009 Kozlovic Malvazija – 88
This has a simple, light, quite yeasty nose with a touch of walnut and dried herbs. Moderate definition. The palate is ripe although a little reductive, leading to an innocuous lemongrass finish. Tasted May 2010.
2009 Kozlovic Santa Lucia – 86
This Malvasia comes in with a walloping 15% alcohol. Yellow flowers on the nose, some warm alcohol denuding freshness with dried mango and tropical fruit developing. Considering the alcohol level, the palate is well balanced but the finish is smudged. Tasted May 2010.
2009 Kozlovic Muscat Polushi (Half-Dry) – 84
This Muscat has a clean fresh nose that is reminiscent of a Gewürztraminer, Tropicana notes developing with time. The palate has a nice clean entry, although is needs a little more acidity to balance that residual sugar on the finish. Tasted May 2010.
2009 Trapan Winery Ponente – 89
This is a very fine Croatian Malvasia with a lovely waxy nose: dried flowers and thyme, nice definition. The palate has a rounded entry, with touches of ginger and apricot, good weight with hints of walnut on the pleasantly oxidative finish. Interesting. Tasted May 2010.
2008 Trapan Winery Uroboros – 90
Another excellent wine from this Istrian producer, light and floral on the well defined nose: green apple, white flowers, watermelon and a touch of apricot. The palate has a ripe entry, lovely balanced and poise with well judged acidity on the finish. This is a sophisticated, very well-crafted Croatian wine from Bruno Trapan. One to watch! Tasted May 2010.
2009 Trapan Winery Rubi (Rose) – 87
A crisp, lively rose from Trapan from Syrah grapes. Nice lift on the nose, animated and zesty on the palate with subtle strawberry and red cherry notes on the finish. Fine. Tasted May 2010.
2008 Trapan Winery Syrah – 87
This is over-extracted and slightly volatile on the gamey nose: cooked meats, soy and black bean sauce. The palate was very peppery on the entry, firm tannins, black cherries, boysenberry and a touch of soy, nice delineation on the fleshy, Gigondas-like finish. Fine. Tasted May 2010.
2008 Festigia Merlot – 88
This has a fine, vibrant nose of redcurrant, strawberry, spices, a touch of hickory and cooked meats. Good definition. The palate is fleshy and rounded, fine acidity, lighter tannins than its peers, but nicely poised with a fresh, caressing finish. Lovely. Tasted May 2010.
2008 Festigia Cabernet Sauvignon – 86
This has a lovely, savoury, espresso and dried herb tinged nose with good delineation and vigour. The palate is medium-bodied with firm tannins, black pepper and mulberry, fanning out towards a smoky, peppery, animally finish. Fine. Tasted May 2010.
2007 Istravino Dajla Teran – 86
This is a little reductive on the nose: tarry black fruits, a touch of Wellington boot and dried herbs. The palate is medium-bodied with rounded tannins, a nice gamey element coming towards the finish with wild strawberry and mulberry caressing the mouth. Well made, if just lacking persistency. Tasted May 2010.
2007 Istravino Dajla Malvasia – 83
The nose is well defined with apple-blossom, kiwi fruit and nettle with good definition, but the palate is very simply, quite peachy but lacking definition on the smudged finish. Tasted May 2010.
P.S. from Editor: In Part V, we will present Mr. Martin’s notes and scores for wines from the Dalmatia region.