Iločki Podrumi, located in the town of Ilok in the Srijem wine growing region of northeastern Croatia, administers one of the oldest wine cellars in Croatia, dating back to the 15th Century.
Iločki Podrumi produces wines made from graševina, traminac (gewürztraminer), chardonnay, frankovka (blaufränkisch), and cabernet sauvignon, as well as specializes in award-winning late harvest and ice wines.
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 Rosenberg100% chardonnayis sublime; while Kutjevo winery’s 2009Chardonnay de Gotho Aureus won a silver medal at the 2011 Chardonnay du Mondewine 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. Iuriswinery 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 Coonawarraregion 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); BIBIChSangreal; 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 Vaynerchukreviewed – 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 MorenoDegrassiin 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 Korakin 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 Benkovacwinery 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 Awardscompetition. 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 opposethe 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 Bolfanin 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 ZdjelarevićSauvignon 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 wineryand 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! 🙂
“In a recent column in Wine Spectator magazine, Matt Kramer mentioned a fabulous quote from the novelist Henry James: ‘There are two kinds of taste, the taste for emotions of surprise and the taste for emotions of recognition’. This story captures the taste of surprise perfectly.”
So begins the enlightening tale of drinking Ðakovačka Biskupija 1987 Trnavački Traminac Arhivsko Misno Vino, as recounted by sommelier and founder of Wines of Croatia, Cliff Rames, in the new book “Every Wine Tells a Story”.
Every Wine Tells a Story is a compilation of 39 stories – including two about Croatian wines – written by a number of notable international wine professionals and experts, including Steven Spurrier of Decanter Magazine; Joe Roberts, aka 1 Wine Dude; and Paul Kienan of Grapes of Sloth. The 131-page book was published in November 2011 and was edited by Tara Devon O’Leary, aka the Wine Passionista.
To check out the full list of contributors, click HERE.
Another passionate voice among Croatian wine lovers who contributed the second story in the book is Judith Burns, wine importer and founding partner of Pacta Connect, a U.K.-based import company specializing in Croatian wines. Her story celebrates her experience tasting Clai 2009 Brombonero, a 100% Refošk wine from the Istria region of Croatia that Judith refers to as the “Johnny Depp” of wines and a “truly special” offering.
“In every wine-growing country there is usually one producer whose ‘hallowed’ name you hear above all. In Croatia, that producer is Giorgio Clai,” writes Judith.
To read the rest of Judith’s and Cliff’s Croatian wine stories, as well as the other 37 interesting and touching wine tales, please follow this LINK to purchase your copy of this keepsake book.
And to tease you a little further, check out this promo video for the book. Happy reading!
Editor’s Note: With this report, Robert Parker’s influential “Wine Advocate” journal has published its first-ever review of a selection of wines from Croatia. The report and subsequent scores were written and posted by Neal Martin of www.wine-journal.com and www.erobertparker.com and are reprinted here with permission.
This is Part VI – the final installment – in our series of post from Mr. Martin’s report, presented here for informational purposes. The statements, suggestions and reviews contained herein are purely Mr. Martin’s work and are subject to copyright and may not be republished elsewhere without permission of the author.
Tasting Notes: Sweet Wines
2007 Daruvar Grasevina Izborna Berba Prosusenih Bobica – 88
This Grasevina is a selection of dried berries. It has a tight nose: tangerine, dried honey, white flowers and honeycomb. A viscous entry on the palate, well balanced with dried honey, creme brulee, toffee and apricot, just lacking a little poise and cohesion on the finish but good length. Tasted May 2010.
2009 Krauthaker Grasevina Izborna Berba Prosusenih Bobica – 87
This lacks a little vigour on the nose that is intended to be TBA in style but not pulling it off in terms of purity or complexity. It’s a shame because the palate has an engaging fresh entry with yellow plum, honey, nutmeg and ginger, maintaining that freshness right to the end. Not quite there this time, but one to watch. Tasted May 2010.
2006 Kutjevo Grasevina Izborna Berba Prosusenih Bobica – 89
This has a lovely, well-defined nose which is more Muscat than Grasevina: acacia honey, orange-blossom, quince and almond. The palate has a slight nuttiness on the entry counterpoising the thick honeyed fruit, good weight, just a little cloying towards the finish but I like the purity on the smoky finish. Tasted May 2010
2007 Ilocki Podrumi Traminac Ledena Berba – 85
This Slavonian Gewurztraminer icewine has a lucid golden colour. The nose is fresh and lifted with pineapple, honey, tangerine and lemon zest: good definition. The palate is well defined on the entry, very pure with lychee, pineapple and honey, but loses its way towards the finish, fading far too rapidly. Tasted May 2010.
2008 Mladina Traminac Ledena Berba – ?
Strange fruit salad nose, cloying palate dominated by residual sugar. Undrinkable. Tasted May 2010.
2008 Agrolaguna Muscat Ruza – ?
Weird nose of a Hornby train set: very metallic. That palate is barely drinkable, completely out of balance and volatile. Tasted May 2010.
2007 Bodren Chardonnay TBA – 83
From northwest Croatia, this Chardonnay TBA style wine is rather cloying on the nose: saccharine, unclean with some odd damp moss notes. The palate is better, cleaner and crisper on the honeyed entry but the finish is lacking purity and poise. Tasted May 2010.
2008 Bodren Cuvee Ice Wine – 88
This has a fresh, honeyed nose with acacia, honeysuckle and a touch of quince: good definition and purity. The palate has a honeyed entry with good acidity, nice sense of tension here with quince, peach and marmalade, very fine focus on the finish, not complex but certainly a level above other Croatian ice wines. Tasted May 2010.
2008 Tomac Riesling – 87
This sweet Riesling has a touch of lime, orange peel and butter on the nose. Vibrant grapefruit and mango dominated palate that could do with more harmony, but it has good length and clarity. Fine. Tasted May 2010.
2007 Tomac Amfora – 90
From North Croatia, this Chardonnay (50%) sweetie is blended with local varieties from the Plesivica region. It has a fine minerally nose with limestone, orange-blossom, lychee and gooseberry. Good definition. Ripe on the entry with touches of butterscotch, vanilla pod and frangipane. Very fine and intriguing. Tasted May 2010.
2006 Kabola Amfora – 90
This Malvasia from Istria has a light nose of honey, melted butter and nutmeg, succinct and well defined. A touch of dried honey on the entry, waxy texture, hints of lanolin and hazelnut, leading to weighty, dried fruit, nectarine and smoke tinged finish. Very natural. Excellent. Tasted May 2010.
2008 Clai Sveti Jakov – 89
An Istrian Malvasia with a very intriguing nose of dried honey, yellow flowers, musk and quince. For some reason, it brings to mind a perfume that my grandmother always wore (and nobody under the age of 70.) The palate is medium-bodied with a waxy entry, good acidity, dried fruit, nectarine, a touch of ginger and dried apricot. Nice weight and cohesion. Serve this slightly chilled.