In September 2015, Fred Dexheimer, one of only 230 Master Sommeliers in the world, visited Croatia and spent four days touring the Dalmatia and Istria wine regions. Wines of Croatia recently caught up with Fred (who moves very fast!) for an exclusive interview, in which he reveals his impressions of the trip and expert opinions on the wines he tasted.
One of the many things that delight me on warm sunny days is the moment I crack open a cold, thirst quenching bottle of white wine, preferably out on a veranda or beach. The way it refreshes and revives my spirit is like daybreak itself. Or a walk in a spring flower garden. Or a tantalizing dip in the cool waters of a favorite lake or sea.
Simple pleasures, for sure. If anyone ever asks you about the meaning of life, you tell them that. It’s all about simple pleasures. And being kind to each other….
Back to wine. There are of course so many delicious bottles from which to choose. Such multitudes in fact that I can never adequately answer that oft-asked (and maddening) question: What is your favorite? Preferences abound for sure, from earthy reds to cheeky rosés to funky orange wines. But when the sultry days of summer strike, white cold n’ crispy is how I like them. Albariño, Chablis, chenin blanc, dry riesling, Sancerre, Santorini, and Vinho Verde are all companions who chill with me on boozy flip-flop days.
Yet in life there are casual friends who pop in and out of your life, perhaps bringing zippy moments of pleasure, fun and good times. More often than not they are unremarkable encounters that leave no lasting mark. For instance that certain $9 bottle I consumed a few evenings ago. What was it again?
Then there are dear old friends. The proverbial best buds and soul mates. Stalwart bonds that endure through thick and thin in the intimate places of your heart and mind, even when communication and visitations are missed for long periods of time.
Among these old friends I count many Croatian wines. Together we share a sweet history, know each others’ secrets, our moments of silliness and celebration, sadness and humiliation. Side-by-side we’ve experienced triumph and failure, been inspired to laughter and dance, been comforted in tears and heartbreak. And we go on loving each other even when times are tough and bottles get broken.
One of these darlings is malvazija istarska – or malvasia istriana.
Like albariño is to the seaside shores of Galicia in Spain, malvazija is the signature white wine of Istria, an axe-shaped peninsula that slices into the Adriatic Sea along Croatia’s northern coast. Here malvazija vineyards stand like sentinels not far from the rugged, salty shore and then majestically rise up the pastoral highlands of the interior, where they thrive alongside acacia trees, olive groves, and truffle oak forests in the region’s patchwork of red, white, brown and grey soils – each to subtly different effect.
Despite the name that would place the variety among the branches of the very large malvasia bianca family tree, malvazija istarska is specific to Istria, although the variety can also be found in the neighboring Koper appellation in Slovenia, as well as in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia area of Italy.
Malvazija ranks as Croatia’s second most planted wine grape variety. Because it has a tendency to over crop, malvazija can yield insipid, uninteresting wines (as was the case for many years during the era of Socialsim). Drought or extreme heat can quickly cause the delicate fruit flavors to mute, sugars to spike and acids to drop, leading to one-dimensional swill best suited for bulk sale or distillation.
Often referred to as liquid gold (although some would rightfully argue that the excellent local olive oils share that distinction), malvazija is Istria’s pride and joy, its medal champion, and best hope for international recognition from global wine lovers and foodies. No surprise then that a single vineyard malvazija from Kozlović won Gold and Trophy awards at the 2013 International Wine Challenge,and eight single-varietal malvazija istarska wines from Croatia won medals at the 2013 Decanter World Wine Awards.
In a recent article for the Croatian press, the American food and wine writing duo Jeff Jenssen and Mike DiSimone (aka the World Wine Guys) asserted that the world is ready for malvazija; that the time has come for Istria’s flagship wine to join the ranks of the fabulous and the famous.
That the Istrians are ready for the world is undisputed. With their own successful technical assistance and marketing association established in 1995, Vinistra, an annual World of Malvazija competition and wine expo, an “Istrian Quality” label designation program for top wines, and a legion of young, talented, innovative and enthusiastic winemakers, it seems inevitable that Istria and malvazija will soon take their rightful places among the stars.
However, Dimitri Brečević, a 34-year old French-Croatian who studied winemaking in Bordeaux before moving to Istria in 2004 to start his own winery and successful Piquentum label, feels that malvazija – as good as it is now – still hides its full potential.
“I would say that we still have a lot of work to do,” he says. “We have to work a lot on vinification to adapt more to this variety, but also we have to learn more about our terroir – particularly the red soils”.
Brečević also wonders about the potential benefits of blending malvazija with other varieties. “But which one?” he muses. “I am not so sure about chardonnay. I would prefer an old local variety. But we are still working on that. All this research is the price to pay if we want to improve quality and reach world class status”.
When seeking out a malvazija wine a buyer should be aware that styles range from young and fresh to French or Slavonian oak or acacia wood-aged versions, to high alcohol extended skin maceration “orange” wines from producers such as Clai, Kabola, and Roxanich that are cult favorites among some consumers (reportedly these wines pair wonderfully with cigars, a subject advocated each year during a special “Habanos Moments” session at Vinistra).
Sparkling malvazija wines are also bottled by a handful of producers, most notably one of Croatia’s leading female winemakers, Ana Peršurić.
However, most malvazija produced in Istria is the straight-forward, early-drinking, food-friendly “naked” style that is zesty, moderately alcoholic, sometimes effervescent, and slightly bitter with subdued fruit (apple, apricot), raw almond and acacia flower floral notes, and – in good vintages – distinctly saline and mineral-driven. In other words, perfect alongside summery seafood fare.
If all of this makes you curious and thirsty, let’s get to the whole point of this article: Ready or not, Istrian malvazija is already available in many markets around the world.
In the U.S. consumers have access to nearly 10 different labels, including Bastianich Adriatico, Cattunar, Clai, Coronica, Kozlović, Matosević, Piquentum, Saints Hills (blended with Chardonnay), Terzolo, and Trapan.
In the U.K., Pacta Connect offers a number of delicious malvazija wines in its portfolio, including Cattunar, Clai, Gerzinić, Piquentum, and Peršurić.
With the waning days of summer in mind, recently I gathered a few old friends (of the human kind and the malvazija kind) for a soirée of sipping, swirling and pontificating. The bottles were chosen at random based on what I could get my hands on; some are imported to the U.S., others extracted from my private cellar. Below are some notes that I managed to remember.
When drinking malvazija – or any wine – please don’t get bogged down by lofty descriptors and 100-point assessments. Wine deserves better than that. But do sit back, kick up your bare feet, raise your glass and take a sip, and enjoy what the wine has to offer, the stories it has to tell, the memories or images it evokes, and the songs it may sing for you.
In the end, perhaps a few of these beauties will become your friends too. And friends of your friends. And friends of their friends. Before you know it, it’s a party.
So let us go forth as denizens and disciples of the finer things in life, singing and shouting out proclamations of love with mouthfuls of malvazija. Because it’s delicious. And because it’s the next Big Thing – or should be.
Benvenuti 2010 Malvazija Istarska
Creamy and viscous with a soft yet zesty attack and talcum powder mineral presence, all rounded out with essence of apricot, golden apple, and citrus blossom. Simple style yet pleasant example of white soil malvazija.
Coronica 2011 Istrain Malvasia
Tight, steely and chock full of minerals, this is not malvazija for the masses. Elusive citrus notes wrap around a structured mineral core, surrounded by an aura of blazing acidity. Not for the feint of heart or sufferers of acid reflux. But if you love this style, pair it with grilled sardines, linguini with clam sauce, or raw oysters and you will be very happy indeed.
Degrassi “Bomarchese” 2009 Malazija Istarska
The most aromatic and tropical of the lot. Loads of stone fruit with a hint of gooseberry and orange blossom. Nicely structured with a long finish.
Gerzinić 2010 Malvazija
Leesy and elegant, with notes of Bosc pear, Golden Delicious apple, and honeysuckle. Smooth and refined on the palate, with soft acids, a chalky mineral presence, and a satisfying finish.
Kozlović Malvazija 2012
Clean, crisp and taught with pear fruit and dusty straw followed by a bitter almond finish. A benchmark malvazija – and a great value.
Saints Hills 2010 Nevina
Fermented in small oak barrels and blended with a small amount of Chardonnay. Creamy yet vibrant on the palate with rich notes of ripe Bartlett pear, banana, and butter toasted hazelnuts, all supported on a frame of saline minerality. Elegant and sophisticated yet approachable now.
TerzoloMalvazija Istarska 2010
Zippy and refreshing with crackling acidity and delicate fruit aromas (citrus; starfruit), pungent green notes of cut grass, fig leaf and herbs with a hint of white acacia flowers. Nicely structured with a sharp mineral core of crushed sea shells and metal ore, finishing up with that distinctive bitter almond bite.
Trapan Ponete Malvazija Istarska 2012
Crystalline and refined with delicate, tight notes of dusty pear skins, kaffir lime, apricot, marzipan and acacia flowers. Still young and taught, this is the most polished but perhaps most textbook example of the lot – the closest we’ll come (for now) to mainstream malvazija.
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! 🙂
The Wine Portfolio TV show celebrates “wine producing regions and places of world class food and wine” and aires on CNBC World TV. It’s not clear whether these latest videos will be included in a future episode or if they are additional footage and outtakes. These videos include great shots of Croatian scenery and interviews with Croatian winemakers, including Alen Bibich, Bruno Trapan, Ivica Matošević and Oliver Arman.
For your enjoyment and reference, we’ve compiled all five HD videos in the “Croatia Calling” series and embedded them here. We hope you enjoy these journeys with Jody Ness around the wine roads of Croatia!
1) “Croatia Calling”
2) “Grape Expectations” (Interview with Alen Bibich)
3) “The Grapes of Laugh” (Interview with Bruno Trapan)
4) “Time & Place” (Interview with Ivica Matošević)
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!
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.
Spearheaded by Croatian winemakers Ivica Matošević, Ernest Tolj (Saints Hills winery), and Vlado Krauthaker, Wines of Croatia held its first-ever tasting event in London this past Tuesday, October 12, 2010.
The event, attended by more than 200 wine distributors, buyers, sommeliers and journalists, represented the first of many initiatives in a new campaign by individual wineries to promote Croatian wines on the international stage and facilitate the creation of a unified brand concept under the moniker “Wines of Croatia”, which will come to symbolize wines of quality, distinction and authenticity.
In addition to the wines of Matošević, Saints Hills, and Krauthaker, various selections from the Dalmatia, Istria and Slavonia regions of Croatia were also chosen for representation at the tasting. Included among them were the wines of Agrolaguna, Belje, Kabola, Korta Katarina, Kozlović, Mihalj, Trapan and Zdjelarević wineries.
Seizing upon recent momentum and positive coverage of Croatian wines in the media (including by Robert Parker), the Wines of Croatia event was an opportunity for UK-based distributors and journalists to learn more about the country’s wines and network with winemakers and other industry personnel.
The Wines of Croatia team was on hand to tell guests the story of the wines and about the unique assortment of indigenous grapes from which they are made and the beautiful places where they grow. More importantly, the winemakers shared a simple message with those gathered at the event: “Croatia has arrived on the scene. We have something special. Give us a try. We think you will enjoy the discovery”.
Judging by the positive comments and smiles, the message seems to have found a receptive audience. Reactions to the wines included expressions of pleasant surprise, thirsty curiosity and enlightened excitement. And everyone seemed to agree on one point: The time has come for Croatia to emerge on the international wine scene and showcase its wines, especially its small batch and family–produced wines, through a well-organized, smart and attractive marketing campaign.
Influential wine journalist, Tara O’Leary, seemed convinced: “Croatia has three very different wine-growing regions with three very different styles of quality wines. All we need is more information in order to activate and engage communication with the public and the wine world, because Croatia is still pretty unknown. On the other hand, events like work well to inform and inspire the wine community. In all these gifts lies the potential of Croatian wines.”
During the presentation, guests were also able to meet and speak with Saša Špiranec, one of Croatia’s premier wine experts and writers. Mr. Špiranec provided information about many of the indigenous grape varieties that were showcased at the tasting – Babić, Graševina, Malvazija Istriana, Plavac Mali, Pošip, and Teran – and explained how the wines from these grapes each reflected a sense of the place from which they came.
Many of the distributors, wine buyers and sommeliers also expressed an interest to travel to Croatia and provide their clients with a first-hand experience to see for themselves the potential of Croatia’s wine regions.
The London presentation was just one a series of international events planned for the coming months, and it is the first formal event that occurred since the establishment in September of an association for small and family wineries under the banner, Wines of Croatia. The primary mission of this association is the promotion of Croatian wines as part of an overall economic and tourism strategy, as well as to highlight the potential of Croatia’s wine as an export product.
Similar Wines of Croatia tasting events – scheduled for November – are currently being organized for New York and Chicago.
The Notting Hill tasting differed from the June’s “Fine Wine Croatia” tasting in London in that attendees were representatives from wine associations, distributors and buyers, whereas the June tasting focused on wine critics and journalists – who afterwards published some very positive reviews.
Finally, after the day-long tasting, about twenty influential London distributors, sommeliers, and wine buyers gathered at the Notting Hill Brasserie for a formal wine dinner and presentation, organized by the Croatian Chamber of Commerce. The multi-course meal was accompanied by perfectly paired wines from Matošević, Saints Hills and Krauthaker wineries.
From the dinner, Tara O’Leary reported on her blog, Wine Passionista:
“Seared scallops with lobster and prawn tortellini and lemongrass velouté were paired with the Krauthaker Graševina “Mitrovac” 2009, while cep crusted John Dory with a broccoli purée, white beans, pata negra and cep velouté was accompanied by Saint Hills “Nevina” 2009.
The dark spice and tannins of the Matošević “Grimalda” 2009 was perfectly suited to a roast breast of partridge with creamed cabbage, truffle purée and truffle sauce. The youthful Saint Hills Dingač Plavac Mali 2008 stood up well to the succulent slow cooked venison loin with sweet potato purée, confit red cabbage and the valhrona chocolate sauce that made the wine’s mocha mannerisms sing! Lastly, the luscious Krauthaker Zelenac IBPB (TBA) 2008 dessert wine captured the essence of the evening when accompanied by the apple tarte tatin with crème fraiche and Calvados sauce.”