Wines of Croatia 101
I am a wine geek. No surprises there. So when I heard about the Croatian wine tastings, I went along because I knew approximately two things about Croatia. 1: It’s sunny and has nice beaches that I’d like to be on right now. 2: My ‘saint-because-he–puts-up-with-me’ web designer Janko (he made that lovely banner up there!) is Croatian and he’s pretty darn cool. And that was about it. My knowledge of Croatian wines was pretty much zip. And so the geek in me wanted to learn more. It turned out, I wasn’t alone. Most of my wino colleagues didn’t know much either and were there for the same reason.
Post tasting I’d like to think that while my knowledge of Croatian wine is fairly basic and scattered, at least I now know something about the stuff. Let me regal you with my new found knowledge so that you too may nurture your wine geek within.
Overall I was pleasantly surprised by the quality and craftsmanship of many of the wines. Unfortunately I didn’t get to taste everything (you never do at these things) so my tasting experience was limited mainly to wines from the North in the coastal region of Istria (just a stone’s throw away from Italy’s fabulous winemaking region of Friuli), and inland along the River Danube.
Stuff I learned:
The whites in Istria are mainly made from Malvazija (that’s Malvasia to you and me) and in the Danube region from Graševina (known in Austria as Welschriesling and very different to THE Riesling). They’re also very successful with aromatic varietals like Gewurtztraminer and Muscat and a bit less successful with Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. I took a masterclass on Graševina and emerged with three thoughts on the variety: It’s very herbaceous/minerally. It’s got a very distinct bitter almond finish which on its own I didn’t like but I don’t think would bother me with food. And it makes a deeeelicious dessert wine (despite the bitter finish that remains). More on that later.
An excellent dessert wine made from Graševina in the TBA (Trockenbeerenauslese) style of Germany
I learned that many reds are made from Bordeaux varietals and some Syrah and Pinot Noir but especially from Teran which is basically a more acidic Refosco and in order to soften the acidity I found most of it was oaked to death. The best were the ones with the least amount of oak however the acidity was then lip-puckeringly high. So it seems it’s a no win situation for poor Teran.
Further down Croatia’s coast in Dalmatia it’s a different ball game with the most widely planted red being a grape called Plavic Mali (meaning ‘small and blue’) which is a crossing between Zinfandel and Dobričić. I only got to taste one Plavic Mali which I described in my notes with one word: ‘fireplace’ so therefore I have no idea what the grape is actually like as it was completely masked in oak. However having only tasted one, I hardly have the right to speak with any authority on these wines.
Roxanich's 'Antica' and 'SuperIstrian' really stood out
While we’re talking about fireplaces, this seemed to be a theme for many of the wines I tried. It wasn’t just the reds that suffered from the attack of the oak gremlin, but many of the whites as well. I found myself pining (no pun intended) after more fruit and less oak.
A few, however, granted my wishes. Roxanich’s SuperIstrian (a nod to SuperTuscans) which was a blend of Merlot and Borgonja (a crossing of Pinot Noir and Gamay) was especially well balanced, and their Malvasia Antica 2007 which receives skin contact for 67 (!) days was a honeyed, funky specimen. Their Rose stood out as well. I also enjoyed Galic’s ’08 Pinot Crni (Pinot Noir) which was light, fruity, and spice infused.
Bruno Trapan and his wines (the slightly fizzy candy floss coloured Rose with a pink cork was the girliest wine I’d ever seen!)
I chatted with winemaker Bruno Trapan who had a ’09 Malvazija called ‘Ponente’ to taste which was refreshingly unoaked and quaffable. Bruno’s ‘Uroboros’, a ’08 Malvazija was aged in Acacia wood. Bruno told me it was a ‘love it or hate it’ style and that Malvazija naturally has some Acacia flower characteristics so by ageing it in the wood, it brought those notes out even more. Acacia had a much milder affect on the wine when compared with its ‘hit you over the head when used too heavily’ French counterpart and I decided I was on the ‘love it’ side of the scale. Bruno told me his vineyards are two years away from getting their Organic Farming stamp of approval from the EU. Good on ‘ya Bruno! I tried a few other Organic/Biodynamic wines and was pleased to see Croatia making wines in this way. The most successful I tasted was the Kabola ‘Amorfa’ ’06 Malvazija.
However I have so far only touched upon the style that I think Croatia does best, and that is dessert wine. From Krauthaker’s Graševina TBA (Trockenbeerenauslese) to both Ilocki Podrumi and Mladina’s Gewurztraminer Ice Wines to Agrolaguna’s unique red ‘fermented rose petals’ Muškat Ruza (Rose Muscat), I was impressed with all of the luscious sweeties on display.
Croatian wines may still be tricky to find, but I have a feeling that with more trade tastings like these and better overall marketing, they may find themselves in quite a niche market in the coming years. I’ll try to keep my eyes peeled for some readily available Croatian wines and let you know, so watch this space!
And that my students, is your lesson on Croatian wines.