Text and photos (unless otherwise noted) Copyright © Cliff Rames
In Part 2 of this 3-part report, we went inside the festival to explore the venue, meet the VIP guests, and hear about the round table workshop. In Part 3, we provide some general observations about the wines, offer some “names to watch out for”, and mourn a missed opportunity to leave the festival in style. Živjeli!
[Note: The views presented here are strictly my own and are in no way intended to reflect the views of the festival organizers or its sponsors and partners]
Let me begin by saying, two days was not enough time to taste everything, even if it were not for the crowds and the less-than-ideal tasting conditions. Perhaps the organizers would consider extending the festival by one day next year? Just an idea….
Based on what I succeeded in tasting (see special note below), it was clear the quality of Croatian wines continues to rise. While a few of clunkers could be found here and there, a greater number of delicious treasures could be discovered and enjoyed at nearly every table. Overall the wines were well-made, full of character, expressive of a unique terroir, and very drinkable.
It was also great to see so many of the well-established, bigger wineries investing in new winery technology, newly designed packaging, and updated marketing strategies – thereby demonstrating an understanding that they cannot rest on their laurels if they are to survive in the current market environment.Agrokor Vina, a conglomerate that owns several wineries and nearly 1,700 hectares of vineyards, has recently invested heavily in redefining its brands and market presence. The results are now in bottle: many of their brands are very approachable, value-driven, quality wines with attractive packages offered at affordable prices. This could easily propel Agrokor to the lead as a producer of competitive, value-driven gateway wines, especially for the export market.
Not to be outdone, many of the traditional industry-leaders and well-established wineries have stepped up their games, becoming more active with social media, introducing new wines and labels, and taking steps to ready themselves for the international market.
These key players include: Krauthaker (the man who put premium Graševina on the map and whose TBA Graševina landed a much-celebrated place on the wine list of Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck in London)….
Matosevic (watch out for his new “Grimalda” wines, a red “Super Istrian” blend and a white Malvazija/Chardonnay/Sauvignon Blanc blend); Kutjevacki Podrum (their “De Gotho Aureus” 2009 Chardonnay just took the silver medal at the 2011 Chardonnay Du Monde competition in France)….
Then there’s: Bura-Mokalo (this dynamic duo of a brother/sister winemaking team are the early pioneers of “cult” Plavac Mali wines; watch out for a new Zinfandel release this year); BIBICh (his new limestone “kamenica”-fermented, long-macerated Debit may take the orange wine category to new heights)….
Caric (produces a lovely, fresh, seafood-friendly white from Bogdanuša, an indigenous variety native to Hvar island; also produces an interesting Beaujolais-style young Plavac Mali called “Novello”; just introduced some very cool new labels too!); and Zlatan Otok (their first-ever commercial production of Crljenak Kašelanski has been scoring very well and is making history as the first-ever commercial production of the “original Zinfandel”).
Even more exciting was to see a new generation of rising-star winemakers who are truly making names for themselves with wines that are clean, well-made, expressive of place, and cleverly and attractively packaged.
Names that come to mind as examples in this category are: Dimitri Brečević (his “Piquentum” Teran and Malvazija wines from Istria are generating a lot of excitement); and Benvenuti (making some very impressive sweet wines from Malvazija Istriana and Muscat of Momjan under the “San Salvatore” label).
Then there’s: Marko Gerzinic (noted for his beautiful stainless-steel fermented Teran and consistently good Malvazija); Franco Radovan (his young Malvazija wine is incredibly pure and fresh; cute label too!)…
Bruno Trapan (with cigar in hand, this young upstart winemaker has rocked the domestic wine scene with a number of recent awards and high scores, especially for his macerated and mature Malvazija wine, “Uroboros”; he recently opened a brand new winery and tasting room in the style of a train depot, called “Wine Station Trapan”)….
Watch out for the “other” white wine of Korčula island (more commonly known for the Pošip grape), made from the indigenous Grk variety (producers Cebalo and Bire are pioneers of Grk wine and are working hard to revive interest in the grape and the quality of the wines); and Grabovac (one of the only producers of sparkling wine in the Dalmatia region, Grabovac is noted for their unique wines made from Kujundžuša and Trnjak – two obscure native grape varieties from the Dalmatian hinterland).
Other names to watch out for: Roxanich (a winery with a rockin’ name, owner Mladen Rožanić is considered the father of the “Super Istrian” red blend; he also makes a wonderful extended skin maceration, wood-aged “Antica” Malvazija that is almost an orange wine;); Moreno Coronica (his ’07 “Gran Teran” is a profound expression of Istria’s native son red grape); Velimir Korak (making elegant Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in the cool Plešivica region); Boris Drenški “Bodren” (for award-winning TBA and ice wines)…
Giorgio Clai (an organic/biodynamic winemaker who produces somewhat inconsistent yet fascinating, terroir-driven wines); Moreno DeGrassi (his “Terre Bianche” blend of Malvazija, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier was the fan favorite at the Gala Dinner).
More names to watch: Leo Gracin (“the Professor”; a consultant and winemaking pioneer of the indigenous Babić red variety of northern Dalmatia; his 2008 vintage was another favorite of Decanter’s Sarah Kemp); Frano Milos (long considered a “traditionalist” among Plavac Mali producers, the increasing involvement of his very attractive, twenty-something son and daughter in his marketing and social media activities has injected new energy into his brand; his “Stagnum” Plavac Mali is a cult favorite)….
Luka Krajančić (his Pošip “Intrada” and “Sur Lie” is taking the native Pošip white grape from Korčula island to a whole new level; world class juice!)….
Finally, there’s Saints Hills , whose “Nevina” and “Dingač” wines are well on their way to achieving cult status (Ernest Tolj’s winery now stands poised to release a new and exciting Plavac Mali rosé this spring, “St. Heels” with a sexy, craftily cheeky and irreverent label depicting a pair of women’s high heel shoes. We also eagerly await the first-ever vintage  Plavac Mali wine from the new “St. Roko” vineyard at Komarna).
[Special Note: To all the winemakers I didn’t meet, I’m sorry! It was impossible to make it to every table, and my selection of who to visit was completely random, subject to the surges of the crowd, and dependent upon how much time I had between meetings in the café. I didn’t mean to miss this opportunity to meet you and taste your wines. For what it’s worth, I am very aware of whom I missed, and I hope to one day have another chance to visit you and taste your wines.]
Okay, how can I put this diplomatically….? I spent most of the time at ZWGF starving.
Starving is an odd way to pass the time at a festival that touts the word “gourmet” in its title. The fact is, there was very little to eat, at least I couldn’t find much. Yes, there were the 16 food vendors with their tooth-pick-harpooned nibbles and bites, and the 15 Kuna sandwiches at the café bar….But it was the “gourmet” part that I needed – and was so sadly missing.
Okay, yes – there was the cooking demonstration tent. A couple of us, lured by the scrumptious aromas coming from within, tried unsuccessfully to grab a plate or two of the gourmet dishes prepared by guest chefs. These small plates were randomly handed out to lucky mouths in the audience (the system for receiving one of these tasty-looking offerings seemed to entail being in the right place at the right time) – but not to us.
Mouths watering and defeated, we went to the information booth to ask about our dining options in the vicinity. The friendly (English-speaking)information desk girl told us to go to the shopping center across the highway, where (we were told) there were surely some fast food places….
Having learned my lesson, the next morning I really filled-up at the breakfast buffet in the Westin Zagreb hotel. For an inclusive hotel breakfast, it was really quite an extensive and satiating spread.
It was not until the festival was over that I realized my greatest disappointment of the trip: I had missed “the Slide”.
The Slide? Is it an art exhibit? A secret restaurant?
Nope. It’s a huge metal tube that corkscrews all the way through the center of the Museum of Contemporary Art Zagreb, traveling down from the 4th floor to street level. Given the opportunity, a person could slip into the shiny tube and slide all the way down to the bottom, where he/she would be spit out onto the sidewalk outside the museum. The slide looks like this:
Riding that slide down and out would have been the grandest and most memorable exit from any wine festival ever, anywhere, anytime! Period.
Maybe the museum is not such a bad venue after all. Maybe the organizers will decide to hold ZWGF there next year.
The crowds? Who cares! The hunger? Never mind!
A good whirl on that giant silver slide would have made all of those things just a second thought…a pesky inconvenience…the price of greatness!
In fact it should be mandatory. Everyone should be asked to leave the festival on the slide. What a hoot that would be!
In a recent article for Wine Spectator, Matt Kramer wrote that “terroir” is no longer enough to sell wine; most wine regions today hold some claim or another to terroir. What we need more of (writes Kramer) is “narrative”. The question then becomes, what “stories” do the wines or wine-producing regions have to tell?
As silly as it may seem, I mention the slide here because (for me) it suddenly became such a wonderful component of Croatia’s somewhat quirky and complex wine story – a memorable detail that sets ZWGF apart from many other wine expos and festivals.
Despite a few minor glitches and lessons learned, ZWGF demonstrated that Croatian wine producers are ready and able to join hands with the world of wine and take the plunge into the future. While the journey has just begun, the twisting way forward – if smartly navigated with poise and passion – promises to be a lip-smacking, exhilarating ride.
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.
Editor’s Note: With this report, Robert Parker’s influencial “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.
The Wines of Croatia: An Introduction
Apart from a debauched weekend in Prague with vague memories of an absinthe bar and a school-friend’s wedding in Ljubljana when the nuptial solemnity was ruined by a flotilla of Slovenian ‘Gay Pride’ floats manned by hirsute men in latex sailor suits congregating directly outside the church, I have very little experience of Eastern Europe. The nearest I have ventured to Croatia is a highly enjoyable soiree hosted by eRP Forumite Leo Frokic in Westchester last June and even then I collapsed on his kid’s bunk bed with acute jetlag.
Eastern Europe has been ill served by Wine-Journal and one could argue, ill served by wine journalists in general (with one or two notable exceptions.) Let’s not turn a blind eye to the fact that it has not been easy to shake off the tag of a ‘poor man’s’ wine, the kind of cheap-looking bottles you see languishing on the shelves next to the cat food in corner shops, the unpronounceable, vowel-less names and dodgy-sounding grape varieties. Against a funky sounding New Zealand or Chilean wine with a snazzy eye-catching label, I can understand why they may remain unappealing to conservative consumers. But the revolution in Croatia and other Eastern European countries has been underway since the mid-1990s and perhaps it is time we began to take notice.
I noticed that this month, Mark S. posted a few notes on Bulgarian wines and I posted my own Wine-Journal article on some wonderful Hungarian wine back in January. To further redress this imbalance, I will present two reports from countries: Croatia and later on, Slovenia. My feeling is that the Eastern European countries have the potential to become major international players, as wines improve and as perceptions of a more open-minded generation change. I must stress that these reports take an objective approach to the wines of each country. I read too many fawning, patronizing reports whose objective is to pat the ‘underdog’ on the back, instead of pointing out where they may be going right but perhaps more importantly, where they might be going wrong.
This first article looks at the wines of Croatia, inspired by a very well organized generic tasting event organized by the Croatian Chamber of Economy at the Inter-Continental Hotel in London back in May 2010. As far as I am aware, the country’s wines have not been covered in detail in The Wine Advocate, so in this case, allow me to present a potted history, the basic geography and the main grape varieties.
Croatia’s viticultural heritage stretches back over 2,500 years, after the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius Probus commanded vast swathes of land from Germany down to the Danube to be turned over to vineyards. Although there was a short interregnum in regions occupied by the Ottoman Empire, viticulture continued over many centuries with an emphasis on European varietals. After diseases decimated the vines in the 19th century, these varietals tended to be replaced with those from German and Austria, swayed by the ruling Habsburg family.
In the 20th century, the trend was more towards French varieties, although Istrian and Dalmatian varieties survived the ravages of disease and today, sixty indigenous varietals remain, the most important of which I have outlined below. There are presently 33,000-hectares under vine in Croatia, equally split between continental and coastal regions, home to 800 wineries producing wines of controlled origin.
The Croatian wine industry really started to gel and modernize in the so-called “Wine Spring” in the mid-1990s, a period that witnessed a new generation of winemakers such as Gianfranco Kozlovic, Andro Tomic and Davor Zdjelarevic enter the limelight.
The coastal region consists of Istria, Hrvatsko primorje and Dalmatia, the latter warmer due to its proximity to the Adriatic and therefore producing generally riper, simpler, more alcoholic wines.
Continental Croatia comprises of four wine regions: Danube Region, Slavonia, Central Croatia and North-Western Croatia. The climate is generally one of cold winters and hot summers. Western regions planted with aromatic varieties such as Muscat and Riesling whilst Eastern regions err towards Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Grasevina, with a strong emphasis on white wines (approximately 90%.) These are extremely broad generalizations and of course, the Croatian viticultural landscape is far more complex than I have described here.
White Grape Varieties
Grasevina – this is most successfully cultivated in the sub-regions of Baranja and Ilok next to the Danube and Kutjevo in central Slavonia. It was rather abused under socialist regimes since it can be a high yielding variety and its synonyms, Welschriesling and Laski Rizling, meant that consumers misconstrued the grape variety to be an inferior Riesling, when it is nothing of the sort. Recently there has been a reassessment of Grasevina, a grape that can produce excellent quality in the right micro-climate and in the hands of a conscientious winemaker. Its wines can be aromatic, green apple and citrus aromas in cooler climes, exotic and floral in warmer.
Malvasia Istriana – recent ampelographical studies have indicated that Malvasia Istriana is only very loosely related to the Mediterranean Malvasias. It is a sweet grape variety whose naturally high yielding nature demands control in the vineyard. It generally produces aromas of nectarine and peach and occasional minerally accents, particularly toward the western coast, whilst southern Istrian Malvasias can be more exotic. Look out for bottles labelled “IQ”, an indication of quality and traditional values designated by the Association of Istrian Winegrowers.
Posip – an increasingly popular indigenous variety that is a hybrid of bratkovina and zlatarica from Korcula. It is an adaptable grape variety and whilst most of it is fermented in stainless steel, some is being matured on their lees in barrel.
Chardonnay – widely grown over Croatia, though particularly respected in Slavonia.
(Also Riesling, Zlahtina, Sauvignon Bijeli (Sauvignon Blanc) and Traminac (Gewurztraminer), Debit, Grk (a perfect grape variety for Scrabble players), Skrlet, Vugava and Kujundzusa.
Red Grape Varieties
Plavac Mali – known as the “king of the Croatian red wines” and can be found under “fantasy names” named after geographical origin such as Postup and Ivan Dolac. It is very adaptable to Mediterranean climates and poor soils. It can be prone to over-crop so quality can vary, though generally it produces high alcohol wines up to 16 percent and high levels of residual sugar. It can produce rich, heady aromas of baked fruit and prune.
Babic – this indigenous variety needs a poor soil and can retain the acidity well. It can obtain vegetal notes in its youth and needs to achieve full physiological ripeness and therefore, high alcohol levels. Much is aged in barriques.
Teran – this indigenous variety was more prevalent in the 19th century. It can easily achieve high acidity levels up to 10g/L and tends towards aromas of ripe blackberries with vegetal accents.
(Also Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Frankovka, Pinot Crni (Pinot Noir), Plavina.. Plus we must mention Mr. Zinfandel…Crljenak Kastelanski.)
(To be continued…)
Adapted (in English) by Cliff Rames from various media reports, including a Vinistra press release: http://dl.dropbox.com/u/10856096/2010-10-14-Predstavljanje%20Wines%20of%20Croatia%20u%20Londonu%20okupilo%20više%20od%20200%20vinskih%20distributera,%20kupaca,%20sommeliera%20i%20medija.pdf
All photos by VinMedia
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.”
To read Tara’s full report from London, check out her blog here: http://winepassionista.com/?p=788
Next stop on the Wines of Croatia tour: TRU restaurant in Chicago, and the Oak Room in New York. Stay tuned!
By Julia Harding MW
Photos by Cliff Rames (unless otherwise credited)
Croatian wine is making a concerted effort to reach UK wine glasses. Last month, the Fine Wine Croatia group, around 30 producers working together, came to London to show their wares.
The wines had been carefully selected to avoid overwhelming UK journalists and other members of the wine trade with too many different indigenous varieties, which I found pretty frustrating as I would have preferred to have tasted a little more widely, although the proliferation of wines made from Malvazija Istarksa (or Malvasia Istriana), the most widely planted white variety that makes up about 10% of the Croatian vineyard area (total c 32,500 ha/80,310 acres) and about 60% of the plantings in Istria, did show, for example, just how many different styles of wine can be made from it, even among the dry wines. On the whole, based on this tasting, I’d say that Malvazija Istarksa has greater potential for quality than Graševina (aka Welschriesling).
It is extremely difficult to summarise a country’s wines when the regions and winemaking styles are so diverse and when winemakers are testing international markets, but I found the more distinctive whites, generally those made from Malvazija Istarska but also the single example of Pošip, fell somewhere between Friuli and Slovenia in overall character, with a touch of Hungary thrown in – plenty of extract (like Riesling) and with a spectrum of flavours that ranged from crisp and mineral/non-fruity via fresh and more herbal to the weightier more textured wines. The acidity was generally fresher than in other varieties I have come across that share the Malvasia name, in Italy and Greece, for example.
Among the reds, I preferred the wines made from or based on Teran to those made from Plavac Mali, though it is clear to see that for these distinctive dark-skinned varieties, full grape maturity is essential and not always achieved in either – to avoid green flavours in the former and astringent tannins in the latter. According to Ivica Matošević, site selection and green harvesting are critical for Teran (also known as Refosco d’Istria but not the same variety as Italy’s Refosco dal Pedunculo Rosso) to control the variety’s natural tendency towards high yields and consequent poor ripening. This is why he currently blends Teran with Merlot, though he now has some better sited vines that he hopes will produce the sort of fruit he is looking for.
Overall, the reds, especially the more interesting ones based on indigenous varieties, seemed to be more of a work in progress than the whites – or perhaps I just mean that they were very ‘local’ in style – lots of character, a bit up and down in quality, and often needing just a touch more refinement (in terms of refining the fruit rather than ironing out the character). Rather like untamed northern Italians or some corners of south-western France.
I’d particularly like to have tasted more wines from the white-skinned Pošip variety and from the dark-skinned Babić.
This time last year, Richard Hemming visited Croatia and reported on his findings in Richard goes to Croatia. See that article for more background on the landscape, including pictures.
The wines are grouped by variety (or by colour where there weren’t many examples) and alphabetically by producer (sur)name within those groups. Here and more generally in the tasting notes database, we have English translations for the regions of origin that would be too opaque for anyone not familiar with Croatian (eg Western Istria instead of Zapadna Istra), but we have kept the Croatian names for subregions such as Kutjevo.
Benvenuti Malvazija Istarska 2008 Central Istria 15 Drink 2009-2010
Green fruit – greengage. Light and dry and fresh but rather slight. (JH) 13.4%
Clai Bijele Zemlje, Sveti Jakov Malvazija Istarska 2008 Western Istria 17 Drink 2011-2015
Deep gold, delicate floral honey. Gentle peach and apricot. So much more elegant than the Kabola Amfora. Fresh, fine grip, dried apricot. Zesty, tangy, intense and long. Full of life and alcohol not particularly intrusive. (JH) 15.1%
Coronica Malvazija Istarska 2009 Western Istria 16 Drink 2010-2011
Lemony, a little grassy/herbal. Sour and stony in a fine textural way. Has that delicate graininess of so many Italian whites. Tight and fresh. Invigorating. (JH) 13.6%
Kabola, Amfora Malvazija Istarska 2006 Western Istria 16 Drink 2009-2012
Deep gold, honeyed, very spiced. Intense, dry, a bit harsh but you can’t ignore it! Probably needs food to tame it a little. (JH) 14.8%
Kozlović Malvazija Istarska 2009 Western Istria 16 Drink 2010-2011
Lemony, orange peel, pretty aromatic. Taut and crisp and a fine sour finish. Straightforward and refreshing. Something slightly smoky, almost coffee like. (JH) 13.6%
Kozlović, Santa Lucia Malvazija Istarska 2006 Western Istria 16 Drink 2009-2011
One year in barrique. Deeper gold than their unoaked, younger wine. Honeyed oranges. Intense, and smells as if there is botrytis there. Developed and oaky – oak pretty much obscures the variety. But the finish is very tangy and rich. Just a little too broad to be fine. Full of flavour though. High alcohol but not too intrusive. (JH) 15%
Matić Malvazija Istarska 2008 Western Istria 16 Drink 2010-2011
Intensely herbal and grassy. Towards boxtree. More Sauvignon Blanc-like but there’s also a light and attractive peachiness. Crisp, clean and modern but less distinctive than some. (JH) 13.1%
Matošević, Alba Barrique Malvazija Istarska 2008 Western Istria 16.5 Drink 2010-2012
Pretty tight, some citrus, touch of creamy oak and oak sweetness on the palate. Fine boned, taut and zesty without that much fruit flavour but that same herbal note as in the unoaked wine. Oak is subtle and balanced and gives a creamy oatmeal palate. Elegant but less distinctive than the acacia-aged wine. (JH) 13.5%
Matošević, Alba Malvazija Istarska 2008 Western Istria 16 Drink 2010-2011
Fresh, lightish, subtle rather than neutral, some citrus, light herbs on the nose. Crisp, dry, tight and clean. Persistent though pretty linear. Mineral and long. (JH) 13.5%
Matošević, Alba Robinia Malvazija Istarska 2004 Western Istria 17 Drink 2006-2012
Keeps fresher in acacia barrels, apparently and it does seem younger. Really fine honeyed nose. Honeyed but not at all oxidised. Slight woody/cedary flavour on the palate. Reminds me a little of mature Chenin with a herbal element. Crisp and dry and rich in the mouth without any fat. (JH) 13.1%
Matošević, Grimalda 2008 Central Istria 16 Drink 2010-2011
50% Chardonnay, 25% Sauvignon Blanc, 25% Malvasia Istarska.
He did the blend because he found similar notes in the varieties – citrus, herbal, mint. Slight mintiness here. Very fresh, doesn’t have quite the subtlety of the varietal Malvasia Istarskas. (JH) 14%
Roxanich, Antica Malvazija Istarska 2007 Western Istria 17 Drink 2010-2013
Skin maceration) 80 days, aged in large wooden vats (70hl and 35hl) for 30 months, bottled without filtration.
Deep gold and bright. Some bruised apple notes, complex, rich, orange and apricot. Powerful, dry, very clean and refreshing even with that amount of tannin. Opens up to more perfume and herbs. Slight phenolic bitterness on the finish but it’s attractive if you are ready for it. Honeyed as it warms up. But still has good freshness. Highly distinctive in this line-up. (JH) 14.1%
Trapan, Ponente Malvazija Istarska 2009 Western Istria 16.5 Drink 2010-2011
Very fresh and on the greener side of citrus. Mineral, dry, tight. Persistent and elegant. (JH) 13%
Trapan, Uroboros Malvazija Istarska 2008 Western Istria 16.5 Drink 2010-2013
70% aged in acacia, 30% in oak, for one year. Lightly smoky and honeyed but still that finely herbal citrus character. Well balanced and zesty. Full but not overblown. (JH) 13.6%
Belje Graševina 2009 Baranja 16 Drink 2010-2011
Fresh and citrussy but tastes off dry and quite full in the mouth. And then a tart lemon finish. Modern, bright and clean. (JH) 14.1%
Belje, Goldberg Graševina 2008 Baranja 16 Drink 2010-2011
Much deeper gold. Not much on the nose – a touch of honey. Rich, slightly sour, off dry. Silky and fills the mouth. Apricot flavours. Slightly bitter on the finish but pure and dense. (JH) 14.8%
Feravino Graševina 2009 Feričanci 16.5 Drink 2010-2012
Fine limey Riesling nose, a little mineral. Dry, tight, fresh, clean and zesty. Fine and fresh. Tight and energetic with a light grapiness on the palate but mainly crisp citrus. Persistent too. (JH) 13.6%
Galić Graševina 2008 Kutjevo 15 Drink 2010-2011
Pretty neutral nose. More full bodied and richer than the Mihalj but still rather simple. (JH) 12.8%
Krauthaker Graševina 2009 Kutjevo 15.5 Drink 2010-2011
Slightly grassy. Like a dense Sauvignon Blanc. Crisp and fresh and modern. Citrus on the palate, dry and fresh. Slight phenolic dryness on the finish. (JH) 14%
Krauthaker, Mitrovac Graševina 2009 Kutjevo 15 Drink 2010-2011
More mineral than their straight Graševina and even a little smoky. Off dry, concentrated but a little harsh with a bitter aftertaste. Concentration is there but (tasted on the warm side) not much pleasure. (JH) 14.5%
Kutjevo, De Gotho Graševina 2008 Kutjevo 15 Drink 2010-2011
Lemony Riesling nose. Mineral and citrus. Sort of woody (not oaky) on the palate though it is produced in stainless steel. Bitter aftertaste. (JH) 14%
Feravino Pinot Blanc 2008 Feričanci 16 Drink 2010-2011
10% fermented in barrique. Fresh, clean and dry and a fine example of the variety. A very slight textural grip and a depth unusual for Pinot Blanc. (JH)
Korta Katarina Pošip 2007 Korčula 17 Drink 2010-2012
Clean and delicately limey citrus. Rich and creamy and full bodied but with very good acidity. A distinctive variety. Fine grip but smooth. Rich, lightly honeyed, dense and powerful but still fresh. Complex, fresh, dry and long. (JH) 14.7%
Kozlović Muškat Momjanski 2008 Western Istria 16.5 Drink 2010-2011
Labelled polusuhi, ie off dry. Intensely grapey floral nose. Rose petals too. With a fine tannic grip to freshen it up given the moderate acidity. Medium but not at all cloying with that slight phenolic structure. Highly aromatic – maybe OTT for some. (JH) 12.2%
Roxanich, Milva Chardonnay 2007 Western Istria 16.5 Drink 2010-2014
Deep gold. Shorter maceration than for the Malvazija Istarska. Slightly reductive, honeyed. Really nutty and full of flavour. Chardonnay but not as we know it. Quite tannic but not unnecessarily so. Fresh on the finish and very concentrated. A very distinctive style. (JH) 13.7%
Tomac Riesling 2008 Plešivica 15 Drink 2010-2012
Eyewatering acidity, peachy more than citrus on the nose. Rather severe. (JH) 13.3%
Tomac, Amfora 2007 Plešivica 15.5 Drink 2010-2012
50% Chardonnay plus about seven other locally grown varieties. Pale gold. Spicy orange and apricot. Not totally clean on the palate and rather astringent. Interesting rather than pleasurable. (JH) 12.5%
Arman Franc, Barrique Teran 2006 Western Istria 17 Drink 2009-2014
Very deeply coloured. Elegant and subtle dark fruit aroma. A touch smoky. Firm and juicy and dense. Firm but ripe tannnis. Finesse and freshness. Still so youthful. (JH) 12.5%
Coronica, Gran Teran 2007 Western Istria 16 Drink 2010-2012
A little leafy, and pretty dry. Fresh but could perhaps do with a little more ripeness to balance the tannins? Very juicy and fresh and fruit gets sweeter at the end but tannins slightly prominent for its age and only moderate fruit weight. (JH) 13.5%
Istravino, Dajla Teran 2007 Western Istria 16.5 Drink 2010-2012
Leafy with both red and black fruit. Fine freshness, balance and good fruit. Not complex but a real whole and very youthful with a long fresh aftertaste. Tannins are present but add freshness rather than astringency. (JH) 12.5%
Matošević, Grimalda 2008 Central Istria 16.5 Drink 2010-2012
85% Merlot, 15% Teran. Zesty and lightly peppered red fruit. Really juicy: dry and fresh and jumps out of the glass with energy. Structured without being tannic. Mouthwateringly fresh. (JH) 13.8%
Roxanich, RE Teran 2007 Western Istria 16.5+ Drink 2011-2015
Quite reductive at first on the nose. Very tight and fresh, maybe could do with a little more flesh but there is an elegance and a naturalness that shines through. Aged in big oak. Dry and demanding tannins but not harsh. Needs food. (JH) 13.4%
Korta Katarina, Reuben’s Private Reserve Plavac Mali 2006 Pelješac 15.5 Drink 2010-2013
Medium garnet. Soft, sweet, Rioja-like nose. But then that grip! Firm and dry tannins but still has sweet juicy fruit. Food needed! (JH) 14.2%
Korta Katarina, Plavac Mali 2007 Pelješac 16 Drink 2011-2013
Bright mid garnet, wild red fruits, spicy, dry and tense. Tannins still have a firm grip and the texture is rustic but the flavour lively. (JH) 14.7%
Miličić, Dingac Plavac Mali 2006 Pelješac 15.5 Drink 2010-2012
Quite perfumed, almost floral nose. Much softer than the Postup Mare wine. Smooth and flavourful though perhaps a little sweet-tasting on the finish (as opposed to savoury). (JH) 14.5%
Postup Mare Plavac Mali 2006 Pelješac 14 Drink 2012-2014
Odd and marked green bean nose, still very grippy tannins. No fun with high acid to exaggerate the tannins. Needs a good steak to make it more palatable but that wouldn’t really improve the aromas. (JH) 15%
Saint’s Hill, Dingač Plavac Mali 2007 Pelješac 16.5 Drink 2009-2013
Mid garnet. Sweet. soft, blueberry/blackberry fruit. Contrast between sweet almost toffeed fruit and dry but smooth/savoury tannins. Fresh and flavourful but a bit hot on the finish. Distincitve, a little rustic and then a sweet/sour aftertaste. (JH) 15.5%
Zlatan, Barrique Plavac Mali 2007 Hvar 16 Drink 2011-2013
Bright mid garnet, wild red fruits, spicy, dry and tense. Tannins still have a firm grip and the texture is rustic but the flavour lively. (JH) 14.7%
Zlatan, Grand Cru Plavac Mali 2007 Hvar 17+ Drink 2012-2017
Mix of French and Slavonian oak. This is more selective than the Barrique version. Smoky, savoury nose. Powerful, dry and very fine fruit. Firm but not harsh tannins. Needs a lot more time but has all the components to age well. (JH) 14.5%
Enjingi, Venje Barrique 2003 Kutjevo 14 Drink 2008-2011
Zweigelt, Crni Pinot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Frankovka blend. A slightly stinky reductive aroma. Then very sweet and a bit leafy. Very strange and too sweet-tasting. (JH) 14.2%
Feravino Frankovka 2008 Feričanci 16.5 Drink 2010-2012
Frankovka = Blaufränkisch. 50% new oak. Half French, half Slavonian. Pure sweet ripe red fruit. Distinctive fresh fruit with a lovely bite on the back palate, almost a note of citrus. Perhaps a little rustic but in an attractive characterful way. Zesty and fresh. (JH) 13.7%
Feravino Zweigelt 2008 Feričanci 15.5 Drink 2010-2012
Aged in Slavonian oak. Sweet coconut aroma on the nose with lots of dark berry fruit. Straightforward but that coconut sweetness is too much for my taste. (JH)
Galić Pinot Noir 2008 Kutjevo 14 Drink 2010-2011
Sweet fruit, a little toffeed and then hot on the finish. Fresh enough but not much fun. (JH) 13.5%
Roxanich, Superistrian 2006 Western Istria 17 Drink 2010-2015
Merlot 40%, Cabernet Sauvignon 40%, Borgonja (Gamay x Pinot) 20%. 36 months in big oak. You can certainly smell the cassis of the Cabernet here. Sweet dark fruit, a touch leafy, rich and dense and masses of fruit. Lovely freshness, very youthful, very clean and pretty sophisticated. Bright and healthy and youthful. (JH) 13.5%
Suha Punta Babić 2007 Primošten 16.5 Drink 2010-2012
Distinctive yet hard-to-describe aroma: peppery, dry and dense. Seems to have quality potential. Spicy and tense and yet has lovely crunchy berry fruit. Bags of flavour with that peppery aftertaste. I’d like to taste some more examples of this variety. (JH) 14%
Article by Saša Špiranec, courtesy of Playboy Magazine – Croatia
Translated by Morana Zibar, www.Gastroprijevod.com
Edited by Cliff Rames, Wines of Croatia
The Croatian wine market is exhausted. New vineyards are being planted, and the number of winemakers is rising. Yet no one is thinking about export. Without organized joint action we don’t stand a chance.
Regardless of the serious economic crisis that has impacted the Croatian wine industry almost as much as the automotive sector, it will still be a successful year. I know it sounds harsh, but this crisis has come in handy.
For years our winemakers have all been drinking water from the same well. Even though their numbers are growing and there’s less and less water, they are not moving away. Even when they almost reached the bottom and the water became muddy, making them realize they have to go into the world to look for new springs, they didn’t do it. They preferred the muddy water to the uncertainty of the unknown.
Now it is finally over; there is no more water. The well is empty. The race across the desert has begun. Will our thirsty friends reach a new spring before they lose their strength? Some of them will, especially the bigger ones who held advantageous positions at the well and managed to stock up reserves.
But some of them won’t make it; some will surely perish along the way. They will be mostly the small, the weak, and those who drank everything instead of building stockpiles.
Unfortunately, even those wineries who found their way to the new spring won’t stand much of a chance of long term survival. All around them will be waiting big lions and hungry hyenas that will not respond favorably to strangers drinking their water. Scattered in unorganized small groups, our poor winemakers won’t stand a chance against the hungry beasts.
But if they had set off like an organized army, when there were still good stocks of water, and proceeded to conquer spring after spring, then nothing could have stood in their way. By securing more wells in advance, they would have prevented their own little well from drying up.
The “well” of course is the Croatian market, which has been sucked dry for years because Croatian winemakers practically don’t export at all. It’s impossible to understand the point of planting new vineyards, increasing the number of winemakers and wine brands if nobody is even thinking about exporting.
The local market has been stagnant for years and the former number of winemakers was quite enough to satisfy its needs. The only discrepancy was between the amount of red and larger amount of white wines. If we had no intention to export, we shouldn’t have planted new vineyards. Instead we should have replaced a portion of white varieties in existing vineyards with red varieties.
Export statistics are poor, and the numbers heavily reflect our exports to neighboring Bosnia-Herzegovina. Export to the rest of the world is still in its infancy. The efficiency of Croatia’s export strategy is so far best illustrated by the following figures, taken from the Handel Market Research report for Croatian wine.
Export of Croatian Wine
2004 = 52.802hl
2006 = 31.311 hl
2008 = 28.564 hl
Besides exporting a lousy 2,800,000 litres, especially devastating is the fact that export figures comprise only 4.5% of all Croatian wine distribution.
The culprit behind this failure is not far away: the lion’s share of the blame falls on the winemakers themselves because they don’t know how organize and approach the government with a united voice.
I’ve been following the conflicts in our winemaking scene for two decades. First it was about “big against the small”. Then it moved to the regional level, when one region belittles the other one and vice versa. Later it finally ended up at the local level, with one winemaker quietly wishing for his neighbor’s demise instead of his success.
Still it is important to remember that another country, a close regional neighbor – Austria, went through hardship greater than anything Croatia could imagine: during the 1980’s, Austria was hit by the so-called “Antifreeze Affair”, whereby a number of Austrian winemakers ended up in jail for adulterating wine with chemical additives (rather than doing the hard work in the vineyards to grow good grapes) to boost profits.
As the result the reputation of the Austrian wine industry was ruined. Nobody would buy Austrian wines after news of the scandal broke. Today’s wine crisis in Croatia is just a small baby compared to Austria’s consequences: several years of zero sales.
However, Austria today has re-emerged as one of the most progressive wine regions in Europe. Their wine marketing activities and branding strategies are some of the most positive, sophisticated and effective campaigns in the world. In twenty years they have risen from the ashes to become a star.
Lesson 1: Looking for shortcuts and fishing in troubled waters is not only a Croatian specialty. As we can see, it happens to advanced nations too.
Lesson 2: It is never too late to get your act together. When you are last, you have the least to lose and the greatest possibility for improvement.
Therefore the current crisis and Croatia’s nonexistence on the global wine market is not a problem. Let’s get together, put all our money in a pile, and jointly launch an organized world campaign. It is not a mission impossible.
Trends are indeed going our way. Consumers are getting tired of the usual grape varieties and they are looking for something new. Maybe Croatia is the very thing they want. What is more important, so far the reactions from wine critics and connoisseurs have been sympathetic – they like us.
With assistance from the Croatian Chamber of Commerce, Croatian winemakers recently participated in several important wine expos, including the World Wine Symposium in Lake Como, Italy, and the London International Wine Fair, which are annual gatherings of the world’s biggest wine experts, journalists and wine buyers.
These events were very successful and many in attendance highly rated the quality of our wines. And important questions were asked: Where can we find these wines? Why are they not more present on foreign markets?
Steven Spurrier, the legendary 70-year-old British wine critic and editor or Decanter magazine, offered the same message. After 40 years of constant wine tasting all over the world, at the Lago di Como wine expo he said: “You know, this is the first time that I have tasted Croatian wine. I didn’t have a chance to try it before.”
Postscript from the editor: Mr. Spurrier tasted Croatian wines for the second time on May 25, 2010 at the London International Wine Fair, where he spent a significant amount of time at the Fine Wine Croatia grand tasting chatting with winemakers and sampling the selections. He reported that he was particularly impressed by Malvazija, Teran and Pošip. More impressive, he took a bottle of Saints Hills 2008 “Nevina” (a blend of Malvazija and Chardonnay from Istria) home with him.
As the old adage goes, “Every journey begins with a single step”. We’ve started to move. Now it’s time to go and conquer some springs.
Text and photos by Cliff Rames, Wines of Croatia (unless otherwise noted)
17th annual Vinistra wine expo was held April 29 – May 2, 2010 in Poreč, Croatia. Organized by the eponymous regional association of winegrowers and winemakers, Vinistra (http://vinistra.com/), this year’s expo featured 130 exhibitors and 535 wines.
Below is Part II of my report from Vinistra. If you missed Part I, you can find it here: http://winesofcroatia.wordpress.com/2010/05/19/a-report-from-vinistra-part-i/
Without doubt most of the wines I tasted were serious, well-crafted products that came very close to delivering authentic, world-class representations of Istria’s unique terroir. Taste after taste I was struck by the consistency of quality and the emergence of a distinct “Istrian style”, particularly in regard to Malvazija and Teran, the two distinctly indigenous grapes in the region.
Malvazija Istarska (Malvasia Istriana): As Croatia’s second most widely-planted grape variety (after Grasevina), Malvazija is certainly one of the most important players in Croatia’s impressive portfolio of native varieties. Vast improvements in wine making over the last 10-15 years, as well as the successful promotional initiatives and quality control program implemented by Vinistra, have resulted in Malvazija emerging to the forefront as one of Croatia’s most recognized and respected wine offerings.
Malvazija has definitely arrived on the scene, and my impression is that most producers are successfully achieving excellent expressions of the grape in three distinct styles: fresh and early drinking; mature and heavily extracted; and sweet.
The majority of Malvazija on display at Vinistra reflected the fresh, early-drinking style that is more approachable to the average consumer: dry, crisp, lighly aromatic with notes of citrus, apple, green herb, and raw almond – a real palate cleanser and perfect pairing with the regional delectable seafood dishes.
I was particularly surprised by the wines of Franko Radovan, a producer with whom I was previously unfamiliar. His fresh 2009 Malvazija was focused and lean, showing a pure fruit, refreshing and vibrant character with a stiff mineral backbone for structure. If I had to describe his winemaking style in a word, it would be “precise”. Cool label, too!
Less present but hard to ignore was a small number of fascinating Malvazija wines in the mature (“zrela”) style. I found these “yellow wines” to be complex (hence easily misunderstood) creatures, showing a highly extracted and viscous expression of the grape that is unique, deeply fascinating and delicious. If I had to categorize the style of these mature Malvazijas, I would struggle but be tempted to compare them to Vernacchia di San Gimignano from Tuscany (for the tamer versions) or the white wines of the Jura or Savennières (for the more extreme versions).
Oak and acacia (or a combination of the two) are the typical woods used for barrel aging Malvazija. I find acacia wood and Malvazija to be an intriguing combination, and when controlled and done right it is a marriage made in heaven: the bride voluptuous and sexy in veils perfumed with acacia flowers, dried honey, orange zest and spiced pear. Too much acacia and the wine will become distractingly smoky with a distinct bacon aroma. Standouts in my tastings included Roxanich 2006 “Antica”, Trapan 2008 “Uroborus” (a Gold Medal winner with 85.5 points), and Kozlović 2001 “Santa Lucia”.
The only sweet Malvazija I managed to tasted was the Benvenuti 2009 (a Gold Medal winner with 86 points), which was pleasant and easily drinkable. However, to my taste it did not offer the same depth of character, structure, sizzling acidity and luscious fruit that the fabulous 2007 Benvenuti sweet Muscat “Momjanski” (also a Gold Medal winner with 88.17 points) delivered.
One curious note: the oldest Malvazija to receive a medal in the adjunct World of Malvazija competition (see below) was the vintage 2000 Kabaj from Slovenia, which received a Silver Medal. The oldest Croatian Malvazija was from Matošević, the 2005 Alba Robinia, which ranked in 6th place and also received a Gold Medal. The majority of Malvazija medal winners were wines from the 2009 vintage, including the #1 wine, Ma-De-Ba-Ko (see below).
Teran: A difficult variety to nurture and harness, in the right hands Teran will produce a deliciously food-friendly and serious wine. But poor viticulture practices and inattentive winemaking can result in astringent, overly-acidic and thin wines best mixed with the local olive oil and utilized as vinaigrette for salad.
To my great satisfaction, none of the Teran wines I tried at Vinistra fell into this condemning category. Most were well-balanced and firmly-structured, with a striking harmony between the black cherry and black raspberry fruit character, a savory, cured meat wildness, refreshing acidity, and rustic yet not over-bearing tannins.
Simple Teran wines are typically pleasantly ruby red in color, translucent and unpretentious, somewhat like basic Chianti. However, I was intrigued by how many of the Terans I tried at Vinistra were showing a more serious dimension: these were very richly colored – nearly black and opaque – wines, with a mouth-filling presence, and a brambly black fruit, savory meat, smoky quality.
However, many of the Terans I tried were still tightly wound-up and unrestrained – really wild beasts, which I surmised may indicate some potential for cellar aging, at least for 3-4 years. Even so-called “Table Wine” versions, like the “Piquentum Teranum” from Vinski Podrum Buzet, were richly satisfying stuff.
Istria is often called the “Tuscany of Croatia”. Could Teran become the Sangiovese of Istria? And could the better versions from specific Terre Rosse locations achieve a Vino Nobile di Montepulciano comparison? Hmm…I’m not sure. I find that there is also Northern Rhone Syrah quality to some of these wines with their gamey, black pepper notes.
However you want to see it, one can’t deny that something special is happening here with Teran. I believe that Teran is well on its way to becoming a world-class product from a region that until now has been primarily known for its white wines (Malvazija, Muscat and Chardonnay).
Teran from Istria is definitely a WTW (“Wine to Watch”) in my book. Excellent examples include Arman (Teran Barrique), Cattunar, Istravino, Legović and Tomaz.
World of Malvazija Competition
During the week prior to Vinistra, the organizers hold the annual World of Malvazija (“Svijet Malvazija”) competition, whereby Malvazija producers are invited to submit their wines, which are then tasted blind and rated by a panel of judges. The winners are announced just prior to the start of Vinistra.
This year, there were 215 submitted wines. Of these, 30% – or 64 wines, received a Gold or Silver medal. You can view the results here: http://vinistra.com/wom/rezultati-2010
The somewhat surprising World of Malvazija first place award (with 88.2 points) for dry Malvazija went to the newly released “Ma-De-Ba-Ko” 2009 Malvazija. This is quite an honor for a wine that has not yet reached the consumer market. But with its distinguished pedigree (it is a joint project between four winemakers, Matošević, Degrassi, Kozlović & Joe Bastianich), and the marketing resources and prowess that comes along with the Bastianich name, it was probably an inevitable result.
I found the wine to be very light and easy drinking, not heavily extracted or alcoholic, if somewhat simple and clinical. Plans are to send 10,000 of the 15,000 bottle production to the U.S. (via Dark Star Imports in NYC), where it will retail for about $15. Perhaps Ma-De-Ba-Ko Malvazija will serve as a quality “gateway wine” that Croatia needs for export, a wine that will open doors for consumers to enter the world of the Wines of Croatia. Let’s hope!
While it would be impossible to report on every producer present at Vinistra, I feel compelled to mention three here, for different reasons:
I had heard about the two Benvenuti brothers even before I arrived at their booth. “All the girls love them”, they said. “They are so handsome – like models!”
I must say, after trying their wines, I’m in love with them too. Okay, maybe not them physically (as handsome as they really are), but their wines, especially the luscious Muskat Momjanski dessert wine (which by the way just won a Silver Medal at the Decanter World Wine Awards).
I mention Giorgio Clai not for his participation in Vinistra but for his absence. Where was he? I was shocked to learn that he did not have a booth at Vinistra, apparently because of some rules regarding wine classification. While his extreme winemaking style may not be to everyone’s taste, few people can disagree that the man is a great winemaker and an asset to the Croatian brand. Let’s hope that whatever conditions prevented him from representing his wines at Vinistra are rectified next year.
On a positive note, I had the great honor of meeting Mr. Clai on the floor of main hall, and he was as charming and friendly as can be. Unfortunately I did not have time to take him up on his invitation to visit his winery near Bijele Zemlje, which I’m certain would have been quite an amazing experience. Rumor has it that there are some interesting new wines cooking in his cellar.
While present at Vinistra with a highly-trafficked booth, Roxanich strangely did not receive a single medal and was not mentioned in the official Vinistra catalogue of awarded wines. This is especially relevant given the fact that Mr. Rožanić just received two 2010 Decanter World Wine Awards medals, a Bronze for his 2006 Merlot, and a Commended for his 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon.
I’m not sure what the story is behind the Roxanich’s lack of Vinistra awards, but I suspect it might be another classification issue. If anyone knows the answer to this Vinistra mystery, please let us know (I have also sent an email to the winery requesting their perspective).
A unique and charming touch to this year’s show was the inclusion of Serbia, Montenegro, and Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH) as “guest regions”. These up-and-coming wine countries also have a number of interesting indigenous varieties, and the quality of their wines is definitely on the rise.
Producers from Serbia included Božidar Aleksandrović, Miodrag Radovanović, Miroslav Kovačević, and Word of Wine by Živojin Đorđević. Montenegro was represented by Plantaže, Tažex–biotehnički institut, Burić, and Vučinić.
From BiH, guest wineries included Josip Brkić, Zdravko Rožić, Manastir Tvrdoš, and Radovan Vukoje.
I certainly appreciated the spirit with which these formal arch-rivals were invited to come together under one room to celebrate their common love of wine. It reminded me of the old quotation: “Water divides nations, but wine unites them”.
In the End
Vinistra was a great experience, and I am thankful to the organizers for inviting me to participate in the round table discussion.
Of course the biggest honor and thrill for me was meeting many of the region’s top winemakers and their teams, all of whom were friendly, generous with their pours, and eager to share their insights, knowledge and – more often than not – fabulous senses of humor.
Fact is, I spent more time talking than tasting, which was fine except that now I regret not trying wines from the other 80 or so exhibitors I missed. Without doubt, two days at Vinistra was not enough. Maybe 18 will be a luckier number!
If you made it this far, thanks for reading!
Text and photos by Cliff Rames, Wines of Croatia (unless otherwise noted)
17 must be a lucky number. Not only was the 17th annual Vinistra wine expo considered by many attendees to be one of the best ever. It was also my first time in attendance. How lucky can you get!?
Held April 29 – May 2, 2010 in Poreč, Croatia, Vinistra (http://vinistra.com/) is the annual wine expo organized by the eponymous regional association of winegrowers and winemakers. Founded in 1994, Vinistra currently has over 100 members, making it the largest membership-driven association in Croatia that represents a regional body of wine producers. Vinslavonija? Vindalmacija? Not yet….
The 17th Vinistra wine expo featured 130 exhibitors and 535 wines, of which 215 were wines produced from Malvazija Istarska (Malvasia Istriana), the local indigenous grape which accounts for the majority of white wine production in the region. The other “signature” wine of the region is Teran, made from the red Teran grape, thought to be closely related to but genetically distinct from Italian Refosco.
To my freshman eyes, the array of sites, sounds, aromas, flavors and other sensual delights on display at Vinistra – such as olive oils, cheeses and fig products – were irresistible and amazing. I was in heaven!
While it was impossible to note every detail and visit every stand at Vinistra, I can offer some general information, observations and opinions – some of which were made after hours of continuous swirling, sipping, tasting and swallowing (for some reason, call it “the spirit of the moment”, I did not strictly abide by my no-swallow rule. Combined with the jet lag, I may have distorted or missed a few things…).
The Opening Ceremony
April 29, 2010, around 13:00. The Istrian sun was blazingly hot, especially for those of us standing under it in suits and ties. It all started with the obligatory singing of “Lijepa Nasa” by a lovely girl in a red dress. By the time the obligatory speeches began, most people around me had broken out into a noticeable sweat and were patting brows with handkerchiefs. Yet given the recent downpours, water spouts and flooding in Istria, I guess we got lucky.
Regarding the opening ceremony, there are two things of note:
1) Missing from the official opening ceremony was a vital member of the planned delegation, Croatian Minister of Agriculture Petar čobanković. His absence significantly dampened the overarching hopes that the Ministry would be inspired by Vinistra to take a more proactive role in the promotion and marketing of Croatian wines.
2) Ivica Matošević, who is the current president of Vinistra, did not give a speech or make welcoming remarks at the opening ceremony, even though he was standing near the microphone. I was disappointed. Mr. Matošević is a very charming, witty and iconic figure among Croatian winemakers, and I was looking forward to hear his remarks, especially in light of the apparent snub by the Minister of Agriculture.
The expo was housed in the Žatika Sport Centre, a relatively new multi-purpose facility near the town center in Poreč. The expo hall was brightly lit and festive, with red the dominating color and giant grape-cluster-shaped balloons hanging from the ceiling – a memorable and endearing touch.
Off to the sides of the main hall were small conference rooms, where the organizers of Vinistra conducted various seminars and workshops – including a round table discussion centered on the theme of the “International Branding of Croatian Wines” (see below).
While we are on the subject of the Venue, there is one more thing I must mention:
The Dust: Okay, this is silly but worth mentioning: Leading to the steps of the Žatika Sports Hall is a long pedestrian promenade that seemed mismatched with the sleek, shining metal sides of the building. Instead of an equally pristine walkway of concrete or asphalt, the hall’s promenade was laid with crushed stone and gravel that was heavily interspersed with white, chalky dust. This dust, to the dismay of many of Vinistra’s well-appointed visitors, had a penchant for clinging to clothing and shoes. It was especially visible on dark surfaces like the once-shiny black shoes I was wearing.
As proof of my accusation against the dust, I offer the following evidence: a photo of Croatian president Ivo Josipović. Now, I’m not certain of the president’s every move during his short stay at Vinistra, but I couldn’t help but notice the incriminating white ring around the bottom of his shoes in this picture:
The Round Table
While there were several mini-seminars and round table discussions during Vinistra, the highlight was on Friday, April 30, when a comprehensive discussion about the “International Branding of Croatian Wines” was held for the public & press. Again, the presentation was designed to adress the Minister of Agriculture and other key government officials in the hope that they would become motivated and create a government-sponsored wine marketing board. As I previously noted, these key individuals did not show up. But it was a solid discussion that was well-covered by the press, so hopefully the message was transmitted beyond the walls of the meeting room.
For more information about the round table discussion, please see our previous post: http://winesofcroatia.wordpress.com/2010/05/12/vinistra-2010-round-table-international-branding-of-croatian-wine/)
Another fascinating seminar was conducted by Croatian wine writer and consultant, Saša Špiranec, about the aging potential of Malvazija Istarska. Mr. Špiranec comparatively tasted Malvazija from a number of different vintages going back to 2000 from several different producers in search of the sweet spot – the age and wood-treatment (oak versus acacia) that best delivered Malvazija’s true potential.
My hands-down favorite in the comparison was the Kozlović 2001 Santa Lucia Malvazija, a coupage of wine ages in oak, acacia and stainless steel that showed beautiful oxidized notes of orange candy, vanilla, dried flowers, caramel and honey.
(to be continued…)
Article by Sasa Špiranec
Interpreted and translated by Cliff Rames from the original Jutarnji List article: http://www.jutarnji.hr/sajam-u-dusseldorfu–otkrivena-hrvatska–fina-vina-/665653/?pageNumber=1#page_1
Photos by Mark Miščević/CROPIX
Let us brand the Wines of Croatia by saying: “Our wines are not inexpensive, but they are unique and very good.” Remember: you cannot taste Graševina, Plavac Mali, Malvasia Istriana, Babić, Pošip or Teran anywhere else but in Croatia!
What are the prospects for Croatian wines on the European and world markets?
This is a question that has recently become a subject of great interest among winemakers in Croatia. The answer to the question has in fact grown quite urgent: for the first time in a decade and a half, Croatia produced a surplus of wine that cannot be sold on the domestic market. It now appears that export is simply a question of survival.
Judging by the results of this year’s ProWein expo in Düsseldorf, Germany, the outlook appears bright, provided that we do not make any wrong steps in the branding of Croatia as a wine region. We must also rapidly endeavor to facilitate the placement of wine as Croatia’s most desireable, hand-made export product.
Interest from the U.S.
For the purposes of presentation, the Croatian Chamber of Commerce and the Ministry of Agriculture have created a visually attractive and visitor-accessible exhibit booth so that numerous Croatian winemakers can showcase their latest products to the most professional wine audiences in Europe.
In Düsseldorf, Croatia’s delegation of wineries were part of a group of 3,300 exhibitors from 50 countries. The number of ProWein visitors from around the globe reached 35,000, with most being importers, sommeliers, wine retailers, wine buyers and journalists.
Representing Croatia were many of the largest and most important wineries, as well as a small contingency of family producers who, while few in numbers, were big in their presence. The wineries present in Düsseldorf were (in alphabetical order): Adzic, Agrokor, Arman, Badel 1862, Benvenuti, Blato 1902, Cattunar, Dalmacijavino, Degrassi, Diwine, Dubrovnik Podrumi, Enjingi, Feravino, Galic, Izvori života, Jurjević, Katunar, Korta Katarina, Krauthaker, Kutjevo d.d., Gospoja PZ, PZ Vrbnik, Roxanich, Suha Punta, Trapan, Veralda, Matošević, Zdjelarević, and Zlatan Otok.
Some of the exhibitors experienced immediate and positive results from their participation: Marijan Arman, for example, reported that this is the first wine fair where he received a purchase order and signed a contract. Usually, the fair is just the first contact.
Agrokor scored a significant if not symbolic victory, not so much in terms of quantity but for boosting Croatia’s image as an exceptional wine region. Namely, the buyer for a wine shop in Ulm, Germany, after tasting the wines at the Croatian booth, ordered 20 cases of Goldberg Graševina and 15 cases of Dajla Teran. In other words, a solid amount of not inexpensive, premium wine for just one wine shop. Agrokor also entered into an agreement to cooperate with an importer from Dubai.
Frank Dietrich, owner of Blue Danube Wine Company in the U.S., also entered into agreements with Krauthaker, Gracin, Dubrovnik Podrumi, and Roxanich. Other deals were made, and each winery took home at least a few dozen contacts.
Croatian Wine Booth Attracts Interest
The Croatian wine booth at the ProWein expo also attracted numerous journalists, the most significant of whom was Vaterlaus Thomas, editor of wine magazine Vinum, which is published in Germany, Switzerland and Spain. Also stopping by were Jan van Lissum, the editor of a Dutch magazine, and Daniel Guryča, publisher of a Czech wine journal. A number of curious sommeliers eager for knowledge about new varieties and wine regions also visited the Croatian booth. Therefore, interest in Croatian wines exists!
It was an interest expressed not in the sense of “ah, you have finally arrived!” after which all the free wine samples would be meaninglessly snatched up and inconsequently consumed. Rather it was an interest based in the belief that Croatia could be the “next big thing” on the market of fine wine.
The emphasis here is on “fine wine”. The future of Croatian wine regions does not lie in the production of cheap wines. Rather, in the crafting of quality wines that are not expensive yet are also not cheap.
To demonstrate this point, the wine buyer from the wine shop in Ulm, who purchased wine from Agrokor, did not choose the cheapest wine or most favorable deal; he chose the best wine Agrokor had to offer.
When the future of Croatian wines is debated, typically one hears the cries, “Croatian wines are too expensive!” This is partly true as a general statement and is mostly valid for wines from Dalmatia, where production is very small due to the geographical limitations of many vineyard areas (such as Dingač). Croatia is a country that produces comparatively small amounts of wine and cannot compete with Australia or Chile – countries known for high-volume, cheap wines that have only just begun offering more expensive and higher quality wines.
Another important point is that Croatia, unlike Chile and Australia, has an array of native varieties that deliver a completely unique and original wine experience. Securing the interest of just a small percentage of wine lovers in the world’s most important markets would satisfy the export requirements of Croatia’s current production.
Therefore, let us brand the Wines of Croatia by saying: “Our wines are not inexpensive but they are unique and very good.”
And remember: You cannot taste Graševina, Plavac Mali, Malvasia Istriana, Babić, Pošip or Teran anywhere else but in Croatia!
Yes, like Chile and Moldova (and so many other places), Croatia has Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay. These wines must be just as good and even cheaper than the competition in order to be of interest to and succeed in a world already flooded with similar wines.
In the end it doesn’t take a lot of skill or savvy intellect to sell something at the lowest price. Perhaps we have the intelligence and capacity for something better than that. Presentations like ProWein in Düsseldorf contribute greatly to the development of a marketing message around the concepts of quality and originality. But more must be done. Not just in Düsseldorf but everywhere we go: London, New York, Singapore, Shanghai, etc.
However, a sobering dose of reality exists: Croatia is still relatively unknown to wine lovers around the world. Its anonymity resulted in Croatia’s booth in Düsseldorf being located at the farthest reaches of the very last pavilion, in the company of other relatively unknown wine-producers like Slovenia, Hungary, Romania, Macedonia, etc.
Thus, we still have many challenges ahead and lots of work to do!
Distinguish Ourselves with Quality
The Wines of Croatia must distinguish themselves with a level of quality that separates them from other wines in the region. Only in this way can we possibly achieve a better position at the next international wine expo and not get into the habit of lowering prices in order to be noticed at the rear of some far-flung the pavilion.
Let us be aware of two truths: Good things have worth; and small can be good.
These truths apply to Croatian wines indeed. But to ensure our future success, the strategy for continued promotion should be as follows: conduct intelligent marketing presentations; and organize specialized wine tasting events for the media, wine trade and sommeliers.
Most importantly, we must back-up our claims to quality by ensuring only the best and most representative Croatian wineries are chosen to exhibit on the world stage.