Vina Croatia 2015: Croatian Winemakers Storm Manhattan

A Short Report & Photos from the 2015 Vina Croatia Grand Tasting in NYC (Photos © 2015 Cliff Rames) Braving frigid winter temperatures and blustery Hudson River winds, representatives from twenty-four Croatian wineries and over 500 guests turned out on February 24, 2015 for the third Vina Croatia – Vina Mosaica Grand Tasting at Astor Center in New York City. The wineries attending the Grand Tasting included: Agrolaguna; Badel 1862; Benmosche Family Vineyards; BIBICh; Degrassi; Feravino; Galic; Grgic; Jakovino (Stina); Korta Katarina; Korak; Kozlovic; Krauthaker; Lagradi; Markus; Matosevic; Milos; PP Orahovica; Rizman; Saints Hills; Suha Punta (Gracin); Volarevic; Zlatan Otok; and Zigante. Collectively these wineries presented nearly 110 different labels, allowing guests to discover a wide range of wine styles from Croatia’s four diverse wine-growing regions and fascinating collection of indigenous grape varieties, such as Babić, Debit, Graševina, Lasina, Malvasia Istriana, Maraština, Plavac Mali, Plavina, Pošip, Teran, and Zinfandel, as well as a host of international varieties. A focal point to of the event was two sold-out masterclass seminars with special guest speakers. The first masterclass was entitled, “Meet Croatia”. Moderated by Saša Špiranec, regional wine expert and writer and Christy Canterbury, Master of Wine, this seminar offered an overview of Croatia’s wine growing regions and major grape varieties through a guided tasting of nine wines. The second masterclass seminar, “American Winemakers Who Fell in Love with Blue Adriatic”, focused on three Croatian wineries that have a connection to the United States, two of which were founded by Americans after they visited Croatia and fell in love with the country. The session was moderated by Cliff Rames, Certified Sommelier and founder of Wines of Croatia, and featured two guest speakers, Ivo Jeramaz, Vice President of Vineyards & Production at Grgich Hills Estate, and Ari Benmosche, representative from Benmosche Family Vineyards of Dubrovnik. Attendees of the seminar tasted two wines from each of the three wineries. “We are really going global,” joked Benmosche, as he described his family’s annual 4,000 bottle production of Plavac Mali and Zinfandel. While Croatian wines really aren’t storming the market or going global just yet (more distribution is needed), the positive reactions of so many of the attendees that crowded the Vina Croatia event demonstrate that these small-production, well-made, and delicious wines with curious names are starting to emerge from obscurity and find their niche among some of the world’s best and most interesting wines. Perhaps the winds that blew that day were indeed the winds of change. Check out this selection of photos from that exciting day! DSC_0007DSC_0005DSC_0009 DSC_0011DSC_0008DSC_0014 DSC_0015 DSC_0016 DSC_0017DSC_0020 DSC_0021 DSC_0022 DSC_0023 DSC_0024DSC_0025 DSC_0026 DSC_0027 DSC_0028DSC_0030 DSC_0031 DSC_0032 DSC_0033DSC_0035 DSC_0036DSC_0039 DSC_0040DSC_0044 DSC_0045 DSC_0046 DSC_0047DSC_0051 DSC_0053 DSC_0055 DSC_0060DSC_0063 DSC_0064 DSC_0067DSC_0068 DSC_0071 DSC_0072 DSC_0073 DSC_0074 DSC_0075 DSC_0076 DSC_0077DSC_0080 DSC_0081 DSC_0082 DSC_0083 DSC_0084 DSC_0086 DSC_0088 DSC_0089 DSC_0090 DSC_0091 DSC_0092 DSC_0093 DSC_0094 DSC_0096 DSC_0098 DSC_0100To be continued….

Zinfandel in Croatia: A Sort of Homecoming

(Republished with permission from the original article in the Oct./Nov. 2014 issue of The SOMM Journal)

Croatia’s prodigal grape finds its roots. Can it go home again?

By Cliff Rames


Sherlock Holmes, were he an ampelographer, would be pleased. Solved was an age-old mystery that spanned oceans and continents, the New World and the Old. Through hands-on detective work, forensic know-how and cutting edge technology, the missing link in the evolutionary story of a popular and beloved wine grape was uncovered, the mystery of its origins revealed in a word: Tribidrag – the ancient Croatian name for Zinfandel.

For over a century wine lovers, viticulture experts and dedicated followers of taxonomy have pondered the fascinating question of Zinfandel’s origins and migratory route to the US. No less so than in California, where the grape settled in the early 1800s and easily adapted to the topography and climate in regions like Napa, Sonoma, and Mendocino. Often recommended for Thanksgiving and touted as “America’s heritage wine”, Zinfandel reigns as California’s signature red and seems as All American as apple pie.

But Mike Grgich, a native of Croatia and co-founder of Grgich Hills Estate in Napa, had his suspicions. Arriving to California in 1958, Grgich noticed that Zinfandel vines he encountered seemed like familiar old friends, the wines tasting just like the vino his father fermented back in the Old Country.

“Looking at the vines I wondered am I in California or Croatia”, he laughed during a scene in the film, Dossier Zinfandel.

Mike Grgic (Photo courtesy Grgich Hills Estate)

Mike Grgic (Photo courtesy Grgich Hills Estate)

Suspect: Plavac Mali
Grgich was not the only one to notice. In 1967 Austin Goheen, a plant pathologist at UC Davis, observed that Primitivo in the Puglia region of Italy closely resembled Zinfandel. Following an axis directly across the Adriatic Sea to the Dalmatian coast of Croatia, Goheen discovered Plavac Mali, an indigenous variety that shared characteristics with both Zinfandel and Primitivo. Isozyme analysis (a sort of plant fingerprinting a precursor to DNA profiling) revealed a high probability that Zinfandel and Primitivo were one. Tests on Plavac Mali however were inconclusive.

Compelled by these findings, an American wine historian, Leon Adams, contacted Mike Grgich, who continued to advocate that Zinfandel hailed from Croatia and could be Plavac Mali or a close relative. In 1983 Adams traveled to Croatia and reported that the leaves of the two varieties were “identical” and Plavac Mali wine “could easily be accepted as Zinfandel”.

Following with keen interest the unfolding Zinfandel/ Primitivo/ Plavac Mali mystery was Dr. Carole Meredith, a grape geneticist at UC Davis and leading pioneer of DNA profiling to establish interrelatedness and ancestry of wine grape varieties. Her team is credited for identifying the parentage of Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Syrah, among others.

Intrigued, she turned her attention to Croatia.

Maletic, Meredith and Pejic in Croatia (Photo courtesy of Carole Meredith)

Maletic, Meredith and Pejic in Croatia (Photo courtesy of Carole Meredith)

The Search for Origins – “Zinquest”
According to Meredith the “serendipitous moment” descended in December 1997. Two Croatian scientists, Dr. Ivan Pejić and Dr. Edi Maletić, were undertaking an initiative to genetically identify and catalogue Croatia’s native grape varieties in preparation for the country’s entry into the European Union. With few resources and limited access to the latest technological equipment, Pejić and Maletić knew outside assistance to meet the EU’s strict criteria and deadlines would be required.

When the email from Pejić arrived, Meredith had already decided that a journey to Dalmatia to investigate Plavac Mali was essential. All she needed was the right contact in Croatia.

“So here’s Ivan asking for my help to use DNA profiling to sort out old Croatian grapes and here’s me, looking for someone in Croatia who could help me find Zinfandel. A perfect fit!” Meredith recalls.

In May 1998 Meredith embarked on a tour – dubbed “Zinquest” – of Dalmatia’s coastal vineyards. Guided by Pejić and Maletić and assisted by Jasenka Piljac, Meredith collected leaf samples from 148 Plavac Mali vines from 45 vineyards sites on the Pelješac peninsula and the islands of Hvar and Korčula.

But it wasn’t to be. None of the samples Meredith brought back to the UC Davis labs exactly matched Zinfandel.

Ivica Radunic's "Original Zin" vineyard in Kastel Novi (photo by Cliff Rames)

Ivica Radunic’s “Original Zin” vineyard in Kastel Novi (photo by Cliff Rames)

A Mystery Solved
With the key piece of the puzzle still elusive, the search was nonetheless getting warmer.
Further DNA analysis of leaf material harvested in Croatia indicated a “high degree of relatedness” between Plavac Mali and Zinfandel – perhaps a parent/ offspring relationship.

Three other local varieties, Grk, Plavina and Vranac, shared genetic markers with Zinfandel, suggesting that it was once a very old and important cultivar in the area. The presence of a Zinfandel genetic pool in Dalmatia gave Meredith hope. The “original Zin” had to be somewhere in Croatia!

For the remainder of 1998 through 2000 Pejić and Maletić scoured – row by row – old vineyards along Croatia’s coast and islands, following every lead and examining every leaf.

Meanwhile in her lab at UC Davis, Dr. Meredith continued to analyze DNA fingerprints of vines from Croatia, cross-referenced data against information contained in the university’s database of profiled cultivars. Soon she made a startling and significant discovery: Zinfandel plus an old Dalmatian variety from Šolta island called Dobričić were the parent vines of Plavac Mali.

With renewed gusto the search focused on Šolta and vineyards around Split. Late 2000 delivered a breakthrough: Pejić and Maletić learned of a 2.5 acre, 35 year-old plot of mixed varieties in Kaštel Novi. The vineyard’s owner, Ivica Radunić, reportedly wasn’t sure himself what grew there, as many of the vines in the “field blend” were planted by his grandfather. One immediately caught everyone’s attention for its physiological resemblance to Zinfandel.

Once again none of the samples matched. The suspect vine turned out to be another local variety, Babica.

After three years searching, Pejić and Maletić were nearly out of funds and felt demoralized. In the spring of 2001, in a last ditch effort they decided to revisit Radunić’s vineyard. Noticing that many of vine stalks were intertwined and easy to confuse, they carefully collected new samples from a specimen Radunić identified as Crljenak Kaštelanski.

The results arrived on December 18, 2001. “We have a match for Zinfandel. Quite convincingly, finally!” Meredith reportedly wrote in an email to Pejić and Maletić.

One of the "Original Zin" (Crljenak Kastelanski) vines found in the Radunic vineyard (photo by Cliff Rames)

One of the “Original Zin” (Crljenak Kastelanski) vines found in the Radunic vineyard (photo by Cliff Rames)

“Zinfandel comes from Croatia,” declared Meredith in a 2002 press release. “The grape we call Zinfandel and the Italians call Primitivo are both Crljenak Kaštelanski.”

As it turned out, Mr. Radunić’s vineyard in Kaštel Novi contained eight more Crljenak Kaštelanski vines. Others were eventually located near Omiš, where locals referred to the variety as Pribidrag, a variation of Tribidrag – the ancient Croatian name first mentioned in the 14th century.

Because Tribidrag is the oldest recorded name for the variety, the rule of anteriority takes precedent. Jancis Robinson, co-author of the essential tome, Wine Grapes, under the entry for Zinfandel simply states, “See Tribidrag”. Meredith offers a simpler approach, referring to the assortment of synonyms as “ZPCT”: Zinfandel/ Primitivo/ Crljenak/ Tribidrag.

Ivica Radunic (photo by Cliff Rames)

Ivica Radunic (photo by Cliff Rames)

The Revitalization
The handful of Zinfandel vines discovered in Croatia in 2001 propagated to over 2,000 by 2008. Today, over 400,000 ZPCT vines have taken root in a massive repatriation initiative. Zlatan Plenković, a leading producer from Hvar, sowed over 50,000 vines in the foothills of the Dinaric Alps near seaside Makarska. Around Radunić’s vineyard in Kaštel Novi local vintners have embraced their prodigal grape by planting over 20,000 new vines. Commercial producers include Vuina and Putalj.

Elsewhere in Dalmatia, the Zinfandel renaissance is flourishing in Omiš, Komarna, Hvar, Brač, Pelješac, and Konavle.

However, virus infected plant material is a major issue facing growers. All original ZPCT plants in Croatia tested positive for viruses. Pejić and Maletić now lead a project to eliminate viruses and build a “mother block” of cleansed vines. Meredith reports the mother block currently contains 150 virus-free vines obtained from UC Davis from eight sources, including Crljenak and Pribidrag from Croatia, Primitivo from Italy, and “three selections from old California vineyards chosen for the Zinfandel heritage selection program” – all ready to propagate the next generation of Croatian vineyards.

No one expects Zinfandel to supplant Plavac Mali as the primary red grape variety in Croatia. Yet wineries are eager to bring the grape home and capitalize on its fame and familiarity. Meredith believes that Croatian Zinfandel will never be more than a “wine geek” curiosity. But she also thinks that Croatian producers could capitalize on the Zinfandel story to promote Croatia as “a fine wine region with undiscovered wine gems”.

“Zinfandel was already known internationally and well-established before its Croatian identity was discovered,” she adds. “It never would have become important if Croatian producers tried to promote it on their own without the California connection. Now that it is known Zinfandel is Croatian, I think many consumers and members of the wine trade are looking to see where Croatia is on a map and realizing that it’s an ancient wine region with a wine heritage as old as anywhere in Europe.”

Marija Mrgudić, a producer from Pelješac and one of Croatia’s prominent female winemakers, is excited about the future of Zinfandel in Croatia. “It is a variety with higher acid and freshness than Plavac Mali with potential for aging,” she says. “I think the future will bring a greater role for Zin in the vineyards of Dalmatia – and on the tables of Croatians and their guests!”

Presently over two dozen Croatian wineries produce Zinfandel, but just a few are commercially available. In the US, Zlatan Plenković Crljenak (VinumUSA), Vuina Crljenak Kaštelanski (Terraneo Merchants), and Korta Katarina Plavac Mali/ Zinfandel Rosé (Katharine’s Garden) are currently available. Robert Benmosche, the former CEO of AIG, also produces Zinfandel from vineyards he owns on the Pelješac peninsula.

Heritage Tribidrag vines subsequently discovered on Peljesac, currently part of Benmosche Family Vineyards (photo by Cliff Rames)

Heritage Tribidrag vines subsequently discovered on Peljesac, currently part of Benmosche Family Vineyards (photo by Cliff Rames)


List of Wineries to Attend the 2015 Vina Croatia Grand Tasting in NYC is Released



As we previously announced here, the third Vina Croatia Grand Tasting 2015 of the Wines of Croatia will be held on February 24, 2015 at Astor Center in New York City. This is a TRADE ONLY event.

Twenty-five (25) Croatian wineries will be present for the walk around tasting, each with a minimum of two staff members – including winemakers from most wineries– on hand to explain the wines and answer questions.

The wineries scheduled to attend the Grand Tasting include: Agrolaguna; Badel; Benmosche Family Vineyards; BIBICh; Degrassi; Feravino; Galic; Grgic; Jakovino (Stina); Korta Katarina; Korak; Kozlovic; Lagradi; Matosevic; Milos; PP Orahovica; Rizman; Saints Hills; Suha Punta (Gracin); Szabo; Volarevic; Zlatan Otok; and Zigante.

Note to visiting IMPORTERS AND DISTRIBUTORS: Roughly half of the wineries attending are seeking importers and U.S. representation. For more information or to inquire about scheduling a time to privately meet with winery representatives, please send an email to

Additionally the event will include two seminars with special guest speakers, including Cliff Rames, Certified Sommelier and founder of Wines of Croatia; Christy Canterbury, Master of Wine; and Saša Špiranec, regional wine expert and writer.
Registration is complimentary and exclusive to members of the wine trade and press.

**Please note however that currently the two seminars are full but you may request to be added to the wait list.

For more information please email Tatiana Reif at, or via Eventbrite by clicking on any image on this page.


Save the Date! Croatian Wine Grand Tasting Coming to NYC

We are pleased to announce the Vina Croatia Grand Tasting 2015 of the wines of Croatia, which will be held on February 24, 2015 at Astor Center in New York City. This is a TRADE ONLY event.


This will be the third Grand Tasting of the Wines of Croatia in NYC since 2011 (the first was held on June 7, 2011 at Hudson Terrace, and the second occurred on February 26, 2013 at Astor Center).

This year, in addition to a walk around tasting and opportunity to meet several winemakers, there will be two seminars with special guest speakers, including Cliff Rames, Certified Sommelier and founder of Wines of Croatia; Christy Canterbury, Master of Wine; Saša Špiranec, regional wine expert and writer; as well as successful Americans who invested in the Croatian wine business and are the faces behind Grgic, Korta Katarina and Benmosche wineries.

The birthplace of Zinfandel, Croatia is home to 1244 islands, 130 indigenous varietals and four unique wine regions. Join us and taste a diverse selection of over 100 wines from more than 20 of the country’s most cutting-edge producers (some already imported, some looking for representation).

The event will include light appetizers and two masterclass seminars highlighting some of Croatia’s most talented winemakers.


Seminar Schedule:

Taste Croatia (11:00 am – 11:45 am)

Discover Croatia and its diverse range of terroirs. Learn about the leading grape varieties and taste selected wines representing the characteristic styles and flavors of Croatian wines.

American Winemakers Who Fell in Love with Blue Adriatic (12:30 pm – 1:15 pm)

Meet the successful Americans who invested in the Croatian wine business and are standing behind the Grgic, Korta Katarina and Benmosche wineries.

Registration is complimentary and exclusive to members of the wine trade and press. For more information please email Tatiana Reif at, or via Eventbrite by clicking on any of the images on this page.

Hope to see you there!


New Issue of The SOMM Journal Features Zinfandel from Croatia

The Sommelier Journal, recently re-launched and re-branded as The SOMM Journal, just published its October/November 2014 issue (Vol. 1/ No. 3), which includes an article entitled “Zinfandel – A Sort of Homecoming”, written by Wines of Croatia founder, Certified Sommelier, and regular contributor to this blog, Cliff Rames.

SOMM Journal_cover

The article’s teaser, or subtitle, reads: “Croatia’s Prodigal Grape Finds Its Roots. Can It Go Home Again?” – alluding to the article’s focus on the search for and discovery of Zinfandel (AKA Primitivo, Crljenak Kaštelanski, Tribidrag, Pribidrag) in Croatia, and the subsequent efforts to repatriate the grape to the vineyards of Dalmatia.


The SOMM Journal also includes tasting notes for three wines: Vuina 2010 Crljenak Kaštelanski; Zlatan Otok 2010 Crljenak; and Miloš 2009 Plavac Mali.

The four-page, full-color article, begins on page 106 of The SOMM Journal, which is available by subscription, on select newsstands, and online at

Check out the online version HERE.

SOMM Journal_articleSOMM Journal_article2somm

A Summer Send-off with Škrlet

By Cliff Rames © 2014

Just because the sunsets arrive earlier, the shadows cast longer, the nights undulate with the mating songs of crickets and the haunting bumps of falling acorns, does not mean that it is suddenly unacceptable to drink white wine.

True, my craving for red wine – suppressed in the oppressive heat of summer – is beginning to awaken and warm my veins. Nonetheless, autumn and winter are still fine times to crack open a white wine – preferably one of fuller body – when the urge strikes or menu demands.

I was reminded of this a few days ago. Silence had descended upon the neighborhood with the local kids’ return to school and the extinguished drone of A/C units in every window. It was one of those perfect September days: crystalline skies, puffy cotton ball clouds, and temperatures in the low 80s F (28 C). The first leaves of brown and yellow floated down from limbs on cool breezes, and most of the garden veggies were already ripped out, eaten, or awaiting harvest.

On the stove, destined to become my lunch, a simmering pot of creamed kale soup (kale that had grown so big that I imagined elves or hobbits napping beneath their tree-like branches) gave off wisps of steam and comforting aromas.

Pondering what wine to pair with the soup, my mind wandered towards something light and crisp, not too alcoholic (it was lunch after all and I was intending to remain productive afterwards), perhaps with citrusy flavors and green notes to elevate the flavors of the kale and vegetables in the soup. Sauvignon blanc beckoned, the obvious choice. But I don’t like obvious choices.

Then I remembered the 2012 Mikša Škrlet tucked in the back of the fridge, a wine I had bubble-wrapped back in my suitcase – along with about 18 other assorted wine and spirits bottles {to the amazement of but (luckily) not penalization by US Customs officers} – on my last journey home from Croatia.


Škrlet is a white grape variety that is native to the continental region of inland Croatia, or what is now called the Croatian Uplands wine region. There Vladimir Mikša produces approximately 20,000 liters of škrlet a year from grapes grown in his vineyards in the Voloder-Ivanić Grad “vinogorje” (wine-growing hills) of the Moslavina sub-region. Škrlet is noted for its crimson, scarlet fever rash-like speckles (the German, “scharlach”, thus škrlet) that blush its skins when ripe.

Škrlet (Photo courtesy of Vina Košutić - )

Škrlet (Photo courtesy of Vina Košutić)


For anyone who has been following along since I first started blogging about Croatian wines in 2007, škrlet has always been a native Croatian variety that gets me giddy, as I expressed in this post from 2010 chronicling my visit to škrlet producer, Marko Miklaužić.

Most škrlet is produced in a dry, light-bodied, crisp style; although a few off-dry renditions can be found (I will not be surprised to see sparkling versions eventually produced). Aromas of green fruits, citrus, and delicate floral and grassy notes are typical, and it is best consumed young – within 2-3 years of the vintage – when it is beautifully fresh, vibrant and perfect to pair with seafood, shellfish, and vegetable dishes.

If I were the operator of a country bistro, škrlet could easily succeed as the house white wine, sold on draft in glass carafes, and chugged in liters by happy, finger-licking and lip-smacking diners. Since I don’t own a bistro, I drank the whole bottle of Mikša myself. With a belly full of kale soup and daydreams of polka-dotted škrlet clusters ready to be harvested in Croatia, I then joined the elves and hobbits for late afternoon snooze in the shade of a tree.

When I awoke, summer had passed. That’s okay. It ended on a perfect note.

(Photo: Cliff Rames © 2014)

(Photo: Cliff Rames © 2014)


Wine: Mikša Škrlet

Vintage: 2012

Producer: Vladimir Mikša

Region: Croatian Uplands

Sub-Region: Moslavina, Voloder-Ivanić Grad Vinogorje
Grape Varieties: Škrlet

Alcohol by Volume: 12%

Residual Sugar: N/A

Price: N/A

Bottle Size: 750 ml

Imported By: N/A

Tasting Note: Pale straw color with watery rim and crystalline clarity. Aromas of green apple, pear, citrus, honey dew melon, chamomile tea, white flowers and meadow grass. On the palate, dry, crisp and vibrant with lots of verve and palate-cleansing acidity on a steely frame. Drink soon.

(Photo: Cliff Rames © 2014)

(Photo: Cliff Rames © 2014)

(Photo: Cliff Rames © 2014)

(Photo: Cliff Rames © 2014)

USA Today: The #5 “Best Wine Region to Visit” is Croatia

(Photo: Copyright © Cliff Rames)

(Photo: Copyright © Cliff Rames)

Okay, we already knew it. Anthony Bourdain discovered it (literally, he fell off his chair in wine-fueled amazement). And now the readers of USA Today have confirmed it: the wine-growing regions of Croatia are awesome – among the best in the world.

This week the results of a USA Today and Readers’ Choice survey of the world’s “Best Wine Regions to Visit” were revealed. From a selection of 20 excellent nominees, Croatia (which at one point during the month-long voting period surged to the #3 position) finished at #5 – outranking other iconic regions like Napa Valley and Tuscany (to view the Top 10 Best and read the full announcement, click this LINK).

USA Today screen shot

While the survey simply listed “Croatia” as a whole wine region, the country actually has an array of diverse and uniquely beautiful wine growing areas, from the warm Mediterranean climate and seaside vineyards of Istria & Kvarner and Dalmatia, to the lush, rolling pastoral hills of continental Slavonia & the Danube and the Uplands. All are beautiful and all are worthy of attention and love.

photo © Cliff Rames

photo © Cliff Rames

So grab your corkscrew, walking stick, Lonely Planet – Croatia travel guide and designated driver, and book your Croatian wine tour today by contacting one of our friends from the list below. All specialize in custom foodie fun and vinous adventures in Croatia, our all-time favorite and best wine region to visit – now and always!  :-)

Happy trails – and cheers!

Wine & Culinary Tours in Croatia:

Art of Wine (

Culinary Croatia (

Eat Istria (

Secret Dalmatia (

Tasteful Croatian Journeys (

Zagreb Bites (


USA Today/ Top 10 Best Wine Regions to Visit:

1. Alentejo, Portugal
2. Okanagan Valley, British Columbia
3. Maipo, Chile
4. Marlborough, New Zealand
5. Croatia
6. Napa Valley, California, USA
7. Tuscany, Italy
8. Oregon
9. Hunter Valley, Australia
10. Virginia

(Photo © Cliff Rames)

Vineyards on Brač island in Dalmatia (Photo © Cliff Rames)


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