Zlatna Žlahtina 1999: Golden Grape or Faded Glory?
By Cliff Rames © 2014
A few weeks ago I was rummaging around my father’s wine cabinet and found a forgotten, dusty bottle of white – a 1999 PZ Vrbnik Zlatna Žlahtina from the island of Krk in the Kvarner wine growing region along the northern coast of Croatia. Since my father rarely drinks white wine and didn’t even know the bottle existed or where it came from, he let me have it. For “research” purposes.
I was skeptical. A 15-year old Žlahtina? I mean, I’ve opened 3-year old Pinto Grigio wines that were an oxidized mess. Also this particular bottle was never properly stored, languishing for most of its life on a shelf in my parent’s sunny dining room.
Sure, Žlahtina – a variety native to the Primorska/Kvarner region where it thrives in the fields around the hamlet of Vrbnik (Vrbnička Polja) and whose name implies nobility – is a wine celebrated for its light, fresh, early-drinking character. A perfect foil for the local northern Adriatic seafood-based cuisine, Zlatna Žlahtina (golden Žlahtina) even has a poem written about it:
900 years since the foundation of the town
900 years of prayer and work
A belief in God during dry
and plentiful years,
Vineyards salted by the blue sea
A song of joy, A tear of sorrow
A green vine-stock sprung in rock and thorn:
Oh what joy in the first, golden grape!
Dying of curiosity one warm June afternoon I prepared a light salad with Adriatic sardines and popped the cork. What did I expect to find? A golden elixir? An oxidized, flat and defeated wine with little fruit and no purpose?
Previous experience with old Croatian white wines has taught me a lesson or two and even surprised and delighted me, such as the 1963 Graševina from Kutjevo and the 1987 Trnavački Traminac Arhivsko Misno Vino that I wrote about in the book, Every Wine Tells a Story. As much as I was prepared to be disappointed, my gut told me that I should not underestimate a variety that is “salted by the blue sea” and thrives in “rock and thorn”.
Pouring it into my glass I immediately suspected that I was about to be taught another lesson. The wine was not deeply golden or brownish – first signs of oxidation – but rather still bright yellow. No sediment and no cloudiness. A quick whiff of the nose dispelled any remaining skepticism: The bouquet was fresh and lively but laced with tertiary, Sherry-like notes of bitter almond, raw honey, apricot, candied orange peel, and honeysuckle. Age however took a slight toll on the mouth feel, with some of the structure gone soft and the mid-palate a bit hollow. But the acidity was still vibrant and a savory, salty minerality propelled the flavors forward, giving the wine vitality, wisdom, and beauty.
The French have a great expression: “Voilà!” meaning “there you go, there you have it”. Often used with satisfaction when something is presented, it seems to also carry an implication that the result could not have been any other way.
And so it was with this lovely golden Žlahtina. At 15 years old could not have been any other way but perfectly delightful, drinkable and still full of life – a “song of joy” indeed!
Wine: Zlatna Žlahtina
Producer: PZ Vrbnik
Sub-Region: Vrbnička Polja, Krk island
Grape Varieties: Žlahtina
Alcohol by Volume: 11.5%
Residual Sugar: N/A
Bottle Size: 750 ml
Imported By: N/A