Vinarija Krauthaker vineyards, Kutjevo, Slavonia, Croatia – April 2012
(Photos © 2012 Cliff Rames)
Krauthaker estate vineyards, Kutjevo wine-growing hills, Slavonia region, Continental Croatia.
By Cliff Rames © 2012
As a matter of fact, yes – you can find the variety growing all over Croatia. Heck, even the mother grape of chardonnay is Croatian, a little devil of a grape called štajerska belina – or gouais blanc – that long ago made its way to France where it crossed with pinot and sired chardonnay.
While quality is uneven, delicious chardonnay wines are produced across Croatia – from Istria along the coast (called the “Tuscany of Croatia” by the New York Times), to the amphitheater-shaped hills of Plešivica in the northern continental region and the Miocene Epoch-dated Pannonian Sea soils of Kutjevo in Slavonia.
Krauthaker’s Rosenberg 100% chardonnay is sublime; while Kutjevo winery’s 2009 Chardonnay de Gotho Aureus won a silver medal at the 2011 Chardonnay du Monde wine competition in France. Belje is a leading producer from the Baranja wine-growing (far northeastern Croatia), where among its expansive vineyard holdings is the esteemed 220 meter-above-sea-level, south-facing Goldberg appellation – home of its award winning Goldberg Chardonnay.
From Plešivica Korak Chardonnay is the benchmark beauty, and chardonnay forms 50% of the blend in Tomac’s iconic Anfora wine. If orange wine is your thing, Roxanich Milva chardonnay from Istria is fabulously elegant and complex with its creamy, mineral character and exotic fruit, floral, nut and honey notes.
Chardonnay is sometimes blended with other local grapes, like in Istria where it nicely compliments blends made with the local malvasia istriana (malvazija istarska) grape. Saints Hills Nevina, Matoševic Grimalda Bijelo, and Trapan Levante are a few prime examples.
Cabernet sauvignon? Check out the Podunavlje sub-region of Slavonia, whose terroir (long, warm growing season and ancient loam slopes along the Danube) delivers promising results. Iuris winery in the Erdut wine-growing hills produces a tasty, food-friendly entry-level cab from their vineyards on the Kraljevo Brdo (King’s Hill) appellation.
In Istria, iron-rich “terra rosa” soils lend nice structure and minerality to the region’s red wines (think the Coonawarra region of Australia); Agrolaguna (Festigia label), Coronica, Cossetto, Degrassi, Roxanich and Trapan all come to mind as producers who are banging out some really palate-worthy Istrian cabernet sauvignon. In southern Dalmatia, Dubrovački Podrumi (Dubrovnik Cellars) produces the benchmark southern climate cabernet, Trajectum, from its vineyards overlooking the Konavle valley just south of the tourist Mecca, Dubrovnik.
Merlot? It’s just about everywhere, from Dalmatia to Istria to Slavonia. Sometimes it’s good (Agrolaguna Festigia); BIBICh Sangreal; Crvik; Frajona; Krauthaker; Roxanich); sometimes – not so much. Often it finds its best use in tasty Bordeaux blends, such as the excellent Dajla Cuvee Barrique from Istravino and the “Vrhunsko” 2007 red cab/merlot blend from Boškinac winery on Pag island.
Most famously, merlot (along with cabernet sauvignon and refosco) was a component in the Clai Ottocento 2007 Crno that Gary Vaynerchuk reviewed – and fell in love with – on Wine Library TV. You can see Gary’s reaction – and watch the whole wines of Croatia episode (above).
Cabernet franc is sparsely-planted, but Moreno Degrassi in Istria produces a lovely version full of typical cab franc character (cherry and black fruits with a hint of tobacco and sweet herbs).
That pinot noir (‘pinot crni”) is only grown in a few select spots in Croatia is testimony to the grape’s fickleness and outright hostility toward inappropriate terroirs. But a couple of producers have had some luck with it, notably Velimir Korak in Plešivica and Vlado Krauthaker in Kutjevo (from grapes grown on the upper slopes of Mt. Krndija). Back in cool Plešivica, Šember winery offers a delicate and refreshing 100% pinot noir sparkling wine that tingles with hibiscus and watermelon flavors laced with seashell minerality.
Syrah? It’s emerging in a select few locations in Croatia and is still very much in the experimental phase. Early results though indicate that the grape (syrah/shiraz) seems to enjoy Croatian hospitality. A growing area to watch is the Dalmatian hinterland around the coastal city Zadar, where Alen BIBICh produces his acclaimed Sangreal Shiraz and Benkovac winery cultivates 103 hectares of vines that spawned the award-winning 2007 Korlat Syrah.
In Istria, Bruno Trapan has seriously invested in syrah and is hedging his bets that it will do well on his 5 hectares of vineyards located 50-55 meters above sea level at Šišana near Pula. Trapan 2007 Shuluq Syrah received a “Commended” rating in the Decanter 2010 World Wine Awards competition. That said, I suspect that the international marketability of Croatian syrah will face many challenges, especially in light of the recent – and sad – downturn in global demand for syrah.
Let’s not forget Zinfandel. Technically, Zinfandel is a native Croatian variety called Crljenak Kaštelanski and its story and genetic links to Croatia have been widely documented. But because some Croatian producers are preparing to release wines labeled as “Zinfandel”, we will briefly mention it here. Zinfandel (aka Crljenak) is native to the Kaštela region of central Dalmatia, near the city of Split. Further south on the Pelješac peninsula, well-respected producer, Marija Mrgudić of Bura-Mugudić winery, planted Napa clones and is preparing for the first release of Croatian Zinfandel. Although the jury is still out on whether this grape can deliver as much potential as plavac mali (the variety that historically supplanted it) – or if American zinfandel producers will oppose the use of the “Zinfandel” moniker on labels from Croatia – it is an interesting development and can only help draw positive attention to Croatia’s winemaking culture.
Sauvignon blanc? Riesling? Pinot gris? Pinot blanc? All are planted in Croatia (where they are known as “sauvignon”, “rajnski rizling”, “pinot sivi”, and “pinot bijeli” respectively) and have a long history of being consumed locally as table wines, particularly in the cool continental regions. But a number of producers have invested in vineyard and cellar in order to improve quality and raise the profile of these varieties – especially sauvignon blanc and riesling. A very promising producer is Bolfan in the Zlatar wine-growing hills of the Međimurje–Zagorje region. The Bolfan portfolio includes some very intriguing, pure and refreshing whites across all styles (dry to sweet) from an array of grapes grown on its 20 hectares of stunningly beautiful “Vinski vrh” (Wine Summit) vineyards; the Bolfan ’08 Riesling Primus is drinking beautifully now with an off-dry, richly extracted profile of golden apples, pears and honey with hints of petrol and wet stone minerality. Tasty!
For sauvignon blanc, watch for the award-winning Badel 1862 Sauvignon Daruvar and Zdjelarević Sauvignon from Slavonia. Not surprisingly, sauvignon blanc seems to have found its sweetest spot in the Plešivica area with its cool, moist and sunny slopes that grace the bowl of the area’s naturally-formed amphitheater. There Korak, Šember and Tomac produce crisp, lovely citrus and herbal examples.
Gewürztraminer (“traminac”) does very well in the far-eastern corners of the Slavonia and Podunavlje regions, where it is made into everything from dry, spicy whites to unctuous, richly floral and delicious late harvest and ice wines. Iločki Podrumi is a leading producer in the Srijem wine-growing hills and in certain frosty years Kutjevo winery and Iločki podrumi make a luscious Ice Wine (“Ledeno vino”) from the variety.
So yes…wines made from familiar international varieties can be found in Croatia – and to a lesser extent on export markets.
That said, international varieties are not the future of Croatian winemaking or marketing program. The “Golden Promise” (I would argue) lies in Croatia’s rich array of indigenous grape varieties. Their individual stories are screaming to be told and are sure to pique intrigue among – and stimulate the palates of – savvy foreign wine buyers and adventurous consumers.
Ray Isle, Food & Wine magazine’s executive wine editor, recently presented “Five Grapes to Expand Your Wine Horizons” in an article for CNN’s Eatocracy blog. Unfortunately none of the grapes he mentioned was from Croatia (the list did include blaufrankisch, known in Croatia as frankovka). The point is, wine drinkers who seek the magic of discovery must look beyond mainstream varieties and venture into uncharted territory: The land of native grapes with charming, sometimes tongue-twisting names.
Once blessed with over 400 indigenous grape varieties, the Croatian Ministry of Agriculture’s official list of cultivars today contains 192 varieties, of which 130 are considered autochthonous (indigenous) to Croatia or the region. Of that number, only three dozen or so are commonly found in modern commercial wines. The “Big Three” of course are graševina, malvasia istriana, and plavac mali, which are – in descending order – the most widely planted wine grape varieties in Croatia.
In our next post we will introduce the “Big Three” – and go beyond, presenting you with the “Magnificent Seven”, a fabulous handful of Croatian wine grapes that you should know. These varieties were selected based on their commonality, the quality of the wine they produce, and their accessibility and presence on both the domestic and export markets.
For fans of even lesser-know varieties, fear not. We will subsequently venture beyond the Magnificent Seven and explore a gaggle of other quirky, interesting and uniquely Croatian grape varieties that did not make the first round. Stay tuned to meet the whole gang – the wild and wonderful Grapes of Croatia! 🙂
Just in time for the holidays! Wines of Croatia is proud to offer for sale – exclusively and for the first-time ever in North America – the beautifully filmed and informative Croatian Wine Story (“Hrvatska Vinska Priča – Putevima Vina”) DVD.
The 115-minute film, directed by Miroslav Mirković and produced by Mandrak Productions, takes us on an eye-opening journey through some of Croatia’s most stunningly beautiful wine regions, including Baranja, the Croatian Littoral, north and south Dalmatia, the Dalmatian Hinterland, Istria, Moslavina, Plešivica, Slavonija, Srijem, and Zagorje-Međimurje.
Your guides on this journey are Franjo Francem, a well-known Croatian enologist, and Nataša Puhelek, the reigning “Croatian Wine Queen”. Together they will take you on a four-season trip throughCroatia, where you will visit some of the country’s leading wineries. From the first bud break all the way to harvest (and ice wine harvest!) you will have an armchair view of the life in the vineyards ofCroatiaand a sneak peek behindCroatia’s unique “wine story”.
For a glimpse of the scenery that awaits you in this film, check out this trailer:
Wineries featured in the film include: Agrolaguna; Belje; Benkovac (Badel 1862); Coronica; Vinarija Daruvar (Badel 1862); Vinarija Dingač, (Badel 1862); Đakovačka vina d.d. (Misna Vina); Enjingi; Gerštmajer; Grabovac; Iločki Podrumi; Istravino; Jakopić; Kabola; Katunar; Krauthaker; Kutjevo dd; Miklaužić; Mladina; Petrovečki; Skaramuča; Tomac; Vinoplod; PZ Vrbnik; Zdjelarević; and Zlatan Otok.
The film contains 31 chapters and is presented in the Croatian language with optional English or Slovenian subtitles available.
Important Note: The film is only available in PAL format (Region 2), which can be played on most computer-based DVD players and multi-format home DVD players. Unfortunately it cannot be played on standard NTSC-formatted (Region 1) DVD players. We tested the DVD on several computers, and it played perfectly each time.
To order your DVD in time for the holidays, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Quantities are limited! The special introductory/holiday price per DVD is $20 USD, plus $6 USPS Priority Shipping (Total = $26) to most U.S. addresses. For addresses outside the U.S., please email us for the shipping price.
Payment should be made via Paypal to the email address email@example.com. Please contact us for more details, if you have any questions, or if you would prefer to pay by check or money order. Sorry – we cannot accept credit cards at this time.
We think that you – or your favorite Croatian wino – will really enjoy this film, so order your copy now, pop open your favorite Croatian wine, and begin your journey down the wine roads of Croatia from the comfort of your own home.
(While this in fairly old news now, for the sake of posterity and future curious minds – and anyone who might have missed it all – here is a recap of the Wines of Croatia Grand Portfolio Tasting event in New York City back in June, along with two videos of the festivities. It was a great day, one that we hope to repeat next year and on in other locations. Stay tuned – and enjoy this look back in time.)
On June 13, 2011, Wines of Croatia – in partnership with the Association of Winemakers at the Croatian Chamber of Economy (Hrvatska Gospodarska Komora) and the Consulate General of the Republic of Croatia in New York – held the first-ever Grand Portfolio Tasting of the country’s top wines.
The event, held at Hudson Terrace in New York City, was attended by 120 sommeliers, wine buyers, journalists, bloggers and other trade personnel.
At this historic invitation-only tasting, nearly a dozen producers from Croatia’s leading boutique wineries poured their terroir-specific wines from the continental and coastal regions of Croatia.
Guests of the Grand Tasting were treated to wines produced from an array of indigenous grape varieties, including Malvasia Istriana, Pošip, Teran, Plavac Mali, Graševina, Malvasia of Dubrovnik, Babić, Debit, Crljenak Kaštelanski, and Žlahtina, as well as international varieties like Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Riesling.
Prior to the rooftop walk-around tasting, an educational seminar was conducted by Certified Sommelier and Wines of Croatia founder, Cliff Rames. Guest speakers at the seminar included Joe Campanale, sommelier and co-owner of Anfora Wine Bar in New York City, and winemaker Ivica Matošević.
Here is a really cool video documenting the day’s events:
Winemakers in attendance included Boris Drenški of Bodren winery; Bruno Trapan of Trapan winery; Ernest Tolj of Saints Hills winery; Franjo Toljanić of Toljanic winery; Ivica Matošević of Matosevic winery; Ivan and Klemetina Juranić of Nada winery; Katharine Anderson Groethe of Korta Katarina winery; and Mladen Rožanić of Roxanich winery.
Here is the full list of wineries represented at the Grand Tasting: Agrokor vina, Badel 1862, Bibich, Bodren, Bura-Mokalo, Cattunar, Coronica, Degrassi, Enjingi, Grgić, Antun Katunar, Ivan Katunar, Karaman, Katunar, Korta Katarina, Kozlović, Krajančić, Krauthaker, Matošević, Miloš, Nada, Pavlomir, Piližota, Piquentum, PZ Čara, PZ Dingač, PZ Gospoja, PZ Putnikovići, PZ Svirče, PZ Vrbnik, Roxanich, Saints Hills, Šipun, Terzolo, Tomić, Trapan, and Zlatan Otok.
Other exhibitors and special guests included Siniša Škaberna of Degrassi winery; Anthony Ritossa of Ritossa Olive Oil ; and Simon Kerr and Šime Gligora of Sirana Gligora (producer of Paški cheese), and representatives of Blue Danube Wine Company, Dalmata Import, Oenocentric, Tasty Wine Company, Vallis Aurea, and VinumUSA (importers).
Representatives of the Croatia Chamber of Economy included Davor Komerički, Morana Stinčić, Igor Barbarić, Ivona Grgan, and Božica Marković. Representing the Consulate General of the Republic of Croatia in New York and joining us as honorary guest was Consul General, Marijan Gubić.
To salute Croatia’s status as a truffle-producing nation, a noted truffle hunter from Tartufino was also on hand to discuss Croatia’s deep historic connection with truffles from the Istria region.
Here’s a link to one more (less refined) video from StyleMTV with extended play of the day’s action.
And here’s a couple more links to some coverage:
A HUGE thank you to everyone who joined us on June 13. We look forward to doing it again and sharing more of these wines with you!
Hanna Lee Communications handled the event management and public relations for the Grand Tasting. A big thank you and BRAVO to Hanna and her team!