In a September 26, 2016 Los Angeles Times article entitled “In old-world Croatia, here are four trendy towns worth visiting”, author Margo Pfeiff lists four towns that one must visit in northern Croatia, which she describes as “rural regions known for their vineyards and welcoming agri-tourism farms….”
Zagorje is a wine growing region nestled in the cool, green rolling hills of northern Croatia, just beyond the capital city, Zagreb, and Medvednica mountain. Slovenia lies to the north.
The region is noted for the cultivation of cool climate grapes, about 90% of which are whites varieties such as graševina, pušiplje (aka moslavac or šipon), kerner, gewürztraminer, müller-thurgau (aka: rizvanac), yellow muscat, pinot blanc, pinot gris, riesling, sauvignon blanc, andsylvaner.
Red varieties include blaufrankisch, gamay, pinot noir, portugieser, cabernet franc, and cabernet sauvignon.
Enjoy the view – and try to taste these refreshing and food-friendly wines if you can! Cheers!
Last month, two editors from Wine Enthusiast magazine, Mike DeSimone and Jeff Jenssen (aka the World Wine Guys), visited Croatia to receive the Golden Pen Award from the Croatian National Tourism Board for their article called “Croatia – In Living Color”, which was published in the September 2011 issue of Wine Enthusiast.
After receiving the Golden Pen Award (“Zlatna Penkala”), the Wine Guys toured a selection of wineries, vineyards, hotels, restaurants and other sites in the continental region of Croatia.
The Wine Guys were escorted by Cliff Rames, sommelier and founder of Wines of Croatia, who along the way captured a few snapshots of their journey. We will be sharing an assortment of Cliff’s photos with you over the next few weeks, starting with this collection of shots from Korakwinery in the Plešivica wine-growing hills – a cool, hilly region about 30 minutes west of Croatia’s capital city, Zagreb.
Korak is best known for his chardonnay and pinot noir wines – considered some of the best in Croatia. You can read more about Korak HERE and HERE. Over lunch we also sampled the wines of Drago Režek, who fashions lovely Rizvanac (müller-thurgau) and Zeleni Silvanac (sylvaner) from grapes grown in his Plešivica vineyards.
A huge thank you to Velimir Korak, his wife, and son, Josip, and visiting winemaker, Damir Režek, for an amazing day and their wonderful hospitality!!
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 Rosenberg100% chardonnayis sublime; while Kutjevo winery’s 2009Chardonnay de Gotho Aureus won a silver medal at the 2011 Chardonnay du Mondewine 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. Iuriswinery 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 Coonawarraregion 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); BIBIChSangreal; 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 Vaynerchukreviewed – 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 MorenoDegrassiin 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 Korakin 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 Benkovacwinery 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 Awardscompetition. 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 opposethe 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 Bolfanin 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 ZdjelarevićSauvignon 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 wineryand 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! 🙂
For the first-time ever, Croatia finds itself featured in a prominent mainstream U.S. wine magazine.
Wine Enthusiast, one of the leading wine journals in the English language, published three articles in the September 2011 print and online issues, all dedicated to Croatia and its wines, food culture, and appeal as a travel destination.
The September issue, which pronounces Croatia as “An Historic Wine Lovers Paradise” on the cover page, also includes reviews of 16 Croatian wines, as well as hotel, restaurant and winery recommendations by region.
Encompassing seven full-color pages (in the print edition), the lead story by Wine Enthusiast Contributing Editors, Lifestyle & Entertaining, Mike Desimone and Jeff Jenssen (AKA: World Wine Guys) is entitled “Croatia – In Living Color”.
In the article the Wine Guys detail their “journey from north to south along the Adriatic coast”, which they describe as an “underexplored jewel by the sea” that “offers rich history, splendid scenery and epicurean delights—starting in Istria, and then down the Dalmatian Coast, with its 1,000 islands”.
The online version of the magazine offers two additional articles. The first is written by Desimone and Jenssen and is called “Exploring Croatia”.
The article provides detailed hotel, restaurant and winery recommendations based on Desimone’s and Jenssen’s experience while traveling in Croatia in October 2010, when they spent a week visiting Croatia’s capital city, Zagreb, as well as Istria and Dalmatia on the coast – regions they described as “a wine and food lover’s paradise”.
The online version of Wine Enthusiast contains a third article by Kristin Vuković with the mouth-watering title, “Consuming Croatia”highlighting some of the “gastronomical delights” one can experience in Croatia. Inside you’ll find two scrumptious recipes, one for Palačinke (Croatian crêpes) and one for Grilled Mediterranean Branzino with Blitva (Sea Bass with Chard).
Kristin’s yummy recipes are matched with wine pairing suggestions by Certified Sommelier and founder of Wines of Croatia, Cliff Rames.
Wine Enthusiast is a wine magazine, so let us not forget the best part: the wines! The September issue contains scores for 16 Croatian wines in its Buying Guide, including labels from Agrolaguna, Belje, BIBICh, Dingač Winery, Grgić, Iločki Podrumi, Istravino, Korta Katarina, Matošević, and Piližota. All wines were reviewed by Wine Enthusiast Tasting Coordinator, Anna Lee Iijima.
Six of the best-scoring wines are highlighted in the magazine under the headline, “Top Wines of Croatia”. Most notably, two wines were awarded 90-points: Grgić Vina 2009 Pošip and Korta Katarina 2006 Plavac Mali.
If you can, we strongly recommend that you pick-up a copy of the September issue and read all about it. Or check it out online (links embedded above). May we also suggest that when you open this historic issue of Wine Enthusiast, you raise your favorite glass of Croatian wine. It is certainly a time to celebrate!
They say that every journey begins with a single step. The publication of these three articles may have been one small step for Wine Enthusiast magazine, but it was a giant leap for the Croatian wine industry.
From this new height the stars on which so many dreams are planted today seem a little closer. To reach them will require much more hard work, a smart and effective marketing strategy, and new investment in people, ideas, tools and material. Beyond the star that is Wine Enthusiast magazine lie many more stars, solar systems and galaxies. Collectively they form the heavens.
Do we have what it takes to get there?
One additional note: We applaud Korta Katarina Winery for having the foresight and business savvy (and resources) to recognize an opportunity. The winery invested some serious cash to purchase a full-page color advertisement in the September issue for its 2010 Rosé. Readers of the magazine – who may feel compelled to seek out a Croatian wine or two – will in the preceding pages notice a very juicy ad for an excellent Croatian Rosé – one that just happens to be available in the U.S. and other export markets.
With that, Korta Katarina became the first Croatian winery to advertise in a mainstream American wine magazine. The bar has been raised; let us strive to leap higher still!