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, including this collection of shots from Zdjelarević winery in the Slavonski Brod wine-growing hills of the Slavonia region of northeastern Croatia.
Zdjelarević Hotel & Winery – directed by winemaker Davor Zdjelarević – cultivates 10 hectares of its own vines as well as another 20 hectares of vines under lease, which allows the winery to produce up to 150,000 bottles of wine per year. Among its best loved wines are the Nagual Grand Cuve Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot and Nagual Grand Cuve Chardonnay/Sauvignon labels, as well as the Klink@ line of early drinking wines designed to appeal to Generation X consumers.
According to the winery, Queen Elizabeth II is said to have enjoyed Zdjelarević’s 2009 Chardonnay – a wine produced from vines that overlook the long sloping hills that meander southeastward toward the town of Slavonski Brod and the Sava river – an area not generally recognized for its world class wines. It looks like Davor Zdjelarević is trying to change that.
The property also includes a hotel with 12 rooms and three apartments and a gourmet restaurant where guests can dine like a king – and drink like a queen! 🙂
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! 🙂
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 III of his report, we present Mr. Martin’s reviews and scores (based on a 100-point scale) of wines from the Slavonia region of northeast 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.
In the previously published Part II of his report, Mr. Martin discussed his perception of the “wrongs and rights” of the Croatian wines he tasted. For your convenience and introduction to the tasting notes and scores presented here, below is an except from the relevant section of text from that post.
I am convinced that Grasevina can produce fine white wine, indeed I fondly recall an impressive flight at the International Wine Challenge last April. Probably the best thing that anyone did was change the name and banish the associations we have with the much-derided Laski Rizling. Grasevina is easy to pronounce and provides a hook for some lovely, fresh, aromatic Croatian wines that perhaps need to work on their length: abundant flavour on the front palate but not the back-end to really make an impression. Growers need to watch those yields because they can engender bland, anonymous wines if not kept in check.
Part III: Tasting Notes of Slavonian Wines
2003 Enjingi Venje Late Harvest White Blend – 83
This Slavonian white is a blend of Grasevina, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris and Gewürztraminer (just the kitchen sink missing!) The nose is simple and quite buttery, lacking a little delineation. The palate has a pleasing waxy entry and nice weight, marred by too much alcohol on the anonymous finish. Tasted May 2010.
2006 Enjingi Grasevina Late Harvest – 75
This just does not work at all. Simple marmalade tinged nose, the palate lacking definition and complexity on the raw finish. Tasted May 2010.
2003 Enjingi Venje Barrique Red Blend – 80
A strange nose: dark berried fruit, woodbines, smoke, thyme…some sulphide issues just lurking in the background. Sweet entry, a lot of residual sugar here rendering the finish very cloying. Tasted May 2010.
2008 Mihalj Grasevina – 85
This has a simple, primal nose with green apple, nettle and a touch of lemon. The palate is lacking complexity but the balance is good enough, with pear and kiwi fruit on the crisp finish. Fine. Tasted May 2010.
2008 Galic Grasevina – 87
This has a light minerally nose with white flowers, greengage and a touch of white asparagus. Nice definition. The palate has a ripe entry, good weight with touches of lemongrass, citrus fruit, nutmeg and good poise on the finish. Fine. Tasted May 2010.
2008 Galic Sauvignon Blanc – 77
Simple grassy nose, primal and simple on the palate. Rather dull. Tasted May 2010.
2008 Galic Pinot Noir – 72
Already showing some maturity, the nose is flaccid and the palate dull and lacking vigour. Tasted May 2010.
2008 Krauthaker Merlot – 83
This has a rounded, slightly honeyed nose with redcurrant jam, small red cherries and a touch of wild strawberry. The palate is fleshy and ripe but lacking structure and freshness towards the finish. Tasted May 2010.
2009 Krauthaker Grasevina – 82
Delivering 14% alcohol, this has a simple nose of cooking apple, pear and nettle with good lift. The palate is medium-bodied with primal, grapey flavours dominating. Not bad, but rather unexciting. Tasted May 2010.
2009 Krauthaker Mitrovac Grasevina – 83
This has a light pineapple, pear and lanolin nose with good definition…light and airy. The palate is quite rounded on the entry with hints of dried honey and melted butter, but the finish is very flabby. Tasted May 2010.
2008 Krauthaker Grasevina Mitrovac – 85
This is better than the 2009, with fresh pineapple and pear on the nose, touches of white flower developing with time. The palate is ripe on the entry with ginger and apricot, rather too much caramel dominating the finish through. Tasted May 2010.
2009 Krauthaker Chardonnay Rosenberg – 89
Matured in stainless-steel and new oak, the palate is well defined with citrus lemon, apricot and acacia honey with well integrated oak. The palate is well balanced, fruit-driven and generous with hints of dried orange peel, apricot and ginger, though it just needs more clarity on the finish. But otherwise this is a very confident Slavonian Chardonnay. Tasted May 2010.
2008 Zdjelarevic Grasevina – 83
This has a rather innocuous nose of melon, pineapple and crab apple, the palate nicely balanced but short and overtly simple on the finish. Quaffing pleasure but nothing more. Tasted May 2010.
2008 Zdjelarevic Chardonnay – 87
This Chardonnay has a simple, slightly smoky, introverted nose with moderate definition. The palate is ripe and primal, a little tight at first but loosening in the glass. Notes of lime, green apple and lemon zest on the finish that demonstrates good persistency. Tasted May 2010.
2008 Zdjelarevic Grand Cuvee Nagual (White) – 90
A blend of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, this really is quite impressive. The nose has fine definition with cooking apple, wild nettles and a touch of undergrowth. Hints of linden developing with time. The palate has a ripe entry with fresh lively citrus fruit, an almost sherbet quality on the fresh finish that reminds me of a fine Marlborough Sauvignon. Tasted May 2010.
2008 Kutjevo Grasevina de Gotho – 86
Lovely tropical fruit on the nose with orange-blossom, mango and passion fruit, leading to a phenolic entry on the palate, pear skin and gooseberry flavours mingle with nectarine and pine. It does lack focus, but an intriguing wine. Tasted May 2010.
2008 Kutjevo Chardonnay de Gotho Aureus – 86
This has a fine nose of apricot, marmalade and dried honey. The palate has moderate acidity with light touches of marmalade, quince and dried nectarines. Good acidity and length, if not the complexity of a great Chardonnay. Tasted May 2010.
2008 Feravino Grasevina – 86
This Grasevina has ripe apple, lime leaf and a touch of damp moss on the nose. Good definition. The palate is fresh on the entry with greengage and a touch of apricot, racy acidity, nice tension if lacking some length. Tasted May 2010.
2008 Feravino Frankovka – 77
This is over-extracted and rather volatile on the nose. The palate is sweet, over-extracted and cloying on the anonymous finish. Tasted May 2010.
2009 Belje Grasevina – 90
This is a lovely Slavonian Grasevina, with hints of pineapple, water cress and apricot on the nose with a faint tang of something sweet…toffee popcorn! The palate is ripe with good acidity, vibrant fruit of dried apricot, mellow and nectarine with very good weight on the finish. Excellent. Tasted May 2010.
2008 Belje Merlot – 86
A clean, soft, quite fleshy nose with wild strawberry, cigar box, smoke and dried herbs. Quite complex for a Merlot. The palate is medium-bodied and does not quite have the complexity of the nose, spicy red-berried fruit, mulberry and a touch of cooked meat/spice, but just lacking a little freshness on the finish to merit a higher score. Tasted May 2010.
2008 Daruvar Grasevina – 89
This has fine definition on the nose with light aromas of acacia, honey, fine lees and a touch of orange-blossom. The palate has a ripe entry with light honeyed nose, lemon peel and quince jelly, viscous towards the sweet finish balanced by good acidity and crispness. This is a well crafted Grasevina. Tasted May 2010.
P.S. from Editor: In Part IV, we will present Mr. Martin’s notes and scores for Istrian wines.
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.”