CROATIAN WINE

by Rose Murray Brown MW       Published in The Scotsman 16 Aug 2014

Millions of tourists are now flocking to the stunning Adriatic coast and its islands in search of sun and scenery.  You can see why it appeals to so many British tourists as the northern Dalmatian coast has a very Tuscan feel – with flourishing food and wine scene.  Many people will be enjoying the native Croatian grapes and wines – and hope to find them in our shops when they return home.

Until recently it has been hard to track down Croatian wines in the UK.  There are two specialist Croatian wine importers into the UK.  Pacta Connect run by the delightful and energetic Trevor Long and Judith Burns who focus in smaller family run estates and probably know more about Croatian wines than anyone else in the UK.  Another good online retailer is Croatian Fine Wines which has recently changed hands now run by enthusiastic Mark Roberts. 

It is thanks to these two companies that holidaymakers to Pula and Dubrovnick can now try wines back home in supermarkets and winemerchants.  Yet despite Croatia being an inexpensive holiday destination, wine prices are not cheap – so it is hard to find Croatian wines under £8 in the UK.

Winemaking is by no means new to Croatia – with a wine history dating back to the time of ancient Greek settlers in C5BC who first planted vines here – or even the Illyrians earlier in the Bronze age in Dalmatia may have made wine.  In C19 and C20 Croatia was a big player with 200,000 hectares of vineyards, but today it has shrunk to 59,000 hectares – so about double the size of New Zealand’s vineyard area.

Croatia has a long history of small producers, these ‘boutique’ wineries are now being revived by immigrants returning home to re-establish their family winery or to start afresh.  Good producers to look for include Misal for sparkling wines, Trapan for rose, Josic, Gerzinic, Roxanich, Kabola, Coronica and Cattunar for whites, Mateo Vicelic and Franc Arman for reds and Bodren for lovely sweet wines.

Croatia has a fascinating range of native grapes.  Along the thousands of kilometres of Dalmatian and Istrian coastline which benefits from a mild Mediterranean climate, the grapes you are most likely to encounter are floral white Malvazia Istarska and Muskat – as well as zesty white Posip and Grk on Korcula island and Bogdanusar on Hvar island.  For red grapes look for Teran, Refosk and Plavac Mali (which is the same grape as Zinfandel).

Inland Croatia has a more continental climate.  Here Grasevina grape (which is known as Riesling Italico or Welshriesling elsewhere) and Chardonnay dominates in Croatia’s north east near the border with Slovenia.  Heading south east of the capital of Zagreb is Slavonia (or Slavonija as you will see on the label) – nearer to the Bosnia and Hungary borders, where you are more likely to encounter Riesling, Traminer, Silvaner and red Zweigelt.

Croatian wine labels all have quality categories: Stolno refers to table wine, Kvalitetno to quality wine and Vrhunkso Vino for top premium wines.  If you are searching for a dry wine look for Suho and for semi-dry look for Polusuho on the label.

SPARKLING WINE

MISAL MILLENIUM NV
(£29.50 www.pactaconnect.co.uk)

An extraordinary fizz made by a 25 year old who was allergic to sulphur so decided to make her own wines.  A blend of Malvasia (80%), Pinot Noir (10%) and Chardonnay (10%) grown in Istria; made using the same traditional method as Champagne.  Very deep in colour, rich biscuit nose, good depth – a touch too weighty and high in alcohol but a great achievement for a first fizz – I look forward to seeing more of Misal’s fizz.  Alcohol: 13%

WHITE WINES

GOLDEN VALLEY GRASEVINA 2012 Vlado Krauthaker
(£9 Marks & Spencer)

From hills of Kutjevo near the Pozega valley in western Slavonija in south east Croatia.  Local winemaker Vlado Krauthaker has crafted a rich weighty dry Grasevina with M&S winemaker: ideal for serving with pork or chicken.  Alcohol: 12.5%

JOSIC GRASEVINA 2013
(£15 Harvey Nichols, Edinburgh; Loki Wine, Birmingham: Hennings wine merchant)

Loved this fragrant herby white with its minerally stone fruit and green apple notes, rich intensity and long length from vineyards near the Danube valley.  With alcohol at just 12% this makes a very elegant summer aperitif.  STAR BUY

GERZINIC MALVAZIJA ISTARSKA 2012      
(£17 Harvey Nichols, Edinburgh)

From a small producer with just 6 hectares in the area of Vizinada.  Old vines give a lovely lemon blossom aroma, rich passionfruit flavours and delightfully light fresh palate despite the high alcohol of 13.5%

KABOLA MOMJANSKI MUSKAT 2012
(£12.50 for 50 cl bt www.croatianfinewines.com)

A popular wine at our tasting; this Istrian Muskat has attractive floral grapey aromas, peachy juicy fruits and light sweetness; organic too.  Alcohol 12%

CATTUNAR MUSKAT BIJELI MOMJANSKI 2011
(£10 Harvey Nichols, Edinburgh)

Light floral zesty just off-dry, reminded me of elderflower wine with a bit more weight.  Alcohol 13%

RED WINES

KABOLA MERLOT 2010        
(£17.26 www.croatianfinewines.com)

From near the hilltop town of Buje in north west Istria; this oaked Merlot made from organically grown grapes has a luscious mid-palate with generous sweet fruit notes with firm dry tannin to finish.  Alcohol 14.5%

DINGAC 2012 Mateo Vicelic 
(£25 Berry Bros & Rudd www.bbr.com)

A step up in quality, as you would expect at this price.  This fascinating spicy cherry fruited red with its raisiny sweetness is made from the Plavac Mali grape (Zinfandel) grown on the Peljesac peninsula on high limestone slopes.  This tiny producer, Mateo Vicelic, specializes in this grape with just two wines from his small 3.5 hectare vineyard, but plans to expand another 6 hectares.  Dingac is the first appellation given for this grape.  Alcohol 15%

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