By Rose Murray Brown MW Published in The Scotsman 19 May 2018
If you have holidayed on the Adriatic coast enjoying the sun, scenery and cities, you might well have discovered Croatia’s Italianate-style wines made from their native grapes – and hoped to find them back home.
Sadly, there is a still a dearth of UK retailers and supermarkets selling Croatian wines. Whilst Croatia is an inexpensive holiday destination, its wine prices are not cheap. It is largely thanks to enthusiastic wine importers Mark Roberts of Croatian Fine Wines and Trevor Long and Judith Burns of Pacta Connect, that we starting to see an influx of affordable wines filtering in from Istria and Dalmatia.
Of all Balkan wine countries, Croatia has the most diversity and a treasure trove of flavours from its native grapes. It has a long history, back to Roman times, and has always had a focus on small boutique wineries, which have now been revived by immigrants returning home after the Balkans war to re-establish their family winery.
White wines outnumber reds by 2:1 in Croatia. The most important white grape is Grasevina grown in Slavonija near the Danube in eastern Croatia, which tastes like a light Viognier, although it is known as Welshriesling elsewhere in the world. More interesting is the Malvazija Istarska grape, originally from Crete, now grown mainly on Istria’s peninsula between Pula and the Slovenian and Italian border near Trieste. Malvazija has great potential, offering freshness and a vibrant sea-breezy coastal character.
Croatian reds often remind me of northeast Italian reds with their sour cherry fruits, high acidity and tangy freshness. Terrano is often used to make lighter reds with Merlot as a softener in the blend, but for more robust characterful reds there is Plavac Mali and Tribidag, which is the same grape as Zinfandel.
Interestingly, Croatia’s indigenous grapes, temperate climate and scenic beauty have attracted a British winemaker, ex-Marks and Spencer and Harrods wine buyer Jo Ahearne MW. Ahearne fell in love with Hvar island and set up her own small winery on the island two years ago to exploit the island’s native grapes. She now makes a spicy rose from Darnekusa grape, a Wild Skins macerated white from Kuc, Bogdanusa and Posip grapes and a Plavac Mali red – we hope to see them in the UK soon – but if anyone is visiting Hvar island, they should check out Ahearno Vino.
Other producers to look for include Matesovic, Trapan, Gerzinic, Josic, Cattunar, Veralda, Tomaz, Fazin, Kozlovic and Roxanich for whites and Mateo Vecilic, Franc Arman, Kabola and Badel for reds – and Bodren for sweet wines.
Slavonija: GOLDEN VALLEY GRASEVINA 2015 Vlado Krauthaker (12.5%)
£10 Marks & Spencer
Rich textured dry weighty honeyed Grasevina grown in the hills of Kutjevo in south east Croatia; tastes like a mix between Chardonnay and Viognier.
Istria: FESTIGIA MALVAZIJA ISTARSKA 2015 Vina Laguna (13.5%)
£10.95 Lea & Sandeman
A very enticing crisp dry Malvazija with pear and apple notes, soft succulent texture – a good introduction to the grape.
Istria: ‘ALBA’ MALVAZIJA ISTARSKA 2017 Matesovic (12.5%)
£13.50-£15 Beets, Leith; Bon Vivant Companion; Fine Wine Co Musselburgh
From top producer Matesovic; very aromatic, limey apricot flavours, refreshing minerality with an almondy twist to the finish.
Istria: MALVAZIJA ISTARSKA 2016 Vina Laguna (12.5%)
£7.50 The Wine Society
Light delicate example with floral notes, citrus flavours and a hint of sea-breezy character. A rather neutral example of Malvazija, but easy drinking, refreshing and well-priced; would suit Sauvignon Blanc lovers.
Istria: PINOT GRIGIO 2016 Vina Laguna (12%)
£10.95 Lea & Sandeman
Made by Milan Budinski who has trained in California, Chile and Argentina. An easy drinking lightweight quaffer with a soft fleshy ripeness.
Istria: MALVAZIJA ISTARSKA PRESTIGE 2016 Veralda (13.5%)
A refined example from one of Croatia’s largest wineries, based in northern Istria’s Buje. Lots of tropical fruit ripeness, pithy citric fruits, fresh and vibrant.
Istria: TERRA ROSSA 2016 Vina Laguna (13%)
***STAR VALUE BUY***
An exciting new bargain. This wonderful blend of Merlot, Teran and Borgonja grapes has delicious plummy aromas, tangy sour cherry flavours with tart acidity. Similar in style to Italian Valpolicella – but tastes even better.
Istria: MERLOT SUPERIOR 2012 Franc Arman (14%)
A much improved vintage from 2011, this 2012 has bags of lush cherry fruits with cedary undertones and soft texture from oak ageing. This example from Istria’s Mima Valley reminds me of north east Italian Melots with its tangy sharp acidity.
Dalmatia: DINGAC 50 2012 Badel (14%)
Plavic Mali is a relation of Zinfandel (aka Tribidrag) so if you like this plummy chocolate flavoured red with its hint of sweetness and sleek silky tannins, at its best served with roast beef. Plavac Mali is widely grown in Croatia and its islands, but the best are from steep cliffs of the famous Peljesac peninsular.
Istria: TERAN 2015 Kabola (14%)
Smoky tobacco aromas, rich red berry fruits, sharp acidity and firm tannins in this organic wine from Buje in the Momjan Valley in north west Istria; made from the ancient Terrano grape. Suit those who love Northern Rhone Syrah.
Istria: GRIMALDA RED 2015 Matosevic (13.5%)
£23.50 Fine Wine Co Musselburgh
A fine complex oaked predominantly Merlot blend, with 20% Teran, made by Croatia’s wine guru Ivica Matosevic. Loved its cinnamon spice undertones, smooth texture, minerally backbone and sour cherry finish. Very Italianate.
Discover CROATIAN, SLOVENIAN & ITALIAN FRIULI WINE with Rose Murray Brown MW at The Scotch Malt Whisky Society’s Vaults in Edinburgh on Thursday 7 June 7.30pm-9.30pm. Includes 13 wines with cheeses £42pp www.rosemurraybrown.com