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Croatia: Strength and beauty

Written by JW. Posted in Croatia

There are fascinating wines coming from the Balkans at the moment. No surprise given the history of wine cultivation there. Who can forget the beauty of the two thousand year old Ilyrian wine amphora discovered recently off the coast of Albania on a Roman wreck?  Take a peek here if you haven’t [ ]. A touch patronising today then to be ‘discovering’ wines from the region but a recent tasting organised by Wines of Croatia, including a selection of forty odd wines chosen by the UK’s merry Wine Gang of journalists, showed how modern techniques, indigenous varieties and diverse terroirs are producing some brilliant wines.  Certainly you wouldn’t want to miss out on the wild flavours of the red Plavac Mali grape or Pošip, a local white.  Malvasia Istria also turns it hand at some tremendously refreshing, and occasionally weighty whites. You may not have herd of Crljenac but you’ll better know it as Zinfandel. Babić and Teran, a Refosco relative, can also produce very good reds.

Croatia’s a pretty varied country, as Tom Cannavan remarked at the tasting, it’s shaped a bit like a croissant. Obviously well known for its beautiful coastline and islands production also extends well inland. Interesting wines appeared to be coming from all the regions. The practical question, aside from a trip over to Croatia [and why not?], is where to lay your hands on the best wines over here? First stop contact the importers and merchants shipping them into the UK themselves. I’d talk to specialists Pacta Connect UK  or Croatian Fine Wines and Coe Vintners all represented wines at the tasting.

Croatia’s 33,000 hectares of vines in production are divided between continental and coastal regions, one third are planted in the north west, 14% in Slavonia and Podunavlje, 16% in Istria and the Croatian Primorje and 35% in Dalmatia. Grasevina [Welschriesling], Plavac Mali and Malvazija Istria account for half the vineyard plantings.  There are around a thousand wine producers in Croatia of which nearly seven hundred make wines from geographically specific areas. It’s pretty complex and rather than approach this geographically I’ve narrowed the tasting down to those producers that excited me and, by and large, by varietal.

There were a whole host of vibrant and diverse whites selected by the Wine Gang. I’d agree pretty much with many of the wines they selected, some interestingly weird. Cmrecnjak’s Pinot Sivi [Pinot Gris] 2009 had life and zest with good length, Legovic’s Sauvignon Blanc 2010 was attractive and light bodied with nettle and grass flavours, some wax on the palate too.  Benventui’s Malvazia Istriana 2010 was a spicy, weighty number, full bodied but with zest and zip too, really nicely done. Kozlovic too made couple of interesting Malvazija’s. I preferred the fresher 2010 which was all grapefruit, candy and spice, to the heavier rather oily Santa Luca 2008 which the Wine Gang got rather carried away by. Kabola’s 2010 was spot on – fresh with some oyster shell hints and zest and life again on the palate. What interesting and refreshing whites Croatia has to offer.

Pošip also makes attractive flavourful wines. Korta Katarina’s 2009 Posip is also very good. Though I missed it here it showed well at the London Wine Fair back in May.  Jako Vino made a candy and melon flavoured Pošip in 2009 and Zlatan Otok’s Pošip’s was wonderfully round and attractive. I’d love to see more examples of this interesting grape variety.

That said I’m really not sure quite what to make of the white wines of Roxanich. The reds are healthy and deep enough but the whites are ancient in style, literally. Their Malvazia Antica 2007 could have been poured from the Ilryrian amphorae discussed earlier. The colour of cognac it’s almost sherry like with no discernable fruit at all. That’s what you get with 87 days skin contact. I did ask twice about that. Maybe they meant 7 days? Even still, the effect is that the wine transports you back a thousand years, literally. An acquired taste is the politest thing I can say. I haven’t acquired it.

One thing I genuinely don’t understand is why Zlatan Otok is still seeking a UK importer. The reds made from the 2008 vintage from Plavac Mali and Crjjenak [Zinfandel] are deep, intense and very pure. They are being offered around the 19 euro mark, so not cheap maybe but worth the money.

It’s worth specifically mentioning here what a terrific variety Plavac Mali is. It manages to produce reds with Zinfandel’s luxuriance and power but it also has gamey and forest floor tones, like it’s been mixed with Grenache or even ripe Pinot Noir. I was also very impressed by Voinarija Dingac 2008 Plavac  Mali [at a weighty 15.6%!] and their Dingac Selekcija 2008 and also by Saints Hills’s cherry, mulberry and forest floor Dingac Plavac Mali 2008 weighing in at a much more composed 13.8%. Vinarija Svrce, Badel 1862, Plavac Mali 2008, was all red fruits, strawberry tones and a game lift while Korta Katerina’s 2007 Plavac was towards the more leathery, liquorice and spicy end of things with an Italian bite on the finish.  I’d very happily drink them all.

Clai Ottocento have great labels and the wines are very good. Their white 2009 blend of Malvasia Istriana, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris was deep gold but still fresh on the nose with mineral tones and density on the palate. The 2009 red, from Merlot, Refosco and Cabernet Sauvignon was deep, dense and very concentrated in flavour with a creamy, polished palate. I also enjoyed Piquentum’s Teran 2009, a vibrant and lively wine with nice notes of herbs and spices with good grip and vigour and Radovan’s Teran 2008, also deep and fresh. Coronica’s Gran Teran 2007 was deep, inky and intense looking and thick and rich on the palate but supple too if that makes sense. Gracin’s Babic 2008 was deep dark with lots of depth, fruit and excellent structure. This is the second time I’ve had that wine this year and it’s been completely consistent and extremely impressive. Finally Galić’s Pinot Noir 2009 was also pretty good; attractive and forward but with real Pinot characters.

The following wines were tasted at the Wines of Croatia tasting in London on 8th September 2011:


Clai Ottocento, Bijeli [Malvasia Istriana, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris, 12%] 2009

Deep gold; fresh nose; spiky and strong with minerality; some candy notes on the palate and lovely density. Great length. Impressive. 90/100

Cmrecnjak, Pinot Sivi [Pinot Gris] 2009

Pale straw; some spice and candy; full of zest and life on the palate with nice weight and goodish length 88/100

Benventui, Malvazia Istriana, 2010 [13%]

Pale straw; some spice and weight alongside citrus and grapefruit notes; fresh; bold and broad palate, quite full but with some zip too. Really very good. 88+/100

Legovic, Sauvignon Blanc 2010 [12.2%]

Pale straw; attractive nettle and grass nose with some gooseberry;  quite raw palate but will settle; lower alcohol here and with it attractive freshness. Wax and lees notes too. Good 88+/100

Kabola, Malvazija Istriana,2010 [13%]

Pale straw; fresher looking; some oyster shell and mineral tones; zest and life on the palate. Very good wine, refreshing and with real zip and length. Terrific. 90/100

Kozlovic, Malvazija Istriana, 2010 [12.9%]

Pale gold; fresh looking; compact, pent up nose; grapefruit and zest too; some candyl spicy and zesty palate. More medium bodied than some of the heavier and weight [oily?] styles here. Very good. 88+/100

Jako Vino, Pošip, 2009

Pale straw, some green; wax, candy and citrus notes; melon on the palate; round and attractive 88+/100

Matosevic, Alba Antique, Malvazija Istriania, 2008 [13.3%]

Golden; perfumed nose with spice; less tired and oxidised than some ‘08s; attractive; palate substantial with good length and lots of freshness. 88+/100

Zlatan Otok, Pošip, 2009 [13.5%]

Pale gold; nice nose with some restraint but attractive; some lees and candy notes; round and attractive palate. Freshness and bite here. This is good. 88-90/100


Clai Ottocento, Crni [Merlot, Refosco and Cabernet Sauvignon] 2009

Deep and dense; legs in the glass; concentrated and ripe; quite essence like; blackfruits; prunes; creamy palate with real debnsity and polish. Excellent stuff. 90+/100

Coronica, Gran Teran, 2007

Deep, inky, dense looking; thick, dense and rich on the nose; palate quite soft and gutsy; enjoyable. 88+/100

Galić, Pinot Noir, 2009 [13.7%]

Light earthy red; translucent; attractive cabbagy Pinot notes; palate has life and balance. This is attractive Pinot Noir 87-88+/100

Gracin, Babić, 2008 [14.5%]

Deep and dark; similarly deep nose; dense and clean; some roses and red fruits; freshness; briary, brambly fruit but clean and sound; purity here with intensity; some game and forest floor creeping in at the edge. Very fine and very impressive 90+/100

Korta Katerina, Plavac Mali, 2007 [13.7%]

Red at edge; deep, black fruits evident with liquorice tar and molasses; some mature leather and spice tones too; ripe chewy palate with some black cherry notes and tannic bite. 88+/100

Piquentum, Teran, 2009

Vibrant and lively looking; spicy and herbal notes on the nose; fresh palate with good fruit and grip. Spicy and lively. Akin to new wave Valpolicella Classico? 88+/100

Radovan, Teran, 2008

Deep and fresh looking; vibrant nose with red fruits and some wet rock minerality; nice and fresh vibrant palate; clean and good. 87-88+/100

Roxanich, Teran, 2007 [13.7%]

Deep and serious looking; some lift, earth and leather; gutsy fruit on palate; nicely done in chewy style; earthy. 86/100

Saints Hills, Dingač, Plavac Mali, 2008 [13.8%]

Earthy red; ripe and thick nose with figs and mulberries; ripe, strawberry notes with forest floor elements on palate. What contrasting flavours Plavac Mali produces. Chewy finish. Great variety. Nice wine. 88-90/100

Voinarija Dingač, Plavac Mali, 2008 [15.6%]

Red at edge; jam, leather, some fig; feels rich and deep on the nose; nice sexy palate, warm and ripe almost Grenache note. Echoes of the Torbreck wine school here. That’s a compliment obviously. 88+/100

Voinarija Dingač Selekcija Plavac Mali, 2008 [15.8%]

Mid depth; deep red black; strong sexy forest floor notes with plum jam; rich and ripe; alcoholic but warm rather than spirited; chewy tannins but lots of ripe, plumy fruit flavours to go with. 88+/100

Vinarija Svrce, Badel 1862, Plavac Mali, 2008 [13.5%]

Red at edge; translucent centre; fine nose; higher toned than previous wine more fruit here; red strawberry fruits alongside some game notes; soft and easy on the palate with better alcoholics and nice grip 89+/100

Zlatan Otok, Plavac Mali, 2008

Deep; ripe and sweet nose; almost floral with plummy notes; clean and fresh and sweet oak influence [aged in barriques]; very nice density on the palate and precise. Classical wine with grip. 88-90/100

Zlatan Otok, Grand Cru, Plavac Mali, 2008

Deep and dense; sweet and ripe nose; attractive strawberry tones and very ripe red fruits; attractive full palate; very good. 90/100

Zlatan Otok, Crjjenak [Zinfandel] 2008

Mid depth; some red; ripe and thick nose but clean; ripe and attractive palate that felt balanced. Good. 88+/100

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