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Ep 371: The Wines of Croatia

Wine for Normal People

Release Date: 04/19/2021

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Croatia is a small country with unlimited wine potential. With a 2,500-year history of winemaking, this beautiful nation has coast, islands, and inland hills, all with unique soil types that make its growing conditions unlike anywhere else in the world. The four main regions make distinctive wines using indigenous grapes and although the industry is just getting back on its feet after a century of war, socialism, and poor viticulture, Croatia is a country on the ascent, and one you should know about! 

Dubrovnik in Dalmatia

These show notes really have to be a list of places and grapes, to help you figure out what the heck we were saying on the show. So here it is, as promised:

 

Source: Croatian Chamber of Economy and Croatian Premium Wine Imports

Continental/Inland areas

Croatian Uplands: The cool, hilly areas around the nation’s capital of Zagreb

  • Whites: Muscat, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Chardonnay,
    • Furmint (Hungary’s grape used for Tokaji, known as Pušipel or Moslavac),
    • Škrlet (like Grüner Veltliner)
    • Sparkling wine production using traditional method with long lees aging
  • Reds: Pinot Noir, Purtugizec (Blauer Porturgieser)

 

Slavonia: A flatter area that goes east from Zagreb to where the Danube hits Serbia. It has Gently rolling hills but the area is famed from the Slavonian oak for (especially Italian) barrels.

  • Whites:
    • Graševina (grah-shay-VEEN-ah) - Croatia’s most planted white variety,
    • Traminac (Gewürztraminer) in warmer sites
  • Reds:
    • Frankovka (Blaufränkisch) for still and sparkling wines

 

 

The Dalmatian Coast and Istria

Dalmatia and Croatia’s Islands: The southernmost region of Croatia, the area has a mild Mediterranean climate – with dry, hot summers, mild winters with rain. This is the big tourist area, it lies on the coast and includes Split and the city of Dubrovnik (the city of King’s Landing in the HBO Show “Game of Thrones.” Yes, I did read all 6 books).

 

There is island viticulture here and we mention some specific places: Brač, Vis, Korčula, Hvar (where the world’s oldest continuously cultivated vineyard can be found at Stari Grad Plain). Also home to the great wines of the Peljesac (pell-yer-shatz) Peninsula

  • Whites:
    • Pošip (po-SHIP)
    • Vuguva (VOO-gah-vah)
    • Maraština (mar-ahsh-TEEN-a)
    • Debit
    • Grk
  • Reds:
    • Crljenak Kastelnski (serl-YEN-ick casht-el-EN-ski)/Tribidag (regional name for same grape)
    • Babić (bab-ICH)
    • Plavac Mali (plaa-VAHTZ mah-lee) -- From Postup and Dingač (where Miljenko (Mike) Grgić was born)

 

 

Istria is the dynamic, outward looking, northern-most wine region. Throughout history it belonged to Austria, Italy, and Yugoslavia and that means it has a influences in food and wine from these nations. Istria has a Mediterranean climate, like Dalmatia but it is slightly cooler. It has rocky soils, rolling hills, and iron rich red soils (terra rossa like the Coonawarra of South Australia).

  • Whites:
    • 2/3 production is the Malvazija Istarska grape (Malvasia Istriana in Italy)
    • Žlahtina (zh-LACHK-teen-ah): grown only on the island of Krk (KIRK), with citrus and pear notes, soft round textures and low acidity
  • Reds:
    • Native red variety Teran – acidic, aromatic medium to full bodied reds, best on clay-based terra rossa soils. Also great for Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and the native varieties. Also Refošk.
    • Good wine tourism here

 

 

Grape Descriptions

 

Whites

Graševina: Welschriesling, Laški Rizling, Riesling Italico, Olasz Riesling): Croatia’s most planted white and grape variety overall

  • Best in continental climate on the plains of Slavonia
  • Styles range
    • young, fresh, saline, and grassy when aged in neutral vessels
    • Oak-aged with floral, peachy, apricot notes and a fuller body.
  • Can age well, can be dry or off-dry, sparkling, botrytized, ice wine. Part of Gemišt, a mix of Graševina with sparkling water

 

Malvazija Istarska: Malvasia grown in Croatia with no relation to the Malvasia from Greece or Italy. Croatia’s second most-planted variety, can reflect terroir well

  • Istria’s big grape –representing more than 50% of all their whites
  • Styles:
    • Fermented and aged in stainless steel – floral, honey, apple, pear notes, with lower acidity, salinity
    • With extended skin contact and barrel aging -- full-bodied white or orange wine
  • Experimentation with oak, concrete, amphora, skin contact is becoming common

 

Whites of Dalmatia

Pošip: Originally from the island of Korčula (CORE-chu-lah) where it was shielded form phylloxera as it grew on sandy soils. It also grows on the Pelješac Peninsula and on Brač and Hvar, and other islands

  • The wine is aromatic, herbal, grassy, and acidic. Can be oaked, aged on the lees, huge styles, passito for region’s traditional sweet wine Prošek

 

Debit is like minerally Sauvignon Blanc but with more lime than grapefruit flavor. With oak age this wine can be like a medium bodied Chardonnay.

 

Maraština is dry and full-bodied with peach, nut, and floral aromas and a full, viscous texture.

 

Vugava: Mostly found on island of Vis in central Dalmatia, which has steep hillsides.

  • The grape is similar to the Rhône Valley’s Viognier –it can get overripe and its lovely notes of apricot, honey, and flowers can verge on excessive, especially when accompanied by high alcohol and low acidity. For this reason, it used to be for blending only but growers are getting better at making varietal versions

 

 

Reds

Plavac Mali: The third most planted variety, it is grown mostly in southern Dalmatia, in bush vines on rocky soils and steep south-facing slopes. Dingač and Postup on the Pelješac peninsula are famed.

  • Cross between Crlenjak Kaštelanski (Tribidrag or Crljenak Kaštelanski depending on the locality ancestral Zinfandel) and Dobričić (an ancient red wine grape variety from the Dalmatian coast).
    • Similarities to Zinfandel: flavors like raisins, plums, and herbs. Both ripen to very high alcohol and have problems with uneven ripening, which makes them difficult to grow.
    • Differences with Zinfandel: Plavac Mali is denser and heavier than Zinfandel and can have more black cherry flavors and more tannin. Plavac Mali can have lower acidity and producers sometimes do it no favors by putting it in new oak for too long

 

 

Babić: A small percentage is grown but some is imported to the US. It is grown Northern Dalmatia, NE of Split, some on the island of Korčula

  • The grape is related to Dobričić so it is also a relative of Plavac Mali
  • The wines are full bodied, herbal, acidic, with cherry notes, soft tannins, and lower alcohol levels

 

 

Teran: Grown in Istria, this lighter style, thin-skinned grape was grown in Istria for centuries, replaced with French varieties but is making a comeback

  • The wines have good acidity and tannin. They look dark but have lighter aromas like red fruit, earthy, herbs, pepper. These wines are good for barrel aging and can age

 

Sources: Vina CroatiaWine Anorak, The BuyerSevenFifty, Wine Enthusiast

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