9/11/2012 - At Lucques on Melrose - Our host, importer Vinum USA, Inc., began with some historical and geographical background. Like Italy, just across the Adriatic Sea and bordering to the north, Croatia & Slovenia have many different grapes that are special to the region, besides growing grapes from other areas and putting different names to them.
There has been grape growing and wine making in the region for centuries, but real work most likely started with Greek settlers in the fifth century BC, growing during Roman times and continuing through the Middle Ages. Production survived during the occupation by the Ottoman Turks through the Catholic Church’s need for wine in their services. Production flourished again during the Hapsburg Empire.
Then came phylloxera. This hit other areas of Europe first, allowing Croatian and Slovenian winemakers to expand, but the area was finally devastated too. Coming back from this, winemaking during the communist era’s large cooperatives was more concerned with quantity rather than quality and private ownership was highly discouraged. The Croatian War of Independence was fought from 1991 to 1995 and once again many vineyards and wineries were destroyed. The return of wine has since been done by many small, independent producers, mostly with their indigenous grapes but also growing many that are originally from other places.
The whites, having been poured as we were sitting down, were immediately available to sample as our host began his presentation.
1. Vinakras Sparkling Teran 2010, Karst; Slovenia - This was a red Refosco type, done in a charmat process. Rich color, fruity and dry. A bit more body than a rose but surprisingly light. The source of this first wine, Karst, is part of a region in the north that has been split between Italy and Slovenia.
2. Pullus Pinot Grigio 2011, Stajerska, Slovenia - A very light pink with a peachy/pear/floral nose. I was getting what seemed to me a light grapefruit/citrus taste, not in the least bitter. Nice acid. Cool climate, crisp & aromatic. With 50,000 bottles produced this has the greatest output of the group. All the rest are much smaller production wines.
3. Kozlovic Malvasia 2011, Istria, Croatia - I thought it had a slight greenish tinge in color with hay and light herbs, maybe some anise on the palate. It made me think of Rousanne/Marsanne blends with spice and white flowers.
4. Posip Cara 2010, Island of Korula, Croatia - This is being touted as a “New Riviera” region. This was the first of the wines unrelated to anything else. It was darker than the Malvasia but still with that slight greenish tinge. I felt the nose had a touch of diesel/rubber initially, then some sea essences, with some of that petrol in the taste too.
5. Enjingi Welschriesling 2009, Slavonia, Croatia - Also known as Graševina, this is unrelated to the more well-known Rhine Riesling. This is the most planted white grape variety in Croatia. The maker, Ivan Enjingi is a very organic based grower. My notes say a light damp, musty nose with something that made me think of gunpowder. Maybe that could also be described as autumn fruit. Crisp with some body. This is a blend of regular and a little late harvest.
6. Pullus Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Stajerska, Slovenia - Very pale, initially some of that “cat pee” nose but not as strong as many New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs. That fades after a bit with grassiness growing to replace it. Some good citrus on the mouth.
7. Pullus Traminer G 2008, Stajerska, Slovenia - Another blend of regular and late harvest, this had a soft, floral nose and roundness in the mouth. It was picked over the course of a month to get the best ripeness.
Lunch break of braised beef short ribs (meat falling off the bone) with Swiss chard, roasted cippolinis and horseradish cream, nectarine and arugula salad. Red wines were poured during this and so we got to do a little food and wine pairing.
8. Bura Plavac Mali 2011, Dalmatia, Croatia - Dalmatia’s number one. Niko Bura, winemaker & owner. The two Bura wines are from Dalmatia’s Pelješac Peninsula. Originally thought to be an ancestor of Zinfandel, it has turned out that Zinfandel is actually one of Plavac Mali’s parent grapes. This had a nice aromatic fruit nose with a medium body. Light fruity bright taste too. Slightly chilled should be good to just sip with some cheese and other snacks. Sit back and relax.
9. Bura Galeria 2010, Dalmatia, Croatia - Blend of 70% Plavac Mali, 25% Marselan (a relatively recent French cross between Cabernet Sauvignon & Grenache) and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. In the nose some smoke, fennel/thyme notes developing after a bit. With my second taste I could pick up the earthiness and tannins. I would suspect these probably are from the additions to the lighter Plavac Mali.
10. Pilizota Babic 2009, Dalmatia, Croatia - Babic is another indigenous Croatian grape. This is grown in a rocky vineyard. Each vine isolated in a separate square to be able to gather enough water in this very dry location. The Dalmatian vines on a whole tend to be very deeply rooted. Sharp dark fruit, earth, leather. I found an initial hot finish but that blew off quickly. Light tannins.
11. Zlatan Crljenak 2008, Dalmatia, Croatia - This was probably the most recognizable grape of the lineup, though by its more familiar name of Zinfandel rather than the original Crljenak. Some time on French oak. This was the darkest of these wines, more intense nose, yet soft red fruit on the palate with a nice little anise kick on the end. Then later I was getting some earth notes. Pairs very nicely with chocolate.
12. Skaramuca Dingac Plavac Mali 2008, Dalmatia, Croatia - Dingac, the principle Plavac Mali region, is also on the Pelješac Peninsula. It receives much sunlight and has very steep south-facing slopes helping to make it ideal for growing red wines. This Plavac was a wind-down from the previous Crljenak. Lighter nose, I was getting some of that diesel like the white Posip earlier, along with the wild cherry. Rich mouth feel. This spent time on Slovenian oak.
13.Enjingi Zweigelt 2007, Slavonia, Croatia - The line up ended with another Austrian varietal from Ivan Enjingi but with a twist from regular Zweigelt. Certified organic, this is a late harvest dry red wine. The color is a muted orangeish red. Aromatic herbs, sharp taste. This is an excellent accompaniment to a cheese plate dessert.
Dessert. A bleu cheese with an intense berry component. A Slovenian hard cheese like a parmigiano/reggiano. Bittersweet chocolate tart with crème fraîche and honeycomb
While the majority of Croatian wine is white, they do some very nice reds too. Wine is very popular there and is often diluted with a little still or sparkling water. I enjoyed these undiluted.
Croatia and Slovenia are doing some fine work and have come back in a very short time. They are quite reasonably priced for the most part and are worth seeking out. There are variations on some known grapes and other fun adventures with grapes you’ve probably never heard of before. Most of us are not familiar with the names, which may make it a little difficult to ask for at your friendly local wine store, but these are well worth it. If your local doesn’t have any Croatian or Slovenian wines they really need to get some. Everybody will be happy.
So thanks to JD for another fascinating foray into the world of wine! Stay tuned for more from the Goddess of Wine and JD!
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