Expanding My Wine Horizons . . . to Croatia

I’ve never given much thought (any thought, if I’m being honest) to Croatian wine.  If I were playing a game of Word Association and the topic was Wine, the next word out of my mouth wouldn’t be Croatia.  But maybe it should be . . .

Lemme fetch my globe.  Because (more honesty here), beyond knowing that Croatia fits somehow into the Serbia-Bosnia jigsaw puzzle, I couldn’t find it on an unlabeled map (oh please, I wouldn’t be the only one).  But I’ve seared Croatia into my cartographic memory now — Croatia is that boomerang shaped country directly across the northern Adriatic Sea from Italy.  Croatia has some 3,500 miles of coastline and over 1,000 islands.

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Have you ever seen Croatia?  I expected 50 shades of post-Communist grey, but found this instead.  This is stunning.

medium_3846763098Photo Credit

So why my sudden interest in Croatia?  Well, that’s my dad’s fault.  On a recent trip abroad, a friend gave my dad a bottle of Croatian wine.  And he brought it to my house for us to taste.

So here’s the bottle.  I kind of dig the 1L size . . .

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Cool crest on the top of the bottle, but something’s a little off here . . .

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What the?  This looks like it belongs on a bottle of Budweiser.

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In the glass . . . it looks a little thin.

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My sniff-check revealed a completely unremarkable nose — which is another way of saying it smelled like nothing.  The wine had a funky metallic taste to it, like a steel wool pad.  Steel wool doesn’t taste good.

What the heck did I just drink?

I Googled “Ribar Stolno”.  Lots of hits . . . all of them in Croatian.  Not helpful if you don’t speak Croatian.

Plan B:  Translate the Ribar Stolno website into English (all hail, Google).  Now that I can read it . . . Ribar Stolno is made with a blend of red grapes in coastal Croatia, and it’s “the most famous and bestselling red table wine in Croatia.”  Skeptic’s caveat:  Cupcake and Barefoot are the bestselling table wines in America.

A little more research led me to the classification system for Croatian wine:

  • Vrhunsko Vino – Premium Quality Wine  (About 5% of Croatian wine)
  • Kvalitetno Vino – Quality Wine
  • Stolno Vino – Table Wine (jug wine)

And a few helpful Croatian words that you might find on bottle of Croatian wine:

  • Suho:  Dry
  • Polusuho:  Semi-dry
  • Slatko:  Sweet
  • Bijelo:  White
  • Crno:  Red (literally Black)
  • Rosa:  Rose

Ah-ha!  The wine I just drank is a Stolno Suho Vino . . . dry jug wine!  That explains a lot —
I just drank Croatian Barefoot!

There’s more to Croatian wine than Ribar Stolno Suho Vino.  I just know it.  Back to Google.

There are two main wine growing regions in Croatia:

Continental (Interior) Region
A Continental climate with hot summers, dry winters and sufficient rainfall.  Mostly white wine is produced in this region (in fact, most of the wine produced in Croatia is white wine).  The most widely planted grape is Graševina.

Coastal Region
A Mediterranean climate, with hot, humid summers and mild winters.  This region produces whites and bigger, Mediterranean style reds.  The most widely planted grape in the region is Malvazia.

Some of the best known wines from Croatia come from the Dalmatian Islands (you know this is a bucket list item for Cruella de Vil).  The Dalmatian Islands are teeming with microclimates, and its hillsides and slopes make perfect spots for indigenous grapes to sunbathe all day long.

Perhaps the most well known grape in Croatia is Plavac Mali  (translates to small blue) – it’s the child of Zinfandel and a grape called Dobričić. 

Fun Fact:  The Croatians like to dilute their wine with water, either still or carbonated.  I can’t say I’m in love with the idea of watering down my wine, but if I ever find myself in Croatia, I will roll with the Croatians.

  • Gemišt – Wine + carbonated water
  • Bevada – Wine + still water

Another Fun Fact:  Croatia has some of the best oak forests, used by winemakers throughout Europe, especially Old World producers in Italy.

I wanted to try some better examples of Croatian wine, but you can’t just stroll into your local wine superstore and pick up a bottle of Croatian wine.  At least not in my corner of the Universe.  So I threw myself at the altar of Google once again, and found a great source for Croatian wines in California — the good folks at Blue Danube Wine Company.

I ordered two bottles, completely at random:  Grgic Plavac Mali and CO Istrian Malvasia.

Grgic Plavac Mali:  Deciphering the label, I know Plavac Mali is the grape.  And Kvalitetmo Vino Suho means Quality Dry Wine.  Vinogorje Peljesac means the vineyards of Peljesac, and Berba means Harvest, 2008.

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Here’s the back of the label:

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Tasting Notes:  Gorgeous garnet color in the glass.  Retail is $35.  15.7% alcohol.   Good thing to know upfront.  Great big mess of funk on the nose.  I already like it.  Front loaded with dark berries — black and boysen.  Finish is all spice and game.  Well balanced, smooth and approachable tannins.  I’d definitely buy this again, especially for the fall and winter.

CO Istrian Malvasia:  This is a white wine from the coastal region.  The grape is Malvasia, or Malvazija in Croatian.  It’s indigenous to the region.  The producer/winery is Coronica.

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Tasting Notes:  13.8% alcohol, fermented in stainless steel, 6 months on the lees.  Retail is $20.  A very aromatic wine, highly perfumed, much like Viognier.  The color has a pale green tinge to it.  A slightly effervescent mouthfeel with snappy acidity, and a green apple & wet stone finish.  But perhaps the most distinguishing feature of this wine is it’s dramatic salt taste.  Yes, salt.  I know — it pulled my focus, too.  On its own, I’m not sure I’m a fan.  But with some shellfish and a pile of lemons, it would be superb.  Especially if I got to eat it seaside in that picture of Croatia above.

 

Postscript:  If Terroir Could Talk . . .  This post is already extremely long, and you probably stopped reading about 1,000 words ago.  But if you are still reading, and you love it when wine and history get all tangled up together, here’s your reward.

I’m sure you’ll remember that Croatia was involved in a nasty war for independence with the Serbs in the mid-1990s.  The Homeland War devastated Croatia economically and left behind a lethal legacy of land mines . . . up to 2 million of them.

Here’s a map of “heavy concentrations” of landmines in Croatia:

Croatia_minefieldsMap Credit

And now here’s a map of the wine growing regions in Croatia:

croatia-mapMap Credit

Um . . . overlap much?  That’s where history and wine collide!

Enter an organization called Roots of Peace and its Mines to Vines initiative.  Roots of Peace works with the United Nations and the Croatian Mine Removal Center to remove land mines and convert the land to vineyards.  According to the Red Cross, it costs between $300 and $1,000 to get rid of one landmine.  Roots of Peace has been enlisting help from winemaking heavies in Napa Valley like the Mondavi Family and Mike Grgich.  So far, they’ve been able to clear about half a million square meters of land for grapevine use.  Pretty neat, huh?

Croatia is going on my bucket list . . . for its beauty, its history . . . and its wine.

And, in the spirit of my Croatian wine learning curve, I’ve learned how to say Cheers in Croatian.  Well, I’ve learned how to copy & paste the Croatian word for Cheers . . .

Živjeli!

38 comments

  1. Excellent post! I am dying to go back to Croatia (my great great grandparents were Croatians and I was there while traveling in college) but this time as an alcoholic, er, I mean as a wine tourist. This is a great start to my research! Živjeli!

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  2. Who knew an innocent bottle of Croatian wine in dad’s suitcase would lead to such an interesting blog post. I didn’t give up after 1000 words; on the contrary I was clamoring for more. Great research. I just love it when wine and history collide. Salud!

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  3. I’ve only come across a beer cap on a wine at a tiny winery in the Saar valley, where one lone vintner believed in them with all his heart. It is a bit surprising to find them…

    And yes, Liter bottles are AWESOME!! Used for the entry level, easy drinking wines in Germany as well…I miss them.

    Great piece, thorough research!! Well done.

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    1. Thanks so much! I had never seen a beer cap on a bottle of wine before . . . über intriguing, isn’t it? Funny . . . all the times I’ve been to Germany, and I have never noticed 1L bottles of wine there. I’ll have to be on the lookout the next time we go! Salud!

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      1. You just ask the winemakers for their Gutsriesling. Not the top notch wineries. The second and third rate wineries that are sometimes not even in the wine guide books. The quality is usually fine, but remember: You can always remedy Liter bottles by pouring a quarter in a pint glass, and filling it up with water or lemonade. That is the go to drink for people in Rheinhessen in the summer.

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  4. The Dalmatian coast is magical and you will have the opportunity to experience so many breathtaking views with every turn in the road. Come join me in a bottle of Dingac wine once you arrive in my retirement home.

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  5. If you ever visit Croatia, go to Split. The core of the town is built into Emperor Diocletian’s massive palace and mausoleum: past and present fused. The port is all gleaming limestone masonry buildings and a great place to drink one of their salty whites with some mussels. Thanks for the post!

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  6. Very interesting and educational post, Kirsten! My only personal note would be to change “fun fact” to “scary fact” when you say that Croatians enjoy diluting wine with water – still or carbonated! Ewwww!!! Heresy!!! Honestly after hearing this the whole “bottle of red wine with a crown cap” story starts making a lot of sense to me… 😉

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      1. If I may add a little light on the story …

        The wine and water combo is specific to certain regions. White wines from the continental and Eastern side of the country are usually combined with sparkling water because they are naturally quite sour due to the weather and soil conditions. On the coastal part of the country which has more Mediteranian weather conditions, the wines are more robust, sweeter, and often mixed with still water – usually just red wines, though some do mix white as well.

        The reason – quite simple … Croatians drink a lot of wine! (I’m not joking.)
        So in order for nights out to last until the wee hours of the morning, water is mixed in so the fun lasts longer. This is very common, and very much a tradition among “common folk.”

        It should be noted, however, this is NEVER done with good quality wine. Its usually reserved for the homemade stuff since its quite common for Croatians to make their own wine.

        Croatian wines are fastly becoming a boom in European professional circles. We regularly win awards, beating out Italy, Spain and France more and more. So … we may be a little slow to start, but I assure you Croatia will makes its mark in time.

        Hope this sheds some light. I wouldn’t want anyone to think that Croatians don’t know how to enjoy a good bottle of wine. 🙂

        Zivjeli.

        P.S. Really enjoyed the post, though I have to say you couldn’t have gotten a WORSE wine as a present (it retails at less than $2 fyi). But I’m really glad it led you to us ….

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      2. Thanks for the light, Mare! So glad you stopped by . . . and I’m more than certain Croatia will make its wine mark. I can’t wait to try some more varieties! Zivjeli! :o)

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    1. In mediteranean europe, wine was a food, not a luxury. Clean water in nature is really rare, so the people started mixing it with wine, to keep the microorganisms at bay. it seems a little blasphemous, but then not all food is gourmet, either!

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  7. Love your post! We head to Croatia July 3rd and will be staying on Hvar Island for a week with a trip to Korcula specifically for a wine tasting in a small town called Lumbarda. We will be tasting at the Milne Family vineyards. Lumbarda is known for its white wines. I will write you about the wine in Lumbarda and also Hvar as we will be doing local tours and tasting there. You must get to Croatia. It is magical. I was there in 2008 and have been dreaming of returning since.

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    1. Thanks so much, Erin! I’m so jealous of your trip to Croatia — it sounds fabulous!! I hope you’ll blog about it and post tons of pictures! And PLEASE do let me know all about the wines you try . . . Salud!!

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  8. What a wonderful post! My husband and I are leaving for Croatia in four weeks and will be touring the wineries of Istria – I can’t wait and your post has made me even more excited. We’ve yet to actually try any Croatian wine and I really appreciate your recommendation for where to find it online. Great blog – thanks!

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      1. I will be reliving all of our Croatian food and wine experiences on my blog foodie-girl.com! You’ll have to stop by 🙂 Thanks again for the great read! Cheers!

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  9. We just spent 11 days driving from Dubrovnik to Senj on the Croatian coast. A more beautiful place is hard to imagine. If you go in the month of May, it is very nice, not too hot, and you will avoid the crushing crowds of June – Sept. I will this about Croatian wines in general……… You would really have to try hard to find a bad bottle. We did not have a bad bottle, nor did we have a bad meal. Some of our most memorable dinners/lunches were in places where you would not even imagine the type of food coming from the kitchen. All in all, an incredible place for any foodie. Combine that with the fact that in May, before the summer season, places to stay average about 50Euro a night, and that is for waterfront, with a balcony…………………….

    It is a hard place to beat for value, quality of food and wine, and the friendliness of the people.

    PK

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    1. Thanks for stopping by, PK! You are making Croatia sound downright irresistible! I really hope to make it there within the next couple of years. Appreciate the heads up about May vs. June-Sept. I really don’t like crowds! Salud!!

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  10. every beginning is hard! Croatian wines are amazing and there are so many! including the varieties you have never heard of (I’m sure)…but will learn and get to know (and learn to love) in time…. I am sure!
    Myself, I am a journalist and in my spare time leading a group of more than 100 women called WOMEN ON WINE – in Croatia…consisting of winemakers, wine lovers, smmeliers, oenologists, wine merchants, etc. and all are women 🙂

    LOVE CROATIAN WINES 🙂
    love wine(s). period.
    please, get to know more about our wines. It will be worth your while.

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  11. I know I’m a bit late to comment on this nice blog post-but I want to point out that the Plavac Mali you tried is actually from the famous Croatian-Californian winemaker Mike Grgich you mention later. Grgic is the Croatian spelling. Cheers from Trstenik, the location of the Grgic winery, drinking the 2013 Plavac Mali (and googling)

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