Look out France & Italy, here comes affordable Croatia

Learning how to pronounce varieties is the key to unlocking a treasure trove of brilliant vino

KUTJEVO, A TOWN in Slavonia, is the home of Croatia’s largest wine producer, Kutjevo d.d. Their magnificent vaulted wine cellar was built by the Cistercians in 1232. At the centre of this cellar is a circular stone table said to be the site of dalliances between the Hapsburg Empress Maria Theresa and her Slavonian lover, Baron Franjo Trenk. It is also, coincidentally, a fine perch from which to sample the venerable vintages.

Here I tasted Kutjevo d.d. Rajnski Rizling kasna berba 1992. The wine was magnificent, but here’s the problem: how do you order that in a Toronto restaurant? If you ask for a bottle of Crljenak Katelanski did you know that you’ll be getting Zinfandel? Or what about Îlahtina, a crisp white wine grown only on the vowel-less island of Krk?

Believe me, it’s worth the effort to overcome the language barrier because Croatian wine, I predict, will be the next big thing. Rajnski Rizling is, of course, the Rhine Riesling we know.

Graevina, the most widely planted grape in Croatia, is actually Welschriesling or Riesling Italico, which can make wines ranging from stonily dry to semi-sweet to icewine. As a dry wine it can resemble Pinot Gris. The Krauthaker Graevina Mitrovac 2008 I tasted at a dinner in Zagreb went beautifully with a fillet of Adriatic tuna.


BOOZE FOR THE BARBECUE

CASA THAULERO MERLOT CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2008 (ITALY) • $6.95
COLIO GIRLS NIGHT OUT CABERNET SHIRAZ 2007 (ONTARIO) • $12.95
PILLITTERI CABERNET MERLOT 2007 (NIAGARA PENINSULA) • $12.95
CREEKSIDE CABERNET 2007 (NIAGARA PENINSULA) • $13.95
COUSIÑO-MACUL ANTIGUAS CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2007 (CHILE) • $15.45
 

Plavac Mali (pronounced plahvatz mahli) is a red variety grown in the warmer regions along the Dalmatian coast. The flavour profile is blackberries, black cherries, pepper and spice with bracing tannins. The grape is a cross between Zinfandel (Crljenak Katelanski) and Dobriãiç, an ancient red variety from an island off the Dalmatian coast. These wines, because of their firm tannins, age very well.

Two of them were standouts at a tasting I had at the Westin Zagreb in July: Korta Katarina Plavac Mali 2006 and Dignac Matsuko Reserva 2004.

Croatian winemakers have access, too, to the familiar varieties we know, but it is the indigenous varieties that are intriguing. At Coronica winery, in the village of Koroniki, Moreno Coronica offered me a taste of his carefully crafted Teran 2007, not yet in bottle — a wine that we know as the Italian Refosco. Moreno described it as “an Oxfordeducated peasant.”

In the extreme east of the country, at the border with Serbia overlooking the Danube, is the hill town of Ilok. This is Gewürztraminer country, known here as Traminac. At Iloãki Podrumi, they produce a range of Gewürz right up to icewine level.

Iloãki Podrumi Traminac Icewine 2007, the first icewine made by the winery, is copper-gold in colour with a spicy, rose petal and honeyed nose; spicy and elegant; not too sweet with wonderful balance (92). This was followed by their amazing Iloãki Podrumi Traminac TBA 2006: bronze colour; burnt orange and tea nose, rather like a Tokaji; very elegant, well balanced with a spicy rose petal flavour and a marmalade finish; sweet but not cloying (93).

To add to the pleasure I tasted these wines in the company of Ivana Vasilj, the newly crowned Miss Croatia. How sweet is that?

Post City Magazines’ wine columnist, Tony Aspler, has written 14 books on wine and food. Tony also created the Ontario Wine Awards. He can be heard on 680News.

Article exclusive to TRNTO