A taste of Croatia

9 May

After winning 9 golds at the 2009 Decanter Awards Britain woke up to Croatian wine and realised that Eastern Europe has become the ‘new’ New World of winemaking, making wines to international standards.

Although Croatia is divided into four main geographical wine-growing regions we have concentrated primarily on wines from Istria, being most accessible both in terms of travel (less than 3 hours from Venice) and the British palate. To us heart-shaped Istria is the Provence of Croatia, a must visit destination according to Lonely Planet and Condé Nast Traveller Magazine, and Istrians consider their wine to be food for the soul.

CLAI: SVETI JAKOV 2009

Corkbin app users may not yet have tried a Croatian wine; some may want to dip in slowly and others may want to jump in at the deep end, so it seems reasonable to choose here a wine for those who want to be conservative and another for those who require instant drama.

Both these wines are made from the indigenous grape Istrian malvazija, that produces on a basic level a dry white wine that you could call the soave, pinot grigio or sauvignon blanc of Croatia, i.e. the white you would most likely find in any bar, any café or any restaurant.  But these two whites are at either end of the spectrum, both perfectionist winemakers, both well known producers in Croatia and geographically just 5 km apart, however they have produced two completely different styles.

CATTUNAR: MALVAZIJA ISTARSKA 2010, 13.5%
100,000 bottles [RRP £14]This is everyday drinking Istrian malvazija from Franco Cattunar, one of the most well-known independent producers in Istria, whose grandfather founded the winery in 1930. Cattunar produces classic, well balanced and traditional wines 20km inland from the Adriatic near the border with Slovenia at Brtonigla, a gastronomic paradise.

CATTUNAR: MALVAZIJA ISTARSKA 2010

Light citrusy straw colour with a fresh perfumed slightly aromatic nose, a soft minerality and herbal notes, this white is clean, fresh and light.  Drink it as young as you can find it and enjoy the floral zest with soft tropical fruit tastes.

Franco’s malvazija is one that you would drink locally in tavernas and wine bars with or without food, and has travelled well with us to British wine bars and merchants. Its light fresh style means it matches white meats, fish or pasta dishes and pizza or is simply enjoyed with friends; however you drink it, it is an eminently quaffable superior everyday drinking white.

CLAI: SVETI JAKOV 2009 14.5%

7,600 bottles [RRP £45]

A natural white wine, often called an ‘orange’ wine by sommeliers worldwide due to its colour produced by long maceration (often days and sometimes months). Giorgio’s malvazija vines are around 25 years old and he produces his wines using traditional and natural methods: total fermentation with grapes, no additional yeasts or enzymes, and then matured in large wooden barrels for 12 months. Clai is a winemaker who creates wines of extremes – and his 100% malvazija ‘Sveti Jakov’ (Saint Jacob in English) is one of them.

Forget about the 14.5% alcohol content that defies its taste; this is a wine for the senses.  First revel in its old gold rich amber colour, second let the aromas hit you: dried figs, sultanas and ripe apricots and peaches, spices, acacia honey and mixed herbs.  Third delight in its taste – textured intense fruit but with a dry minerality to it so it’s not over-cloying. In fact it’s surprisingly refreshing and moreish, with gentle tannins and a long clean finish.  Try this with roast goose & plum stuffing, rabbit or lamb; the acidity cuts through those fatty foods and presents a fait accompli.

So two very different wines from the same indigenous grape: 100% Istrian malvazija.  Mr Cattunar for everyday quaffing, the party, barbecue, spring or summer lunch-in-the-garden wine, and Mr Clai the more meditative, more mysterious and more contemplative.  Both are a positive explosion of what is best about Istria wrapped up in a simple glass.

- Judith Burns

Based in Brighton Judith runs Pacta Connect with partner Trevor Long, a leading importer of Croatian wines with over 60 currently in their portfolio and about to expand, with most organic and many natural; huge fans of social media, tweeting about their wines and writing blogs about their travels, constantly organising tasting events and wine dinners around the UK educating the British consumer about Croatian wine. All their wines can be bought direct or email them at info@pactaconnect.co.uk for local stockists.

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  1. Wines of Croatia News Round-Up for May 20, 2012 | Wines of Croatia - May 20, 2012

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