Great Wines of Croatia: Our Tour Ends on a High Note

Our tour officially ends tonight with our farewell dinner in Zagreb and we’ll all be leaving with some fond memories of  great tasting experiences in Croatia. Let me bring you up to speed with the final crescendo of visits. Three days ago we went to Istria and to the

Along the Wine Road in Croatia

Matosevic Winery, Along the Wine Road in Croatia

Matosevic Winery. Ivica Matosevic led us on a tour of his relatively small (90,000 bottles) winery which he started in 1996. There are currently 120 wineries on the Istrian peninsula and the one grape that predominates is the malvasia. Ivica puts his malvasia in accacia wood barrels for 1 year and gives his reds 1-2 years barrel aging. Malvasia vinified here is dry, crisp with a bitter almond aftertaste. Ivica ages his Alba Robinia in accacia barrels for 12 months with no skin contact, occasionally stirring the lees. It has aromas of honey and smoke. (I bought a bottle). We also tried his Grimalda, a blend of chardonnay, malvasia and sauvignon blanc again fermented 12 months but in oak barrels which produces a complex wine redolent of minerality. After sightseeing in Rovinj spot lighted in Anthony Bourdain’s Croatia program, we went to the Bacac winery for a tasting and tour. We had 3 wines :the Calypsa Histria ’12 made from malvasia, the Calypsa merlot ’12 and the dessert wine Muskat ’12. Sprinkled in between was a lunch visit to the restaurant Zigante which specializes in white and black Istrian truffles. Our next day brought us to Krk Island (the Croatian language uses vowels sparingly). One of our top visits was the Katunar Winery. The

Katunar Winery Croatia

Katunar Winery

Katunar Family has built a Napa Valley-like tasting room with a spectacular view of the valley. We each had a place setting and proceeded  on a guided tasting of 9 wines led by the proud winemaker. We had a sparkling wine from the debit grape and 2 whites made from the indigenous zlahtina which is unique to the island. We tasted the version from the valley juxtaposed with the same grape from hillside vineyards which made a dramatic difference in intensity. (I bought a bottle). The reds were intense, and magnificent: Nigra merlot, 2 Nigra syrah (valley and hillside), the Nigra Reserva, a blend of 3 indigenous red grapes (sansigot, debejan, kamenina) given 3 years’ barrel aging in new oak and 1 year bottle aging. These were followed by the zlatna berba, a sweet red with 15% alcohol, made similar to amarone with the grapes left to ripen in the shade after picking. We ended the impressive tasting with Hrvatica rosé sparkling, again made in the traditional champagne process. By the way we also learned that the Croatian name for zinfandel is crljenak. (try pronouncing that!) We had lunch at the Nada family winery in another spectacular setting that took our breath away- but this was not

Nada Winery & Restaurant Croatia

Nada Winery & Restaurant

the first time that we were awed by the Croatian coastal views. Our last day of winery visits was an impressive way to end our introduction to Croatian wines. On our way to Zagreb, we started at the Korak winery where Velimir Korak and his two sons took us on a tour of the family winery high- and I mean high- on a beautiful hillside in the Plesivica wine region replete with dozens of wineries. They specialize in whites- we started our lunch prepared by Mrs Korak with a perfectly balanced sauvignon ’12 with a delightful herbal aroma. This was followed by the riesling ’11, again with perfect balance in acidity and sugar, and the chardonnay sur lie ’09, their most expensive wine at 20 euros (Croatia joins the EU July 1 and will adopt the euro to replace the kuna.) After a dry syrah rosé, we had their two reds: a pinot noir ’09 and a syrah ’09. Korak was the first winery in the area to start with pinot noir and a visiting group from Oregon agreed with us that the Korak version was very much Oregon-like with the characteristic cherry aroma. They produce 130,000 bottles so there is a chance they will start exporting a portion of their wines.

Our final visit was at the Tomac winery which only produces 40,000 bottles which means we’ll never see their wines in the US (except for the bottle I am bringing back). Tomislav Tomac  is a wild card winemaker, a young  iconoclast winemaker who only wants to produce great wines. The Tomac Classic Brut with the pjenusavo appellation is 70% chardonnay and 30% of 4 local white grape varieties. A show stopper of a sparkling wine! This was followed by the Rosé made from 70% pinot noir and 30% chardonnay; chardonnay ’11 aged in big oak barrels with no oak flavor; and we ended with their signature amphora wines, fermented in clay amphoras imported from Georgia. The sparkling Amfora ’10 was not for sale and had a 50/50 blend of chardonnay and 4 local grapes from 70 year old vines. It was a sparkling ‘orange’ wine. This was followed by the Amfora riesling ’09, aged 6 months in amphoras, 18 months in oak barrels and then 1 year bottle aging. This was award “The Best White Wine of Croatia” in 2012 (I am bringing home a bottle!) We weren’t finished yet with the amphora wines: an exquisite ’08 blend of 50% chardonnay and 50% local varieties, aged 6 months in clay amphora followed by 3 years in oak. We finished with a superb pinot noir ’09 that has the characteristic cherry aromas and tastes of the fruity style pinot noirs. Tomac was one of  the highlights of our stay in Croatia and a great way to end our tour. In my next blog, I hope to cull the top 5 wines from our Croatia tour.

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