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    Discovering Croatian Wines

  • –  Nikhil Agarwal

    I’m not sure how many of us in India have had an opportunity to taste Croatian wine. I certainly had not till I was introduced to the wines of Meneghetti from Istria in Croatia earlier this year.

    The great news is that Croatian wine will finally make an in road into India within the next couple of months so you can give them a try right here.

    Croatia is one of the most beautiful countries I have ever visited with a long history of producing wine. In fact there has been wine made in Croatia for over two thousand five hundred years.  Italy and Croatia are separated by the Adriatic Sea. Naturally, just as in Italy, climatic conditions along the Adriatic coast as well as inland provide an ideal setting for producing stunning wine and olive oil.  For those of us who love truffle, they have got it too!

    I visited Croatia to visit wineries that are part of an association called Grand Cro and represent the best wineries in Croatia and are scattered all over the country. While they do make wine from international grape varieties like Chardonnay, Riesling, some Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon to name a few; what makes Croatia incredibly interesting is their indigenous grape varieties. The indigenous grapes were a revelation. I loved Malvazija Istarska, Pošip, Plavac Mali and even the oddly named Debit and others like Graševina. Clearly these are hard to pronounce names keeping in mind how some letters are pronounced in Croatian. This however should not be a reason for you to give them a miss.

    The wineries in Croatia are boutique by comparison. From the lot that I visited someproduce around 100,000 thousand bottles, one as little at 50,000 and the biggest produced 2,50,000 bottles.  The quality in general is very high with each winery producing one or two absolute stunners.Since the production is small most of the wine is consumed within the country itself with small amounts going over to the countries it shares borders with. This dynamic reminds me of the Canadian or Swiss wine industries where the quality is high but seldom seen too far outside of their borders.

    To truly discover the wines of Croatia I would highly recommend getting there. Rent a car and just drive through some of the most stunning landscape I have seen till date.

    I first visited the new state of the art Galić winery in the Kujevo region in the north west of Croatia, approximately a three hour drive from Zagreb. The winery is very modern with classical music playing in slow motion in the tank hall to please the wine. They make a superb sparkling from Pinot Noir amongst a range of other wines from indigenous and international grape varieties.

    Meneghetti in Istria is a breath taking place to visit. The Relais & Châteaux  hotel-winery and top end restaurant is located in what feels like a remote area but very close to the drop dead gorgeous town of Rovinj. Their flagship White and Red are incredibly complex and made with great finesse. I thoroughly enjoyed their Malvazija Istarskatoo. If ever in Croatia you should spend a couple of days here. The vineyards right out of your window and sheer luxury of the space and the quality of food is perfect for a quiet and gastronomical holiday.

    Matošević, Istria

    The wine maker and owner of this winery Ivica Matošević who also has a PHD in Biotechis one of the most interesting wine makers I have met in sometime. He plays with acacia wood to make thebarrels that age his wine giving his wines a unique character.His Alba Barrique, Alba Antiqua and Alba Robinia made from 100% Malvasija and Grimalda White a blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc & Malvasija and Grimalda Red a blend of Merlot &Teran are true knockouts.

    Not too far away is Kozlović which is the biggest winery I visited with 2,50,000 bottles of wine produced. They have a large, modern looking tasting room which is packed with people. Their Santa Lucia made from 100% Malvasija is definitely their best with a serious fan following.In a span of ten minutes they must have sold at least 8 – 6btls cases at their cellar door while I was there.

    On the beautiful island of Pag lies one of the smallest yet highest quality wineries I came across called Boškinac. The in house restaurant takes food very seriously and I ate on of the finest meals of my life there. They have a couple of rooms too but the wine and the food are what you would come here for.  From their selection, what truly got my attention was a delightful orange wine called Ocumade from a range of white grape varieties, a white wine called Boškinac White which is a blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and an indigenous grape variety called Gegić. Their flagship red – Boškinac Cuvée which is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot reminded of fine Bordeaux.

    The Bibich winery, which is close to another beautiful town called Skradin in the region of Dalmatia,isquite an experience.Owner and wine maker André who has been making wine since he was in his teens is quite the character he speaks of wine with great passion and his colleague Darko will try to enlighten you on the metaphysics of their wine. All the wines I tried from this winery were fantastic in general – sparkling wine made from Debit, an easy drinking Pinot Grigio and their white from the grape varietal Pošip. Their flagship red called Bas de Bas being an absolute stunner and required us to finish the bottle to pay our respects.

    Saints Hills winery has the famed Michel Rolland as their consultant.Oddly the only winery where I got to try the grape variety called Plavac Mali, which is the same as Italy’s Primitivo.This grapes true origin is a bone of contention between the Italian and Croatian winemakers.This grape is more commonly know as Zinfandel to us. They do a great Pošip but their wines from Plavac Mali are what will get your attention.Another called Nevina made from Malvasija and Chardonnay is great too. Interestingly the Malvazija grape variety in the region of Dalmatia, which is the southern half of Croatia, is similar but not the same as that found in Istria.

    Drinking their wine, eating the food, trying their olive oils and truffle, taking in the sights and interacting with its people made me think that this place and what it offers is truly exceptional and unique. It should be on the bucket list of every wine, food and travel enthusiast.

    Nikhil Agarwal is a trained Sommelier, writer and an international wine & spirits judge (Decanter, Frankfut Intl Wine Trophy, Diageo World Class & more) who recieved his degree in London. He is the brainchild behind All Things Nice, India’s leading wine, spirits and luxury marketing and consulting agency.  He won the Wine Australia Scholarship ans subsequently Wine Australia made him A+ Wine Educator in India. He was one amongst five contenders shortlisted by the International Wine & Spirit Competition in London (IWSC), for the Julian Brind Award for Outstanding Achivement in the Wine and Spirits Industry from the contendors from 90 countries. The ultra luxury BlackBook magazine has listed Nikhil Agarwal as one of their Top 100- Indian Luxury’s Most Influential.