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August 2011 Editorial- Croatia, Land of Plenty

POSTED ON 01/08/2011

Can you tell your Babić from your Gegić, your Plavac from your Dingač, or your Pag from your Krk for that matter? Well, forgive us if until this summer we didn’t have a clue that the former three are grape varieties, the latter three locations in the delightful Balkan country known as Croatia. No, of course we knew of Dubrovnik and Split and the devastation caused by the terrible war of independence in the early 1990s. We’d even heard of Modric and Kovac, two of the Croatian footballers who kicked the England football team into touch in the Euro 2008 qualifier in Zagreb.

AnthonyAnthony

We might well have imagined Babić, Gegić and Plavac, not to mention Pošip, Maraština, Graševina and Ivan Dolac to be members of a new Croatian football side, until, that is, we were invited by Croatian Wine, a collective comprising over 30 of Croatia’s foremost wine producers, to select a group of our favourite wines from 250-odd Croatian wines for this autumn’s Croatian press and trade tasting in London on 8 September (trade members can contact Sally Bishop [sally@relish-pr.co.uk] for more information). One of the requirements of this onerous task was for the entire Gang to turn up in Zagreb earlier in the summer and familiarise ourselves, as they say, with the product.

It would be an understatement to say that we were impressed with the overall standard of Croatian wine. By and large the white wines stood out from the crowd. The Malvasia istrianas from the Istrian peninsula on Croatia’s north west coast were the stars, deliciously zesty dry whites that wouldn’t be upstaged by Spain’s Albariño or Austria’s Grüner Veltliner. Then there were the Graševinas, wines made from Welschriesling, so long a dirty word as Laški Rizling or Olasz Rizling in the wake of the mediocrity of Lutomer Laski Riesling. We also discovered some delicious wines made from Pošip, and a host of other indigenous white varieties.

Only 11 of our selection of 45 were reds, which gives an indication of the weighting of quality red to white, and of these, the majority were made from Plavac Mali, a native crossing of two other indigenous Croatian varieties, Crljenak kaštelanski with Šoltanski dobričić (try pronouncing these at home at your peril). Plavac Mali and the newly revived Babić adapt well to the Adriatic climate, while Teran, grown mainly in Istria and bottled on its own or in blends, is closer to Italy’s refreshing red variety, Refosco.

A handful of our choices were made from the international varieties Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, but the fact that they were in a minority is an indication in itself of how much more impressed we were generally with Croatia’s indigenous varieties. And so we come to the disappointing part. At this point in time there are relatively few Croatian wines in the UK, but there is one specialist company called Pacta Connect which sell to the public (www.pactaconnect.co.uk) and a few wines are carried by distributor Coe Vintners.

Perhaps the unfamiliarity and tongue-twisting nature of some of the names makes life hard for the consumer. Perhaps Croatians are reluctant to communicate the secret of the gems in their midst. Or maybe the UK wine trade has its hands full with importing wines from elsewhere. Whatever the reasons, we feel that Britain’s consumers could substantially benefit from a much wider choice of quality Croatian wines.

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