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Croatia and the New New World

When will the New World stop being called the New World? Maybe when there is a New New World to take its place.

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A trip to the Zagreb Wine Festival convinced me that we are, in fact, about to see that New New World, and that it is called Eastern Europe.

I got a fascinating sense of what is going on viticulturally recently, by visiting the Zagreb wine festival, which gathers together the best producers from Eastern Europe. This year’s event took place in Zagreb’s Museum of Contemporary Art, and was organised by the dynamic duo Ingrid Badurina Danielsson and Irina Ban Vakosavic.

The break up of old Yugoslavia and the emergence of countries such as Croatia 20 years ago have given the wine industry a new dynamism. In the past many of the grapes headed straight to the co-operatives, but now individuals are relishing their chance to make their name and to experiment with both international and indigenous varieties. Wherever I went in the fair I was met by young enthusiastic winemakers, showing off wines that were new in many ways.

Croatia has two major regions, 12 sub regions and 71 appellations. There are 17,000 winegrowers and 800 producers growing 60 varietals, the major three being Grasevina, Mavazia and Plavac Mali (which means little blue and is the ancestor of the Zinfandel grape). The three account for 47% of what is under vine.

What struck me most was the freshness and acidity in both whites and reds. There were some terrific examples of terroir-driven wines with delicious freshness and minerality. I particularly enjoyed Kozlovic Malvazija 2009 from Istria which reminded me of when I first tasted Pieropan’s Soave, a wonderful texture, very elegant with depth of fruit and refreshing minerality,

For the reds the combination of Merlot and indigenous grapes such as Babic, Teran or Plavac Mali were successful and had a delicious black-cherry bite, like some of the wines of Northern Italy. My star red was the 100% varietal Gracin Babic 2008, a pugnacious earthy wine with full mulberry fruit, crisp acidity and bags of character.

The problem came with some reserve wines, when power and oak handling strangled any sense of place. One winemaker told me he left his grapes on the vines three weeks longer for his reserve wine; it showed in the contrast between his delicious, drinkable regular selection and the reserve’s extracted dead fruit.

What is exciting is that the raw material is here and, as important, the determination. I will definitely be going back--with some of the best winemakers only having two or three vintages under their belt, there is a lot to look forward to.


Decanter's tastings director Christelle Guibert's top five wines from Croatia

Istra

Brečević Dimitri:
Half French half Croatian, Dimitri studied wine in France before moving to Croatia 5 years ago. It’s only its 4th vintage but the result is already very promising. Dimitri only makes 3 wines from indigenous grape varieties: a Malvazija, a Teran and a 100% Refošk. The wines showed purity of fruit and elegance with a very precise acidity; no oak are used and they have a perfect expression of the local grape and terroir.

Coronica Moreno :
Coronica’s family has been making wines for decades and his first contact with winemaking started when he was 6 years old. In 1992, he started his profession as a winemaker, first in Italy and then France. Moreno makes two Malvasija, a Gran Teran and a 100% Merlot. The 2 reds are definitely the highlight of his range with the Gran Teran the stand out with notes of fresh red berries and a lovely herbal hint on the finish.

Matošević Ivica :
Ivica Matošević entered the wine world as a pure coincidence; while studying for his PHD in science, he met with a professor in viticulture and what was a curiosity at the start, it’s now a passion. Without family tradition, Ivica started experimenting and he’s is now regarded as one of the most highly regarded producers in Croatia. His range consists of a few blends of international and traditional grapes. The star wine was the Grimalda Crevno, a blend of Merlot and Teran exhibiting pungent red vibrant fruits with a fine acidity and all in harmony.


Dalmacija

Bibich
The entrepreneur, Alen Bibić, set himself to re-establish the family wine business at the age of 22. Not an easy task as he first had to clear the field of land mines before replanting the vineyards. Today, Bibich’s range specialised in indigenous grape varieties, from Debit, Plavina, Lasin to Maraština and Pošip with the exception of his Grenache/Syrah blend. His sweet Ambra is a must try, made from the Debit grape, the nose is full of orange peel and caramel, it’s expressive and complex with notes of sultana, dates, mocha and cinnamon.

Andro Tomić:
Andro Tomic was the winner of the show this year after his Plavac Mali was voted the best wines. Not only a charming man but also a very talented winemaker; Andro started his career in France - studying winemaking in Montpellier - and established the winery in 1997. All the wines from the range have an amazing acidity and very harmonious. His straightforward 2007 Plavac was my highlight: a very attractive fruity wine with ripe cherry and a refreshing acidity.

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