PROMINENT CROATIAN WINE VARIETALS
WHITE WINE GRAPES
The name of this grape means “God given”. Originally from the Stari Grad Plain – the oldest known continuously planted vineyard in the world – Bogdanuša is a white variety cultivated on the island of Hvar in South Dalmatia. Wines made from this grape are usually light-bodied and crisp, which complement the local seafood.
The rare Grk vine used to thrive exclusively on the sandy soil of Lumbarda, a town on the eastern tip of Korčula. Recently, a few intrepid growers have successfully planted Grk in non-sandy soil outside Lumbarda. Grk wines express flavors of citrus and stone fruit, with a rich and textured mouthfeel. Imagine Chardonnay meets Loire Sauvignon Blanc. Only a handful of producers work with this grape and the Grk wines are highly sought after, which means they sell out quickly year after year.
This is a different variety from Malvazija Istarska and grows in Konavle, near the city of Dubrovnik in South Dalmatia. It was cultivated in the area from the very start of Greek colonization. Internationally, it is known as Malvasia di Lipari from the Aeolian Islands. Malvasija Dubrovačka wine tends to have more intense aroma, bigger body, and higher acidity than its Istrian counterpart. The big body is accompanied by flavors of stone fruit and yellow flower.
Maraština / Rukatac
(Mare-ah-shhteen-ah / Roo-kah-tahts)
A white grape from coastal Dalmatia, it is not a native variety and is known internationally as Malvasia Bianca Lunga or Malvasia del Chianti. In the past, it was one of the white grapes used in the traditional Chianti recipe. In Croatia, this grape is made into both varietal wine and blends. There are a few macerated examples on the market, too. These wines tend to have a creamy texture with flavors of honey, melon, and citrus. Sometimes, the wines can lack acidity. Other times, they can be oxidative with nutty characteristics. Wines made from this grape are ubiquitous throughout Dalmatia, and they go great with white meat.
Pošip, along with Maraština/ Rukatac, is the most common white grape in Dalmatia. It is planted throughout the region but native to Korčula. This grape is extremely adaptable yet particularly terroir driven; it can taste vastly different from site to site. Generally, Pošip makes wines that have medium to full body, high alcohol, and fresh acidity. It is an extremely versatile grape that can deliver delicious wine in various styles – from fresh and dry to oaked and layered, from decadently sweet to quirkily macerate. A high-quality Pošip wine usually expresses notes of tropical fruit, green herb, and mineral, making it a perfect companion for the Dalmatian weather and seafood.
This is a rare grape from the island of Hvar. As a varietal wine, Prč shows off striking notes of white flower, pear, and orange. However, some people consider its aroma to be unpleasantly musky. In fact, the name Prč means “male goat”. The sugar level is quite high, while the acidity is low to moderate. Traditionally, it was used to make Prošek, a Dalmatian sweet wine. Prč is commonly cultivated with other grapes, such as Bogdanuša. There are not many varietal wines made from it.
This grape is from the island of Vis and recently planted in other parts of Dalmatia. In the past, Vugava was thought to be Viognier. Genetic testing has confirmed that they are two different varieties. Vugava is an aromatic grape that tends to produce wines with high alcohol and flavors of apricot and yellow flower. It was once renowned for making sweet wine.
RED WINE GRAPES
Plavac Mali (Plah-vahts Mah-lee)
The flagship red grape of Dalmatia, its name means “little blue”. Plavac Mali is the offspring of two native grapes, Dobričić and Tribidrag/ Crljenak Kaštelanski; the latter is also known as the original Zinfandel. It flourishes on the Pelješac peninsula, mainland Dalmatia, as well as the islands of Brač, Hvar, Korčula, and Vis. Wines made from this variety are ubiquitous throughout Dalmatia and readily available in nearly every konoba and restaurant on the coast. Plavac Mali is usually made into varietal wine. The examples run from rustic and homemade, to traditional and delicious, or modern with high-toned aromas. Because of the high levels of alcohol and tannin, some people may find Plavac Mali wine off-putting. Indeed, there are many average examples around. At its worst, Plavac Mali wine can taste like a massacre of raisins, with the crime scene cleaned up by alcohol and scrubbed down by sadistic tannins. When made well, it can express vivacious flavors of berry, Mediterranean herb, rose, earth, and an alluring overtone of perfume. A well-made Plavac Mali is spellbinding in its depth, complexity, and structure.
Tribidrag / Crljenak Kaštelanski
(Trihb-ee-drahg / Tserl-yee-ehnak Kashh-tell-ann-skee)
In 2001, a team of researchers led by Grape Geneticist Carole Meredith found nine remaining vines of Crljenak Kaštelanski in a vineyard off the coast of Split. The variety was later confirmed to be the original Zinfandel and a parent of Plavac Mali. This grape is also known as Tribidrag/ Pribidrag in southern Dalmatia, Primitivo in southern Italy, and Kratošija in Montenegro and Macedonia. Records show the name Tribidrag predated Crljenak Kaštelanski in Dalmatia. Since the DNA discovery in 2001, more producers in Croatia have been planting this grape and making varietal wines and blends from it. The Tribidrag wines are fruit-forward with hints of herbal and white pepper flavors. Due to the warm climate in Dalmatia and uneven ripening, many also express dried fruit and raisin flavors.
Excerpts from the book Cracking Croatian Wine by Dr. Matthew Horkey and Charine Tan