Friday, December 20, 2019

2019: My Favorite Croatian Wines

What were my favorite Croatian wines this year?

Welcome to my final Favorite Wines List, all about the wines of the Republic of Croatia. Earlier this week, I posted three other Favorite lists, including my Top Ten Wines Under $20, Top Ten Wines Over $20 But Under $50, and Top Wines Over $50. In September 2019, I spent ten days traveling through Croatia, experiencing plenty of delicious wine and food. You can find links to my 25 articles about this trip in All About Croatia.

During that period, I tasted approximately 150 Croatian wines, so I want to highlight 15 of those wines here, the top 10% of what I sampled. Like the prior lists, this list includes wines that not only I thoroughly enjoyed, but which I also found to be particularly compelling for various reasons. They might be especially delicious, something more unique, excellent values for the price or memorable for other reasons. They all stand out, for some particular reason, above the other wines I sampled while in Croatia.

This is a purely subjective list, based on my own preferences, and makes no claims about being the "best" wines out there. It is primarily the wines which spoke to me the loudest, even when they were subtle wines. These are all wines that I strongly recommend and which I believe many other wine lovers would also enjoy.

The wines are not listed in any particular order and each choice is linked to my more detailed prior review. A number of these wines may not yet be available in your local area, but in the U.S., Croatian Premium Wine Imports is importing several of these wines. Those wines are available in Massachusetts, and also can be shipped to numerous states across the country. They will also be importing additional Croatian wines in 2020.

1) 2018 Dvanajščak Kozol Pušipel
The Agava Restaurant in Zagreb has an excellent wine list, as well as delicious food. This was one of the four wines I drank with my meal. Pušipel is the Croatian term for the Furmint grape, which is native to Hungary and commonly used to crate the famous Tokaji dessert wine. I enjoyed this dry, fresh and fruity wine, which had excellent crisp acidity. There were bright lemon and green apples flavors, with a backbone of minerality, and this does very well with seafood.

2) 2017 Vina Deak Ćaća Moj Pošip
During a superb seafood lunch, which included great shellfish, from Ston Oysters to Mussels, this wine was a perfect pairing. Made from the indigenous Pošip grape, it was aged for about six months on the lees in stainless steel, saw no oak, and had a 14.3% ABV. With a bright golden color, it possessed an appealing nose of citrus with subtle floral notes. And on the palate, it was crisp and dry, fresh and creamy, with delicious flavors of citrus and hints of floral honey, and a subtler herbal note. It was tasty on its own, an elegant and well-balanced summery wine, but it also shined with the seafood we enjoyed.

3) 2017 Volarević Rosé Premium
Made from 100% Plavac Mali, an indigenous grape, and with a 13.5% ABV, the wine is made from only free run juice. In addition, the final period of fermentation occurs in oak barrels, and later it ages for 3-4 months in stainless steel. This was a more complex and intriguing wine, which was crisp and dry, with more subtle red fruit flavors (especially strawberry and cherry), as well as a touch of herbs and floral elements. This was the type of Rosé that I would drink year round, savoring each sip, and it was also very food friendly.

4) 2013 Volarević "Gold Edition" Plavac Mali
Made from 100% Plavac Mali, and at a 15.5% ABV, this wine had a little age on it though it still retained a certain freshness to it. The newer vintages are big, bold wine, with strong tannins, but this wine had mellowed some, become more elegant and silky. A complex melange of flavors, including ripe plum, blackberry, a bit of blueberry, black pepper, leather, chocolate, subtle dark spice and a hint of herbs, especially on the finish. Complex, well balanced and superb, just a true pleasure to slowly sip and enjoy.

5) Tris Limited Edition Sparkling Wine
Lunch at the Proto Restaurant in Dubrovnik also offered a number of compelling and unique. wines. This Sparkling wine is made from three indigenous grapes, Pošip, Rukatac and Cetinka. I very much enjoyed this wine, finding it to be crisp and dry, with plenty of tiny bubbles, and delicious and complex flavors, primarily of green apple, pear, and a hint of brioche. Such a refreshing wine, with a pleasing finish, and an indication that Croatians can make excellent sparkling wine.

6) 2017 Crvik Blasius Malvasia Dubrovacka
Also from the Proto Restaurant, this was an amber wine, produced by a small, family-run winery with roots back to 1897. The Malvasija Dubrovačka grape has existed since the time of the ancient Greeks and it's seeing a revitalization in recent years. Fermented with natural yeasts, this wine was macerated on the lees for about six months. It was complex and intriguing, with a fascinating melange of flavors, including peach, almonds, orange peel, floral notes, and a subtle mineral aspect. Excellent acidity, well-integrated tannins, and a lengthy finish. There is so much going on in each sip, and you could easily sit and savor a glass for hours, reveling in what can be found with each taste.

7) 2017 Heritage,
And one more wine from Proto Restaurant, it was created by Igor Radovanovic, blending two indigenous varieties, Grk and Pošip, from a 50 year-old vineyard. The grapes were macerated on the skins, and then aged on the lees in oak barrique. It was alluringly aromatic, with a palate that was dry, crisp and fresh with intense herbal flavors and subtle citrus and stone fruit tastes. Another complex wine that only surprises you with each sip, bringing something new to you with each taste.

8) 2016 Rizman Tribidag
This wine is produced mainly primarily from Tribidag, an indigenous grape which you might know better as Zinfandel or Primitivo, with a small addition of Tempranillo. The wine spends about a year in oak, with less new oak than the Plavac Mali. At only 13.5% ABV, this is still a powerful wine, though the tannins are still very manageable. There are more plum and black cherry flavors, with notes of black pepper, and the melange is complex and compelling. The wine is well balanced, with a lingering and pleasing finish. You'll need a hearty dish to accompany this bold and delicious wine. It would be fascinating to taste test this next to a few California Zinfandels.

9) 2015 Rizman Primus
Made from Plavac Mali, with a tiny bit of Tempranillo, they select the best plots for the grapes in this wine. The wine was aged for about 12 months in American and French oak, including some new oak, and then another 6 months in the bottle. With a 13.5% ABV, this wine is bright and crisp, with a delicious blend of red and black fruits, a spicy backbone, and well-integrated tannins. A lengthy and satisfying finish, plenty of complexity, and this wine would pair well with steak or other hearty dishes.

10) 2014 Korak Rosé Nature
Croatia is making some compelling Sparkling wines, including this Rosé. Made from 100% Pinot Noir, it was aged on the lees for 3 years, and has no dosage. I loved this sparkling Rosé, from its delightful nose of bright red fruit to its complex, dry and intriguing taste. The fruit is dominant, from strawberry to cherry, with a hint of citrus, and there is an underlying minerality as well. Tiny bubbles, and a lingering, pleasing finish. A hedonistic pleasure.

11) 2018 Cossetto Prima Luce
From a family winery, located in the Istria region, this wine is produced from 100% Malvazija Istarska, an indigenous grape that is the second most planted white grape in Croatia. With a 13% ABV, this was a fascinating, complex and delicious wine, with plenty of acidity and intriguing herbal flavors. There were bright, though more subtle, citrus notes, an extremely lengthy finish, and a touch of spice. Its unique and appealing taste made it a stand out.

12) Ahearne Wild Skins
A blend of three indigenous grapes Kuč, Bogdanuša, and Pošip, only ambient yeast was used, and there was extended skin contact. This was a "wow" wine, an impressive and complex wine which has ended up as one of my most favorite wines during my entire time in Croatia. Its intriguing melange of flavors included notes of candied orange, honey, apricot, and a savory herbal element. This is something to slowly savor, to enjoy each fascinating taste and all that can be found within it. Each sip brings something different to your palate. Superb!

13) 2018 Bura Rukatac
Made from 100% Rukatac, a grape known as Marastina on Pelješac, this wine was made in a more traditional manner, fermented with wild yeasts and spending four days on the skins. At 12% ABV, this wine had an alluring nose of savory aromas, and on the palate it was wonderfully complex and intriguing. Herbs and spaces, briny notes, a taste of apples and dried fruit, and even some subtle mineral notes. So much going on in this wine and most of us seemed enamored with this wine.

14) 2015 Benmosche Family Dingač
Made from 100% Plavac Mali, and with a 15% ABV, this a big, bold wine, yet not overpowering. It has deep flavors of black fruit, with notes of raisins and black pepper, hints of herbs and a subtle earthiness. Such a compelling complex melange of flavors. A lingering finish, good acidity, and absolutely delicious.

15) 2018 Grgić Pošip 
Produced from 100% Pošip, from grapes on the island of Korčula, about 30% of the wine was aged in used French oak for 3-6 months, and then blended back with the wine in the stainless steel. With a 13% ABV, this was quite a complex Pošip, with a rich and creamy body, and a fascinating melange of flavors, including lemon, pineapple, and green apple, along with a touch of salinity, a backbone of minerality and plenty of crisp acidity. A well balanced wine with a lengthy and pleasing finish. This is a white wine with aging potential, and it would pair well with seafood to light chicken dishes.

If you have some of your own recommendations for Croatian wines, please add them to the comments.

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