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Croatian summer wines with taste of the South

by Gogo on June 5, 2012

in All wines

Long sunny days and temperatures above 35 C are right behind the corner. It’s right time to search for summertime quaffable Croatian wines. White, rose or red, the color doesn’t matter if the stuff goes easily down the throat and offers more emotions than ice cold lemonade.

2011 Marinko Sladić Rose cuvee
My favorite Croatian summer wine in 2012.

I have found the right bottles not in my home region Istria but further south, in Dalmatia. More precisely in Plastovo, the home of three excellent winemakers: Alen Bibić, Marko Sladić and Marinko/Juraj Sladić. After Anthony Bourdain’s visit of Bibich winery this small village just few kilometers from Skradin is on the way to become world famous.

I leave green hills and red soils of Istria. As always, the emptiness of Lika plains put my mind into meditation. Soon, we pass through the tunnel of Sveti Rok.

I am thinking how majority of modern Istrian Malvazijas, even the young ones, have unnaturally intense aromas (tropical fruits, white flowers…) due to unreasonable use of selected yeasts. Moreno Coronica, one of the most respectable Istrian winemakers, told me of an old Istrian saying: “Wine is not eau de cologne to smell it, wine is made to drink it”. Moreover, alcohol levels are dangerously increasing (in the last 2011 vintage >14% is common) and, if the winemaker is good, the extract is going up, too. Moreover, the acidity is going down. Istrian Malvazija may be a superb white that since recently excels on international wine contests but it has become a demanding drink.

Continental whites with its fruity acids and vibrant minerality like Graševina (from Kutjevo or Baranja), Sauvignon or Riesling (from Plešivica, Međimurje or Zagorje) could be a better choice for summer. But I look for wines that are not too aromatic, that have the taste of the South, of the Mediterranean, of the sea, that smell of summer vacations…

Entering in Dalmatia
Entering in Dalmatia

Marine blue fills the space between islands on the horizon and the Sun scatters from the omnipresent white stones of this arid landscape. We stop at Krka pit stop, the best place to eat and have a rest if travelling south on A1 – Dalmatina highway. Even if you were blind, as soon as you step out of the car you would know you are in Dalmatia. The fragrances of Mediterranean aromatic herbs are all around you.

Skradin
The view from Krka pit stop on Skradin

The viewpoint that overlooks the Krka river canyon offers a nice view on Skradin. Now, spot the plateau rising above this small seaside/riverside town. There, on the water scarce and fragrant Dalmatian Karst, where the top soil is shallow and the strong southern sun reigns, thrive vineyards of three excellent winemakers.

Alen Bibić, Marko Sladić and Marinko Sladić are their names and they all have their wineries in small village Plastovo, just 10 km north of Skradin, right in the hinterland of Krka National Park. These guys have chosen to concentrate their production mostly on wines made from indigenous grapes of Central Dalmatia: Debit, Maraština, Plavina, Lasina, Babić. Because the grapes mature at the altitude of 300 m the nights here can be quite chilly even in the summer. The sea breeze that appears when the sun gets down additionally cools down the grapes and precious acidity is maintained. This, together with outstanding minerality, gives fresh and crisp wines that just 5 years ago was unimaginable in Dalmatian (especially white and rose wines).

Yes, right here in Plastovo I have found seven fresh, breezy and outstandingly mineral Dalmatian wines that pair perfectly with terribly hot Dalmatian summer.

That’s not all, after Anthony Bourdain’s visit of Bibich winery Plastovo is on the way to become world famous. Here, Tony was warmly welcomed by the most incredible multi-course feast prepared by Vesna, Alen Bibić’s wife. The food was just a good excuse to taste all Bibić family wines and there are many, many of them, belive me. Finally, he left late in the night in not quite sober conditions. 🙂

Sunset at Dalmatia Wine Expo
Sunset at Dalmatia Wine Expo in Makarska

I wasn’t that lucky. I was in a hurry to arrive in Makarska where the next day Dalmacija Wine Expo (DWE) was starting. So the following tasting notes are based on quick tastings I did on that festival, as they rightly say, the most charming wine event in Croatia.

White

2010 Bibich Debit2010 Bibich Debit. It is a wine that doesn’t shout, where less is more, a minimalist wine. It is like a lonely desert where from time to time a flower or two appear in the sand. The wine made for times before sommeliers and pretentious wine connoisseurs took the center stage. The experts say it’s hard to maintain the acidity in Debit but not if the grape are coming from Plastovo plateau.

Aromas of dried yellow flowers (brnistra), aromatic herbs, iodine, wet sea rocks are gently caressing the nose, the intensity is not the goal here. In the mouth us it is light to medium bodied with subtle flavors of apricots and fresh figs. It is very mineral, almost stony in the finish that makes it an easy drink. It is my favorite Croatian summer white in 2012.

2009 Bibich R52009 Bibich R5. A mind-boggling blend of 5 white varieties: 3 indigenous ones (Debit, Maraština, Pošip) plus 2 international (Chardonnay, Pinot Gris). More complex than the basic Debit. Aging in American oak takes away a bit of authenticity but it is clear that the wine was tailored to satisfy international palates.

Although the wood is at first dominant in the nose after a while it retires in the background. The nose is very unusual for a summer white: etheric aromas (bees wax), then dry yellow flowers, rum, vanilla and cinnamon cookies, all dry hay. Medium bodied. Its drinkability is owed to the brininess that attacks in the mouth and, since the acidity is a bit on the low side, saves the balance.

2011 Marko Sladić Maraština2010 & 2011 Marko Sladić Maraština. Last year I discovered Marko’s 2010 Maraština on DWE and I immediately fell in love in this hidden beauty. While Debit belongs to the group of not-aromatic varietals, Maraština is semi-aromatic like, for example, Istrian Malvazija and Sauvignon Blanc. You’ll find the scents of Dalmatian countryside in the spring, a great minerality and noble bitternesss in the finish. I’m still remembering how pairing this wine with homemade spinach tagliatelle was succesful. (Photo: Marko Sladić with his stainless steel and barrique aged Maraština)

The 2011 harvest was preceded by two months of drought and sun so this is the reason why this year the wine is hotter, more extracted and a bit less quaffable if enjoyed without the food. Still, it remains on my Top10 list of Croatian whites.

2011 Marinko Sladić Maraština2011 Marinko Sladić Maraština. Sladić managed to keep respectable freshness and lower alcohols which makes it similar to 2010 Marko Sladić Maraština. The first sniff reveals ripe pear, than the aromas of Mediterranean garrigue, dry yellow flowers and Arabian spices dominate (cardamom, eau d’orange, cumin…). Medium bodied. Extremely dry, fresh and well balanced. In the mouth you’ll not find banal fruitiness but dust and spices. The finish is pleasantly bitter and creamy, like some good licorice candy. Of course, minerality is there, too.

Its reminds me of some good Verdicchio Castelli di Jesi. Perfect for some pasta or risotto frutti di mare or fish carpaccio.

Rose

2011 Marko Sladić Rose – Plavina. Plavina is a red grape that lacks pigment in its skins. Therefore, even if Marko used long maceration of two days the wine remains rose but it aquires a lot of extract. He gets a wine in which the sour cherries dominate both in the nose and on the palate. It has a nice texture in the finish due to lovely tannins that add a bit of seriousness.

Great balance, perfect for pasta with some tomato based sauces or various bruschette topped with plenty of olive oil and garlic.

Juraj Sladić from Plastovo2011 Marinko Sladić Rose Cuvee – Plavina, Lasina. Now, this is a real beauty! It reminds me of thirst-quenching Provence roses I drank copiously during the visit of my friend in Marseille few years ago but it has more Mediterranean herbs in it. Simply, it shouts of Dalmatia.

Already its watermelon pink color makes you salivate. The nose is fabulous, a luscious combination of fruits, freshly grated cucumbers and the salts evaporating from wet sea rocks. There are white flowers, raspberries, Mediterranean herbs… In the mouth is fresh, light, fun, not too much fruity but more mineral. In the finish it leaves a flavor of salad made from the ripest tomatoes and fresh cucumbers, like a sort of gazpacho. Minerality continues to excite your palate for the next 20 seconds or so. (Photo: Young Juraj Sladić is the current winemaker at Sladić estate)

This is without any doubt my favorite Croatian rose and summer wine in 2012!

Red

2009 Bibich R62009 Bibich R6. A refreshing red made from 6 indigenous varieties: Babić, Plavina, Lasina… Fruity, creamy and approachable. Not terribly complex and cerebral. Would love to have it often on my table with sardines, mackerel, anchovies, tuna or any other kind of oily fish.

It ages one year in American barriques where some barrels are new and some are old. The nose opens with red flowers, sour cherries and forest floor that are after some time wrapped in a tiny layer of milk chocolate. Medium bodied, dry, mellow tannins. In the beginning there are plenty of red fruits in the mouth. The finish is again dominated by mouthwatering minerality. The fruits and cream that remain in the aftertaste beg for another sip. Serve slightly chilled.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Maria June 6, 2012 at 13:12

I completely agree with you! Marinko Sladić Rose is one of the best Rose wines I’ve tried! and I am a huge fun of rose! Cheers!!!!

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Vinologue June 17, 2012 at 20:08

It’s a generally consistent fact that when you depart Alen Bibich’s company, if you find yourself sober, you were probably not with the actual Alen Bibich. That said, in the past I’ve definitely found the Debit to be a wholly pleasing summer wine. Same goes for the Lučica despite it having a more robust body. The R5 has been up and down on that front. But, the R6 is definitely a constant crowd pleaser whether it’s hot out or not. I also used to abhor Rose, but Alen brought me around on that as well.

I hear you on the Istrian wines though. It’s bizarre how much they don’t ply to being drank in hot weather. I can’t really place it as there are so many native varietals being used, but still, they’re just not ‘right’. Must be that earthy soil there as opposed to the karst down south.

I might put some of the reds and whites from Konavle on the list as they’re generally quite easygoing and excellent food wines. I have a bottle I need to get to for more advanced tasting notes from Crvik actually, which will be interesting to see how it stacks up given that we’re popping above 30C these days here in Catalonia.

And that’s one advantage in this region is that wine is so climate-driven. Basically, for this time of year, all the raw components of Cava make great whites to drink like Macabeu, Parallada, Picapoll, and then of course Malvasia which is a different type than the Malvazija you’re seeing over your way. Even White Grenache can be good, although it’s true that most are too heavy in the body to have in hot weather. Oh and how could I forget Verdejo!

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