Somewhere in Croatia (photo: Michael Newsome)
The coast of Croatia is a rugged mountainous seascape of 1000 islands. From the barren Kornati to the forested shores of Korčula, these are the jewels of the Adriatic. 3,500 miles of craggy untamed limestone coast, awesome in the truest sense. Only 66 of the islands are inhabited. Krk (Ki-rrk), Hvar (huh-var), and Korčula (Core-chew-la) are three of the largest, and most important wine wise are still very much wild. Each is home to their own autochthonous (formed in its present position) grape varieties—found little or nowhere else on earth, under conditions unique to each island, capable of expressing their position and the culture of those who farm them. The soils vary but are all limestone based. Conditions tend to be wet in winter and hot and dry in summer. Each of these producers is working small plots by hand, the dry windy growing season rarely requires vineyard treatment.
Krk, Croatia’s northerly, largest island has long been famous for wine. Less of the Dalmatian islands are under vine today than historically. The 250 hectares today are a shadow of the 2,500 under vine during Roman occupation. Within Krk’s Kvarner Valley winemaker Ivica Dobrinčić maintains vineyards, a winery and a vineyard nursery dedicated to the re-propagation of nearly forgotten local sorts. Ivica hopes to give his children a reason to carry on their family’s winemaking traditions and preserve the local culture. The once prolific, now rare Žlahtina, or “noble” is the most common variety of Krk. Despite the rocky conditions and warm Mediterranean climate, it typically clocks in at 12% alcohol or less. The current 2012 is a modest 11.4% fully dry. A coastal wine that makes you want to curl your toes in rocky sand (specifically Baška) and drink directly from the bottle while the octopus sizzles on the grill. It is simple but has style, a gentle wine that can be gulped, but also remembered. A wine at once discreet and full of character.
A few hundred miles, and islands to the south is the magnificent Hvar. Its south coast lined by a mountain ridge speckled with jagged rows of vines. These steep, sun drenched, sea-side vineyards produce some of Croatia’s burliest reds, while 2 miles north, leeward of this range, in the Stari Grad Plain, delicate, light, mostly white wines are the norm. A UNESCO world heritage Stari Grad has been continuously cultivated for more than 24 centuries. The native Bogdanjuša or “God Given” is believed to have originated in the valley. The Carić family farms in both locations and the wines could not be more starkly different. Bogdanjuša produces light, savory white wines with pronounced minerality and edgy acidity. Were it not for the characteristic note of the “sea”, “Friškina” the 2013 Carić Bogdanjuša could be mistaken for something Alpine in origin. Ideally suited for raw shellfish or the local specialty “Forska Gregoda”. A simple stew of potatoes, fish, garlic parsley and white wine.
Once famous for its red wines, today Korčula is all about Pošip. Pošip is so popular it’s hard to get any off the island. Toreta may be the only small producer presently available in the US. Although we may get a little wine from local super star Luka Krajančić again soon. Frano Banicević of Toreta farms 5 hectares of vines planted in Smokvica where Pošip is believed to have been discovered about 100 years ago. The winery is named for the ancient unfortified stacked stone huts or “Toreta” that have protected vineyard workers on Korčula from the elements for 1000’s of years. Though a young producer, Frano’s approach in the cellar is comparably restrained. By nature a heady wine Frano’s accentuates the subtleties of Pošip. Toreta wines are fruitful without being overly primary, lush, but also mineral and textural. The 2013 Special Pošip, is lighter, simpler, than the 2013 Toreta Pošip Premium (Verhunsko). Both wines are defined by the elemental combination of Mediterranean herbs, thick pine forest, sunshine and sea breeze. Naturally appropriate for sea-fare, pork or even highly seasoned combinations of seafood and pork are appropriate.