Graševina: Croatian white wine causing a stir due to origin debate
Besides being Croatia’s most planted grape variety, Graševina is the most popular Croatian white wine. The Slavonia and Danube region is almost a synonym for this variety, and it’s no secret that Graševina truly shows the best results and remarkable expressions in the mentioned.
But, with a bunch of synonyms attached to it, who gets to call this fascinating grape variety it’s own? In this article, uncover more about Graševina – the most sought-after Croatian wine!
The story of Graševina
According to some researchers, every fourth sold bottle of Croatian wine – is Graševina. Although highly grown in the Slavonia and Danube region, you will find it almost everywhere in the continental part of Croatia. Check out our extensive guide to Croatian wine regions for more detailed insight.
Picture 1. Croatian wine regions
Winemakers can perform miracles with this grape, and Graševina rarely disappoints. It thrives and adjusts well to different soils and adores continental climates. Not only that, but Graševina proved to be resistant to ever-expanding natural challenges, and careful viticulture brings results even in the most challenging years.
In the past, Graševina’s international reputation suffered due to two reasons. Firstly, certain countries oriented their production to quantity and not quality; secondly, it was often compared to Rhein Riesling (a completely different grape variety) and considered an inferior imitation.
No celebration or a good party in Croatia goes without Graševina. It’s so popular and in demand that Graševina is planted at more than 50% of the total vineyards in many continental parts of Croatia. Internationally approved, this wine often receives recognition in various international wine competitions.
The name “Graševina” derives from the fact that the berries are green, resembling green peas, in one growth stage.
Tips: If you enjoy Chenin Blanc or younger Rieslings, even-aged Chardonnays, Graševina should be the next one on your list. You can find this variety in plenty of diverse styles: from sparkling wines to sweet dessert wines, which leaves us confident that you’ll find the one that will suit your palate the most.
The mystery behind its origin
While some sources suggest that Graševina has its roots in France and Italy, and others point to neighboring Austria, Croatian winemakers assert with pride that the grape variety originated in the continental part of Croatia.
You will find this variety under different names, such as:
- Welschriesling (Austria and Germany),
- Riesling Italico (Italy),
- Olaszrizling (Hungary),
- Rizling Vlašsky (Czech Republic and Slovakia),
- Laški Rizling (Slovenia),
- Grašac and Italian Riesling (or just Riesling) (Serbia).
The stir behind the debated origin continues, although wine professionals and the wine public agree that the best examples come from Croatia. For example, Mrs. Jancis Robinson, in the monumental “Wine Grapes” – a guide to world grape varieties co-written with Julia Harding and José Vouillamoz – preferred the Croatian name – Graševina – as the official name for this variety. Enough said!
Once regarded as a loser, Graševina gained a newfound appreciation, almost as an act of rebellion of winemakers who continued to experiment, evolve and introduce new knowledge and practices in viticulture and the winemaking process. Regardless, the grape is once again recognized as a versatile entity, a multifaceted variety with the capacity to become – almost anything!
Grape variety characteristics
In contrast to the vineyards in Central and Eastern Europe, those on the southern and southwestern slopes of the mountains and hills of the Slavonian and Danube region, at positions, 200-400 meters above sea level, produce top-quality grapes.
Graševina is an exceptional grape variety that has the potential to produce a wide range of outstanding wines. Its capabilities span from producing light and refreshing dry wines to mature and more structured wines and excellent sparkling wines. It can also produce late and selective harvests with noble rot, sweet dessert wines, and some of the most exquisite archive wines that can age for decades.
Most Graševina wines are characterized by their fruity, mineral, and floral aromas, giving them a fresh and lively taste. On the nose and palate, fresh apple, citrus, and pear notes are often prominent, along with white flowers and grassy flavors. Sweeter hints of exotic fruits, cantaloupe, quince, and honey are also commonly found in these wines.
One of the best descriptions of this variety was given by a woman winemaker Jasna Antunović Turk, owner of the Antunović winery in Dalj:
“For me, Graševina is the perfect variety – it is tender in the vineyard but resistant and persistent; in the winery – beautiful and sparkling in the primary floral and fruity sensations, elegant and delicious even up to two or three years after the harvest, and rich and sumptuous in the tertiary predicate aromas. A wine so simple, yet so complex and diverse.”
Best wine-growing regions
The Slavonia and Podunavlje wine region is divided into two sub-regions, Podunavlje (around the Danube river) and Slavonia (a historic region of Croatia located in the Pannonian basin, bordered by the Danube, Drava, and Sava rivers), with Slavonia being the most famous for winemaking. Those sub-regions are divided into smaller wine-growing regions.
Podunavlje is known for its Baranja, Erdut, and Srijem wine-growing regions. Slavonia for Kutjevo, Daruvar, Đakovo, Feričanci, Nova Gradiška, Orahovica-Slatina, Pakrac, Požega-Pleternica, Slavonski Brod and Virovitica.
Graševina has been cultivated for more than 200 years in most of continental Croatia, particularly in the important regions of Kutjevo and regions near the Danube river, such as Srijem, Erdut, and Croatian Baranja. Some of the most stunning Croatian vineyards and appellations are located here.
Kutjevo is the town’s name and the wine-growing region, also known as the “capital of Graševina.” Wines are grown on volcanic soils on the southern slopes of Krndija mountain and Papuk UNESCO Geopark and have a remarkable mineral and flinty character that perfectly conveys the terroir. The Kutjevo wine region wines are among the finest Graševina examples. Check out our story about the oldest Croatian wine cellar and its remarkable archive cellar with 65.000 bottles of aged wines (the oldest one from vintage 1947) located in Kutjevo – here and here.
Many Kutjevo wineries offer entry-level Graševina, a lighter version of the variety. However, renowned wineries also produce full-bodied, well-balanced, single-vineyard wines that can age for several decades, such as Kutjevo, Krauthaker, Mihalj, Galić, and Enjingi wineries. These wineries, with lower yields and the right vineyard management, give Graševina of such complexity and longevity that wine lovers often leave a few bottles of premium wines in the wine cellar to see how they develop.
- Kutjevo winery,
- Krauthaker winery,
- Galić winery,
- Adžić winery,
- Sontacchi winery,
- Enjingi winery,
- Mihalj winery,
- Tandara winery,
- Jakobović winery,
- Soldo winery,
- Perak winery.
Baranja, a small triangular region located in the far northeast of Croatia, extends towards Serbia and Hungary, where the Drava and Danube rivers converge. The area boasts gentle hills, sprawling wheat fields, and charming villages. Baranja is recognized as one of Croatia’s most important wine-growing subregions, featuring a variety of historic cellars and wineries.
- Belje winery,
- Josić winery,
- Kalazić winery,
- Gerštmajer winery,
- Svijetli dvori winery,
- Zlatno brdo winery,
- Pinkert winery,
- Kolar winery,
- Szabo winery,
- Kusić winery.
Vineyards are located on the southern slopes and only a few kilometers away from the Danube river, which meanders in that position and embraces some vineyards from the north, east, and south. The terroir of the Erdut wine-growing region in Croatian Podunavlje is specific precisely because of the dominant influence of the Danube on the climate and soil characteristics. The climate is moderately continental with warm and hot summers and cold winters, the altitude is from 150 to 400 m, moderate amounts of moisture and precipitation, and the soil is a type of degraded chernozem.
- Antunović winery,
- Erdut wine cellars winery,
- Janečić winery,
- Jakovac winery,
- Siber winery,
- Brzica winery.
Srijem subregion boasts a tradition of wine-growing and production that goes back to Roman times. Free-draining soils sitting on a loess base are abundant on these slopes overlooking the Danube river, with an average elevation of 200-250 meters above sea level. The constant winds that cool the slopes bring an intriguing note of salinity. Ilok, along with Vukovar and Dalmatian island Hvar have for years shared Croatia’s record for the most annual hours of sunlight per year.
Iločki podrumi winery, as the most prominent producer of the region, has a good and precious archive cellar and an extensive collection of aged wines. If you’re wondering where to buy some amazing old vintages, look no more!
- Iločki podrumi winery,
- Krešić winery,
- Buhač winery,
- Čobanković winery,
- Papak winery,
- Zajac winery,
- Marija winery,
- PZ Trs winery.
Feričanci – Orahovica
The wine-growing regions of Feričanci and Orahovica are situated in a remarkably picturesque and varied terrain on the edge of Papuk UNESCO Geopark and Krndija mountain. These regions boast exceptional diversity, complex geology, and a unique microclimate, making them highly suitable for viticulture. The vineyards have southern exposure at altitudes ranging from 160 to 250 meters.
- Enosophia (former Feravino) winery,
- PP Orahovica winery.
Different Graševina expressions
Graševina is a late harvesting grape variety and, in the simplest young and fresh style, it will have a dominantly fruity, flowery character with crispy acidity and medium alcohol levels. It is a great start to a meal, as a chilled aperitif drink, and a companion to summer foods like clams, oysters, salads, and cured meat and cheeses.
Because it is a late harvesting grape variety and very resistant to diseases, some winemakers in Croatia tend to leave it a bit more in the vineyards until 5-10 % of the grapes get affected by the noble rot Botrytis. This kind of noble rot is very welcoming when the conditions allow it to winemaking. Noble rot causes the grapes to shrink and accumulate acids and sugars, giving special and cherished flavors to the wine.
These styles show more complex and structures, fruit aromas become riper and, in some cases, cooked. There is a honey character on the nose but well balanced with fresh apples and citrus fruits. Graševina in this style often has slightly more alcohol; in drier years, that level can exceed 13.5% alc.
Nevertheless, concentrated berries give these wines power and more body, so the alcohol never stands out but is well integrated into the wine.
When the vintage conditions allow it, producers will make selected berries harvest, producing intense dessert wines that require time to develop. You can even pick it so late, in the winter, when the temperatures go below – 7 °C degree Celsius and grapes freeze on the vines – producing adored golden drops of sweet ice wine (Eiswine).
Graševina aging potential
Graševina wines, made in dry or semi-dry styles, are often released to the market to be consumed young, fresh, and energetic, but that doesn’t diminish their true potential for aging.
The aging potential is astonishing when talking about premium Graševina from top producers. And those top-quality premium wines are rarely priced above 15 EUR. Older vintages are, of course, more expensive, as they should be.
We wrote about Enjingi Venje – a collector’s treasure, and the same goes for Kutjevo winery and its archive cellar or Iločki podrumi and its archive. Every wine enthusiast dreams!
Recently, we had a vertical tasting of Krauthaker Mitrovac Graševina – currently one of the most valued winemakers and Graševina producers among wine lovers and connoisseurs.
Vertical Tasting of Krauthaker Graševina Mitrovac
Some winemakers, like Vlado Krauthaker, produce their premium Graševina Mitrovac from vineyards that have vines older than 30 years. These wines show concentration, power, and elegance and, in good vintages, give the wine strength to develop in the bottle for more than 5 years.
Vlado Krauthaker started producing his premium line of the Graševina Mitrovac in 2004. Tastings have shown that his bottles, some older than 10 years show development.
Through the aging process, Graševina has become softer and rounder, aromas develop in a riper style; cooked peaches, pears, quince, and some tropical nuances are followed by honey and mushrooms in the latest vintages. If you want to relate to Croatian customs, you must try Graševina!
Graševina food pairings
Graševina is a white wine of golden-green (hay) color, often considered to have delicious aromas of green apple or sweet and juicy apples (depending on the ripeness), pears, and quince on the nose. Fruit is accompanied by flower sensations, almost like you can feel the fields of elderflowers, the chamomile, or other floral aspects growing near the vines. Depending on the appellation from which it comes, you’ll often find mineral expressions from the soil in your glass of Graševina.
Because of all of the mentioned above, plus nice acidity, Graševina is a perfect wine for food pairing, and by that, we aren’t talking only about the traditional, continental dishes.
With its minerality, freshness, and structure, Graševina is a great company for seafood dishes. Nonetheless, fuller-bodied wines offer opportunities for more daring combinations with dishes such as chicken, pork, creamy pasta, risotto, and an array of vegetarian and vegan fare. Next time you vacation on the Adriatic coast, go with your clams or oysters!
Chardonnay vs. Graševina
At some point, the wine-drinking clique got so fed up with Chardonnay that the term ABC was coined. This abbreviation stands for Anything But Chardonnay.
It’s no coincidence that Chardonnay is one of the most planted varieties in the world. Some argue that Chardonnay became a synonym for a dry white wine as it grows everywhere and people worldwide enjoy it.
But why is it so popular around the world? First, it is a relatively low-maintenance grape variety, and disease control is more efficient. There are many practical solutions available for Chardonnay in terms of vineyard management.
Secondly, its aroma and flavor are not too expressive. Although they depend on the climate conditions and sometimes the respected terroir, they also depend very much on the winemaker’s taste and desired design. When we think of a mainstream Chardonnay, what comes to mind is a relatively fresh and fruity, medium to fuller-bodied wine, commonly with buttery and vanilla notes achieved by malolactic fermentation and oak usage.
Such Chardonnays are very versatile wines. Want to have a grilled fish or a stuffed turkey breast filled with collard and Epoisses cheese on white polenta with slices of an avocado marinated with herb-infused sauce and a dressing of soy-coconut emulsion… no problem. Good old Chard can go along.
In Croatia, Chardonnay grapes are grown in every wine region – continental and coastal. These are very popular in fine dining.
Of course, when you say Chardonnay, it rolls on the tongue beautifully… shaa-duh-nay sounds like some Elven magic, doesn’t it. It makes you sound so sophisticated, like you just cast a spell of finesse and well-being.
On the other hand, grah-sh’vin-ah sounds like you’re demented and having a psychiatric episode. Sometimes it feels that way too, in case you irresponsibly consume some homemade stuff 🙂
However, what is Chardonnay to the world that is Graševina to Croatia? And much more.
Interesting fact: Chardonnay also, sort of, originates from Croatia genetically 🙂 It is proven that Chardonnay is a cultivar that we got back in the day from crossing Pinot and a Croatian (Pannonian as a likely origin) variety Belina Bijela, aka Gouais Blanc. Although an extinct curiosity, this variety still exists in some old vineyards.
Perhaps you have tried Graševina under its other names: Welschriesling, Olasz Riesling, Riesling Italico, Laški Rizling, or others. These are the synonyms for Graševina, the same way Graševina is a synonym for white wine in Croatia.
So, one could argue that Graševina is perceived in Croatia as Chardonnay in the rest of the world – a top-of-mind dry white wine (drank in large quantities ;)).
Another similarity between the two is that the style of Graševina wine greatly depends on the desired style of the winemaker, so you can find: dry, off-dry, and sweet Graševina.
Also, Graševina gives very good results as an amber/orange wine.
What about bubbles? Yes, there is a sparkling wine from Graševina as well.
So, why should we give up “Chardonnay”? We are talking about the prevailing practice. To produce modern wines from old native varieties. And if they all resemble “Chardonnay,” what’s the point?
So, it’s not Chardonnay per se we’re suggesting we should drop. It’s the design by which the wines all look alike.
Ironically, most appreciated Chardonnay wines don’t even carry a name on the label. Yet, some of those Chablis or Montrachet wines represent the finest expression of terroir conceivable. Instead of broad generalization, we could seek out wines with a unique identity.
Here you can find our selection of Graševina!
And why not a Chardonnay as well?
Gemišt: a cultural fling
Gemišt (Gemischt) is an unusual custom when discussing fine wine production. But from a cultural point of view, it’s way more understanding. Back in the day, when hard-working Croats wanted a light, crispy drink to refresh themselves during the day, they would dilute it with sparkling mineral water – and call it Gemišt! White wines for this “cocktail” were mainly made from a wide array of light, easy wines.
Gemišt is still very popular in Croatia, usually with large-volume brands and light, easy wines
As odd as it sounds if you picture a hot, hot summer day and a dry, thirsty mouth – Gemišt could sound better. We’ll leave it for you to try, just be sure not to pick a bottle of fine wine to mix! 🙂
In conclusion, Graševina is widely appreciated by winemakers and wine enthusiasts as it offers valuable cultivation characteristics and a diverse range of flavor profiles appealing to a broad spectrum of consumers.
If you want to buy Croatian Graševina wine to compare with other wines of different synonyms or any other, feel free to contact Wine&More. We could assist you depending on your country of residence! Cheers!