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Indigenous White Wines of Croatia, Selection & Tasting Notes

Indigenous White Wines of Croatia, Selection & Tasting Notes

Much like their red counterparts, Croatian white wines offer a distinctive taste and sense of place due to the unique combination of climate and soil found in Croatia. Croatia has many indigenous varieties, but only around 40 are used in commercial wine production.

These indigenous varieties include:

  • Pošip
  • Malvazija Istarska (Malvasia Istriana)
  • Graševina
  • Žlahtina
  • Škrlet
  • Kraljevina
  • Maraština (Rukatac)
  • Debit
  • Vugava
  • Grk
  • Kujundžuša
  • Bogdanuša
  • Zlatarica
  • Muškat Momjanski
  • Malvasia Dubrovačka
  • Pušipel

It needs to be said that Maraština, Malvasia Dubrovačka, Pušipel, Muškat Momjanski, and even Graševina, are not native to Croatia, but these are nurtured on Croatian soil for so long that for example Graševina been recognized as the first name of the variety (also known as Welschriesling) in World Atlas of Wine.Šibenik

What wine is Croatia known for?

Croatia is most known for its red wines, especially the Plavac mali variety (which could be translated as “little blue”) from the Dalmatian coast, but its white wines are most popular and widely grown in Croatia. Considering that Croatia is a popular vacation destination, most known Croatian wines are from varieties grown in the coastal part of Croatia.

Ubiquitous Malvazija owes its popularity to its Istrian origin and Malvasia Istriana is one the most popular wines in Croatia.

Pošip, once on the verge of extinction, is today the most planted and sought-out Dalmatian white wine.

But the most popular Croatian white wine is Graševina, widely planted on the continental part and versatile for many different wine styles and expressions.

So, what could we expect from these and other Croatian white wines is explained below.

12 Indigenous Croatian White Wines

Pošip (Poh-ship)

One couldn’t help to wonder how many varieties weren’t rescued from oblivion, since Pošip was also close to being extinct. Today it is the most planted white variety in Dalmatia.

It was discovered by chance on the island of Korčula where experts recognized its potential to make balanced wines, either age-worthy, big wines, or lighter and more refreshing styles. It can accumulate a lot of sugar and extract but preserve freshness.

Pošip is native to Korčula island, but it is now widespread throughout Dalmatia. Sun-drenched in Dalmatian summer and aged in wooden barrels, Pošip naturally gives higher alcohol wines of oily texture, but balanced wines with plenty of Mediterranean character. Some of the most popular wines of that expression are:

These Pošip wines benefit from aging in a bottle and usually are richer, flavourful, and balanced several years after bottling.

On the other hand, Pošip can be lighter in body and more refreshing. Some of the most popular wines of that expression are:

These Pošip wines are best when consumed within a couple of years after harvest.Milan-Pošip

Malvazija Istarska (Mal-vahz-ee-yah Ih-star-skah) or Malvasia Istriana

Native to Istria enjoyed everywhere… this could be a slogan of Istrian Malvasia. No other Croatian white variety is as popular in Croatia and worldwide. Malvasia Istriana is the flagship grape of Istria and is usually made as a crowd-pleaser. Fruity, pleasurable, and not complicated, easy to drink on its own as a summer refreshment and a welcomed pairing to seafood dishes. There are plenty of accessible Malvasia wines in restaurants along the seaside and on the market. It’s easy to indulge in the so-called “clean&green” style of Istrian Malvasia, commonly made in inox vats under temperature-controlled fermentation. Some of the most popular wines of that expression are:

Kabola

Of course, despite the fact most Istrian Malvasia is enjoyed young, many producers are making more structured Malvasia wines, with cellar age and suitable for aging in bottles. In the right hands, Malvasia can benefit from aging in oak or acacia barrels, even in amphorae and there is a growing number of macerated Malvasia wines as well. Some of the notable examples include:

Even more, winemakers are growing Malvasia organically and making spontaneous fermentation on native yeasts. That approach alone is no guarantee the wines will express the varietal characteristics best, but in the finest examples, it gives structure, longevity, and complexity not commonly associated with Malvasia Istriana.Rovinj

Graševina (Grahsh-ah-vee-nah)

At least one in four vines planted in Croatia is Graševina. As a result, to this day, many of the Graševina grape ends up in table-quality wine traditionally mixed with sparkling water and drank from a water glass. However, the potential of Graševina is slowly revealing itself not just to winemakers and enologists, but to wine lovers.

Yes, it’s still most popular as refreshing white wine with a stone fruit profile and certain floral aspects. But, even in this style, it can be fuller or thinner in body, and well worth aging for a couple of years at least.

Graševina proved its ability to thrive in every type and style, from the simple one to the complex one, alone or in the blend.

It pays off to look out for the most prominent wines from the sub-regions of Kutjevo, or Danube sub-regions of Baranja, Ilok, and Erdut.

Every style and expression of Graševina from bone dry to sweet, young or aged, sparkling or still, conventional or amber/orange, can be found and ordered here.Croatian-Uplands

Žlahtina (Zhhlah-tee-nah)

Certainly not easy to pronounce, but very easy to drink. Žlahtina variety is responsible for the most drinkable wines in Croatia.  Indigenous to Istria & Kvarner region, Žlahtina is most popular and widely planted on the island of Krk, especially in and around the Vrbnik field.

Žlahtina is generally low in alcohol, and crispy in texture, with a salty mineral profile and subtle nuances of citrus, green apple, or vineyard peach. It’s usually made in stainless steel vats as a fresh and easy-drinking white wine. It can’t age long, but if done properly, there is no need to. It will be drunk young when it’s most seductive.

Most famous producers include:

Škrlet (Shh-kerh-leht)

Another Croatian tongue-twister only this time from Croatian Uplands. Škrlet is native to the Moslavina sub-region and with origin unknown. His other name is Ovnek žuti, which translates to “yellow little ram” probably because of its color and berry size when ripe. Due to its bright acidity, and tendency towards higher yields, Škrlet is often made as a fresh and crisp wine meant to be consumed young. To this rule, there are but a few exceptions, yet very important ones in terms of understanding the true nature of Škrlet. In the right hands and with the best vintages, Škrlet is able to reach unexpected levels of complexity, structure, and aging potential.Kosovec-vineyard

Most notable producers include:

  • Miklaužić
  • Mikša
  • Trdenić
  • Voštinić-Klasnić
  • Ilovčak (Lagena)
  • Kosovec
  • Klet Romić
  • Košutić
  • Kezele

Kraljevina (Krahl-yeh-veena)

Certain stories from the past about the Kraljevina variety belong to an urban legend category. What is unmistakably true is that Kraljevina still rules the Prigorje sub-region in Croatian Uplands, near the capital city of Zagreb. Citrus and green apples in a light-bodied whole with piercing freshness are expected in good Kraljevina. If it ages too long, there’s probably something wrong with it. Because its drinkability can be compared only to a Croatian “invention” named “gemišt”, where a vinous white wine is mixed with sparkling water as a cheap sparkler low in alcohol.

In short, good Kraljevina should be young, low in alcohol, and high in acidity. Although fuller-bodied Kraljevina wines exist, most people in Croatia, and especially Prigorje, prefer it like that.

Most notable examples are:

  • Puhelek-Purek
  • Kos
  • Kos-Jurišić
  • Jarec-Kure
  • Čegec
  • Vina Prigora (Bedekovich)
  • Litterarii
  • Terra Merula

Maraština (Rukatac)

Before Pošip uprising, Maraština was the most widespread white variety in Dalmatia. It’s not indigenous, because it’s the same variety as Malvasia Bianca Lunga (or Malvasia del Chianti). Despite the name, it has nothing in common with the super popular Istrian Malvasia and has everything in common with Dalmatian tradition.

Because of that cultural and historical importance, Maraština was and still is responsible for some of the most authentic Dalmatian white wines. Modern winemaking makes Maraština a young and refreshing white, but its true nature lies in making structured, complex white wine that benefits from age in the cellar and bottle. Extensively grown, Maraština was often blended with other varieties. As a monovarietal wine, Maraština naturally achieves fuller-bodied wines usually with lower acidity and sometimes with a creamy texture, salty minerality, and nuttiness accompanying fruity and herbal aspects. Mediterranean in character, it usually pairs best with fish and seafood, but it’s very good with many poultry or white meat dishes, risotto, and similar.

Most notable examples include:

Rak-Debit

Debit

Historically very important variety for North and Central Dalmatia. Tradition says that it got its name from a tax that had to be paid in wine. As the wine from Debit was of very high quality, the government insisted that this particular variety be used to pay off the debt (debito in Italian language).

Of all Dalmatian varieties, Debit has the best ratio of acids and sugars, so it usually produces a white wine with a refreshing character. That is not typical of Dalmatia, however, the vineyards Debit comes from are partly responsible for this fresh character. Namely, the Debit vineyards are not on the coast but in the interior of Dalmatia, in the hinterland of Šibenik and Skradin, where night temperatures are significantly lower than those on the coast.

Regardless, Debit can produce more than simple fresh&fruity table wines. There is depth and intensity in young Debit and unique blunt acids that pair perfectly with white fish or fried sardines.

Most notable examples include:

  • Bibich
  • Ante Sladić Debit
  • Sladić winery Debit
  • Rak Debit
  • Džapo Debit
  • Birin Debit
  • Baraka Debit
  • Prgin Debit
  • Vinoplod Debit

Plisko-polje-Vis-Vugava

Vugava (Voo-gaah-vah)

This indigenous white variety from the island of Vis is known for its aromatic character, rich with ripe fruit aromas, but also with specific herbal and mineral undertones. Fuller in body with higher alcohol, but incredibly balanced, refreshing and invigorating, Vugava is considered to be one of the great white varieties of Croatia. It is believed that Vugava was first planted by the ancient Greeks colonizing the island, but the origin is still unknown. It was practically endemic to certain wine-growing areas on the small island of Vis. Today it is also planted in other places in the Dalmatian region. A sense of place, which many wine lovers constantly seek, is in the essence of well-handled Vugava.

The most notable producers are:

Grk (gerk)

Grk become the most south after wine of Croatia and one of the reasons is that it’s truly a scarce commodity. Grk used to be exclusive in the sandy topsoil of Lumbarda, a small town on the island of Korčula. In that particular field, Grk survived the phylloxera, and given that Grk has only female flowering, it was planted along other grape varieties. Vineyards of Grk have spread away from the field of Lumbarda and even away from the Korčula island, but the demand for Grk is still not fulfilled.

Another reason for Grk becoming hyper-popular lies in its unique expression. Grk is supposed to be ripe and rich, with a textured mouthfeel, full-bodied and persistent on the palate, borderline bitter (word “grk” can be translated as bitter) in a herbal sense, commonly with some tartness to it. When handled carefully, Grk provides a unique salinity expression… mineral undertones that deepen even further with time. So, yes, Grk can greatly benefit from aging, and it is almost a shame it’s being drunk much before entering its optimum stage.

Because of its sudden rise in popularity, new producers (as well as the prices) of Grk rise every day, but the most notable producers from the place it all began are:

  • Cebalo
  • Bire
  • Zure

Bire-Defora

Kujundžuša (Kew-jund-zhew-shah)

Yet another example of hard-to-pronounce but easy-to-drink wine. It appears “aromatically challenged” compared to other Dalmatian varieties, but its strength lies not in the abundance of aromas, but in subtlety and focus. The neutrality of flavors brings up the vinous character and minerality in best examples and simple but balanced drinkability in mediocre ones. There is a certain tonic-like uniqueness coming out, which makes perfect sense to the ascetic appearance of Kujundžuša. Low in alcohol, low in acids, and normally not high in extract, but it’s the quality, not quantity that matters, and once you’re tuned to the right frequency, Kujundžuša proves to be second to none in its particular style.

Some of the most notable producers include:

Bogdanuša (Bog-dahn-uuu-shah)

“God-given” in literal translation, Bogdanuša is grown in the Stari Grad plain – the oldest known continuously planted vineyard in the World. It is on the island of Hvar in Dalmatia.

The wine produced from this white grape variety was often drunk during the celebrations of religious holidays, hence the name. Modern Bogdanuša is used in making light-bodied and crisp wines, lower in alcohol and acids. Bogdanuša is best when young but it can age very well for several years. Try it with seafood dishes, starters such as fish carpaccio or seafood salads, but also with boiled beef or fish.

Most notable producers include:

  • Plančić
  • Plenković
  • Hvar Hills
  • Carić
  • Duboković
  • Bell’Iakov
  • Pavičić

seafood

What is the Most Popular Croatian White Wine

Many would say Graševina is the most popular Croatian white wine. It is widely planted throughout the continental part of Croatia and it can be used in a variety of styles and expressions.

Graševina is called by different names elsewhere, but to be fair, all other names, such as Riesling Italico, Olasrizling, and Laški Rizling, are misleading because this variety has nothing to do with the famous “Riesling.”

Graševina is responsible for a spectrum of various quality wines and can be found in every style. Graševina can be dry, off-dry or sweet, light and refreshing, or cellar aged and structured… There are sparkling wines made out of Graševina. More and more it’s being grown organically, and in addition, Graševina is being made with prolonged skin contact as an amber/orange wine.

However, Graševina is by far the most popular in its youth, refreshing and juicy. It usually has notes of ripe yellow apples, and citrus, with hints of floral aromas such as chamomile.

Such Graševina can be paired with many meals, anything from light salads, cold cuts, seafood dishes, and even some spicy Asian cuisine, but definitely poultry and pasta, including risotto, also stews, and certain veal or pork-based dishes, etc.Savar

But don’t just settle for the most popular Croatian white wine – explore other popular varieties such as aromatic Malvasia or intense Pošip from Dalmatia. Let your taste buds go on a journey through Croatia’s unique indigenous white.

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