Croatia’s Best Bottles

By Alex Halberstadt

Published on April 29, 2014

Home to a wine culture extolled by the ancient Greeks, Croatia is again, after a dip in quality during the Communist period, producing some of Europe's most original wines. Indigenous grapes reward an adventurous palate and make a perfect foil for the country's food. The whites are mainly made with grapes grown inland, but they're great with coastal seafood. One such grape is graševina. Though lighthearted and fleshy elsewhere, such as in Austria, in Croatia graševina is more serious.

1 Floral, unctuous** Enjingi Graševina 2012** ($13) finishes with a cleansing note of bitter almond. It stands up to rich cuttlefish risotto.

2 If you haven't heard of bogdanjuša, a grape from the Island of Hvar whose name means godsend, you're not alone. Redolent of grapefruit peel and Mediterranean herbs, Carić Bogdanjuša 2012 ($17) is the first wine made from the rare grape to be exported to the U.S. Its citrusy flavor makes it a nice match for whole grilled fish.

3 Malvasia Istriana, one of Friuli's favorite grapes, is named for the rust-colored soil of Istria in northern Croatia, where it originates. Like many of its Italian cousins, Coronica Malvasia 2012 ($20) smells of Meyer lemons and the sweet-scented acacia that blankets the countryside. The long mineral finish pairs nicely with the tang of a brodet.

4 As for reds, the country's most promising grape is babić, according to Cliff Rames, founder of Wines of Croatia. Dusty and smoky on the nose, Bibich R6 Riserva 2010 ($20), made of babić and the local lasina and plavina grapes, tastes like a sunnier Rhône syrah.

5 Suha Punta Tirada Babić 2009 ($39), from the intricately walled "stone lace" vineyards in Primošten, a historic site, reveals the grape's rich, dark, oaky side.

6 The most widely planted Croatian grape is plavac mali (little blue), a purple descendant of zinfandel that thrives on the coast. Brambly Miloš Plavac 2009 ($27) has the aroma of dried figs and chewy mouth-coating tannins. It's a foil for all sorts of game dishes.

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