The Morning Claret is delighted to be going on a brief sojourn to Istria later this week. Having travelled a couple of times in the Southern part of Croatia, I’m fascinated to see what the North of the country has to offer. By way of preparation, I cracked open two wines on Saturday night – arguably neither was typical, but at the same time the idea was to learn something about the key differences between North and South, in terms of wine making.
In the Istrian corner, we had Mladen Roxanich’s “Super Istrian” 2006, a nice play on the “Super Tuscan” tag first coined in the 1970s, when Tuscan wine makers started playing fast and loose with the archaic DOC regulations. Just like the Super Tuscan concept, this is a blend of local and international grape varieties: 40% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon and 20% Istrian Borgonja.
The wine greets you with an upfront, yet wholly refreshing aroma of spiced blueberries. It’s enticing, and in no sense predictable. There is a whiff of oak (chocolate?), but interestingly the 2006 seems less evolved than the 2007 vintage. I loved the herbacious, yet full-bodied palate. There’s structure aplenty here, but nothing grainy or butch about the tannins. Overall, “elegance” was a word I kept coming back to.
Heading south, our offering was Korta Katarina‘s 2006 Plavac Mali, a polished remix of this sometimes very rustic grape from the Dalmatian heartlands – and specifically in this case, the Pelješac peninsula. The very ripe, dark fruit character and smokey flavours had us clearly in a much hotter climate than the Super Istrian – yet this is also a wine of considerable elegance and balance.
Just as with my first encounter with KK’s Plavac, I again found that despite an hour in the decanter, this wine still needed more time in the glass to really start singing. Gradually, those wonderful aromas and flavours of herbs, mocha, toast and spices started to unfurl. The genius of this wine is how much is hidden from view when you first uncork the bottle. The patient, however, are rewarded.
I’m not sure that any generalisations about the North or South can be made with these wines – on the one hand, the Roxanich is a blend of international and indigenous varieties, vinified in an ultra-natural fashion (no cultured yeasts, no filtration or fining, no barriques), whilst on the other, the Korta Katarina is a local grape variety, vinified in a more international style, using new oak and temperature control. Both wines are utterly successful in what they set out to achieve, and what stands out is the consistently high standard- their balance, elegance and complexity.
Roxanish wines are available in the UK from Pacta Connect
Korta Katarina wines are distributed in the US, but not yet in the UK – stay tuned!
I’m not really sure as to what an Istrian wine is at this point. The influences in both the vineyards and cellar are so international that finding a true Istrian style wine seems nearly impossible but for a few vineyards.
Also, will definitely need to taste the Korta Katarina wines at the Wine Weekend in Zagreb next month. Curious as to whether they’re leaning more towards being locale-driven or more of an international export-friendly style.
Actually I do feel there is a defined Istrian wine character – although it won’t necessarily have come across in this piece.I am beginning to see Istria more as part of a cross-border area that takes in Slovenia and the neighbouring Italian Regions (Friuli Carso and Isonzo especially). What these regions share is an excellent wine-making climate, with plenty of sun, but no extreme temperatures. Terroir is key in all these regions, and soils are often mineral or iron-enriched.I’ve found a wealth of innovation amongst Istrian wine makers – and this is what I also in Friuli. The celebration of local varieties, careful choice of aging vessels (why use oak, if cherry or steel or concrete would be more appropriate?) I also find a great deal of finesse in almost every wine that I’ve had from these regions. I’m sure there must be clumsy, rustic wine-making going on in Istria,… Read more »
Sure, when we were last in Istria, we tasted several wines that had definitive character that felt true to the locale like those at Zigante or to some extend Kozlovic. There’s just been so much outside money pumped in to developing wineries that it feels like it’s tilted the scene a good deal. It’s similar to what has happened in Empordà, Catalonia, although there are still plenty of smaller, older, family produces making the original juice.
And yes, both geographic and wine-wise, Istria stretches up through Slovenia and a tiny bit of Italy. Once we’re done with this guide here in Catalonia, we’d like to look in to creating one of our guides for the region.
It’s a region that well deserves more exposure (although you could argue that may result in even more outside investment and distortion of “authenticity”).
From what I have seen however, it’s often the younger winemakers in Istria who are pioneering and championing the use of local grape varieties, minimal intervention in the winery and so forth.
It’s definitely always a mixed bag. Part of the problem for us is that we’ve really only been tasting the exported selection (or those pursuing it) for the last year or two and it’s definitely skewed.
April will definitely be telling. Not sure if you’re heading to Zagreb, but it will be interesting to see the direction wines are taking.