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Croatian Wine Tasting * Part 1

My friend’s John and Irene have an online wine store ( that sells Croatian wine as well as wines from a few other countries. The wines are always unique and from off the beaten path wineries. I had sampled some of the Croatian wine and knew that I needed to introduce these wines to others in Charleston.

I decided to put together a wine tasting and invited some of my wine pals to partake. Happily, I ended up being 15 folks who heeded the call. It turned out that we sampled a total of 12 wines: six Croatian wines, four Portuguese wines, one Serbian wine, and one Italian dessert wine. What made these wines so exciting is they are produced at small family-run wineries, working in small batches and mostly from indigenous grape varieties specific to their region/country. You will not see these wines anywhere other than through Topochines, and to me, that is part of the thrill.

The Tasting

I lead the tasting. It was a sit-down event with a written tasting guide, maps, and a pen to take notes. We tasted the wines together (I had not previously sampled any of these wines). We shared what we experienced. Each wine paired with an hors d’oeuvre that was suggested by the winemakers. This was quite the tasting. And the feedback was that everyone has a lot of fun.

While the tasting happened all on the same evening, to make it a digestible read, I have broken the post into two parts. Today, I will share the Croatian wine and in a subsequent post will share the Portuguese, Serbian and Italian wine.

That said, the order that night was:

Griffin Sparkling Rosé NV (Rosé) – Croatia
Avicella Rosé Vinho Verde 2017 (Rosé) – Portugal
Erdevik Roza Nostra 2017 (Rosé) – Serbia
Avicella Vinho Minho 2017 (White) – Portugal
Galić Graševina 2017 (White) – Croatia
Stina Pošip 2015 (White) – Croatia
Matela Kaštelanski Crljenak 2015 (Red) – Croatia
Stina Plavac Mali 2015 (Red) – Croatia
Saints Hills Sv. Roko Plavac Mali 2015 (Red) – Croatia
Quinta da Ponte Pedrinha Touriga Nacional 2014 (Red) – Portugal
Quinta da Ponte Pedrinha Vinhas Velhas 2007 (Red) – Portugal
The Vinum Moscato D’Asti 2016 (White Dessert) – Italy

Croatian Wine

Croatian Wine


Griffin Sparkling Rosé NV, Plešivica, CroatiaCroatian Wine Sparkling

The first wine of the evening was a non-vintage sparkling wine made from the very obscure grape variety called Portugiser (not connected to Portugal in any way. It grows in the lesser-known continental wine region of Plešivica in the Croatian Uplands.  Krešimir Ivančić is the young winemaker whose family has been making wines for their own needs for generations. He has taken the family’s wines to the next level and is now selling them commercially. 

To best maintain the aromatic and flavor of the underlying grape, Ivančić uses a process called cryomaceration whereby the grapes are brought to freezing temperature before fermentation can begin.  This process allows more skin contact to imbue aroma and flavor into the juice, producing a wine with a much darker hue than most sparkling rosé wines.

Tasting Notes: Bright and sparkly without much acid. Packed with raspberry and other red fruit notes. Low alcohol at 11.5% abv. This sparkler is easy to drink. I know tons of folks who would enjoy this sip.

It paired beautifully with the cured meats that I served with this wine. It was a great way to start the tasting.

Croatian WineGalić Graševina 2017, Slavonia, Croatia

This wine is from a continental wine region east of the Uplands, known as Slavonia. It is the classic Croatian white wine from the indigenous Croatian grape, Graševina.  Fans of Chenin Blanc or younger Rieslings will recognize many of the aromatic and flavor profiles in Graševina wines. This varietal is the most commonly planted white wine grape in the country – “they” say that one out of every five vines in Croatia is Graševina.  

This wine is fermented and aged in stainless steel and sees no oak, which contributes to its crisp, acidic, and refreshing composition.

Tasting Notes: Nicely acidic with crisp, green apple, and citrus notes with a herbaceous back note.  Paired with my homemade, soft goat cheese and sun-dried tomato spread on baguette slices.

Stina Pošip 2015 Korcula, South Dalmatia, CroatiaCroatian Wine

Pošip gives off beautiful grapes with excellent yields. Done well, this results in full-bodied white wine with intense aroma and flavor.

The Pošip varietal is indigenous to Croatia and thought to originate on the island of Korcula. The island is considered to be the ideal location for growing this grape. Korcula is one of a string of vine-growing islands off the western coast of Croatia, surrounded by the Adriatic Sea.

This white wine is big and bold and can be enjoyed now or cellared and enjoyed in the coming years. Expect a textured body, and refreshing acidity with flavors of melon and some tropical fruit and subtle minerality on the backend. Yum. Gary was a big fan of this wine.

The winemaker suggested fish, poultry or pork as a pairing. I chose pork and doctored up Smoked Shredded Pulled Pork from Costco by adding lots of garlic, bay leaf, and chicken broth and slow cooked it in my crock pot for several hours.

Matela Kaštelanski Crljenak 2015,

Middle & South Dalmatia, CroatiaCroatian Wine

Crljenak Kaštelanski is pronounced {ts-urrl-yeh-nak * kash-teh-lan-skee}, so let’s call it, The Original Zin. 

When Mike Grgich (Grgich Hills Cellars and the 1976 showdown in Paris claim to fame) came to the US in the 1950s, he was convinced that Zinfandel originated from a Croatian grape. Well, he was right and wrong.  He was wrong because he thought Zinfandel was the offspring of a grape called Plavac Mali. But he was right because it was determined after many years of analysis that Zinfandel (and Primitivo in Italy) is the offspring of Crljenak Kaštelanski (aka Tribidrag).

This wine was so much fun to taste. It was like tasting ancient history. And before you roll your eyes and think this is a fruit forward and jammy California Zinfandel, you would be wrong. This is a beautifully structured and earthy wine.

Tasting Notes: This wine is intensely dark in color as well as aromas and flavors of dried fig and prune. It is spicy and earthy. It has a great structure with cleansing tannins and a long finish.

The winemaker suggested a hearty stew, meat or game. I baked Costco Italian-style Beef Meatballs to give them a crust while I made a brown butter and onion gravy. I brought the two together to simmer for about an hour. It was the hearty meat appetizer that was needed.

Stina Plavac Mali 2013, Brac,

Middle & South Dalmatia, Croatia

Croatian WinePlavac Mali is the most well known indigenous red grape in Croatia. As Napa Valley is well-known for Cabernet Sauvignon, Plavas Mail is for Croatia. It is the national red grape of the country. You will find it on every restaurant menu ranging from the highest quality wine down to house wines poured in carafes.

The vineyards for this wine are on the island of Brac. They grow in inhospitable conditions of very high heat, rocky soil, and very severe sloping vineyards. The fruit has to work hard to grow and ripen which makes a wine that is complex and full of life.

This wine provided impactful aromas of ripe dark cherry and plum with some spice and earthy notes. It is a medium- to full-bodied wine. On the palate come flavors of ripe dark fruit, dark chocolate, and tobacco.

The seller of this wine states that this is an excellent example of the Plavac Mali variety.

The winemaker suggested strong meats, sausages, heavy pasta or pizza. I took the easy route and made cheese pizzas. It made a great pairing.

Croatian Wine


Saints Hills Sv. Roko Plavac Mali 2015,

Middle & South Dalmatia, CroatiaCroatian Wine

When discussing the wines to taste with John, he wanted to include two Plavac Mali wines from Croatia to compare different winemaking styles.  The Stina (above) poured first and is a more classic expression of this varietal – a bit more earthy, mineral, acidic.  The Saints Hills version, by contrast, is more fruit forward with a lush texture, as a result of time spent in French oak.  This is still a lovely presentation of a classic Croatian grape and by no means will it seem like an international wine – just a different way of honoring the terroir

This wine has a beautiful luscious nose of black fruit with herbal and leather notes on the backend. This is a full-bodied wine. The mouthfeel is rounded and smooth with integrated tannins. The black fruit of plums and figs pleased your palate.

We stayed with the pizza with this wine as well.

The night was not over at this point as we had two Portuguese reds and the Italian dessert wine that followed the Plavac Mali wines.

Of course, all of these wines are available through the Topochines website. If you are looking for some delicious Croatian wines, you can not go wrong with any of these.


Well, that is all for now.





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