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Getting Centered: Preparing for Somm Journal’s Central European Wine Panel

By Jessie Birschbach, Certified Sommelier, Wine Editor, Somm Journal Magazine

The offices of Somm Journal/Tasting Panel/Clever Root magazines are located at the foot of an affluent suburban neighborhood in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles. Often my colleague Allyson and I will stroll among this mix of old, beautiful Ranch-style homes and the occasional flashy McMansion just to get some fresh air and catch up on our social lives. Even though the intention is to take a break from grapes the conversation will inevitably land somewhere in the world of wine. On one of these recent turns gabbing about my up-and-coming vacation sailing along the Croatian coast I paused, suddenly realizing my lack of knowledge regarding Croatian wines. After a confession however my shame was quelled hearing Allyson’s similar disclosure; excepting the one native variety that we both exclaimed in unison (but pronounced slightly differently) — “Plavac Mali!”

Yet the tide of Balkan wine coming into the United States is rising and at higher qualities than we’ve seen in the past.

For this reason, Somm Journal/Tasting Panel is going to sponsor a Central European-centric wine panel at the next SommCon this year! Expect an emphasis on Hungary and Romania, but until then I’m using this as an excuse to do some homework for my vacation and become more familiar with Croatia’s wines; other than Plavac Mali, of course.

White wine dominates Croatia’s inland continental wine producing regions with more than half of the vineyards attributed to the Grasevina grape, but it’s Croatia’s coastal region that we currently seem to fuss over the most, so here are a few top-level basics:

  • There are two main coastal regions, Istria in the north and Dalmatia in the south. (The Kvarner region between Istria and Dalmatia is also worth exploring, albeit lesser known.)
  • There isn’t really an official appellation system in Croatia, although there are quite a few PDO (The EU’s Protected Designation of Origin) appellations in Dalmatia.
  • Dalmatia includes Croatia’s islands (1,200 of them) and all of these little coastline and island hills create a plethora of microclimates, in this region terroir is a major contributing factor to winegrowing. Dalmatia consists mostly of rocky karst soils and offers an abundance of native varieties. Inland Dalmatian vineyards are becoming more common offering wider diurnal swings. Winegrowing also occurs on a handful of islands.
    • In Dalmatia, the fruity red grape Plavac Mali reigns supreme, although others like Tribidrag (aka Crljenak Kaštelanski, Primotivo in Italy, or Zinfandel in U.S.), Plavina, Vranac, Lasina, Dobričić and the tannic red Babić are grown.
    • Dalmatia’s sub regions
      • Dingač PDO, Croatia’s first appellation
      • Dalmatinska Zagora PDO
      • Srednja i Južna Dalmacija PDO
      • Sjeverna Dalmacija PDO
  • Istria, more like Italy than the rest of Croatia in culture and cuisine, offers white limestone soils and iron-rich clay. A red and white grape dominate the landscape:
    • Teran, a fairly tannic red grape, is grown on roughly 500 hectares of vineyards within Istria. Might possibly be (or at least related to) Italy’s Refosco grape.
    • Malvazija Istarska can be a fresh, fruity white or bolder and oaky, grown on over 3,000 hectares in Istria.

To reiterate, the above is only just beginning to scratch the surface of Croatian coastal wine. For more, please see the editorial on Croatian wines in the July/August digital issue of Somm Journal!


Jessie Birschbach

Jessie Birschbach

Wine Editor, THE TASTING PANEL/The SOMM Journal/The Clever Root

  • Spreti Valente

    Fantastic article Jessie. We have featured Wines from Croatia and surrounding regions at our shop in our wine club. People welcome them and rather enjoyed them. Good luck with the panel! Cheers

    September 6, 2017 at 11:23 pm Reply
  • Jessie Birschbach

    An honor to have you think so, Spreti. Ann’s Boutique Wines rules!

    September 20, 2017 at 9:42 pm Reply

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