This is the second instalment in a series that we began at the outset of 2023 for the Monthly Amaro Wine Club in which we explore wines from countries with rich winemaking histories that were out of reach for most of the wine-consuming world during 50 crucial years when the wine industry was just truly starting to become global, from 1941 to 1991. The countries whose wine industries we will cover in the first months of 2023 were countries that were metaphorically behind an “Iron Curtain.” Please read the first section of “Wines Behind the Iron Curtain: Hungary” in the wine section of https://amarobrooklyn.com for more information on the iron curtain. Last month we explored one of the oldest wine cultures in history, Hungary. For this installment, we look at a bordering country that could not be more different in its overall culture, but is matched by the long, rich history of its wine culture: Croatia.
Like in Hungary, a robust winemaking culture in Croatia pre-dates the Roman Empire’s military-led promotion of viticulture and winemaking throughout Europe. However, unlike Hungary, Croatia’s winemaking origins are not shrouded in mystery; instead, there is ample archaeological evidence that Ancient Greek settlers brought winemaking over to Croatia in the 5th century BCE. But then given that Croatia is largely a Mediterranean region sharing a border with the Italian peninsula, it was simply a matter of time that the Roman Empire would indeed add more organization, significantly increase production, and make the region a wine exporter, capitalizing on Croatia’s ideal geography and climate for growing Vitus vinifera. Under the post-Second World War communist system during which Croatia was part of Yugoslavia, private ownership of wineries was dismantled, and wine production was centered in large cooperatives that prioritized quantity over quality. Then in the 1990s the region was wracked by war as Yugoslavia splintered into various independence movements and the Republic of Croatia emerged, but at the expense of many vineyards being neglected and destroyed. Regardless, enough families with long generational pre-Second World War winemaking histories transitioned to small, independent producers. During communist rule, a lot of these families continued to farm grapes, but were forced to just sell them to the mass-producing cooperatives. After independence these growers became small producers… thousands of them. In fact, there are only a few large wineries in Croatia. In short, it did not take long for Croatian wine producers to ratchet up volume enough to compete again on the world wine market, probably faster than in any other iron curtain region given the country’s Mediterranean growing seasons.
Fun fact: about every fourth Vitus vinifera vine grown in Croatia is Grasevina. Most Croatians think that the varietal is native to Croatia, but Austria claims it as their native varietal under the name Welschriesling. Our money is on Croatia, but whatever the truth is, we can all admit that the Croatian name is less misleading because every expert agrees that the varietal has absolutely nothing to do with the “Riesling” varietal. Like Riesling, though, it does thrive inland where there is a relatively shorter growing season, and as such it is grown in the Slavonia and Croatian Uplands regions. This one is from Slavonia, which is north and as far east as you’re going to get in Croatia. Vineyards are in valleys kept fertile by the three rivers that enclose them, the Danube, Drava, and Sava, where the summers are hot and the winters snowy. And for you wine geeks who pay attention to the type of oak in which wine is aged, yes, this is the land of Slavonian oak. The epicenter of winemaking in this region is Kutjevo, which is where we found your wine.
The most popular red varietal, Plavac Mali, thrives in the coastal Dalmatia, in the far western and southern part of the country. If you look on a map, you’ll see that the entire nation of Bosnia and Herzegovina stands in between inland Slavonia to the northeast and Dalmatia to the west. Rest assured; we will have a single-varietal Plavac Mali wine in the store. The varietal is too much a part of Croatian history to not be showcased on its own; however, for the wine for the club, we chose to let Plavac Mali share the stage in a blend, so that you could experience another native varietal. The varietal takes on particularly special, leaner, acidic characteristics on the Peljesac Peninsula, which is 40 miles long, but only 4 miles wide, and is dominated by a mountain stretching along the peninsula, called Zmijsko brdo (Snake Mountain), which reaches heights of 3,149 feet (960 meters) above sea level. Summers on the peninsula are dry and hot and winters are mild.
With a population of 11,000 and 40 miles in length, the island of Hvar is steeped in history as a center for trade sailing routes running up and down the Adriatic Sea, across to Italy and throughout the wider Mediterranean area. It has been inhabited since prehistoric times, originally by a Neolithic people who left behind distinctive pottery, and later by the Illyrians. As such, the island is much more than its wine culture. The town of Star Grad, founded by the Ancient Greeks, is one of the oldest in Europe, and the town of Hvar was an important naval base of the Venetians in their Medieval heyday. The island promotes itself as "the sunniest spot in Europe", with an annual average of over 2,715 hours of sunlight, and besides its vineyards, it is also known agriculturally for its vast lavender fields. In terms of viticulture, like the Pelje?ac peninsula, it is a favorite for growing the Plavac Mali varietal. Although what would a sunny, fishing village and summer tourist destination be without white wine? As such, we selected a wine that boasts a blend of some of the country’s most iconic white wine varietals, both light-bodied and fuller bodied, blended to produce a perfectly balanced summer white.