Croatia (wine) Journal, Part I

Wine under the Cavtat sun

13 August 2018

By Panos Kakaviatos for

Cavtat sunsets bring out your inner Monet: you feel compelled to take variations of the similar sun setting theme on your smart phone. Cavtat – pronounced “tsavtat” – is perfect for a summer break. Clean, friendly and not too bon marché, with prices high enough to dissuade cheapskate tourists of the more uncouth sort.

My trip proved perfect to beat the 2018 Euro summer heat. The canicule of Strasbourg, France in late July and early August for example (as in other parts of Europe) saw temperatures reach the upper 90s Fahrenheit. Of course southern parts of Spain and Portugal had it much worse, with temperatures approaching 115.

The clear blue Adriatic Sea? That was an antidote.

Cavtat’s smart, hilly trail beckons an early morning jog. So tidy, too, with benches and waste bins along the way: you would think it was Switzerland.

For sportier types, public outdoor gym equipment near the water is free to use, too. But no one should miss out on a refreshing dip and swim in the sea.

Culinary variety 

For foodies, Cavtat satisfies vacation hunger: whether the charmingly upscale Bugenvila or more traditional Mediterranean at Konoba Cavtat.

Buganvila appeals not only graphically – tasty, colorful décor and elegant menus – but also provides intelligent, refined service for creative culinary delights, such as chilled beetroot gazpacho with a balancing flavor act of color coordinated ingredients, including pickled pears, blackberries and Gorgonzola.

A glass of Zlahtina, a crisp white for €5.40 by the glass, photo below, went well with slow cooked pork belly for the main dish.

Be sure to try their homemade, rosemary-seasoned butter with fresh warm bread. Overall damage with wine and bottled water and dessert came out to about €50. Not bad at all for the quality of cuisine.

Perhaps my overall favorite Cavtat restaurant, taking budget into account, is Posejdon, which gets deservedly very high ratings from Trip Advisor. Aside from a fine harbor view – matched by other restaurants – this place offers very competitive pricing for high quality. Their dinner serving of grilled calamari, for about $14, served with broccoli and roasted potatoes, was better than a similar, and smaller, lunch serving, just a stone’s throw away at another restaurant, which cost $18. Efficient, friendly and jovial service: When I asked for a business card, the server said that I should not tell anyone else, as “We do not want too many people coming here.”

Ancora Wine Bar Cocktails and Tapas

Of course, Croatia has built a reputation recently for making some darn good wines, both red and white. And since this is a wine blog, I report first on my visit to the Ancora Wine Bar Cocktails and Tapas at Cavcat, where owner Ivo Ivaniš opened doors back in 2002. It is a fine place, with 75 references, and tasty tapas.

With Ivo Ivaniš, sipping on a a fine Croatian sparkler.

Ivaniš knows Dutchman Paul Robert Blom, a friend whom I met back at the Mundus Vini wine awards. They share a common link with the Netherlands: Ivaniš met his Dutch wife in Croatia. Thanks to Paul, I got this wine bar connection. And Ivaniš had me try several nice wines, starting with an excellent sparkler: the Jagunić Three Stars Brut. This “Champagne method” blend of Chardonnay, old Plešivica varieties and Rhine Riesling, aged on the lees for three years, proved a smooth, pleasurable bottle of sparkling wine. So much so that I bought a bottle with zero hesitation. Also because the price, at about €12 per bottle, was more than right.

Plešivica is a continental region located near Zagreb. Even though it has only 2,300 hectares of vineyards, Plešivica is known as the home for Croatian sparkling wines.

We later tried a tasty Ivan Enjingi Riesling Spatlese 2012 from Kutjevo in Slavonia. The winemaker Ivan Enjingi is said to be one of the most important Slavonian winemakers, as he helped to develop the Croatian wine industry.

He represents the 4thgeneration of winemakers in his family. Enjingi’s grandfather apparently planted the first vines of Kadarka and Italian Riesling varieties in Hrnjevac in the late 19thcentury – and Ivan Enjingi’s white cuvee Venje was the first Croatian wine to win a Decanter medal, according to this source.

With five grams of residual sugar, this Riesling gave off somewhat sweetish aromatics of toffee and honey, but was dry on the citrus like palate and taut – even if the bottle had been opened the day before. I learned that Kasna Berba means late harvest, which this one was. At 13.4% alcohol, it was clean with fine acidity. Just a bit of botrytis complemented the experience. Could go well with grilled lobster. The wine bar price is a decent €23.

From the same producer, we also tried a Graševina – the same as a Welsh Riesling, whose origins are not exactly clear. I have had Welsh Riesling in Slovenia and in Austria. It is not the same as Riesling, not as refined it seems to me. In any case, Graševina apparently is the most widely planted white grape variety in Croatia, grown in all the inland wine regions, particularly in Kutjevo municipality and around Ilok. This Berba (meaning vintage) 2015 clocks in at 12.4% alcohol and is both straightforward and somewhat crispy. For €19, it is a bit pricy.

More interesting was a Škrlet-based white from Moslavina that we tried. Less than 70 total hectares of this grape are planted in the world – all in Croatia – as it is still struggling to recover from near-extinction in the second half of the 20th Century. Phylloxera also struck Croatia. I liked the lanolin and lemon aspects of this crisp wine vintage 2017 made by Voštinić Klasnić, whose palate has a fine, layered texture. At 12% alcohol, it was light yet with character. The restaurant price is a fair €21.

How has the Croatian wine scene changed?  

Ivaniš, who writes for Dutch wine media, says that guests are now “more knowledgeable about wine” since he opened the wine bar – and that quality in Croatia has improved. Ten years ago, many white wines in Dalmatia were oxidized and “poorly made”, he says. I was very interested in that remark, as a Facebook wine contact made similar disparaging remarks about Dalmatian wines when he had visited at about that time, although Istria was already very good, he wrote.

“In the last five years, says Ivaniš, “improvements of whites has been tremendous.”  I noticed that they were pretty good, indeed.

In terms of tourists, more people want to taste the local wines of Croatia, but he has foreign wines, too, especially Prosecco, which “still sells like nuts”.

In any case, Croatian people here are drinking more and more foreign wines, “more than they did 10 years ago”, Ivaniš said. I found that a bit ironic in that 10 years ago, apparently, Croatian wines were not as good. So, maybe the locals should reconsider their homegrown wines?

Speaking of which, Part II will focus on more whites of Croatia, as tasted in the gorgeous town of Dubrovnik, so stay tuned next week ?.

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2 Comments on “Croatia (wine) Journal, Part I

  1. Panos, nice reading and very inviting feeling.
    Note: BLOM, not BlUm

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