Croatian rosés are making inroads and can stay the course
While some of you are still trying to figure out where Croatia is on the map, producers from that country have been kicking some serious butt with rosé wine production.
Croatian rosé might be new on the scene—it was to me, anyway—but Mirena Bagur, co-founder of the Boston-area based Croatian Premium Wine Imports Inc., says it “became the norm in Croatia about a decade ago.” It’s been produced there for even longer as a local tradition. Locally called “opolo,” the wines are produced around Dalmatia itself, the Dalmatian Hinterlands, south-central the coastal region and islands, and feature bright, transparent ruby hues and a savory flavor profile.
Croatia, which hugs the northeast shore of the Adriatic Sea right below Slovenia, has been long known for savory white wines made from Malvazija Istarska and sturdy reds from Tribidrag (known as Primitivo in southern Italy’s Puglia region and Zinfandel in the United States), and its offspring, Plavac Mali. Croatian rosés usually are made from the latter, with echoes of the red- and black-fruit profiles that define the fuller red versions. (So esteemed is the grape, that Sept. 21 will mark the first International Plavac Mali Day. The date, which is the fall solstice, reflects the typical timing of harvest.)
The samples I tasted were all dry, with evident refreshing acid and herbal or botanic undertones. Rather than juicy early summer fruit, these exhibited mature end-of-summer fruits—a common thread through them all that integrated with their savory profile.
Clifford Rames, a New York metro-area sommelier and brand ambassador for Croatian wines, says the wines are similar to Bandol from southern France in that they are “built with a sturdier structure and a moderate tannic grip,” making them ideal candidates for the grill and beyond. Dalmatians pair them with their local cuisine—sardines, mackerel, lamb and squid grilled over open olive-wood fires.
For Americans, though, he says, “this style of rosé is excellent with most barbecued meats and burgers, grilled tuna, swordfish and portabella mushrooms—dishes that would overwhelm more delicate Provence styles.” He adds that several Dalmatian producers make “gorgeous coral pink rosés from indigenous varieties such as Plavina, Darnekuša, ad Lasina, some of which could certainly compete with Provencial rosés.” They compete in price point, too, with most costing less than $20.
Bagur says producers run the gamut in Croatia, from large commercial operations to garagista-style winemakers, and making both blends and single-varietal rosés.
“Every winemaker has his or her own interpretation of rosé from Plavac Mali,” she says, adding that occurs even within a parcel. “One from Plavac Mali vines that grows next to its neighbor, can be as distinctly different from each other as if they were from different areas or even varieties.”
But what is common is that most are best after at least a year in the bottle because of their tannic structure, she says. So, there’s no reason not to hold on to your Croatian bottles and open them any time of the year.
Here are five to try:
Rizman “Rusula” 2019, Komarna (southern Dalmatia). Coppery pink, almost tangerine in color with late-summer strawberries, and a herbal quality like Mediterranean garrigue. Driven by Plavac Mali (85% ) and the remainder is Syrah.
Saints Hills “St. Heels” 2019, Dingac (coastal region). The fancy etched bottle with stiletto heels might appeal to the fashion set, but this 100% Plavac Mali is grounded in serious winemaking: structured with concentrated strawberry and cherry flavors.
Terra Madre “M” Plavac Mali Rose 2019, Komarna. Sour cherries and rhubarb dominate the tart, pleasing palate on this bright, crisp wine. Blend of 85% Plavac Mali 15% Syrah.
Vina Deak Ćaća Moj 2018, Komarna. Made of 100% Plavac Mali, more savory with dried red fruits and lots of herbal and vegetal overtones. Enjoyable with charcuterie and other light plates, and on the table with grilled meats or vegetables.
Volarevic “La Chic!” 2019, Komarna. Elevated with a savory undertone and garden fruits like rhubarb and bright tomato leaf. A sturdy and structured food wine, but also good on its own. 100% Plavac Mali.