Gregory Alonzo: What are Dalmatian Wines?

I know what immediate thought comes to mind and the answer is … WRONG!  So what exactly is a Dalmatian wine? In antiquity, the Romans referred to the area of Croatia, as Dalmatia.

Since the break up of the former Yugoslavia, 6 distinct republics have emerged in the area surrounding the Adriatic Sea. Croatia, Montenegro, Slovenia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, and Kosovo.

A small seaside cafe outside the walls Dubrovnik

Today I am joined by long time friend and fellow sommelier, Kalina Novac. From our comfortable patio perch of Dubrovnik’s Seaside Cafe, we have a spectacular view of  Croatia’s majestic coastline. This long stretch of beach and sea mile is a most appropriate setting for wine, reflection, and the simple pleasures that this ancient land  has to offer.

“Gregory,” Kalina paused to collect her thoughts. “Before we begin, I think it only appropriate to explain to our readers the history of our lovely Croatian wines.”

The wines of Dalmatia date back to antiquity. It was the Greek settlers, some 2,500 years ago, who first cultivated the fertile islands of Vis, Hvar, and Korcula, the reputed birthplace of Marco Polo.

“Today we have over 300 geographically defined wine regions, and a strict classification system to ensure quality and origin,” Kalina was quick to add.

The majority of Croatian wine is white. These wines are rich and fruity and somewhat reminiscent of the wines of Austria, Hungary, and Slovenia. On the north coast, Istrian wines are somewhat similar to those produced in neighboring Italy, while further south, the wines are more towards big Mediterranean-style reds.

“Knowing your penchant for seafood, I thought we would sample some of our lovely white wines,” Kalina flashed a broad smile.

Our table had been set with the most delectable assortment of Croatia’s finest. Buzara, local shellfish sauteed in garlic, olive oil, parsley, and white wine. Na gradele, grilled sardines, dagnje, mussels,  and salata od hobotnice, octopus salad, a particular favorite of mine. Our last entree was local Dubrovnik speciality, bakalar, salted cod with potatoes.

“Let’s not forget the clams,” Kalina motioned for our server to bring another entree.

“With such an assortment of seafood specialities, I am most intrigued by the wines you have selected,” I gave Kalina a nod and a wink.

“Our first wine is a 2010 Posip Cara,”

The posip grapes are cultivated on some of the most prestigious vineyards in Cara, on  the island of Korcula. Its coloring is a gold and yellow-ish shade, with slightly green highlights. This varietal exudes flavors of almond and macchia plant, an evergreen shrub found throughout the Mediterranean.

“I also like the bouquet,” Kalina savored her wine. Candied orange peel and ‘terra rossa’ (red soil), “Zivjeli,” she toasted me with great delight.

“This wine is gracefully smooth and with substantial body.”

“Don’t forget that Posip Cara exemplifies the true Dalmatian character,” Kalina cast an assured look. “The wine not only pairs well with our local seafood delicacies, Posip Cara is excellent with chicken and also with pasta in white sauce.”

“What’s next?” I flashed Kalina a quick smile.

“I have selected a 2010 Coronica Malvasia.”

Moreno Coronica’s Malazija Istarska is considered by many as the benchmark of this indigenous variety. The vine was first introduced by Venetian merchants who brought cuttings from Greece. Today this grape varietal produces the primary white wine of the region.

“Interesting nose,” I cocked an amused brow. Freshly opened, there is the pungent aroma of peppery citrus, and sea shells.

“I also find a gentle hint of salt which is typical to the wine,” Kalina paused on the moment. “I often drink Coronica Malvasia, and the 2010 vintage seems a bit tighter and more focused wine.”

“Agreed,” I gave Kalina a quick nod. “I prefer this vintage.”

“I often enjoy this wine with shellfish,” she paused lightly. “Overnight the wine continues to open up quite nicely, giving it a delectable candied aroma.”

“Interesting,” I cast Kalina a more than amused smile.

“Why so?” She appeared somewhat perplexed.

“As much as you enjoy Coronica Malvasia, I am surprised you do not finish it in one sitting.” We both erupted euphorically.

“For our last wine,” Kalina paused for effect. “I went with a personal favorite that I know you will not only appreciate, I know you are going to add it to your personal cellar.”

Now I was more than intrigued. “Surprise me.”

“I selected a 2006 Enjingi Grasevina.”

Do not let the name fool you: this white grape is not related to to the Riesling variety. In Croatia, wine makers, and Ivan Enjingi in particular, have shaped this grape into an elegant wine for even the most discerning palates. The late harvest Grasevina is a silky smooth, full-bodied wine with a hint of warm autumn fruit.

“Grasevina is a most versatile wine and can also be paired with poultry, pork, and omelets,” Kalina clearly displayed her pleasure.

“I concur,” pausing for effect. “I plan to add the Eniji Grasevina to my cellar.”

“Then it is settled,” Kalina’s face filled with excitement.

“What is settled?”

“Since you enjoyed today’s tasting, it is time for some traditional music and folk-dancing,” Kalina reached for my hand.

“The Kolo,” I queried. This is the most common of traditional Croatian dances. “I guess we are off to “Old Town.”

“But that my friends is another story …

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