Tuesday, December 13, 2011

How to Read a Croatian Wine Label

The first Croatian wine label that I saw might as well have been on a bottle of vodka. I couldn't even distinguish the name of the winery from the name of the grape varieties on the wine label. Fortunately, Sasha Lusic, owner of D'Vino wine bar in Dubrovnik and one of the funniest guys I met on my five-week press trip, took a minute to show me how to read a Croatian wine label.

Every Croatian wine label will display the wine's quality level. This is similar to Italy's IGT, DOC, and DOCG quality rankings. Croatia's wine quality rankings are:

Vrhunsko - "top quality wine"
Kvalitetno - "quality wine"
Stolno - "table wine"

These rankings are generally helpful, but some great wines are labeled stolno, or table wine. "You have Frano Miloš," explained Sasha, "who's 2004 Stagnum won a Bronze at the Decanter World Wine Awards. The government only labeled his wine stolne, but he's winning awards with that particular wine."

The next thing to look for is the grape name, which is almost always proudly displayed in large letters on the label. Croatia's popular grapes include:

Croatian White Grapes:

Debit
Grasevina
Malvazija
Marastinat
Muškat
Pinot Sivi (Pinot Gris)
Pinot Bijelo (Pinot Blanc)
Posip

Croatian Red Grapes:

Babic
Cabernet Sauvignon
Pinot Crni (Pinot Noir)
Plavac Mali (relative of Zinfandel)
Refosk
Teran

However, not every label features a grape name, especially in the case of blended wines, and sometimes the growing region is so famous that it takes the place of the grape name. Of course, many labels list both the grape name and the growing region. The wine label to the right features a wine from the famous Dingac region, where some of Croatia's best red wines are made with the Plavac Mali grape.

Croatia has a large number of wine producing regions, and the one's I came across the most during my trip were:

Dingac
Postup
the island of Korcula
Slavonia
Istria
the island Krk
Kutjevo

Interestingly, many wine labels do not prominently display the name of the winery. The above wine is made by Milicic winery, and the name is half obscured by the growing region. This isn't the case withe label below:


This label below features a wine produced by one of the few cooperatives that still operate in Croatia. For this reason, the winery is simply represented by the name of the town in which the cooperative operates: Cara.


The word "vinogorje" means vineyard grape-growing region, and this label shows that the Posip grapes were grown on the island of Korcula.

These are the most important aspects of a Croatian wine label. To recap, look for quality of the wine, the grape, and the growing region, and whatever word is left on the label is most likely the name of the winery. If you get this down, the label below should pose no problems:

8 comments:

Wines of Croatia said...

Hi Mattie,

Nice article - thank you for sharing your experiences and insights.

Just two quick corrections: "Plavac" is not a wine growing region. Some producers use the term as a shortened version of Plavac Mali, the grape, often for simpler versions of the wine (unoaked, low alcohol). Also, "vinogorje" means wine-growing area or region, not vineyard. "Vinograd" is the word for vineyard.

Zivjeli!
Cliff

http://www.winesofcroatia.wordpress.com

Mattie John Bamman said...

Hi Cliff,

Thanks for dropping by and thank you for helping me get the details right (my Croatian could really improve).

I am confused about Plavac. You say it's not a growing region but I was told that it's the flat area on the Peljesac peninsula that leads up to Postup. Do you know if this was just a local term or a generalization?

---Mattie

Wines of Croatia said...

Hi Mattie,

Well, that's partially correct, although I don't think "Plavac" is an actual growing area. Rather,much of the Plavac grown on the interior plain of the Peljesac peninsula (near Potomje) and Hvar are labeled "Plavac". These are the simpler, leaner, lower alcohol "field" versions of Plavac Mali. There are wines labeled "Plavac" from both Hvar and Peljesac. So while it is not a name for a single growing area, it does suggest that the wine was made from Plavac Mali grapes grown on the flat interior areas of the coastal growing regions.

Hope this helps clarify!

Best,
Cliff

Mattie John Bamman said...

Crystal clear! It's just this level of detail that I like. Thanks for supplying the finer details.

Sima said...

Very useful article! Especially loved all the great tips and photos to match. Croatia has excellent wines that are often overlooked. Even homemade wines, especially in the areas of South Dalmatia, have truly impressed us!

Stjepan said...

Nice and useful article and good fine-tuning from Cliff. Well noted by the author that there is no consistency in that main central title on the front label, that can go from the winery name over grape name, all the way to the narrow growing region. Photos say that pretty well. The rest is pretty consistent and by the rule (quality rank, region etc). Funny part that those things still confuse even some people in Croatia who are not so much into wine and might go as far to think that Krathauker is a varietal and not an estate or family name, or Dingac taken for varietal and not the terroir. Interestingly Babić that is a grape on the other hand is also a very frequent family name in Croatia. The least confusing would be if some Babić would grow Babić ;-)

Mattie John Bamman said...

Sima - Thanks for the kind words, I'll have to find homemade wine on my next trip.

Stjepan - You've completely and utterly confused me. I'm going to delete this blog post and quit drinking wine. It's all too much :-) What I really mean is: Bring on the Babic!

Stjepan said...

sorry for being confusing as much as some wine labels. Maybe I should consider stop drinking ;-) However do not remove the post, it's excellent indeed (I'm sober now)