August 10, 2016


Croatian wines aren't particularly mainstream, although they have garnered moderate attention and even some international fame in the past years. However, the lion's share of the attention paid to the Croatian wines go mainly to the bright, acid-driven and mineral Malvazija Istarska whites from the Istrian peninsula located at the westernmost part of Croatia, and to the concentrated, opulent and tannic Plavac Mali reds from the Pelješac peninsula, located at the southeastern part of Croatia, close to Dubrovnik.

These two grape varieties may basically be all that the great majority of people know about Croatian wine, but there is a whole lot more to Croatia than these two varieties. After all, as a wine country, Croatia has one of the biggest arsenal of indigenous varietals in the world, totaling a whopping 130 different local varieties. Almost all of them are varieties that have never traveled outside the country and, unfortunately, too many varieties are made in so minute quantities that producing wine in commercial quantities may be close to impossible and thus no-one will ever hear from them.

However, there has been a growing interest in local minor varieties in the recent years, after all kinds of different wines made from obscure grape varieties started to become more popular around the world. One of the more interesting varieties that has gained popularity in the past few years is Žlahtina – a variety that takes its name after the word žlahtno, "noble". Though this variety is allowed in the Istrian peninsula and Hrvatsko Primorje (Coastal Croatia), it is a specialty of the Krk island, as it is nowadays found nowhere outside the isle.

Krk, located between the Istrian peninsula and the Coastal Croatia, is the most populous island of the Adriatic Sea and, along with the neighboring island of Cres, the biggest one as well. Historically grapegrowing was of a lot bigger importance with over 25,000 hectares under vine (some 6% of the island's area), whereas nowadays only some 250 hectares of vineyards survive – that is only 1% of the vineyards from the vinous heyday of the island. Of these 250 hectares, Žlahtina represents some 95% of the plantings, the remaining 5% mainly planted with local, obscure varieties. Almost all of the plantings are situated close to the town of Vrbnik, located to the eastern shore of the island. However, most of the plantings are located somewhat inland, safe from the Bura wind blowing throughout the region.

Contrary to what one might expect from a variety called "noble", Žlahtina is a vigorous, high-yielding variety, from which the local producers traditionally made fruity but thin and undistinguished white wines. Though popular in the past, the variety fell from favor after the modern winemaking arrived in Croatia. Only recently has Žlahtina garnered popularity after some trailblazing local vignerons started to experiment with the variety, trying to make something more serious and ambitious out of it. One of the best characteristics of the variety is its slow and late ripening time, which suits the warm Mediterranean climate very well – even in hot summers, the variety struggles to reach high sugar levels and even when very ripe, it will keep its acidity, resulting in rich and fruity wines with low alcohol and good acid structure. The variety is often labeled as Zlatna Žlahtina ("golden Žlahtina") or Vrbnička Žlahtina ("Žlahtina from Vrbnik").

Katunar Estate Žlahtina 2013
  • Katunar Estate
  • Country: Croatia
  • Region: Hrvatsko Primorje (Coastal Croatia), Krk
  • Grape(s): Žlahtina
  • Price: 36 Kn (4,75€) / a glass of 15 cl
  • Tasted: July 21st, 2015

A 100% Žlahtina made by a local family winery. Originally the Katunar family sold their crop to the local wine co-op, as it was the only option under the communist regime. As it was possible to produce wine as a privately owned producer from the early 1990's, Katunar then quit the local co-op and started producing their own wine. They were the first winery in Krk to modernize the local winemaking by introducing temperature controlled tanks and introducing other modern winemaking techniques to the local, traditional methods of making wine.

I imagine this wine is fermented and aged in steel tanks, seeing that the winery has also a Žlahtina Barrique, but I can't say for certain. 11,5% of alcohol.

The wine has lemon color with greenish highlights.

In the glass it has a rich, sweet and tropical nose with aromas of banana, pear, pineapple and honeydew melon. The aromas create expectations of a wine that is very fruit-forward, full-bodied and even heavy.

Rich flavors follow the nose, but with a lot less sweet character. Instead of being heavy and ponderous, the palate is medium bodied and quite acid-driven, yet surprisingly soft and smooth with a good sense of ripeness. Notes of fresh, lemony citrus fruits, green apple, pineapple, wet stone minerality, some cantaloupe and a touch of banana roll around the tongue.

The wine's long, refreshing and acid-driven finish leaves flavors of green apples, citrus fruits in the mouth, supported by good stony minerality and some sweeter honeydew melon notes.

The wine shows an interesting marriage of very ripe and rich notes yet surprisingly modest body and good structure, giving it remarkable drinkability. By its aromas and flavors, it is definitely a warm/hot region white, but without any of that typical excessive ripeness and ponderous character. This is an enjoyable and balanced wine that drinks nicely on its own, but can be easily paired with numerous lighter, Mediterranean dishes.

Summary: A very nice and refreshing Žlahtina with a typical, heady aroma and lovely, refreshing and mineral-driven palate. An enjoyable example of this very rare Croatian variety from the isle of Krk.


PZ Vrbnik Zlatna Vrbnička Žlahtina 2014
  • Poljoprivredna Zadruga Vrbnik
  • Country: Croatia
  • Region: Hrvatsko Primorje (Coastal Croatia), Krk
  • Grape(s): Žlahtina
  • Price: 40 kn (5,27€) / a glass of 15 cl
  • Tasted: July 19th, 2015

A wine by the local co-operative, Poljoprivredna Zadruga Vrbnik – or just PZ Vrbnik in short. The wine is made from the grapes grown by local small producers, fermented with selected yeasts and aged in steel tanks. The alcohol levels are normally 11% to 11,5%, residual sugar under 1 g/l and acidity around 5 g/l.

The wine has pale green color, making it appear a bit more youthful than the Katunar version.

The wine has rich and heady, even exuberant nose typical of Žlahtina. Attractive, fruity notes of cantaloupe, honeydew melon, ripe pear, orange blossom and freshly pressed apple juice – just lovely!

In the mouth the wine is intense and a bit more fuller-bodied compared to the Katunar Žlahtina – yet sporting similar kind of fresh, lively and surprisingly acid-driven structure. The flavors follow the nose, but in drier and more savory form, expressing flavors of ripe apple, pear peel, some cantaloupe, a little rocky minerality and a touch of grass.

After the midpalate comes the long and crisp finish with a lingering aftertaste of apple, grass, cantaloupe and some spicy bitterness.

All in all, this co-op's Žlahtina is a very lovely, ripe and interesting Krk white with very high drinkability – even more so than the Katunar one! Just like a good Žlahtina should, it combines lovely freshness and bright acid structure to ripe, juicy fruit character, resulting in an interesting, characterful white of superb balance. Unique, high-quality stuff, very recommended.

Summary: A terrific, balanced white that epitomizes the white wine style of the Coastal Croatia – ripe, rich and succulent tropical fruit characteristics married to wonderful bright acidity and lovely freshness.

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