India Today - - WINE - PRAMOD KR­ISHNA The au­thor is Di­rec­tor Gen­eral of Spir­its & Wine Con­fed­er­a­tion ( CIABC)

Iguess there’s a rea­son wine is re­ferred to as the food of the Gods. Not least be­cause it was the pri­ests and monks of the Catholic Church who kept the wine mak­ing tra­di­tions alive. In Croa­tia, even dur­ing the rule of the Ot­toman Turks in the 15th cen­tury, when strict anti- al­co­hol laws were en­forced, it was the clergy that pre­served the hoary tra­di­tions of wine­mak­ing. His­tor­i­cally, grape cul­ti­va­tion and wine pro­duc­tion in Croa­tia dates back to the 5th cen­tury BC when an­cient Greek set­tlers ar­rived on the Croa­t­ian coast.

More re­cently, with mem­o­ries of the sav­age Balkan war fad­ing and its recog­ni­tion as an in­de­pen­dent na­tion in 1992, Croa­tia has re- es­tab­lished its iden­tity and con­se­quently so have its wines. Al­though, there are more than 300 ge­o­graph­i­cally- de­fined wine- pro­duc­ing ar­eas in Croa­tia, it can be di­vided into two dis­tinct wine- pro­duc­ing re­gions: con­ti­nen­tal and coastal. The con­ti­nen­tal re­gion in the north- east of the coun­try pro­duces rich fruity white wines, sim­i­lar in style to the neigh­bour­ing ar­eas of Aus­tria and Hun­gary. On the north coast, Is­trian wines are sim­i­lar to those pro­duced in Italy, while fur­ther south, pro­duc­tion leans more heav­ily to­wards the ro­bust Mediter­ranean- style reds. The ma­jor­ity ( 67 per cent) of the wine pro­duced in Croa­tia is white and cre­ated in the in­te­rior, while 32 per cent is red and pro­duced mainly along the coast.

Croa­tia boasts an army of in­dige­nous and re­gional grapes. The most im­pres­sive lo­cal white wines are made from Mal­va­sia; planted widely for ta­ble grape pro­duc­tion. Other com­mon lo­cal grapes for white wine are Debit, Zlahtina, Pinot Sivi ( Pinot Gris), Pinot Bi­jeli ( Pinot blanc) and Ra­jn­ski ( Ries­ling). The com­mon red grape va­ri­eties are Lasina, Muskat ruza­crni, Okatac, the Plav­ina and of course the ex­tra­or­di­nary Plavac Mali. The grape va­ri­eties used in Croa­tia can be very con­fus­ing to for­eign­ers, not sim­ply be­cause the Croa­t­ian names are un­fa­mil­iar, but be­cause many of the va­ri­eties are grown in a very lim­ited area. Croa­tia’s long his­tory of wine pro­duc­tion has left it with a rich tra­di­tion of in­dige­nous va­ri­etals, es­pe­cially in the pe­riph­eral ar­eas, with more ex­treme grow­ing con­di­tions.

Some of th­ese have been so suc­cess­fully pro­duced that even they are used widely within Croa­tia; they re­main rel­a­tively un­known out­side the coun­try. The Plavac Mali is one such ex­am­ple, which has a very in­ter­est­ing his­tory. The well- known Napa Val­ley wine­maker Mike Gr­gich, a Croa­t­ian na­tive, has suc- cess­fully ar­gued the case for zin­fan­del, a va­ri­ety of grape that has de­scended from the Plavac Mali grape. DNA test­ing has now con­firmed that the zin­fan­del is in fact a child of the Plavac Mali. While the whites pair beau­ti­fully with pas­tas, the soft reds are a won­der­ful com­ple­ment to lamb; the Plavac Mali, of course, is a heavenly ac­com­pa­ni­ment to veal. With its new- found promi­nence, Croa­tia was the wild card en­try, bag­ging eight gold medals at the pres­ti­gious De­canter Wine Awards 2009, beat­ing stal­warts like Chile and New Zealand. Clearly, it’s not qual­ity that is the chal­lenge fac­ing Croa­t­ian wine producers but how to mar­ket their world class wines with lim­ited spend­ing bud­gets and rel­a­tively un­known brands that are above all, im­pos­si­ble to pro­nounce.

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