Croatian wine is losing its reputation as a cheap Plonk – here’s why
Croatia has an ideal climate for winemaking, but does not have a reputation as a solid producer of top quality bottles. For years, its exports were on the lower rungs of wine lists, labeled – for the most part fairly fairly – as cheap and cheerful dishes. But not anymore. The UK’s leading Croatian wine importer is run by two retired lieutenant colonels, one British and one from the US military.
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Blue Ice Wine UK co-founder Guy Denison-Smith was deployed to the Balkans in 1999 while working with the NATO-led stabilization force based in Sarajevo. It was there that he met American Roger Olson, owner of sister company Blue Ice US, based in Minneapolis, founded in 2016. They joined forces to showcase “the extraordinary talents of dedicated craftsmen. And some of the best wines the Balkans can offer.
“Croatian wine is not readily available in the UK, but the market is ready for it,” says Denison-Smith, 51, who served in the Grenadier Guards for 27 years, where he was stationed in places like Northern Ireland and Bosnia. , Afghanistan and Kuwait. He was also based in New York for four years, working at the UK Mission to the United Nations as a military adviser. Olson spends his time between Minneapolis and Cape Coral, Florida.
“My first memory of drinking Croatian wine was during R&R on the coast near Split,” says Denison-Smith. “I remember thinking the wines were interesting but not great. There was definitely potential. This potential has now been realized, with some amazing wines being made.
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“Gone is the old communist concept of quantity rather than quality thanks to mass production in cooperatives. You now see vineyards that have returned to family ownership on a smaller scale. “
Today there are around 1,600 Croatian wineries that together cultivate around 20,000 ha of vineyards producing around 700,000 hl of wine per year.
Denison-Smith believes that wines made from indigenous grapes such as Malvazija Istarska, Teran, Plavac Mali and Posip offer something different, alongside international varieties such as Merlot, Chardonnay and Pinot Sivi (Gris).
Blue Ice UK, based in Thatcham, Berkshire, now works with five wineries, four in Istria and one based on the island of Brac, one of which is organic, and Denison-Smith is also hoping to get the wines from another producer. on the Dalmatian coast.
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Mixed cases start at £ 87.60, which gives you a great introduction to the range and quality on offer. The Blue Ice UK Spring Taster selection includes wines from Istria and Brac, including Benvenuti Caldierosso 2018, Stina Cuvee Red 2019, Benvuti Malvazija 2019, Franc Arman Sivi Pinot 2019, Franc Arman Rose 2019 and Stina Opol Rose 2019.
Lieutenant-Colonels aren’t the only expats to have spotted the untapped potential of Croatian wine. On the island of Hvar – considered the sunniest in the Adriatic – a wine master from East London makes his own wine, Ahearne Vino. Jo Ahearne MW first visited Croatia in 2003 after more than a decade of winemaking in Australia. In 2014, she created her Vrisnik cellar where she produces around 7,000 bottles per year.
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“I worked for a wine retailer in London and applied for the Master of Wine program. But I realized I needed some production experience, so I went to Australia to work for the boutique cellar, Charles Melton. I got hooked, sold my house, gave all my money to Charles Sturt University to study winemaking, and my journey began.
Jo has also worked for Jacob’s Creek, Hardy’s and Harrods and has made wine in France, Spain, Hungary, India and Macedonia. Having started making wine in a garage, she is now the only MW in Croatia. Her orange wine, Wild Skins is her favorite among the wines she makes. They are available from North and South Wines and Seven Cellars.