There are some extraordinary wines being produced in northern Dalmatia. Which is quite remarkable considering that this part of the Croatian coast suffered greatly in the war for independence in the 1990s. The vineyards here have been painstakingly reworked and replanted – some with local indigenous varieties, and others with international varieties. Back in May, we took a couple of days to visit the area with the Blue Danube Wine team from California.
A year ago, we had visited Suha Punta winery in Primošten, where Leo Gracin has been making wines since 2000. We met up with him in Vodice, along with up-and-coming young winemaker Nikola Birin. We also (Yay, finally!) got to experience the famous gourmet evening at the Bibich winery near Skradin, with Alen Bibich himself guiding us through the exquisite food and wine pairings. And to round off our trip, we headed to Benkovac, where were were treated to a taste of the local wines and food in the beautiful setting of Kaštel Benković. And, in amongst the wine tasting, we got to see a craft fair in Skradin, and the very impressive walls of Asseria.
We first came across young Nikola Birin at the Dalmatian Wine Expo in 2014, when his Debit was featured in a Taste of Croatia seminar on wines to go with the Dalmatian Fjaka. It’s always fun when the winemaker himself is in the audience! My tasting notes from that event say
“From Vodice, near Šibenik in north Dalmatia. Debit is a local grape variety, and the wine has a citrusy aroma with a hint of fresh paint. Flavours of grapefruit. Very fresh and light wine, perfect for a summer day.”
Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?
Nikola Birin graduated from the Faculty of Agriculture in Zagreb, where he studied with winemaker Leo Gracin. He opened his own winery in 2012, and still works closely with Leo. Birin Winery owns vineyards near Vodice (around 2 ha = 5 acres), planted with five indigenous local varieties (whites) Debit, Maraština, and (reds) Babić, Plavina, Lasina. They also buy some additional grapes from other local growers. The wines are fermented and aged in stainless steel tanks, while the red wines also spend time in French oak barrels.
We tasted the Debit, Maraština, Rose (a blend of Plavina and Lasina) and Babić red from the bottle and the barrel.
Birin’s Debit 2015 is a lovely pale straw colour, with citrus and green fruit on the nose. As we found before, it’s a light and fresh summer wine with grapefuit and hints of Dalmatian herbs. A perfect hot weather wine!
The as yet unreleased Maraština 2015 is a little more golden yellow, with aromas of pear and gooseberry and lovely flavours of figs, papaya and rocks. I understand that Maraština can be tricky, as it has fairly low acidity, but this is wonderful. Would pair very well with seafood!
Nikola’s Rosé 2014, which is a blend of Plavina and Lasina grapes, was one of our favourites at DWE this year. It’s in the light, floral style, rather than your traditional heavy Dalmatian Opol rosé. It’s beautiful, and reminded us of soft, aromatic French Provincal rosés with well-balanced acidity.
I always find Babić a good choice of red to go with seafood, not being as heavy, and shall we say, robust as Plavac mali. This example has a wonderful deep ruby colour, is full of red fruit, slightly tart plums and blackcurrants. Like the winemaker, it’s young as yet, but extremely promising!
Professor Leo Gracin from Zagreb University is one of Croatia’s best-known winemakers, and every so often his name pops up as the expert enologist or consultant for various wineries. He also had his own winery in Primošten for the past 16 years, firstly with his father Ante, and later with two other partners as Suha Punta winery. More recently, Leo has moved some of his wine-making operations to Vodice as he and Nikola work closely together.
Gracin Babić 2011 is made from old vines grown on the famous Bucavac headland to the south of Primošten – known for its relative lack of rain compared to the rest of the nearby coast. (Suha Punta actually means Dry Point in Croatian). You can taste the minerals and rocks in this wine, and smell cherries in seawater! It’s full of red fruit, but this is a drier and more complex Babić than most. There’s some spice in here too and a lovely long, soft aftertaste.
Kontra (2011) is a barrel-aged blend (50/50) of Gracin Babić with Kiridžija Dingač Plavac mali. This is an interesting combination of two of the best wines from north and south Dalmatia. It’s a big, strong red at 15% alcohol, with all of the minerality and aromatic herbs that you’d expect from those two varieties. In a lot of ways, the combination works a whole lot better than any Plavac mali / Cabernet Sauvignon blend I’ve tried, as these two play nicely together rather than fighting! So, aromas of leather and flavours of red plum and cherry along with the rocks and Dalmatian herbs and sea-salt. You’d probably enjoy some grilled meat with this, though my choice would be some nice mature cheese!
Gracin Prošek was unfortunately not available for tasting, but we have actually tried it before, loved it and absolutely had to buy a bottle! A very fine dessert wine that we’d love to have available in California!
Find out more…
More wine from north Dalmatia…