Continuing our look at the indigenous grapes of Croatia, and a journey to the island of Krk on August 4, 2016 for a white wine gem – Žlahtina.
Žlahtina, also called vrbnička žlahtina or žlahtina bijela is an indigenous variety of white wine, present almost exclusively on the northern Croatian island of Krk. Vrbničko field, near the town of Vrbnik is where it is mostly grown, but some production has spread to other Kvarner islands (Cres, Pag) and Istria. That location has a specific micro-climate, a unique mix of Mediterranean and Alpine climate that helps the grapes achieve the highest quality possible. The almost unpronounceable name (unless you’re Croatian) comes from the Slavic adjective “žlahten” which loosely translates to precious, noble.
The grapes are large, as are the berries on them, and the fruit is often eaten, as the yield it produces is often high and so is the sugar content in the fruit. The acidity is also higher than most varieties cultivated in the area, and the quality of the grapes on the best locations (at the somewhat higher elevation which helps cool the vines at night, with a lot of sun during the day). The wine is crystal clear, extremely bright yellow, almost transparent in colour with somewhat exotic fruity aromas, low alcohol content of around 11 percent, usually almost completely dry with mineral taste and a refreshing performance. It goes very well with the lamb raised on the Kvarner islands, prepared either under the bell, on a spit or in a stew (žgvacet, a local name for different stews), and quite surprisingly it’s great alongside oysters!
This wine is usually made to be consumed young, in the first year, because of its lightness and freshness it’s not meant to be matured or aged – except for the specially selected berries from the best positions on the best of years. The oak-matured wine has higher alcohols, and some vanilla and flowery notes can be tasted. Since it is a somewhat stronger wine, it goes great with prosciutto (especially if dried by the local “bura” north-eastern cool wind), sheep cheese of the island and steak. Serve žlahtina chilled to around 12 °C. Because of the freshness and high quality of wine it can produce, žlahtina has been used to make sparkling wine as well, both using traditional and charmat methods. Also fresh, ages less than two years, should be served very cold at around 7 °C, works wonderfully as an aperitif for easy drinking. And more traditionally, sweet desert wine called prošek (not to be mistaken for Italian prosecco) is made from the berries dried in the shade, not on the sun is also made from žlahtina. Most notable producers are, of course, local to the island of Krk, PZ Vrbnik, PZ Gospoja, Toljanić, Katunar, Frajona, Šipun and Čubranić.