The Grapes of Croatia: Traminac

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Traminac is a Croatian name for another of the Central European white wine favourites, the variety known in German as Gewürztraminer. The varieties name comes from a name of a village in South Tyrol, the German-speaking part of north Italy, called Tramin, but unfortunately we can’t really say that it’s where the variety is originally from. It’s a long and a complicated genetic history, additionally complicated by the facts that the genetics of this variety are exceedingly volatile and that many a war has been fought in the region, and in the past it was called just the Traminer, and that name has been modified to Gewürztraminer in the late 19th century. “Gewürz” means spice or perfume, so it gives you an idea of what the wine is actually like. During the long history of the variety in Europe it has been spread throughout, and these days it’s grown in Spain, Slovenia, Italy, France, Germany, Austria, Bulgaria, Hungary, Luxembourg, Moravia, Romania, in the Czech Republic, Macedonia and Slovakia. It’s gone to the New World as well, to the USA (Oregon and Washington states), Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, Chile and (quite unexpectedly) Golan Heights.

One piece of information that is well-known is when the variety came to Croatia, and who brought it: It was Duke Odescalchi of the noble Italian family from Tirol, and he brought the variety to Croatia in 1710. That explains why the Croatian name of the variety is the shorter version, as it has been grown here since before the name-change in German. And, there, on the most eastern part of continental Croatia, in the region around the town Ilok called Srijem, is where Traminac found the ideal position and set of conditions to produce excellent wine. Traminac is very selective about the soil and the climate: it needs cooler weather than most varieties, but buds early so frost late in the spring is dangerous. It is susceptible to disease, and loves dry hot summers, but too hot can make it ripen too soon to develop complex varietal aromas. The grapes are of a characteristic pink colour when ripe, and they have very high natural sugars but are usually made into semi-dry wine with quite high alcohol content.

And those complex aromas are what makes this wine so appreciated in Croatia (the impression is that it’s more appreciated here than in most other regions in Europe). It’s an extra-aromatic wine, with bouquet of roses, lychees and passion fruit, and sometimes in Croatia it’s called “the female wine”. It can be enjoyed on its own, as an aperitif, but it can also be paired with fattier meals, such as foie gras, noble cheeses and fine desserts. When made into a sweet wine, either from the very good years or from the late harvests, it’s more of a festive wine, excellent with white meats and desserts. One situation when traminac is hard to beat is along oriental cuisine, as its sweetness and aromas compliment it perfectly.

In Croatia, traditionally the location where Traminac is grown is Ilok, and Iločki podrumi is traditionally the best know producer of Traminac. Each year they make several versions of their best-known wine, from high-quality every-day wine, to the highest quality predicate wines made from the selected late picked berries. During the war for independence most of Traminac was produced in Kutjevo and around Đakovo, and they still make great Traminac today. Smaller producers throughout Slavonia also make it, Kalazić, Josić, Čobanković, Buhač etc. And, there are a few producers outside Slavonia who also make it, notably Bolfan in Zagorje, Belović in Međimurje, Nespeš around Sv. Ivan Zelina etc.

And, yes, Iločki podrumi Traminac is the wine from one of the greatest Croatian wine stories: it was served at the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953!


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