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"That Useful Wine Site"
The Croatina Grape

Here with a Loaf of Bread beneath the Bough,
A Flask of Wine, a Book of Verse—and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness—
And Wilderness is Paradise enow.

—The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam


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About Croatina

(Synonyms: Bold, Bonarda, Bonarda di Gattinara of Rovescala, Croata, Croatian, Croattina, Crostino, Crovalmo, Crovattina, Crovettina, Crovattino, Grape Ruby, Nebbiolo, Neretto, Uga's uncle, Uva Vermiglia, Uva del Zio)

Background

Croatina grapes Map showing the Lombardy region of Italy

Croatina is a red-wine grape originating in Italy, where it is today grown in several regions, primarily Lombadry, but also including the Emilia Romagna, the Piedmont, and even the Veneto (where small amounts are allowed in Amarone). As "Oltrepò Pavese Bonarda" from the Lombardy, it can be a monovarietal, and must in any event be at least 85% Croatina; it can also appear as a monovarietal in Piemontese wines—as "Colli Tortonesi" (usually but not always 100%), "Cisterna d'Asti" (80% - 100%), or "Colline Novaresi Croatina" or "Coste della Sesia Croatina" (85% - 100%); in the various other Italian blends in which it occurs, the percentage is lower, often fairly small. (Its ultimate origin is probably, as the name suggests, Croatia, but Italy is where it is now established.)

(The use of the name "Bonarda" can be quite confusing; Croatina has no relation to the Bonarda grown in South America—which is also called Charbono or Douce Noir—nor to Bonarda Piemontese, which is yet another different grape. There will be a quiz in the morning.)

The wines from Croatina are generally described as dark in color, fruity, and (as Jancis Robinson puts it), "with a certain bite" to them. Sources seem to differ on its ageworthiness, some saying it can benefit from bottle aging, others that it is intended to be drunk young; chances are that it depends on the particular bottling (riserva wines are aged 24 months minimum, and are probably the more likely candidates for further cellaring). Comparisons with Dolcetto are sometimes made. Croatina is as yet a minor player on the world stage, but it can make some quite satisfactory wines and is well worth attention.

Note that some Croatina wines are vinified somewhat off-dry, and even frizzante (sparkling); examine any potential purchase with care to avoid surprises.

Factoid: Croatia is also the probable source of such distinctively "Italian" wines as Primitivo (Zinfandel), the path from Croatia to northern Italy being relatively short.


Some Descriptions of Croatina Wines

  • Wikipedia

    "Croatina has characteristics similar to the Dolcetto grape in that it tends to produce fruity, deeply colored wines that are mildly tannic and can benefit from bottle aging. Such is the case with the wine Oltrepò Pavese Bonarda DOC which contains from 85% to 100% Croatina (under its local name of 'Bonarda'). However Croatina is often blended with Barbera, as in Gutturnio, a wine from Emilia-Romagna containing 30.0% – 45.0% Croatino. It may also be employed as a very minor part of a blend, as is the case with some examples of Amarone."

  • Approach Guides, wine

    "The mid- to late-ripening grape delivers wines with dark color, gushing fruit, low acidity and soft tannins, often resembling montepulciano or dolcetto in expression."

  • Tradizione Italia

    "The wine produced from this grape has a low tannin content; the result is a wine with a lack of "body", but with intense aromas of red fruit."

  • Wine Making Talk

    "Croatina grape variety offers attractive wines at good value for money. Croatina wines are dark in color, spurting fruit, low acidity and soft tannins, similar to montepulciano or dolcetto varieties in aromas and flavors."

  • Wein-Plus.eu

    "The late-maturing, high yielding varieties provides tannic, fruity and rather young to be drinking red wine."

  • Answers.com

    "These DOC wines are soft and round, yet lively and fruity with characteristics of plums and cherries; they generally have a bitter finish."

  • avvinare

    "It is deep in color, not too acidic and slightly tannic. It is usually blended with other local grapes, depending on the region, either Barbera or Nebbiolo as well as some minor grapes such as Uva rara and Vespolina."


Some Croatinas to Try

(About this list.)

While Croatina wines are not exactly scarce on the market, the offerings (at least according to the leading wine-search engines) comprise a good variety of makers each of whose wines is available at a very limited number of retailers (usually just one is shown). In fact, we could only locate two in our price range that seem available at more than a single retailer, and those we present below; but if you keep an eye open when wine shopping, or ask in well-run wine shops, you can probably locate a bottle or two to try. There are also few writeups of these wines; but, since the ones that are out there are rather enthusiastic, it looks like this is a good varietal awaiting discovery. Be a pioneer!

The quotations below are excerpts; we strenuously urge you to click on the green diamond symbol by each quoted review to see the full article.
  • Castello di Luzzano Bonarda Oltrepo Pavese, $14 - $21.
    (This is a table-dry but somewhat frizzante wine, so don't be surprised. Also, don't confuse this with their "Carlino" bottling, a bit pricier and very scarce in the marketplace.)

    Some quotations and facts:

    This straightforward and easy-to-drink Bonarda has earthy aromas of tilled soil, ripe black fruit and spice. The palate delivers juicy blackberry, plum and black cherry flavors sprinkled with notes of black pepper. Pair this with pasta topped with meat sauces. 87 points.

    Lively, exotic nose cinnamon and cloves; firm, concentrated palate.

    ♣ Wine Advocate: 31 August 2010, 90 points; 31 August 2009, 89 points; 31 August 2008, 90 points.

    [A] very charming earthy/spicy light red.


  • Martilde Oltrepo Pavese Bonarda, $15 - $28.
    (Note that Martilde makes several Bonards; this is their basic DOC bottling.)

    Some quotations and facts:

    While not aged in barrel, it can age in bottle for two or three years. Ruby-colored. Red fruit nose and palate, very frank and satisfying.

    Clear garnet color, with an appetizing scent of blueberries. Ripe and juicy fruit flavor, a bit plummy, with steely acidity becoming more apparent after the initial jammy fruit impression. Soft tannins are also evident, suggesting that there's some aging potential for this wine, although it's very accessible now.


For a Splurge

The problem again is not choices but availability. If you are looking for a "splurge" Croatina and run across a bottle of Walter Massa's Vigneti Massa Croatina 'Pertichetta', go for it. (Probably around $30.)

Pertichetta Croatina 2005 Colli Tortonesi, which was deep and dark with an amazing combination of floral perfume, cedar and smoky bacon aromas, then fresh on the palate, with dry, dense but fine and ripe tannins and a long juicy finish.
   —Jancis Robinson


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