The Original Zinfandel from Croatia

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According to research, Zinfandel is originally from Croatia and it is known locally as Crljenak Kaštelanski.

Some people in the USA may be familiar with Zlatan Otok as about five years ago, Gary Vaynerchuk tasted a Zlatan Otok Plavac Mali Barrique on his show and went bananas over it. He scored it 93+ points. Based on the current portfolio and vintage we’ve tasted, we’d be inclined to say that Zlatan Otok is an all-rounded, fantastic winery and all their wines are impressive, with some being very memorable. The cellar is at a beautiful location on the south side of Hvar in Dalmatia, Croatia, with a tranquil view of a marina—as shown in the featured image. Unfortunately, the founder of the winery died two weeks before our visit at his cellar.

Zlatan Otok Crljenak

Zlatan Otok Crljenak 2010

Back Story: Funded by Mike Grgich of Judgement of Paris fame, a research on the origin of Zinfandel came to fruition in 2001. It confirmed that Zinfandel and Primitivo originated from Croatia. At the point of discovery, the vines of this “original Zinfandel”, known as Crljenak Kaštelanski (pronounce tsirl-yen-ak kash-tel-lahn-skee) in Croatia, was near extinction. There were only nine vines of this variety left on an island somewhere off the coast of Split. The research team from UC Davis had to scramble and save the variety from extinction. Today, only a handful of Croatian wineries still produce wine from this variety. As far as we’ve tried, the Zlatan Otok 2010 Crljenak is the best representation of this variety.

Technical Notes: From the vineyard Vinogorje Makarska, in Dalmatia, Croatia. Alcohol 14.5%. 18 months in barrique.

Tasting Notes: Colour is dark garnet with some clarity. On the nose, I get both red and black berries, pepper, slight amber and musk perfume smell. The palate reflects exactly what’s on the nose, carried off by vibrant acidity and prominent minerality. Tannins are slightly coarse but sweet, so I assume it can be aged in the bottle for a while longer but absolutely ready to be enjoyed now. What I love most is its structure and how it opens up and expresses itself on the palate like a triangle–from narrow and shy on the front palate to wide and lively on the end palate. This Crljenak Kaštelanski has a lighter body than a typical Californian Zinfandel.

Conclusion: A fruit-forward, friendly, and juicy wine with great QPR. This bottle is priced very nicely at the cellar. A quick search online shows that it’s also available in the US via a New Jersey importer Madison Wine Cellar, at USD39.99. Not sure if I would buy it again when I’m in the US, especially when I can find a Lytton Springs at under $30. That said, I prefer the Zlatan Otok Crljenak to Lytton Springs. That’s quite a feat by Zlatan Otok.

More information on Croatian wine will be available soon via our new wine travel guide entitled Cracking Croatia. For the latest update on the guide, sign up for our mailing list here.


Related Video: Croatian Wine by Grgic and the Origins of Zinfandel

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Zinfandel by Jancis Robinson
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Can You Tell A Burgundy From A Croatian Pinot Noir?

Disclaimer: The ideas expressed in this article are personal opinions and are not associated with any sponsors or business promotions.

Charine Tan
Charine Tan
Globetrotting Wine Geek & Brand Strategist

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