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In the Lumbarda town on the eastern tip of Korčula island, a few hectares of vines are producing one of the most valued wines in Croatia. These vines are categorized as “almost endangered” by the State Institute for Nature Protection. The vines are of the indigenous Grk variety.
Grk: A Grape Without Vowels (and Male Bits)
According to official data from 2013, Grk (pronounced “Gerk”) accounts for 15 hectares of cultivated area. Even though more Grk vines have been planted in the past years, the growth remains insignificant. This is because while Grk is commercially grown, it thrives only in specific micro-locations—curtailing its propagation; coupled with low yields, this grape is perceived as a rather unattractive commercial investment and a challenging agricultural product.
So why write about such an obscure grape? Because its specific gourmet quality deserves the attention and—if you’re in Croatia—the extra trip or detour.
The location of Korčula is marked with a red star. It is 3.5 kilometers off the coast and the nearest major cities are Dubrovnik and Split.
Like most autochthonous wine grapes in Croatia, the origin of Grk remains a mystery. However, it is considered an ancient grape type speculated to have had arrived on the island of Korčula around the 5th century B.C., during the Greek colonization of the Adriatic. Perhaps this is the reason why it’s called Grk, which can be translated to “Greek” or “bitter”.
Today, Grk remains almost exclusively planted in the phylloxera-resistant sandy soil of Lumbarda. In fact, this finicky grape was found nowhere else up until the recent years when a handful of Dalmatian producers started planting Grk outside Lumbarda and in non-sandy plots.
THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY
The flower of Grk is morphologically hermaphroditic but functionally female, which means the flower has both male and female organs but the male part is undeveloped so the flower is unable to self-pollinate. As such, Plavac Mali is co-planted with Grk in the vineyard to serve as a pollinator. Interestingly, this botanical arrangement is considered incestuous in the human context as Grk is a descendant of Crljenak Kaštela (also known as Tribidrag and Zinfandel), which is a parent of Plavac Mali.
The Grk grape tends to accumulate high sugar content while maintaining excellent acidity, making it a good candidate for a full-bodied white wine and dessert wine. Wine made from Grk is usually moderately aromatic with distinct salinity and tartness that beg to marry a shellfish. A well-made Grk wine expresses sweet fruit notes along with a citrus lift, a mineral streak, and an herbal hint. The body is medium to full and complemented by a round, textured mouthfeel. Imagine a Muscadet on steroid or a Chardonnay meets Sancerre, and that’s Grk.
Limited in production, it’s rare to see Grk wine outside the island. So the only chance to drink it is to visit Korčula (not a bad idea at all), its sunny home ground hedged with azure vastness, or seek out this elusive beverage in Split or Zagreb, the two largest cities in Croatia. During summer when Korčula welcomes a massive influx of tourists, almost the whole production of Grk wine can be consumed within a season.
EXOTIC WINE TRAVEL’S PICKS
The Gregarious Grk: Zure Quinta Essentia Pjenušac Grk NV
The Zure winery is operated by father, Bartul Batistić Zure, and his sons, Marko and Ivan. Zure has the biggest vineyard area on Korčula and makes four styles of Grk: a fresh and dry Grk “Bartul”, a highly anticipated sur-lie version slated to hit the market in 2018, a sweet Prošek Grk ”Elysion”, and this Pjenušac Grk (“Pjenušac” means “sparkling wine” in Croatian).
The Zure Quinta Essentia Pjeušac Grk is the first-ever sparkling wine made from Grk. The wine was on the lees for nearly one year before disgorgement. It shows an excellent balance of acidity, dosage, and autolytic charm. The varietal advantages of Grk shine right through: a good structure, an expressive palate, ripe fruit flavors, citrusy freshness, an acidic spine, and a saline undertone. A whopper yet with a sense of litheness commonly found in Blanc de Blancs.
So far, two releases have been made for this wine and the total number of bottles produced stands at 800. Hopefully, more will come soon.
[Watch Video] Croatian Sparkling Wine
The Reflective Grk: Vinarija Križ Grk 2016
Located in Pelješac, a peninsula in southern Dalmatia, Križ is an eco-certified producer of Plavac Mali and Grk wines. Its two-hectare vineyard is farmed with biodynamic practice.
Proprietor and winemaker Denis Bogoević Marušić brought the Grk vines to Pelješac and debuted his skin-contact Grk with his 2015 harvest. Natural fermentation occurred in the barrels and maceration lasted for less than a week. No sulfur was added and the wine was bottled without filtration.
Vinarija Križ’s Grk has a bittersweet bouquet that evokes citrus rind, woodsmoke, and nuts. It’s buoyant on the palate with white tea-like astringency. A macerated Grk that retains freshness while simultaneously exhibits the compelling aspects of a well-made amber wine (orange wine).
[Watch Video] Plavac Mali and Grk from Križ Winery
The Kaleidoscopic Grk: Bire Grk 2016
Widely considered to be the finest steward of Grk, Frano Bire’s Grk enjoys a cult-like following. Procuring a bottle of Bire Grk can take a lot of effort. If you make it to his cellar, you are limited to purchasing only a few bottles.
Bire Grk is a special wine that will leave no one feeling indifferent. Abounded with notes of citrus and tropical fruits, the full body is supported by sure-footed acidity, which extends into a saline, mineral-flavored finish. If you’re lacking an appetite, drink this wine as it will likely spawn cravings for seafood.
Bire also produces another bottling of Grk that goes through long sur-lie aging in the barrel. The annual production for this wine is merely 1,000 liters. Called Grk Defora, it has astounding depth and complexity. The grapes come from a rocky vineyard (karst landform) located on the south side of the island. We think it’s one of the best Croatian white wine. Case in point: we tasted this wine next to a Domaine de la Janasse’s Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2016, and many people in the group agreed that Bire Grk Defora may be a better wine for immediate consumption and even after short-term aging.
[Watch Video] Rare Croatian White Grape Grk
SHOP OR BUY GRK WINE AT THE WINE AND MORE (EU-WIDE DELIVERY).
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