Zivejele (welcome) to Croatian varietals

  • Article by: BILL WARD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 14, 2010 - 1:33 PM

A local man is smitten with Croatia – and its wines.

Like many Minnesotans, Lee R. Anderson is an avid hunter, known to span the globe in search of exotic game. His latest targets: plavac mali and posip.

But these particular obscure species are actually grapes, mainstays of the construction magnate's new winery in Croatia, Korta Katarina.

After war ravaged that part of the former Yugoslavia, Anderson, chairman of the Twins Cities' API Group, began traveling to Croatia in 2001 on relief efforts, primarily to rebuild schools. He and his wife, Penny, soon fell in love with the area's natural beauty and culture.

Then they tasted the wines, and were further enraptured.

Actually, "enraptured" might not be a strong enough word. Anderson decided not only to start up Korta Katarina, but also purchased and is renovating a classic old hotel, the Riviera, in the coastal town of Orebic.

Anderson, who attended Breck School ("back when it was on Como Avenue," he said) and the U.S. Military Academy, caught the wine bug about 25 years ago. He's especially fond of the wines of Burgundy (red and white) and northern Italy, plus Napa cabs and Oregon pinot noirs.

And now some lesser-known varietals. "The posip is really in a class of its own. If you were trying to get in the ballpark, I'd say it's like chardonnay," he said. "The plavac mali is closely related to zinfandel [which originated in Croatia]. They've been growing that grape for 2,000 years in that area."

Anderson has delegated much of the enterprise's operation to his daughter, Katharine Anderson Groethe of Minneapolis. She travels frequently to Croatia and loves the people, if not the pace. "Everything there works soooo slowly," she said.

She also loves the distinctiveness of the wines -- "the grapes speak for themselves," she said -- and I'm inclined to agree.

The posip ($24) boasts a very floral nose and a mouthful of flavors (melon, honey) and textures (thick and rich, but with some underlying chalkiness). It's a great match for seafood and an alluring option for even the most jaded wine drinker.

The plavac mali ($38) offers up some a lovely balance of fruit (cassis, plum) and tannins, making it a classic steak wine. The Rubens Private Reserve ($57) has even more depth and structure with some spicy notes thrown in; it's a lusty, heady (but not hot) red that would fit on the table with California's foremost zins.

The wines are available primarily in Minnesota, but Anderson and Groethe are working on areas with large Croat communities (New York, the Bay Area) as well as Anderosn's winter home in Naples, Fla. Groethe serves as importer and distributor.

Oh, and the namesake for the winery: "Korta Katarina" is Croatian for "Katharine's Garden."

Bill Ward • bill.ward@startribune.com


    Korta Katarina Rosé Plavac Mail 2008

    The experience: Juicy and ripe, this pink delight boasts vivid berry flavors and a surprisingly lush mouthfeel. The fruit flavors evolve over the long, tart finish.

    The setting: Like the best rosés, this is an extremely versatile mealtime wine, bold and bright enough for salmon or barbecue and lively enough for poultry dishes. It positively rocks as an aperitif with goat cheese.

    The back story: This vintage is 100 percent plavac mali, but the 2009 will contain some of its close relative, zinfandel. Winemaker Nika Silic "is very, very, VERY excited about the zinfandel," said import director Katharine Anderson Groethe.

    The tab: $20, available at Haskell's, Pairings, South Lyndale, Bank, Vincent and Café Maude.

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