Dalmatia Part 3: Korta Katarina

Fermentation vessels for the Posip

Fermentation vessels for Plavac Mali

In my previous post I wrote about a family wine-producing micro-enterprise. The Bura winery produces only around 2,000 bottles each of their key wines, Bura Dingač and Mare Postup. I visited Boris Mrgdić and the Bura family in the morning. That afternoon, by way of contrast, I spent a few hours at Korta Katarina, an impressive new winery just outside Orebic town centre which produces around 80,000 bottles a year.

Korta Katarina (roughly translated as  “Katherine’s garden”) was the brainchild of American industrial magnate Lee Anderson. No expense has been spared in building a spacious HQ and creating what is Pelješac’s, if not the whole of Dalmatia’s most leading-edge and well equipped winery. Winemaker Nika Silić made the first vintage of Korta Katarina’s Plavac Mali in 2006, and since then this bold venture has been making a name for itself both locally and internationally. The estate’s white wine, produced from Korcula’s Pošip grape, has won a string of commendations including multiple Decanter awards.

After a fascinating tour of the modern winery and cellars, we sat down with Korta Katarina’s knowledgable and charming Ivo Cibilić for a detailed tasting of the wines. In true KK style, this  was conducted in the large air-conditioned tasting room, with chic furniture, exemplary glassware (Riedel, of course) and a selection of delicious olives and cheeses selected to complement the wines.

Pošip grapes passing through selection

Pošip grapes on the selection table, before passing through a heat exchanger

We began with two vintages of the estate’s Pošip, having just seen the 2011 harvest roll off a truck and onto the triage table. The Pošip 2010 is a blend of stainless-steel and barrique-fermented wines. The oak influence is carefully judged, just to provide extra depth and weight, with only about 25% of the final blend coming from Barrique. The nose has the typically grassy, herbaceous aromas, plus some white pepper. The texture is creamy, with the oak contributing bready flavours to complement the tangy green fruit and florality. We then compared this with the 2008, which shows how much more integrated the two components of this wine become after some time in bottle. This allows the citrus and angelica notes to come through, leaving less overt oak influence and greater length.

The cellars at Korta Katarina

The cellars at Korta Katarina

Next up was the Rosé, a blend of Plavac Mali and one of its better known parents, Zinfandel. At 13.9% alchohol you would expect this to be robust, yet there is plenty of freshness in the appealing raspberry and strawberry fruit character. More uniquely,a wonderful savoury quality sets this quite apart from the more frivolous territory that Rosés so often seem to inhabit.

Finally we moved on to the 2006 Plavac Mali, perhaps the signature wine of the estate. Although KK has vineyards within the Dingac region, a conscious decision was made to make a blend from the best grapes in both the Postup and Dingac “appellations”. The result cannot of course be labelled as either “Postup” or “Dingač”, and therefore Korta Katarina arguably becomes the “premium” name on the bottle. On the one hand this is clever marketing (providing that the wine is good), but also I think it is a smart decision in terms of wine-making. Ivo had carefully decanted the wine in advance of our arrival, and it was showing beautifully. The full range of Plavac’s herbal, dried fruit, sage and earthy aromas introduced an astounding array of tar, prunes, smoke, blackberries and chocolate on the palate.

The blend of Plavac from the lower (Postup) and upper (Dingač) slopes of Pelješac manages to achieve elegance, complexity and poise that I think would be difficult to find in a more delimited area. As you might expect, this wine sees quite a bit of French oak (a proportion is aged in new and old barriques for one year) during its three years of maturation (the 2006 was released for sale in 2009), but the final blend is expertly done and I felt I was tasting the grape and not the winemaking. This is also one of those wines that keeps developing as it breathes and opens out – every sip reveals another nuance.

It will be extremely interesting to see how this estate shapes up over the next few years – with such brilliant results already behind them, Korta Katarina should have a bright future. We should not however forget the wine-making tradition that goes before them – both Nika and Ivo come from local winemaking families. Unsurprisingly, not everyone on the peninsula is impressed by this new rich-kid on the block. However, sometimes it takes a newcomer to shake things up a bit – and Korta Katarina is showing not only how excellent the results from this sunbaked territory can be, but also how state-of-the-art equipment and rigorous attention to detail can produce wines that hold their own on the world-stage.

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    • Again, thanks for the update on KK. They’ve definitely been receiving a good deal of press lately.

      Shame to hear that they’re using new French on the Plavac Mali grapes as those grapes can be fantastic with just basic stainless aging. You really don’t detect a punch of oak in the Plavac?

      One small correction in that Plavac Mali is actually the child of Zinfandel (Crljenak), not the other way around. This gets confused often. Here’s an older article of ours if you were curious: http://www.vinologue.net/crush/explaining-plavac-mali/ That’s definitely the first I’ve heard of Plavac and Crljenak being blended with that Rosé. Curious as to what they benefit is, but I’m sure many things will come about in the years to come as the vines planted in the last few years start produces larger yields.

      • Simon Woolf

        Yes, thanks, I did know about Plavac and Zinfandel but that’s what happens when you write late at night! I’ve corrected it now.

        RE: use of French Oak, I agree that Plavac can be wonderful with no oak (I have tasted many such examples), but I have to say that KK’s wine is quite special and I don’t think it’s a shame that they’ve used French oak at all! They are trying to do something a bit different, and you could argue in a more international style – but they succeed, in my opinion, without losing the sense of place and without compromise. The oak influence is not blatant, but of course you can see from my tasting note that it adds to the palate and the complexity. I think there is space in the market for this wine – no-one’s saying it’s meant to be a classic Dingac (in fact quite the opposite), but assessed purely on quality and achievement I think it rates very highly indeed.

        RE: Combination of Plavac and Zinfandel for the Rose, my impression when comparing it to other Plavac dominated Rose is that the Zinfandel brings out the primary red fruits (strawberry, raspberry) more than Plavac does by itself.

        • Good to know. We’ll sit down for a proper tasting of the KK wines soon and keep your notes in mind. Admittedly, we’re not crazy about the rampant use of oak in general through Dalmatia as it was an effort to ply to an international market that is currently contracting economically as well as drifting away from heavily oaked wines.

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    • Marko

      Let me introduce myself. My name is Marko Šuman and I noticed few wrong facts in article above. First, I made Plavac Mali 2006 and Nika Silić came in Korta Katarina a year latter 2007. I was responsible for grape selection, winemaking technology and that combination resulted certain wine style. Second, I chosed grape from Postup vineyard – 76%, Primorsko vineyard (above The Orebić) – 17% and Dingač vineyard only 8%. In that 2006 harvest I’m grateful to Božo engeneer and Mario, my assistant.

      • Simon Woolf

        Hi Marko,

        Thanks very much for these comments, and apologies for the inaccuracy in my article. As I hope is evident, I really enjoyed the 2006 Plavac. I have both 2006 and 2007 in my cellar here in London, I’m looking forward to tasting them side by side – it will be fascinating to compare the vintage and winemaking differences. I have a hunch that there is more elegance to had from the Postup “terroir”, than the sheer power of Dingač – several wines have corroborated this for me, so it’s very interesting that you used such a high percentage in the KK ’06 Plavac.


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