It’s not every day you get the opportunity to try a Croatian white wine, without troubling the budget airlines. There is no shortage of high quality wine to be found throughout Dalmatia and Istria, but close to nothing reaches the UK. Therefore, when I saw the Matošević Alba Barrique 2008 on sale at Cartwright Brothers in Borough Market, there was no way I could leave it on the shelf.
Malvazija Istarka is a strain of the familiar Malvasia grape which can be found not only in Istria, but also in Italy (as Malvasia Istriana Bianca or Malvasia D’Istria). This example, by wine maker Ivica Matošević, has been oak aged somewhat in the style of a white burgundy.
I loved the subtle but spicy bouquet, dominated by peaches, white blossom and white pepper. The oak didn’t seem too evident at this stage. It’s unmissable once you start sipping, but that’s not a negative by any means. There is some peachy, apricot-like fruit but the main interest is the array of wood-influenced flavours: cinnamon, gingerbread (really) and vanilla. The texture is voluptuous, the length long, with nicely balanced acidity and alcohol. I found it rather wonderful, and couldn’t resist comparing it mentally to a Cotes du Beaune or perhaps even a Pouilly Fuisse. There are differences – I’m guessing American rather than French oak was used, as it’s vanilla rather than the more toasted flavours of French oak that predominates, and overall the palate seems slightly more dense and compacted than its Burgundian equivalent.
Unfortunately this isn’t a cheap wine (£18), as I’m sure it’s being imported in tiny quantities. I look forward to the day when Malvazija Istarka is a bit easier to come by, along with the wonderful Dalmatian reds produced from Plavac Mali.