Croatian Matie student organises tasting of his motherland’s wines

Monday, 29 July, 2019
Matija Lesković
The first-ever wine tasting event of Croatian wines in South Africa was held at Stellenbosch University’s Department of Viticulture and Oenology recently. The evening was made possible through the initiative of Matija Lesković (27) a Croatian student who has been working towards his doctorate in oenology at Stellenbosch University since mid-2018.

Croatian wines were tasted, while Lesković also gave an overview of the country itself and grape varieties being grown. The Republic of Croatia lies in Central Europe and is bordered by countries such as Slovenia, Hungary and Serbia.

“As it is with many European countries, Croatia has many indigenous or native grape varieties – more than 120 of them! Around 40 cultivars are regularly planted in vineyards in two major regions,” he told the audience.

According to Lesković, the idea for the event grew from the many conversations that he has had over the past year with South Africans about his motherland as a scenic tourist destination. He says the conversation inevitably led to questions about Croatia as a wine-producing country once people learnt that he was in Stellenbosch researching the aromas of white wines as part of his doctorate.

“People would then ask about the wines produced in Croatia, and whether I had any available to taste,” laughs Lesković, who studied at the University of Zagreb in Croatia’s capital, and counts among his experience the opportunity to have worked in the world’s third largest winery, Concha y Toro in Chile.

Those in attendance at the Wines of Croatia tasting chose Pošip and Teran as their favourite white and red wines respectively. Pošip is made on the southern Croatian coast and impressed with its complex, yet fresh aromas of stone fruit and passion fruit, pronounced minerality and freshness on the palate. Teran, from the north coast, surprised with its good body, nice tannins, deep-purple red colour, high acidity and tempting dark cherry aromas.

“Both wines come from a similar Mediterranean climate to that of the Western Cape,” Lesković noted. “These grape varieties have over the centuries become resistant to drought and heat, and are often grown on rocky, exposed areas along the Croatian coast.”

According to Lesković, this led to many discussions among winemakers about whether Teran could be cultivated in South Africa, and used as a red blend component because of its tendency to accumulate high acidity (up to 10 g/L) even in warmer regions.

Matija Lesković, with some of the Croatian wines being tasted.

More about Croatian wines:

  • Croatia is naturally divided into two major wine-producing regions by high mountains.
  • The Croatian inland experiences a cooler continental climate, and white varieties are mainly grown.
  • The beautiful coastal area experiences a Mediterranean climate and is more suitable for red grape varieties.
  • Among the most popular wines are Graševina, Malvazijaistarska, Pošip, Malvasijadubrovačka, Teran, Babić and Plavacmali.
  • Zinfandel is the most famous wine produced on the coast. It is very popular in California.
  • A variety of Zinfandel called Plavacmali (“Little blue”) is enjoyed in Croatia. Plavacmali is more resistant to fungal vineyard diseases. Plavacmali is a big red wine, with lots of tannins and body, but with medium acidity. Its aromas resemble plums/prunes and dark fruit occasionally with dry violets notes.

Matija Lesković gave an overview about the wine regions of his country of birth, Croatia.

Background about Matija Lesković’s research project on white wines

  • Lesković is completing PhD research under the guidance of Prof Wessel du Toit and Dr Jeanne Brand of the Department of Viticulture and Oenology at Stellenbosch University.
  • His project is titled “Varietal thiol aromas and reductive compounds in white wines”.
  • It is sponsored by Winetech.
  • The project entails a combination of working with wine, chemistry and people.
  • Together with sensory expert Dr Jeanne Brandt, Lesković is training wine panelists to recognise specific aromas in white wine. This includes sulphur compounds naturally found in wine. Varietal thiols are organic compounds that give tropical fruit-like aromas to a wine. Reductive compounds, in turn, smell like rotten egg and cabbage and are usually a sign of suboptimal winemaking practices.
Matija Lesković
Matija Lesković



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