This summer I’ve been between Italy and Croatia, a highlight of which has been enjoying Amarone with friends in Croatia. Verona’s famous red is likely to enhance any dinner, but I particularly enjoyed consuming a bottle here, because the oak used in Amarone grows in Croatia.
It’s easily overlooked that the most prestigious wines from the territories of the former Venetian and Empire make use of Slavonian oak. The forests of Slavonia, a historic region of Eastern Croatia, grow the oak that adds character not only to Amarone but also Piemontese Barolo and numerous Tuscan wines. Slavonian oak has a less intense flavor than French or American and enables wine to live longer in the bottle as compared to other oaks.
The region of Slavonia was ruled by Austria-Hungary and not the Venetian Empire, but ancient links between Slavonia and Venice explain why it became commonplace in Northern Italian winemaking. Archives from the Croatian confraternity at the Scuola degli Schiavoni (worth visiting when in Venice) speak to a significant centuries-old Slavonian minority in Venice. The confraternity was a meeting point for Slavonians alongside Istrians and Dalmatians that promoted trade routes that moved Slavonian oak across the empire.
Venice’s ancient influence over coastal Croatia is apparent enough to make Amorone a fitting choice on the island of Korčula (Curzola in Venetian), where locals bost, however unlikely I find it, to be the birthplace of Marco Polo. The most fitting choice, however, is the local varietal is Plavac Mali, which is celebrated in Croatia the way Amarone is celebrated in Italy. Plavac Mali from the Pelješac Peninsula, as far from Slavonia as Venice, is alongside Amorone, undoubtedly one of the best places to discover Slavonian oak attributes.