What’s the most obscure variety you’ve ever tasted? For me, it’s Grk. This indigenous Croatian variety grows exclusively on the island of Korçula in Lumbarda. Actually, this village is the variety’s native home. Less than 50 hectares of Grk are planted on the island. And, to my knowledge, that’s about the sum total of Grk planted in the world.
In Croatian, Grk translates to ‘Greek.’ Croatians believed that this was a Greek variety for many years. Perhaps because the Greeks settled in Lumbarda in the 3rd Century B.C. and brought their agriculture with them. There was also a theory that Grk was in some way related to the Italian Greco variety for evident reasons. However, no genetic connections were found in either case. Instead, genetic research shows that Grk is a relative of Tribidrag or Crljenak Kastelanski, the Croatian Zinfandel.
In The Glass
This rare Croatian variety produces mainly high quality dry white wines made in a fresher style. Though you can also find sur lies, sweet, and occasionally even sparkling styles. Some say that this variety is reminiscent of Chardonnay, Riesling, and Sauvignon Blanc combined. Yet I feel the unique aromatic profile and richness of Grk sets this variety in a class of its own.
You can expect medium to medium-plus body wines with high acidity. Grk typically expresses a combination of fruit and mineral aromas, plus notes of herbs, salinity, or pine. There is a second rough translation of the variety’s name in which Grk means bitter. This could refer to the subtly tart, delicately bitter edge commonly found in these wines.
Grk In The Vineyard
Lumbarda sits on the eastern side of Kroçula. Here, vineyards are planted to sandy soils on a narrow strip of land surrounded by the Adriatic on all sides. Vines see a lot of sunny days and also benefit from the reflection of the sun off of the water. These factors seem to be the sweet spot for cultivating this rare variety. Plantings on other islands or in other parts of the country have failed for the most part.
Grk is known as the most feminine Croatian variety. Yet this is not due to the wine’s aromatic or structural profile. Most grape varieties in the world are hermaphroditic. This means they can self-pollinate because each plant has both male and female reproductive organs. Grk is amongst the 1% of grape varieties in the world that cannot self-pollinate.
While this rare variety has both the male and female reproductive organs, only the female parts of the plant function. The male organs are underdeveloped, making self-pollination impossible. Therefore, Grk needs to be planted alongside a different variety whose male reproductive organs are functioning. For this purpose, Plavac Mali is typically planted nearby because these two varieties tend to bloom around the same time.
Furthermore, Grk is a very low-yielding variety. This characteristic, coupled with the limited number of hectares planted and the vines reproductive challenges, cause some to worry that each vintage will be this variety’s last.
The Winery: Zure
Located in Lumbarda, Zure is truly a boutique, family-owned winery. The Basticić-Zure family farms 8 hectares of vineyards mostly planted to indigenous Croatian varieties. Though they work with a handful of international varieties, too. The winery was founded in 1996, but the family was involved with agriculture long before the winery’s inception. In addition to grapevines, they cultivate olive orchards, fruit trees, and raise animals. If you’re ever in Korçula, the Zure family has an agriturismo waiting to welcome you.
Today, Zure boasts the largest production of the Grk variety. They make a fresher style Grk wine known as Grk Bartul, as well as sur lies and sparkling styles. Zure even uses Grk to produce their own sherry.
Zure, Grk Bartul, Lumbarda 2019
- Brilliant, medium-plus intensity golden yellow with golden reflections
- Medium-plus intensity aromas of orchard fruits, honeydew melon, salinity, pine nuts, and a subtle, sweet floral aroma of honeysuckle
- Medium-plus body, high acidity that has my mouth watering
- 13% alcohol, dry and more savory on the palate
- This wine has a delicately tart, bitter edge that’s quite intriguing, plus flavors of apple, pear, pine nuts, and salinity
Grk easily pairs with white fish and shellfish dishes. Try steamed mussels loaded with garlic and herbs or razor clams with finger lime and pickled shallots. This wine pairs well with lobster rolls, clams casino, and shrimp scampi. You can also keep things simple and savor Grk alongside grilled lobster tails served with garlic butter or even a well-seasoned rotisserie chicken. Grk is rich enough to stand up alongside creamy dishes like baked scallops gratin and most types of risotto.