Find out Croatia's wine regions producing different styles of wine
Saturday 03 July 2021
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Croatians have adored wine ever since the Ancient Greeks strolled along their pebbly beaches and the Romans built their amphitheatres there. Archaeologists have even thought that wine grapes were cultivated on the Dalmatian coast in the Bronze and Iron ages by the Illyrians. A mediterranean coastline, hot, sunny weather, cool breezes, green, lush mountainsides and rocky limestone slopes — is it any surprise that wine took off here?
As with any wine-making country, Croatia has several different regions crafting different styles of wine, and each believes that theirs is the best. So let’s have a look around them first and decide for ourselves.
Istria and Kvarner
A popular holiday spot for British tourists thanks to its stunningly clear seas and dance music festivals, Istria is the northernmost area of Croatia, and it sticks out into the Med like a plectrum (or the tip of a heart, as the Istrian tourist board likes to say).
A green and hilly area of Croatia where white indigenous grape varieties thrive. Here is where you’ll find beautiful ancient towns to wander around, and the gorgeous vineyards of the Plesivica Hills to explore.
Slavonia and Danube
The plains of Slavonia and Danube make up the largest wine growing region in Croatia. Thanks to the convergence of three important rivers — the Danube, Drava, and Sava — this is a well-watered area with its own microclimate.
Dalmatia is the home and heartland of one of the world’s favourite wines — Zinfandel. Bet you didn’t know that! It’s sultry and hot in the summer along the holiday hotspot coastline of Dalmatia, so expect big, bold reds and a ton of tasty tannin.
Know the Grapes, Know the Wine
In Croatia there are vineyards of famous international grape varieties, and vineyards full of local, indigenous varieties living side-by side. While we may not have heard ofmany of Croatia’s home-grown grapes in the UK until fairly recently, DNA testing has shown that the popular Croatian grape Kaštelanski Crljenak (or Tribidrag) actually boasts the proud parentage of Zinfandel, the grape variety taken by dormant vine to California in a suitcase (or so one story goes). Italy, by the way, calls it Primitivo. But that’s another story.
The most widely planted grape in Croatia is Graševina, otherwise known in Europe as Welschriesling. This white grape is dry, fresh and aromatic, and when grown in Croatia’s cooler regions like Slavonia and Danube or the Uplands, it has crisp apple flavours too.
The second most popular grape variety grown in Croatia is also a white wine grape, called Malvazija Istarska. Grown in the warmer Istria region, it has a punch of spice alongside stone fruit aromatics, and can also bring honey, ripe pear and fennel to your dinner table.
The main red wine grape grown in Croatia is Plavac Mali. Grown along the Dalmatian coast, if you’ve visited there on holiday, this is most likely what you’ve enjoyed as the house red. Deep, rich and a touch spicy, it’s got exotic fig and black cherry notes going on, higher alcohol content and lower acidity, giving you an easy-drinking, sweeter-tasting red. Croatians often like to dilute their wine, especially in the hot midday — and also, fyi, this is an ideal wine to make a Croatian Bambus with: just mix half and half with Coke.
You’ll easily come across Pinot Noir, Riesling and Zweigelt in the cooler climate regions of Croatia, and Merlot, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon where it’s warmer. If you’re looking to seek out Croatian grapes but Croatian isn’t your first language, however, you might want to start working on your pronunciation. These wines are delicious, but to a heavily-accented Anglo-European tongue it takes a bit of practice to get it right.
Pošip (pronounced: PohSHip) creates an aromatic white wine with notes of almond, citrus essential oils and a touch of vanilla. It’s full-bodied, so you can find buttery, oaked versions, just like you’d expect from Chardonnay grown in a warm region. Dessert wine can also be made using Pošip, but that’s not as popular these days.
Grk. Say it like “Greek” but without the “ee” (and roll the r if you want to be super accurate). This small but powerful grape is indigenous to the town of Lumbarda on the island of Korčula on the Dalmatian coast. It’s got structure, it’s got personality, and it’s dry and peppery with a touch of pear.
Teran grows in Istria and likes to soak up all the goodness from the limestone and rich, red soil there — don’t quote us on that, scientists who disagree that minerality is a “thing”. She’s earthy, she’s powerful, she busts out violets and jasmine when she feels like it, and a touch of smoke too. Known as Terano in Italy, this isn’t a grape variety for everyone, but when blended it adds complexity and a touch of excitement. And who doesn’t love that?
Drink Like A Croatian
If you’ve never seen a Croatian wine in the shops, that’s because they don’t often have to travel far. Unlike some wine producing countries, they barely have to export the wine they make. It doesn’t leave the country. Croatian people love to drink Croatian wine. For that reason, they don’t cut their prices and that means our major wine distributors often don’t opt for Croatian wine — as David Plant from Garden Brewery says:
“It’s like, sorry Tesco, you’ll have to pay £8 a bottle just like everyone else!”
If you want to find Croatian wine, you might have to pop online. There are a few online wine shops doing great work in sourcing and importing wines from regions like Croatia, and some that even offer subscriptions. (Ahem, like our new Wine52 project — take a look).
One of the best ways is to travel there, see some vineyards, taste some wines under the sun. But while we can’t travel for the moment, why not pour yourself a gemišt — a white wine topped up with soda — or a bevada — a red wine and water — and lay the table with fresh, lemon-scented seafood. Pop a rich meat stew on the hob. Stir up a black squid ink risotto. Gather some pals round and dig in, because Croatian wine, and food, is meant to be shared.
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