Croatian wine is a hidden gem, often overlooked on the international stage. However, this is a wine-producing country with a history spanning 2500 years, influenced by the ancient Greeks, Thracians, and Romans who once graced its shores. Nestled along the pristine Adriatic Sea in the Eastern Mediterranean region, Croatia’s wine culture is a rich tapestry of tradition and diversity.
Diversity in Every Sip
What sets Croatian wine apart is its diversity. With a population of less than four million, Croatia’s geographical location between major European regions results in a patchwork of climates and soils. This, in turn, has given rise to over 120 indigenous grape varieties, many of which contribute to the creation of exquisite wines.
Croatia’s primary wine regions encompass Istria & Kvarner (Croatian Littoral), Dalmatia, Croatian Uplands, and Slavonia. These regions offer a mosaic of microclimates and soils, each contributing to the unique flavours of indigenous grape varieties.
The Beloved Varieties
Let’s delve into some of the star players of the Croatian wine scene:
- Plavac Mali: Plavac Mali, often referred to as the “king” of Croatian red grapes, is prominently cultivated along the Dalmatian coast. Its primary home is the famous region of Dingač on the Pelješac Peninsula, where the steep, sun-soaked slopes and stony soils provide the perfect conditions for this grape to thrive. Plavac Mali yields robust, full-bodied wines with intense flavours of dark fruits, Mediterranean herbs, and a characteristic minerality, making it an emblematic grape of the Croatian winemaking heritage.
- Malvasia Istriana: Malvasia Istriana is celebrated in the picturesque Istrian peninsula, where it flourishes in the Mediterranean climate. This region is renowned for its rolling hills and diverse soils, which contribute to the grape’s character. Malvasia Istriana produces medium-bodied white wines with delicate fruity and floral notes, often reflecting the coastal terroir. Its adaptability to the Istrian microclimates results in wines with a unique identity, perfect for enjoying on warm summer evenings.
- Graševina: Graševina is a white grape variety that thrives in the continental regions of Croatia, particularly in Slavonia and the Croatian Danube. These areas offer the grape fertile soils and a temperate climate, allowing it to express its character in a distinct manner. Graševina grapes give rise to wines with fresh acidity, citrus notes, and a crisp, clean finish. The region’s contribution to Graševina’s excellence in winemaking showcases the continental side of Croatia’s rich viticultural landscape.
- Pošip: Pošip finds its ideal growing conditions on the sunny Dalmatian islands, such as Korčula and Lastovo. The maritime influence, combined with the local limestone-rich soils, contributes to the grape’s vibrant character. Pošip is responsible for crafting fresh, aromatic white wines with a pleasant balance of citrus and stone fruit flavours. The island regions of Croatia are the guardians of Pošip’s identity, and their wines are emblematic of the Adriatic terroir.
- Grk: Grk is a unique grape variety cultivated primarily on the Croatian island of Korčula. Its name means “bitter” in Croatian, a nod to the grape’s natural bitterness. Despite this, local winemakers have mastered the art of producing elegant, crisp, and slightly salty white wines from Grk. The island’s unique terroir, characterised by rocky soils and a coastal climate, contributes to the distinctiveness of Grk wines, which are a true reflection of the island’s viticultural traditions.
- Babić: Babić is predominantly found in the North Dalmatian region, particularly in the appellations of Šibenik and Primošten. This red grape variety is well adapted to the arid and rocky landscape, resulting in wines with deep colour, rich flavours of dark fruits, and a notable spiciness. Babić wines are known for their robust character and ability to reflect the rugged beauty of their native terroir.
- Maraština: Maraština, or Rukatac, is a white grape variety cultivated along the Dalmatian coast, on the islands of Hvar and Korčula, among others. The warm Mediterranean climate and limestone soils create the perfect conditions for Maraština to shine. The grape produces aromatic and fresh white wines with pronounced fruity and floral notes, embodying the essence of the Croatian coastal regions.
- Teran: Teran, known for its bold and intense character, is primarily grown in the Istrian region of Croatia. The iron-rich red soils of the Istrian peninsula, along with the continental and Mediterranean influences, create a unique terroir for Teran. These grapes give rise to wines with deep colour, robust tannins, and distinctive flavours of dark berries and earthiness, representing the rugged beauty of Istria.
- Škrlet: Škrlet is a rare white grape variety cultivated in the continental Croatian region of Moslavina. This grape is known for its light and refreshing wines, characterised by delicate floral and fruity aromas. The region’s continental climate, with cold winters and warm summers, provides Škrlet with the ideal conditions to produce crisp and easy-drinking white wines.
- Pušipel: Pušipel, also known as Furmint, is mainly found in the northeastern Croatian regions of Međimurje and Podravina. The continental climate and volcanic soils contribute to the grape’s unique expression. Pušipel produces white wines with a rich body, balanced acidity, and flavours of green apple and honey. The grape’s presence in these regions showcases the diverse wine culture of continental Croatia.
- Kraljevina: Kraljevina is a lesser-known grape variety primarily cultivated in the Croatian region of Prigorje-Bilogora. This continental area offers the grape a temperate climate and fertile soils that allow it to develop. Kraljevina yields white wines with a gentle character, featuring subtle floral and citrus notes. The grape is a testament to the hidden treasures of Croatia’s continental wine regions, where local varieties like Kraljevina find their unique place.
A Boutique Wine Destination
Croatia’s approach to winemaking is distinctly boutique. With approximately 1600 professional wine producers, many operate on a smaller scale. This unique approach results in a treasure trove of lesser-known grape varieties and wines, most of which rarely venture beyond the country’s borders.
Unveiling the Best
Croatia offers an array of top-notch wine regions, each with its unique charm. While there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to which is the best, some areas stand out. The Peljesac Peninsula, Hvar Island, and the Istrian Peninsula are renowned for their exceptional vineyards. Meanwhile, the Plesivica region south of Zagreb, the Kutjevo region in Slavonia, and the Sibenik hinterland around the town of Primosten have their hidden wine treasures waiting to be explored.
The Great Debate: National Drink
Croatia is a land of passionate debates when it comes to the national drink. Wine, beer, and spirits all have their place in Croatian culture. Popular spirits include Rakija, Travarica (herbal-infused Rakija), and Pelinkovac, a sweet wormwood liquor.
Croatia’s wine culture is a treasure trove of flavours and stories. From the ancient vineyards of Istria to the sun-kissed slopes of Dalmatia and the lush plains of Slavonia, Croatia boasts an impressive array of indigenous grape varieties. It’s a wine lover’s paradise awaiting exploration.
For those seeking a wine adventure, Croatia is the place to be. Explore the unique stories of Malvazija, Grasevina, Plavac Mali, and other indigenous Croatian grapes. From the heartland regions to the sun-drenched coast, Croatia’s wines offer a tapestry of flavours that promise to amaze and delight. Don’t miss the opportunity to become a true Croatian wine grape expert and join us in this thrilling journey of discovery. Here’s to raising a glass to the hidden treasures of Croatian grape varieties!