The Finest Wines in Croatia
The Finest Wines in Croatia
Various international grape varieties are grown in Croatian wine regions, but special attention is being paid to indigenous ones that shape the country’s oenological identity.
The finest dishes are naturally accompanied by fine wines, which there is no shortage of in Croatia. Winemakers produce them not only from popular international varieties, but also from indigenous ones, which are gaining traction and are too valuable to ignore. Each Croatian region has at least one very popular and highly regarded variety that is used to produce wines in all price ranges. These are some of the most well-known grape varieties grown on Croatian soil.
This variety, called Graševina in Croatian, is also known under the names of Laško Riesling, Riesling Italico or Italian Riesling, Olasz Riesling or Grašica. It is an international grape variety grown in Croatia and other countries in Central and East Europe. It is popular among winegrowers and winemakers because it is fruitful and resistant to diseases, and produces a steady yield year after year. It is predominantly grown in the regions of Slavonia and Podunavlje, and pairs well with fattier foods characteristic of Slavonian cuisine. It is mainly cultivated in the Kutjevo wine country and the southern slopes of Papuk and Krndija mountains, but it has also had success in the far south of the country, in Konavle. One of the benefits of the Welschriesling is that it can be used to produce various types of wines, which enables winemakers to be creative when it comes to different styles. There are now fresh and mineral Welschriesling wines on the market, as well as more complex wines made after a late harvest, a selected harvest of dried grapes, or an ice harvest, all of which produce sweet and aromatic “predicate” wines served as an aperitif or dessert wine.
Even though the Istrian Malvasia got its name from the largest peninsula in Croatia, and is considered to be an indigenous Istrian wine variety, the exact place of its origin remains unclear. This grape variety is grown on the entire Istrian peninsula, as well as in the neighbouring countries of Slovenia and Italy. It is rich and fruitful, offering mainly grapes that produce medium strong and strong wines with high alcohol content, medium levels of acidity, and floral and fruity aromas. There are three basic types of wine made from this white grape variety: base Malvasia, a lower-quality wine intended for fast consumption; fresh Malvasia, which carries the IQ (Istrian Quality) mark, is produced from high-quality grapes and has a shelf-life of up to three years; and matured Malvasia that hits the markets no earlier than two years after the grapes are picked, and can last several years.
Plavac mali , known also as Plavac, Plavac mali crni and the like, is a popular indigenous variety that originated in central and southern Dalmatia, where it is still one of the predominant varieties. The most suitable areas to grow Plavac mali vines are hills facing south, in places such as Dingač and Postup on the Pelješac peninsula, Sveta Nedjelja, Zavala and Ivan Dolac on the island of Hvar, and the village of Murvica on the island of Brač. It takes a while to ripen, it favours difficult terrain, and it’s resistant to diseases. Plavac mali from the village of Dingač was the first wine to receive special recognition for its quality in the area of present-day Croatia, in 1961. It can produce strong wines with a high alcohol content and strong flavours, as well as light fruity wines that are usually available in a more affordable price range.
Žlahtina or Žlajtina is an indigenous white grape variety of the Croatian Littoral region. It is mostly grown on the island of Krk, specifically on the Vrbnik Field, which produces the most widely known wine from this grape variety, the Vrbnik Žlahtina (vrbnička žlahtina), which bears the Protected Geographical Indication (PGI). Žlahtina is considered a high-yield variety. The dry wine it produces is clear, golden-yellow and moderately strong, with a fruity aroma, high minerality and mild salinity, and a smooth and harmonious taste. In addition to being used for winemaking, Žlahtina is also a delicious table grape variety with a full body and thick skin. The main properties of wines produced from this variety come to light during the first two years, which means that Žlahtina is not a wine that should be kept longer than that. Although it is considered to have a short shelf life, it can be used to make sparkling wines by fermenting it in tanks.
Pošip , Pošip bijeli, Pošipak and Pošipica are all local names for this indigenous white grape variety. It comes from the island of Korčula, and can also be found on the islands of Lastovo and Mljet. Pošip thrives on sandy soils, protected from wind, and gives large clusters that produce a high-quality, delicious wine. The golden yellow wine is dry, offering a strong aroma of dried apricots and figs, and has 12–13% of alcohol. Pošip wines have a distinct fragrance and high acidity levels, and they make for great wines to store and age. It is one of the oldest and most highly regarded white varieties, which is associated with Korčula because it has been cultivated there since ancient times. In 1967, the wine that came from the village of Čara on Korčula became the first white wine in Croatia to be awarded the Protected Geographical Indication (PGI), and it still holds value today. In fact, the Pošip variety is steadily gaining importance in southern Croatia, spreading and being grown on the mainland as well, in vineyards that are sprouting up across Dalmatia.
Babić is an indigenous red grape variety grown mostly in Dalmatia, which produces dark, dense and tasty wines that are highly valued. In Croatia, it is also known under the names of Šibenčanac, Babica, Babičević, Roguljanac and Pažanin, and there are two widespread subvarieties of it – Babić veliki and Babić mali. The two Babić varieties differ in the size of the clusters, and wines produced from Babić mali also contain a higher amount of sugar and alcohol and are more full-bodied. Babić is a dark blue grape variety, with medium large berries characterised by a thin and soft skin and juicy flesh. Babić grows best in the areas of Jasenovik, Strana, Kremik, Bucavac and Trovrh around the town of Primošten, where it has been cultivated since the very beginnings of local winegrowing, as well as in the Kaštela wine hills, Šibenik hinterland and the island of Brač. Babić is characterised by high acidity and tannin levels and high alcohol content, which make it suitable for a long ageing process and long-term storage.
The Blue Frankish (Frankovka in Croatian) is a red grape variety that has been grown in Europe for centuries, which produces delicious red wines of moderate acidity. It is a variety with a relatively high yield that can be made into exquisite wine, which has led to an increase in its popularity in recent years. It is widespread in inland Croatia, namely the Slavonia and Moslavina regions and Plešivica Mountain, but it is also grown in the Croatian Littoral and Istria, where it is known as Borgonja . Among the Blue Frankish vines grown in Croatia, the one from Ilok has received special recognition for its quality. The Blue Frankish initially produces fruity, light and airy wines, but as the wine matures, it becomes more elegant, and in some cases it lasts up to several years. It has a distinct ruby red colour, and its flavour has been described as a fruity aroma of ripened cherries and blackberries.
Traminer is a grape variety thought to have originated in Italy and the Tyrolean Alps. There are two common variations – red Traminer, named after the distinct colour of the berries, which produces golden-yellow and moderately strong wines in the semi-dry and semi-sweet categories; and aromatic Traminer, which produces wines with an intense rose and marzipan aroma in the semi-sweet and sweet categories. Its cultivation is recommended in the Podunavlje, Slavonia, Moslavina, Prigorje, Plešivica, Pokuplje, Zagorje and Međimurje regions, but the most well-known Croatian Traminer wine is the one from the town of Ilok, which was used even in British royal celebrations. Traminer is often overlooked because of its strong aroma – it is characterised by a high alcohol content and low acidity, which makes it particularly sweet.
Rhein Riesling is a white grape variety from the Rhine river valley in Germany, which is cultivated in vineyards across northern Europe. This variety ripens fairly late in the year and gives the best results when left to ripen slowly. This allows it to accumulate the necessary sugars and at the same time retain its acidity. It produces wines with fruity and floral aromas, which are characterised by high acidity levels. Rhein Riesling is grown in northwest and northeast Croatia, but the entire inland region of Croatia has potential to grow this international variety. Croatian winemakers turn the Rhein Riesling into high-quality fine wines, especially in the areas of Kutjevo, Feričanci, Plešivica and Međimurje, which have a suitable climate for it.
Chardonnay is a popular white grape variety that originated from the French region of Burgundy, and from there spread throughout the world. Croatian winemakers grow it in northwest and northeast Croatia, Istria and the Croatian Littoral. Chardonnay owes its popularity to a balanced yield and neutral flavour that enables winemakers to produce different styles of wines. The most important factors for growing Chardonnay are the climate, soil and position of the vineyard, as the grapes take in elements from its surroundings or the terroir they grow in. Although the variety is mainly used as a basis for producing refreshing wines with strong fruity aromas, Chardonnay is also suitable for making sparkling wines.