Croatian Wines: Discovering amazing wines that you may not have heard of
Words by Saron Lease at Croatia Gems
As they say in Croatian „živjeli“! (Cheers). If you like wine, then you will be in your element in Croatia. Although not a big exporter, the country produces a superb range of high-quality wines. So, if you are going on holiday to Croatia and enjoy wine here are our tips on the wines to try and where to find them.
Dalmatia and the Islands
If you are off to Dalmatia (Dubrovnik in the south up to Split and the Dalmatian Islands of Korcula, Hvar and Brac) then by far the best red wine of the region is Plavac Mali, meaning “Little Blue”. This is a rich and fruity wine, all dark cherries and blackberries – a perfect alternative if you like Malbec. So, if you are indulging in some of the regions frankly fantastic steak or the traditional speciality of rich beef Sporki Macaroni from Dubrovnik, this would be ideal. The Plavac Mali wines regarded as the best are “Dingač” and “Postup” and come from the Peljesac Peninsula, an hour and a half drive north of Dubrovnik.
Interestingly, DNA tasting recently discovered that Plavac Mali is actually linked with the Zinfandel grape (Plavac Mali is a cross between the ancestral Zinfandel grape and an ancient red wine grape variety from the Dalmatian coast). Zinfandel is of course known for famous Californian wines, and Mike Grgich, the founder of the Grgich Hills Estate in Napa Valley, is originally from Croatia. Not so coincidentally, Grgich also has a winery in Trstenik on the Peljesac Peninsula, where he makes top wines from the Posip and Plavac Mali varieties.
If you want to do some wine tasting, a visit makes for a very pleasant and interesting couple of hours. Book a wine tasting tour and make the most of some expert local sommelier knowledge with a local company such as Insider Holidays. A drive up the coast from Dubrovnik, past the salt flats and oyster beds of Mali Ston, takes you to the Peljesac wine region. The steep, sun drenched, south facing vineyards slope down to the Adriatic. The scenery is utterly captivating and the wine is impressive. As you might imagine, there are a few good wineries to check out, including many small local wine growers selling delicious homemade wine.
If you’re a white wine fan, then the island of Korcula has you covered. The Peljesac Peninsula is less well known than more publicised locations but has breathtaking scenery and idyllic beaches with real off the beaten track appeal. It’s also the gateway to the Dalmatian Islands. A short 15 minute boat hop from the Peninsula’s main maritime old town of Orebic will set you down in Korcula Town. Originally part of the Venetian Empire, and the supposed birthplace of Marco Polo, Korcula is a balmy island dotted with little sandy coves and covered in pretty villages, olive groves and vineyards. Although it has retained its traditions and provincial feel, it is gaining a reputation for high end villas like Villa Poppy near Korcula Old Town and hotels with an eye for detail.
Grown and ripened in the sandy village vineyards of Lumbarda, just 5 minutes from Korcula Old Town, the dry white wine of Grk is definitely one to try. The small vineyards mean that not much is produced, so if you see some, snap it up! Original to Croatia, the grape produces a wine that tastes quite specific, with hints of pear, citrus, mineral and pine. Crisp and refreshing, Grk has to be served cold and will quickly become a favourite if you like a chilled, unoaked Chardonnay. Drink it by the sea edge with some of the areas famed oysters or mouth-watering mezze – proscuitto, Pag cheese, octopus salad and sun ripened olives.
The villages of Cara and Smokvica further up the island produce a real white wine staple – Posip is a more perfumed and fruity white wine than the dryer Grk. Posip Cara (try a 2015), has a medium body with flavours of ripe fruit, apple, vanilla and basil. Posip is somewhere between a Sauvignon Blanc and an unoaked chardonnay and would be delicious with the local speciality of Gregada, an aromatic fish stew, laced with rich, golden, extra virgin olive oil grown on the island and locally grown garlic.
Istria in the north
Heading north to the fairytale hill-top towns of Istria you could be mistaken for thinking you were in Tuscany. The Istrian Peninsula borders Italy and so the similarities are striking. This is continental Croatia rather than the Mediterranean south and is Istrian Malvazija Itarska territory – the 2nd most widely planted grape in Croatia. Malvazija can be made into a range of different styles of wine from fresh and fruity, to oaked and aged and even sweet wines. It’s the second most planted grape in Croatia and has appeared in both M&S and Waitrose recently, such is its growing reputation. The dry whites it produces have hints of honey, peach, citrus, lime and green apple and will be right up your street of you are a fan of Sauvignon Blanc or dry whites from north east Italy like a Friuli Collio.
In Istria you will be in truffle country and the cuisine here is much more about meats, truffles, home made pasta’s and gnocchi’s than the lighter food of the maritime south. Pair a Malvazija with a truffle pasta dish or some tasty local strong cheese – these wines go perfectly. If you are staying in the south though, don’t let that stop you trying a Malvazija as it is also very good with fresh grilled fish. Not to be out done by the illustrious, southern reds, Istria also has its own red wine champion. Terans are earthy and spicy, purple and juicy and are medium to full bodied – a great alternative to a Cabernet Franc. For full appreciation, try pairing with a flagship Istrian meal of beefsteak with crème of truffle sauce and gnocchi or freshly made local pasta, roast lamb or barbequed meat.
Wine delivery to your villa
If you want to taste or indeed drink a good selection of Croatian wines and are staying at a Croatia Gems villa this summer, why not ask for a delivery and some advice on the best ones to go for. With delivery to villas it’s a luxurious way to find out more. Delivery to your villa of a taster selection of sommelier chosen Croatian wines comes in at approx 75Kn per bottle (approx. £9) which comes to 450 Kn (approx. £52) for 6 bottles. Delivery cost is a standard 250Kn (approx. £28).
*Delivery to your villa of 6 bottles of Korcula Grk at 125 Kn per bottle (approx. £14) comes to 750 Kn (approx. £82).
*Delivery to your villa of 6 bottles of Posip Cara at 85 Kn per bottle (approx. £10) comes to 510 Kn (approx. £60).
*Delivery to your villa of 6 bottles of Istrian Malvaizja at 75 Kn per bottle (approx. £9) comes to 450 Kn (approx. £52).
*Delivery to your villa of 6 bottles of Istrian Teran at 100 Kn per bottle (approx. £11) comes to 600 Kn (approx. £70).
Chef hire at your villa with wine
Wine tasting trips
If you want to get out and explore the vineyards and get some actual wine tasting experience then why not go on a small tour organised by our local rep in Dubrovnik of the Peljesac Peninsula and its prominent vineyards. Insider Holidays frequently takes our guests up the coast to show them some of the best wines the region has to offer.
Wine bar wander
Take a sommelier led wander around Dubrovnik Old Town, stopping at idyllic settings to taste a range of Croatia’s vibrant and diverse wines.