Croatian wine cheat sheet – excellent wines to try
If you’re in Croatia, you must try the wine. Did you know that Croatian wine is some of the best in the world? You may not know that because most wineries make such small amounts, there is simply not enough to justify the cost of export. Now it’s time to get your hands on some. But how to choose?
Understandably you may not want to commit every detail about Croatian winemaking, the regions, and the grapes to memory before you arrive in this Balkan paradise.
Not to worry! Here is a stripped-down guide to Croatian wine, as simple as it can be. Maybe even simpler than it should be. Regions, varieties, producers.
Jump to a region:
The facts are these…
Simple guide to Croatia’s amazing wine
Located in a wide ring around the Croatian capital, Zagreb, this region is perhaps best known for its high-quality sparkling wines made from the traditional Champagne grapes, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir.
Those same grapes are also made into still wines, and Sauvignon Blanc from the uplands is also well-regarded. Two indigenous grapes are traditionally grown in the region, and up-and-coming winemakers are making great strides with them: these are Škrlet and Kraljevina.
Try the wines of Coletti, Korak, Kos (Kraljevina), Šember, Tomac, and Voštinić Klasnić (Škrlet).
Dalmatia is by far the most popular destination as it is home to places like Dubrovnik, Hvar, and Split, which are all exploding as world-class destinations. It is the Croatian region with the most indigenous grape varieties – types that originated here hundreds or thousands of years ago. Some of these are specific to certain islands or regions.
Here is a short guide to Dalmatian indigenous grapes to look for:
- Dubrovnik/Konavle – Dubrovačka Malvasija
- Hvar (and elsewhere) – Bogdanuša
- Imotski – Kujundžuša
- Korčula – Grk
- Primošten and nearby – Babić
- Skradin and nearby – Debit
- Šolta – Dobričić
- Vis – Vugava
Let’s now dig into the details.
Plavac mali is the predominant red grape in Dalmatia. It’s high in alcohol and tannin. Be sure to pair it with hearty dishes like pašticada, or you could be overwhelmed by its strength. For the best-regarded wines, ask your waiter to recommend a Plavac from known appellations, such as Dingač, Ivan Dolac, and Postup.
Many wines from outside these regions are excellent and more affordable though they are likely to be lighter in the body. Your best bets are Bura, Grgić, Miloš, Senjanović, Skaramuča (Dingač), and Zlatan Otok.
Pošip is a true Dalmatian white with strong alcohol (sensing a theme?), nice acidity, fruity aromas, and a nice round body. Producers like Krajančić, Korta Katarina, Nerica, Senjković, and Toreta will be representative of what Pošip is supposed to be.
Beware of the cheap jug or draft Pošip. Although some are great, off-the-radar wines, some can result in a painful and headachy experience. Try Pošip with heartier seafood like grilled fish or garlicky shrimp.
Zinfandel, aka Crljenak Kaštelanski, aka Tribidrag, is the father of Plavac mali, which is currently reliving its youth. You will be surprised by both its quality and price. Look for Matela, Putalj, Rizman, and Stina.
Even if you are new to Croatian travel, chances are you have heard of Istria – the northwestern peninsula and a leader in branding and development. Kvarner is the region just south of Rijeka, including the islands. The grapes grown are quite different in these two regions.
Malvazija is the variety that epitomizes Istria. Fresh, light, aromatic, and beautifully acidic, it’s the perfect summer comfort. Try it with shrimp or the lighter truffle dishes that the people of Istria do so well. Keep an eye out for Benvenuti, Cattunar, Coronica, Kozlović, and Trapan.
Teran is an indigenous Istrian red wine that is very similar to Refosco, which is also grown in Istria and labeled as Refošk. Teran is a little bit lighter and more acidic than Dalmatian reds and often has spicy and rose petal aromas. Look for examples from Benvenuti, Deklić, Fakin, and Kabola.
The Kvarner winegrowing region you are most likely to encounter is the island of Krk. Here, the indigenous white grape Žlahtina is made into refreshing light whites and sparkling wines. The black grape Sansigot has recently been rescued from obscurity and makes elegant, floral-scented wines. Look for labels from Anton Katunar and Šipun.
Slavonia and Danube region is situated in the eastern part of Croatia and is known for its endless fields and vineyards.
Slavonia is the home of Graševina, the most planted white varietal in Croatia. Graševina is very versatile, stylistically – it can be light and refreshing, rich and intense, made into sparkling wine or sweet wine.
In both Slavonia and the Danube region, producers like Adžić, Antunović, Galić, Enjingi, and Krauthaker make Graševina in various styles.
Also in both regions, look for the grape Traminac, which is the same as Gewürztraminer elsewhere in the world. It can also run from bone-dry to incredibly sweet. Try Traminac from Iločki Podrumi, Kalazić, and Svijetli Dvori.
And if you are looking for something familiar, more international grape varieties, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, and Merlot, are grown here.
If you want to learn more about Croatian wine varieties, view Cheers Croatia Magazine here.
View our other wine posts
- 9 insider tips for buying wine in Croatia
- Croatia makes sparkling wine (and how to choose the right one)
- How to read a Croatian wine label
- Krolo winery in Trilj
- Making sense of Croatian grape varieties
- St. Martin’s Day (Martinje)
- The Story of Grk – Croatian grape variety on Korčula island
Please note: Information provided by Expat in Croatia is only for the purposes of guidance. It does not constitute legal or financial advice in any form. Croatian laws and bureaucratic rules often change, and each personal case is individual, so different rules may apply. For legal advice, contact us to consult with a licensed Croatian lawyer. For financial advice, contact us to consult with a licensed Croatian tax advisor or accountant.