The Wines of Croatia
From a tumultuous 20th century, Croatia has emerged with strong, unique wines that define the diversity of their nation and showcase their centuries of viticulture.
Location & History
Croatian wines have had a steady presence in Europe for centuries. But the first flurry of attention in the U.S. came only in the mid-1990s, when prominent California winemaker Miljenko "Mike" Grgich, a Croatian native, announced his intention to launch an ambitious, upscale wine project back on his native soil. As one of the winemakers behind California's surprising success against the best of France in the famous 1976 Paris tasting, Grgich's decision cast a bright spotlight on Croatia. But this celebrity endorsement only revealed the tip of the iceberg for a country with rich winemaking traditions and resources.
Like the rest of Central Europe, grape cultivation in Croatia pre-dated the Romans by several hundred years, and grew more substantial and organized under the Roman Empire. Vineyards and winemaking survived invasions by marauding tribes and the anti-alcohol policies of the reaches of the Ottoman Empire. The core of a resilient winemaking culture is shared with the surrounding nations, notably Austria and Hungary, including common grape varieties—Croatia's Graševina
is known elsewhere as Welschriesling, its Frankovka as Blaufränkisch
. Flanking the production of wine, Croatia's Slavonian forests have long been a prime source for cellar oak, including the casks used for aging some of the finest Italian wines.
The most highly regarded Dalmatian reds are made from Plavac Mali
, the focus of Grgich's efforts and the grape grown in two regions with long-standing reputations: Postup and Dingač. Initially believed to be the source of California's Zinfandel, DNA testing has demonstrated that Plavac Mali is actually a child of the true original Zinfandel, a little-planted grape from the same area named Crljenik Kašteljanski (pronounced "tzurlyenik kashtelyansky").
For such a small land, Croatia has produced more than its share of grapes, winemakers and wine. Current production is over 50 million bottles a year.
Wines & Regions
Croatia's wine country is divided into two broad regions, coastal and continental, each with sub-regions divided yet further into smaller districts. Altogether Croatia boasts more than 300 geographically-defined wine producing areas. The inland region, stretching from northwest to southeast along the Drava and Sava rivers as they flow eastward into the Danube, has a warmer Continental climate.
Production is strongly concentrated in white wine varieties. The most widely planted vine is Graševina
, which yields light, crisp, refreshing, mildly aromatic wines. Gewürztraminer, Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc are also grown here, along with Frankovka as the main red wine grape.
The coastal wine region runs along the Adriatic coast and includes Istria in the north and Dalmatia to the south. A multitude of islands and hillside slopes produce an endless array of microclimates dotted with small winegrowing estates. Istria emphasizes Bordeaux reds like Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, while Dalmatia is home to a stunning array of indigenous grape varieties, with names as hard to pronounce as the wines themselves are hard to find.