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 & Regions
Croatia’s northeastern border with Serbia is defined by the Danube River, its western border by the Adriatic Sea. Lush with wild Mediterranean herbs, fig trees, and vineyards, the 1000 island wine region of Dalmatia is one of Europe’s most stunning and complex terroirs. Croatia is the only country in Europe with all 5 climatic zones, boasting a rich tapestry of indigenous varieties and styles.
The country divides into 3 primary regions: the peninsula of Istria in the north bordering Italy, the Dalmatian coast extending to the south, and the large continental area to the east, known as Slavonia (not to be confused with the country of Slovenia).
Home to the largest white truffle ever found, Istria is known for the autochthonous white variety Malvasia Istriana and its blood-red soil (terra rossa) where the finest red wines are made. Dalmatia is the ancestral home of California’s Zinfandel, Crljenak Kaštelanski, along with its celebrated offspring Plavac Mali, Croatia's most widely planted red variety. The powerful Plavac wines contrast starkly with the often-delicate wines of Slavonia where fields of grain and orchards blanket the hills and the versatile Graševina with other varieties benefit from the cool continental conditions.
History & Grapes
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"). Plavac thrives under the regions classical Mediterranean conditions, clinging to precipitous cliffs of limestone directly above the sea. Wines made from grapes grown on the steep slopes overlooking the Adriatic Sea are imbued with its scent, and whether they're white or red, suit seafood exceptionally well.
Sadly, 50 years of communism followed by the Serbo-Croat war in the 90’s devastated the country and overshadowed this beauty. Today, a mere 20 years later, a vibrant, proud, and ancient wine culture is on the rebound.