Croatia is famous for its shores, thalassotherapy, prosciutto, cheese, fish, and wine. One of the cradles of winemaking in Europe, our country has enormous potential and is slowly being recognized worldwide. The Croatian wines have been making headway on a global scale, which is confirmed by the number of awards at the most prestigious wine competitions.
History of Croatian Wine Making
The Croatian wine-making industry has over 2,400 years of history. Recent research has shown that the Illyrians living in Dalmatia during the Bronze Age and Iron Age may already have grown grapevines.
However, the true beginning of grape cultivation and wine production in Croatia is related to the Ancient Greeks settlers, who arrived on the Croatian coast in the 5th century BC.
Athens-based writer Athenaeus wrote 18 centuries ago about the high quality wine produced on the Dalmatian islands of Vis, Hvar and Korčula.
Coins from the period have motifs related to grape cultivation and wine, demonstrating the importance of wine in the economics of the region.
Modern Era Of Winemaking
The wine industry in Croatia is a high-profile industry, with a strong focus on quality. Modern wine-production methods have taken over in the larger wineries and EU-style wine regulations have been adopted, guaranteeing the quality of the wine.
There are currently over 300 geographically defined wine regions and a strict classification system to ensure quality and origin.
The majority of Croatian wine is white, with most of the remainder being red and only a small percentage being rosé wines.
Wine is a popular drink in Croatia, and locals traditionally like to drink wine with their meals.
Quite often, the wine is diluted with still or sparkling water—producing drinks known as gemišt (a combination of white wine and carbonated water) and bevanda (a combination of red wine and still water).
10 Most Popular Croatian Wine Varieties
Žlahtina is a Croatian grape variety that is grown exclusively on the island of Krk. The grape produces light and refreshing white wines with floral and citrus aromas that are complemented by mineral notes and balanced acidity.
Žlahtina goes exceptionally well with sheep milk cheese, seafood dishes, white meat, and lamb. The name žlahtina stems from the Slavic word žlahten which likely suggests its importance in ancient times.
Debit is a late-ripening white grape that's believed to be native to North Dalmatia. It's mainly used in everyday light varietal wines or as a blending grape.
Promina and Drniš are the best places to drink Debit wine; it comes out best when it's made with extended maceration of the grapes, which gives the wine a dull character. But by the mid-1990s, several producers started producing vibrant and aromatic white wines with bright acidity and a distinctive mineral character—that's when Debit started getting popular again.
Kujundžuša is a white grape variety from Croatia. It is thought to be native to the Imotski region, where it is still cultivated. High-yield Kujundžuša grapes are used in easy-drinking and approachable varietal wines with a subtle mineral character.
Lasina is a red grape variety native to the Croatian region of Dalmatia, where it is often referred to as Dalmatian Pinot Noir. The grape is often used in blends, and it can be found in wines produced by Babić and Plavina. There are only a few wineries producing varietal Lasina wines.
6. Teran (Croatia)
Teran is a red grape variety that has been cultivated for centuries in Istria (Croatia), Friuli (Italy), and the Kras Plateau in Slovenia.
Because of this long history, there have been disputes about the name and origin of Teran wine. The wine is known as Teran – Croatian Istria (Hrvatska Istra) when produced in Croatia while it is named Refošk when produced in Slovenia.
Babić is a Croatian red grape variety grown in central and northern Dalmatia. In the best examples, it produces wines with a deep purplish color, rich, fragrant aromas and light tannins.
Babić is best known for its potential as an age-worthy varietal wine that can be enjoyed after several years of bottle aging.
Graševina is a grape indigenous to central Europe that is also known as Laški rizling, Olaszrizling, and Riesling Italico. It is not indigenous to Croatia but gives best results when grown there.
Graševina has pleasant, fruity, and floral aromas; lively acidity; a mildly bitter finish; fullness; and harmony. Its wines range from sparkling dry (fresh—but also oaked) to semi-sweet and late harvest gems.
Pošip is a native Croatian grape grown exclusively on the island of Korčula. It achieves the best results in Smokvica and Čara, where it is cultivated extensively.
The best versions of varietal Pošip will be full-bodied with a perfect balance of alcohol and acidity. They are usually golden yellow with fruity aromas of apricots, almonds, Mediterranean herbs, figs, and citrus fruit.
Pošip wines are a perfect match to most Dalmatian dishes, especially fish and shellfish; aged versions can be paired well with octopus or veal.
2. Istarska Malvazija
Istarska malvazija is a white grape variety that is grown predominantly in Istria, where it is used for the production of varietals. These food-friendly wines are typically fresh and fruity with mineral notes and aromas of green apple, acacia blossoms, and apricots.
Although most varieties are enjoyed young, some producers age it for extended periods in oak barrels or amphorae to produce slightly different expressions.
Malvazija wines pair well with white fish such as sea bass, other types of seafood including mussels, and with various dishes prepared with the white Istrian truffle.
Plavac mali is a Croatian red grape variety that produces bold, powerful wines over-flowing with ripe fruit and high in tannins.
The best expressions come from the Pelješac peninsula, where it's traditionally paired with oily and barbecued fish, but it can hold up quite well with red meat, aged cheese, game, or hearty stews.
Croatian Wine Awards
Though Croatia has centuries-old winemaking traditions, an ideal climate for growing and a varied range of terroirs and native grape varieties, it’s only in the last decade or so that Croatian wines are beginning to take the spotlight.
In the past years, Croatian wines have been taking more and more awards in the Decanter World Awards which is considered the gold standard for the global industry.
In 2021, Croatian winemakers took three platinum and eight golds. In 2022 the Decanter judges have granted twice as many golds, along with an equal number of platinum.
Domestic winemakers claimed three platinum and 16 gold medals in an outstanding year for the industry.
Croatian wine has great potential and excellent wines. There are many positive things that indicate that Croatian wines will be on the level of their European colleagues, in some cases even surpassing them. It is worth noting the high quality of Croatian wines with the most important wine awards achieved by Croatian winemakers and their products.