Nenad Trifunovic

16 Best Dalmatian Wine Varieties

Dalmatian Wine Varieties animationWe could easily list much more from 16 Dalmatian wine varieties. All of them are considered indigenous and all of them are commercially grown.

Diversity is a key feature of Croatian wines, and this is especially true in the case of Dalmatia. Most of these varieties do not exist anywhere else in the world. 

They are an important part of the culture in Dalmatia. They are heritage preserved as much as they are a tasty treat to a dinner.

Key Feature of Dalmatian Grape Varieties

DalmatiaThe Dalmatian coast has been cultivating vines since the time of the ancient Greeks and Romans, leading to the development of unique local wine varieties. This sun-drenched area along the Adriatic Sea provides an ideal terroir for a variety of indigenous grapes that have adapted to its rocky terrains and maritime climate.

The Dalmatian wine region is shaped by its proximity to the Adriatic Sea and a Mediterranean climate, with specific areas such as the Pelješac Peninsula and Komarna, or Vis island, adding unique aspects to its terroir.

Terroir signifies the environmental conditions in which grapes are grown, including soil, topography, and climate. In Dalmatia, there’s a rich mosaic of terroirs. 

The best way to introduce them is through the finely crafted wines.

Dalmatian White Varieties

Although Plavac mali (red grape) is by far the most represented variety in Dalmatia and the most important red variety of Croatia, the wealth of Dalmatia is distinguished by a variety of white varieties.

Despite tradition, many Dalmatian white varieties are proven excellent for crisp and fresh easy-drinking white wines.

Traditionally, of course, the climatic conditions determine powerful fuller-bodied whites.


Dalmatian Wine Varieties Posip

Pošip (POH-ship) is the most planted white variety in Dalmatia today. However, that wasn’t the case historically. Pošip variety was recognized and protected in 1967. on the south-Dalmatian island Korčula as the first Croatian white wine with denomination of origin.

It was accidentally discovered and grown only on the Korčula island. Today it has spread all over Dalmatia.

As a consequence, Pošip varies greatly in taste depending on the particular terroir where it is cultivated, and the winemaking style.

Modern Pošip wines tend to be lighter in body, refreshing, and fruity. While the traditional style is more opulent, and higher in alcohol, it can still be very much balanced and with more herbal aromatic profile.

Pošip enjoys aging in wood, and there are even several “sur lie” notable mentions. Yet, many Pošip wines are made in inox tanks under temperature-controlled fermentation conditions.

Regardless of the style, Pošip is suitable for aging in the bottle. The potential of Pošip in that sense is not yet investigated thoroughly.

Most Pošip wines pair beautifully with flavorful seafood pasta dishes.


Photo credits: Edi Maletić

Vugava (WOO-gah-vah) or Bugava variety is still a synonym for the charming island of Vis.

Because of some similarities, it was thought for a long time that Vugava is perhaps the same variety as the French Viognier. That connection was disproved.

This means Vugava is of unknown origin and one of the jewels of Dalmatian biodiversity. It is gradually spreading from its native island, but it is very far from the popularity of Pošip.

Nevertheless, Vugava is long known for its qualities, versatility in gastronomy, and overall potential. 

Vugava creates a structured white wine, with a firm body and uniquely Mediterranean aromatics. Fruit is usually backend with medicinal herbs and honeyed aromas. Vugava is beautiful when young, but it can also deepen with some age in the bottle.

Devoted to the remote island of Vis is the winery Vislander. VIslander makes their Vugava in several different vinifications:

Vislander Bugava is a fresh Vugava fermented in inox.

Bugava Antique is a modern reinterpretation of tradition. Still fresh and easy-drinking, with a touch of cold soaking before and gentle battonage after fermentation in steel tanks. 

Bugava Premier is the most prestigious one, a more structured expression of a variety, but still in a refreshing manner, with subtly intoxicating aromatics of stone fruit (pear, quince) and herbs (thyme, sage) touched by flowery and honeyed flavors.

Most Vugava wines pair beautifully with seafood, anything from raw sea urchin to seafood risotto, sprinkled with some goat cheese for example.


Photo Credits: Edi Maletić

Debit (DEH-bit) derives its name from times when peasants were required to pay taxes to the governing body. To settle the debt (debitum, lat.), wine from this variety was accepted. 

Debit was a very widespread variety in Dalmatia, especially in the northern part.

Although tradition imposes a style of what is today known as an amber, or orange wine, it seems as if Debit is the best when refreshingly young, slightly greenish with a zingy citrus profile. 

Little or no skin contact with temperature-controlled vinification in steel tanks proved ideal for Debit variety. The result is a light approachable, relaxing experience that still holds a distinct profile. 

Alcohol tends to be much lower compared to other Dalmatian wines. But that is not the only reason why one of the most important persons for Debit revitalization, Alen Bibich, in a joke called Debit an isotonic beverage.

Try it with oysters when very young or with the grilled sea bass or sea bream.

Maraština / Rukatac

Photo Credits: Edi Maletić

Maraština (mah-rah-shtee-nah) or Rukatac indeed is a part of the Dalmatian heritage as it was once the most widespread white variety in Dalmatia.

It is considered indigenous, although it is established that it is in fact the same variety as Pavlos in Greece or Malvasia bianca lunga in Italy.

As it is with other ancient varieties, it is impossible to discover the exact origin. Luckily, it is more important to discover the wines it gives.

Maraština is more suited for structured, age-worthy white wines. It can appear more robust with a bigger body and higher alcohol, but it can also be made as a refreshing sip.

As a result, in a quest to make refreshing white wine suitable for summer sipping, Maraština is often blended with Debit or another variety of more pronounced freshness. That is more so in the northern Dalmatia.

In the southern part, it is often called Rukatac, and it is commonly made as a refreshing white. Yet, there are several examples of very successful “traditional take” on Maraština (Rukatac) in making today’s popular orange wine.

Maraština is normally less expressive in terms of showcasing fruits and flowers. However, Maraština can express the Mediterranean medicinal herbs and minerality. 

Pair Maraština with black risotto with squid ink, boiled seashells, or grilled sardines.


Photo Credits: Edi Maletić

Grk (gerk) is a true wonder from many perspectives. Now, Grk is a hit and probably the most sought-after white varietal wine from Dalmatia. Sure, Grk is distinctive enough.

But it is also very rare. At least it used to be. The rapid popularity of Grk in recent years has created such a demand that cannot be satisfied by traditional minuscule production.

As a result, Grk expanded from its original place – a small Lumbarda field on the island of Korčula.

It’s the unique terroir of that sandy field that gives the variety its attributes. Grk was traditionally an intoxicating and powerful aromatic wine, but with good balance despite very high alcohol.

Today, even the Lumbarda producers are inclined to make the more refreshing style, but the power of Grk aromatic richness cannot be undone.

And beyond the borders of this tiny place, anything can happen. However, more and more devoted winemakers are adopting Grk and currently planting it everywhere. Good news for only a female flowering variety.

Melon, pear, hints of honey, and flowery, Grk express a unique aromatic profile. Structurally, it’s a succulent bite of wine opulency suitable for developing with time. Yet, due to its popularity and seductive nature, a rare few will remain unopened long enough.

Grk can be paired with heavier dishes, past with salmon, even pork loin.


Photo credits: R.Ozimec

Kujunduša (koo-yoon-zhu-shah) is another ancient Dalmatian variety that thrives due to modern winemaking. Kujundžuša is a tradition of the Dalmatian hinterland, especially in the Imotski area.

Delicate and refreshing, Kujundžuša may be difficult to pronounce, but it is super-easy to drink. Light body and tonic-like aromatics distinguish Kujudžuša from other Dalmatian or Croatian varieties.

In the past, it was done with prolonged skin contact following the tradition. Modern winemaking turned oxidized amber-like wine into transparent beauty.

Naturally lower acidity combined with temperature-controlled vinification creates a delicate structure. The result is a thirst quencher often served as an aperitif. 

Nice and cold, Kujundžuša pairs well with seafood appetizers, but also with lobster or shrimp.


Photo credits: Edi Maletić

Bogdanuša (bohg-dah-noo-shah) translates to “god-given”. This ancient pride of the Hvar island was nourished on today’s UNESCO UNESCO-protected World Heritage Site. Stari Grad (Old Town) plain is the oldest continuously planted vineyard in the world.

Here, since ancient Greeks, vines were grown and wine being made. Today Bogdanuša is crisp and delicious, reborn in the style that suits the variety the most.

Bogdanuša is usually greeny-yellow wine, light and fresh, low in alcohol, citrusy aromatic with floral accent.

Cold seafood salads, fish carpaccio or boiled fish are most perfect pairing with Bogdanuša.

Malvasia Dubrovačka

Photo credits: Edi Maletić

Malvasija (mal-vah-see-ya) is different from Malvazija (mal-vah-zee-ya). Malvazija is actually Malvasia Istriana, an indigenous white grape of the Istrian peninsula. Dubrovnik Malvasija is actually the same variety as Malvasia delle Lipari.

However, it is also a part of the cultural heritage of winemaking in the Dubrovnik area since forever and thus considered indigenous. 

Ripe fruitness and opulency, with an important touch of intoxicating floral scent, are notorious features of this variety. 

Many modern-made examples also showcase the complexity of this low-yielding variety. Alcohols are usually higher and color golden yellow.

Due to its nature, Malvasija Dubrovačka pairs excellent with a riverfish, or a veal. 


Photo credits: Edi Maletić

This demanding variety has also recently been revitalized. Zlatarica is indigenous in the Dalmatian hinterland, especially in the Vrgorac area.

Very delicate in the vineyard, shows similar delicacy in the wine glass.

Lean body with a citrusy heart, Zlatarica shows dynamic on the palette and fresh character. This seductive summer sipper as we know it today was almost extinct.

Thanks to a vision of a few winemakers, Zlatarica was revitalized and commercially grown.

Zlatarica will pair beautifully with fish spread or a pate.

Dalmatian Red Varieties

Most of the world separates white and red grapes. In Dalmatia, grapes are white or black. It’s not “red wine”, or “rotwein”, or “vino rosso”, or “vin rouge”. It is “crno vino” which translates as black wine.

And when you have some of the typical “black wine” in your glass you notice how it’s very untransparent. Cannot see through. Not all, but most of Dalmatian reds are untransparent.

The color tone could be reddish, blueish, purple, or darker, but in most cases, red wines are tough to see through and appear more black than red.

And yes, many red wines are thick and heavy. However, the finest achieve that unique balance that enables wine lovers to enjoy unique aromatics without overpowering them.

Plavac Mali

Photo credits: Edi Maletić

Plavac Mali (Plah-vatz Mah-lee) is the most planted red variety in Croatia. The entire Dalmatian region celebrates their Plavac mali. 

With Plavac Mali we can witness exactly how terroir and microclimate conditions influence the grape, and consequently, the wines.

Bold, strong, and tannic, Plavac Mali is no toy. But, when done right, Plavac can achieve greatness unlike any other Croatian variety.

The aromatic profile is different. Many orthodox Plavac wines express unique aromas reminiscent of carob, sage, and dried figs, but also either red or darker fruit, or both.

Plavac is known for producing rich wines high in alcohol, but low in acids. Therefore, a balanced Plavac Mali wine is an achievement.

If not grown in ideal conditions, Plavac Mali is notorious among winegrowers for its uneven ripening properties – a grape cluster with both green berries and raisins. If left to ripen fully, the tannins and sugars will be even higher, but the acids will drop. This is one of the reasons why Plavac Mali is a challenge for the winemakers.

Plavac Mali differs depending on the specific terroir, and growing conditions of course, including the desired style.

Triple insolation Plavac Mali

Traditionally, the best vineyard positions for Plavac Mali were considered to be the southern slopes of Dalmatian islands and land. Such are the southern positions on Pelješac peninsula (famous Dingač and Postup), southern slopes on the island of Hvar (Ivan Dolac, Sveta Nedjelja), southern slopes of Brač island (Murvica, Stipančić), now slopes of Komarna etc.

This is the story of triple insulation. It says Plavac receives the sun directly, reflecting from the white stone in the topsoil, and reflecting from the sea.

With an increase in dry periods and climate change, this very feature proves more a disadvantage than an advantage.

However, above mentioned most famous positions differ from each other. For example, Plavac from Komarna apellation is rarely overripe though it is often very concentrated and tannic, but balanced.

The same is showing for Plavac from Stipančić position on the Brač island.

Plavac Mali from Vis Island

favourite-island-wine-Vis-4-single-vineyardsTraditionally, it was known that Plavac Mali from Vis island can hold extremely high alcohol better than any other Plavac. This means, that Plavac Mali wine from the island of Vis could be in balance even at 16,5% alc.!

Vis Island is truly different from other Dalmatian islands. Not only because it is remote, but also because there are few if any vineyards on the southern slopes overseeing the Adriatic.

Most of Vis island’s vineyards are inside the island, on the carst fields. And, each field carries different information to the grape grown.

Ideal examples are the four different Plavac Mali wines, made by Vislander winery:

Plavac Mali from Korčula

Korčula is also different from other Dalmatian islands. It is covered with plenty of forests, so it earned the name “black island”. And Korčula is a black island of white wines. That is also untypical for Dalmatia because Plavac Mali is usually the most planted variety.

For example, Plavac Mali from Lumbarda was greatly different in style and character. It carried the same recognizable aromatic profile, only in a much thinner body. The tannins are also softer and the weight is supported by lively freshness, often a crucial issue for Plavac Mali.

Plavina / Plavka

Photo credits: Edi Maletić

Plavina (plah-vee-nah) is, after Plavac Mali, the second most planted red variety in Dalmatia. There are similarities between Plavina and Plavac Mali, but Plavina is generally softer, and not as full-bodied, balanced, and versatile red wine.

Plavac and Plavina are close relatives, both are offspring of Tribidrag (or Crljenak Kaštelanski) who became famous under the name Zinfandel.

In the northern Dalmatia, Plavina is increasingly used in blends, or as a Rose wine. However, more and more is Plavina recognized as a Dalmatian take on Mediterranean red wine in character, only lighter and balanced.

Tribidrag / Crljenak Kaštelanski

Photo credits: Edi Maletić

Tribidrag or Crljenak Kaštelanski (tser-yen-ack Kah-shtel-lahn-skee) is a “rediscovered” grape. In all honesty, it would probably be extinct by now in Dalmatia, if it weren’t for the discovery.

In 2001. it was discovered that the famous Zinfandel is in fact, genetically identical to Tribidrag.

With origins of Zinfandel revealed in an obscure and forgotten grape, many started to think are there more of such biological treasures in the old Croatian vineyards?

Also, many have decided to plant the Tribidrag to discover its potential. As it shows so far, it is much fruitier in profile than its offspring Plavac Mali.Though, it is also less jammy compared to many Californian examples. 

So, what you can expect from Tribidrag is a full-bodied red, a concentration of fruitness, spiciness, good tannin and overall structure for aging, and sometimes a minerality in the aftertaste.


Photo credits: Edi Maletić

Babić (bahb-itch) is very common last name in Croatia. It is also a very popular variety.

However, the Babić variety was historically almost exclusive to tiny pieces of land in the Primošten area. The most famous would be Bucavac (across the Primošten town), with old bushes on a fistful of earth stolen from the stone that was then used to form stone lace on the ground.

To this day, Babić is mostly grown only in Šibenik county in northern Dalmatia. Little black giant from Primošten inspired winemakers to recreate the ideal. That ideal would be The Babić. A mythical red wine elixir.

Despite the myth, Babić is not necessarily a full-bodied thick red wine of impenetrable color. It is a variety of grace and delicate beauty with an aromatic profile pinpointing unique marasca cherry fruit.

Certainly, there are examples of more concentrated and overripe fruitness, but Babić is somehow always elegant. With preserved freshness, and not as tannic. 

Rich mouthfeel with earthiness and minerality in the aftertaste, but not too heavy to the palate – that is a Babić wine of ideal balance.


Photo credits: Edi Maletić

Lasina (lah-see-nah) is something completely different. This variety doesn’t achieve the wines one would normally expect in Dalmatia.

Probably every region in the world has it’s own “Pinot Noir” and Lasina would be the “Dalmatian Pinot Noir”.

If all it takes are silky tannins, transparent color, and a lighter body, then of course. It is more similar to Pinot Noir than any other Dalmatian variety.

However, Lasina is quite unique. Beneath the gentle texture is a dried (red) fruit and floral substance, juiciness that disperses on the palate, and spicy aftertaste.

The reason why Lasina is a very rare find lies in the endemic properties of the region it grows in. Lasina is almost exclusive to the Plastovo region in northern Dalmatia or other inland parts of the Dalmatian hinterland. It benefits from continental climate influences and diurnal temperature differences in these areas.

It is usually blended with other varieties, but there are a couple of commercial winemakers making it as a monovarietal wine.


Photo credits: Edi Maletić

Dobričić (Doh-bree-cheech) came to the spotlight at the same time when Tribidrag was discovered to be genetically identical to Zinfandel. In a quest to find the other parent of Plavac Mali, Dobričić was the answer.

Dobričić truly shares many of the same characteristics with Plavac Mali, but with the latest genetic markers, the direct parental connection was abandoned.

Its dark color was historically used to improve the desired appearance of lighter-colored red wines. There are also plenty of tannins, and low acids, similar to Plavac grape.

Unlike Tribidrag, Dobričić is hard to find except on Šolta island. Considered native to Šolta, Dobričić is slowly becoming one of the signature grapes of Dalmatia, with its earthy notes, balsamic presence, and mineral finish.


Photo credits: Edi Maletić

Mineral and savory, Darnekuša is truly a rare variety. Structurally different from what is expected in Dalmatia, Darnekuša was traditionally used to improve the lack of acidity in Plavac Mali wine from Hvar.

Less colored, more freshness and vitality (Darnekuša wines were proven to deepen and develop with aging in bottle), Darnekuša is an elegant counterpart to often robust Dalmatian reds.

Since there are less than 4 ha of total Darnekuša plantings registered, no wonder there are few monovarietal wines available on the market.

Final Comments

Although 16 is no small number for such a small region in the global context, that number is far from final. 

There are numerous more varieties in Dalmatia alone, and many are destined to great success. White variety Prč from the island of Hvar, or red variety Trnjak from the Dalmatian hinterland (and Herzegovina) comes to mind.

Yet, this list alone tells about the biodiversity of Dalmatia, and Croatian wine, and also its distinctiveness.

These qualities are to be preserved and nurtured to contribute to and enrich the world.

Spread the word.

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