Croatian Wine – Everything You Need to Know
Croatian wines have won numerous international awards and accolades in recent years, making them some of the most sought-after wines in the world. Both blessing and curse, international recognition put Croatian wine in the spotlight but has also resulted in many misconceptions about Croatian wines.
We will deal with them here to help you understand Croatian wine in all its glory.
Are there good wines in Croatia?
The answer is definitely Yes! Croatia is historically a wine country and belongs to the same Old World tradition as most renowned wine countries. Although often neglected and conveniently perceived as an “emerging wine country” or similar, Croatian wines bring specific character and charm.
The climate and soil in Croatia are very diverse, which allows for a great variety of grape types and wine styles. All of the right ingredients for some truly amazing wines were always here.
Croatian Wine regions
To keep it simple, there are four major wine-growing regions in Croatia:
Each of these regions has its own distinct characteristics that make the wines from that region unique.
Wine, Croatia is famous for
So, let’s start with the basics. Croatian wines are made from indigenous grape varieties that have been cultivated in the country for centuries. The most common indigenous red grape variety is Plavac Mali, grown in Dalmatia, while the most popular white grapes are Grasevina, grown in Slavonia and Croatian Uplands.
Croatian grapes are grown by thousands of small winemakers, primarily family-owned. There are only a couple of larger wineries in Croatia. Here is the list of the top 10 varieties grown in Croatia.
Table: Share of Croatian Wine Varieties
|Share of Varieties
|The area under wine grape varieties
with PDO, ha
Most popular Croatian wine types and styles
- sparkling wine
- light-bodied, refreshing white wines
- lighter-bodied aromatic red wines
- full-bodied structured white wines
- full-bodied red wines
- amber/orange wines
- rose wines
- dessert wines
- fortified/aromatized wines
Croatia has the longest tradition of making sparkling wine in its northern parts – Upland Croatia. Sub-region of Plevišica is the most famous sparkling wine-producing area. This is especially the case with Method Champenoise, widely accepted and used in Plešivica. Most notable producers include:
Having said that, another region is also responsible for the growing number of sparkling wine labels. Istria is known for its white variety Malvasia and many producers are making sparkling wine of it, either using the Prosecco or Champenoise method.
Light-bodied, refreshing white wines
Now, here is the most popular refreshing style most Croatian prefer. It’s called Graševina, and it is made of the Grasevina grape. If you look at The Word Atlas of Wine and search Welschriesling, you will find the “see under Graševina ” notification. Nowhere in the world is this variety so domesticated and responsible for a spectrum of various quality wines, such as in Croatia. And to be fair, all other names, such as Riesling Italico, Olasrizling, and Laški Rizling, are misleading because this variety has nothing to do with the famous “Riesling.”
Every fourth vine grown in Croatia is Graševina, and most people love its refreshing, lighter-bodied presence. But there is another widely popular variety often made as refreshing lighter-bodied white wine – Malvasia Istriana.
While Graševina belongs to the inland part of Croatia, hills, and plains of Slavonia and Upland Croatia, Malvasia Istriana is an Istrian tradition, part of the Mediterranean, and sought out throughout the country.
Nowadays, some great labels of lighter-bodied Graševina worth mentioning are:
And, for a clean&green Malvasia Istriana, notable labels from wineries:
Lighter-bodied aromatic red wines
Power can be found in other aspects, not only in full-bodied red wines. Aromatic lighter-bodied red wines are what some people prefer, and there are great Croatian examples of those as well. One of the most popular is the ” Babić ” variety from Dalmatia.
Dalmatia is known for its abundance of sun and generally, you can expect a lot of body and alcohol in wine. There are exceptions, and when done without over-extraction and over-concentration, Babić can provide a delightful experience of Mediterranean character filled with marasca cherry flavors and a smooth finish. One of the most famous wines is conveniently named the Dalmatian Dog, providing great value for money.
Dalmatian coast has other lighter-bodied red wines providing refreshment and nourishment even during the hottest summers:
Most notable examples include:
The story doesn’t end here. The Istrian region produces some beautiful medium-bodied red wines with unique characteristics. Teran grape is known for its naturally higher acids and can achieve balanced medium-bodied red wines with red fruit aromatics and minerality in the aftertaste.
Most notable examples of Croatian Teran include:
And just across the Istrian peninsula, there is an exciting island Krk where an almost extinct variety thrives again. Have you tried Sansigot? Its ability to cool you down and get you intoxicated with less familiar scents and flavors is still unrevealed to the World due to the minimal quantity produced.
Most notable examples of Croatian Sansigot include:
Full-bodied structured white wines
Croatia is not only a land of lighter-bodied refreshing wines. There is a great deal of full-bodied structured white wines as well. Many of them originate in the continental part of Croatia and are made of the same grape responsible for lighter whites – the Grasevina grape.
Dalmatia is home to Pošip, Maraština, and Grk, all indigenous varieties able to produce structured white wine.
The most notable examples of Graševina include wineries:
The most notable examples of Pošip include:
The most notable examples of Maraština include:
The most notable examples of Grk include:
Full-bodied red wines
Full-bodied reds are what Croatia is most known for. The climate is perfect for growing grapes that produce big wines. The most planted and the most popular variety is Plavac Mali coming from Dalmatia.
Plavac Mali produces some of the most appreciated wine in Croatia when grown in traditionally best positions.
Increasingly crucial after the discovery of its genetic connection to Californian Zinfandel, an old variety known as Tribidrag or Crljenak Kaštelanski is becoming more and more recognized. Native to Dalmatia, it produces wines of power, concentration, fruit character, and aging potential.
The most notable examples of Plavac Mali include:
- Korta Katarina,
- Saints Hills,
The most notable examples of Tribidrag or Crljenak include:
Other Croatian regions have their favorites regarding full-bodied, big red wines, especially the sub-region of the Danube in Slavonia and Istria.
Have you heard about the fourth wine color? This movement hasn’t skipped Croatian winemakers. In fact, some of the best Croatian wineries are fermenting wines in Georgian amphorae. Some even without the help of sulfur in the process. The result is unique, living wines with unusual scents and flavors.
This approach, to be true to its concept, requires organic farming. An effort most welcomed and embraced by more and more Croatian wineries.
Must try Croatian amber/orange wines, including:
- Tomac Marany
- Boškinac Ocu
- Krauthaker Kuvlakhe Graševina
- Kosovec Škrlet Selekcija
- Jagunić Amber Traminac
- Šember Qvevri
- Miloš Stalagmit
- Crvik Blasius
- Bolfan Primus Natura
- Trapan Istraditional
- Roxanich Sara 3/6
Croatian rose wines
Rose wines are getting more and more popular. Modern Croatian rose wines manage to find the perfect balance of being refreshing, easy to drink, and having just enough body and flavor to satisfy your taste buds.
Making a rose wine in Croatia is not a recent thing, but the increasing popularity of rose wines and success in making them have made many Croatian wineries pursue their take on rose.
Therefore, there are as many different styles and expressions as there are wineries that make rose wine.
These rose wines represent the most distinctive styles:
- Miloš Stagnum Rose
- Ante Sladić Lasina Opol
- Roxanich Portorose
- Domaine Koquelicot Koquette
- Delusional Wine Rose
- Senjković Spoža
- Bolfan Rose
Croatian dessert wines can be made of indigenous or international varieties, ranging from late harvest to ice wines. For example, Ilok winery from the Danube sub-region in Slavonia makes Traminac, known as Gewurztraminer, in 6 styles:
- dry or off-dry,
- late harvest,
- berry harvest,
- selected berry harvest,
- selected dried berry harvest, and
Other famous Croatian sweet wines come from the Istria region. Muscat/Moscato is mainly used to make dessert wine in Istria.
Also, Dalmatia was traditionally famous for making its “prošek” wine. It is a wine made of dried grapes (sometimes left to dry on the vine) and usually a blend of several varieties. It is difficult to find a traditional “prošek” wine, yet these producers make tiny quantities of this precious wine:
Croatian sweet wines can rival some of the great dessert wine producers in the world, which was proven on several occasions at most prestigious wine evaluations.
Fortified / Aromatized wines
There is little or literally no tradition of making fortified wine in Croatia. The closest thing to it is hard to consider comparable to known fortified wines. One exception is quite a recent accomplishment from Roxanich winery called Porat Antenal, Madeira style fortified wine made from Cabernet Sauvignon.
There is, however, a long tradition of making “Bermet.” It is an aromatized wine made in the Samobor area in Croatian Uplands, and it is different from the wine of the same name made in Serbia. Samobor Bermet is an aromatic wine of sweet-bitter taste made of selected grape varieties. It is best as an aperitif or after a good meal as a digestive. The production of Bermet is a well-kept secret, which has been passed down in Filipec`s family from one generation to the other for more than two centuries.
What is Croatian wine like?
Croatian wine has gained increasing recognition and appreciation for its diversity and quality. While general public opinion may vary, the overall perception of Croatian wine has been steadily improving, with many wine enthusiasts and experts recognising Croatia as a wine-producing country with unique offerings. Here are some key points to consider when discussing the general public opinion about Croatian wine:
- Geographic Diversity: Most important factor is Croatia’s diverse geography, ranging from the Adriatic coast to the continental regions, provides an ideal climate for grape cultivation. Different regions within the country offer distinct microclimates and soil compositions, resulting in a wide variety of grape varietals and wine styles. In fact, only the greatest Old World wine countries, such as Italy, France, Spain, and Greece, have a greater diversity of wines.
- Indigenous Grape Varieties: One of the notable aspects of Croatian wine is the abundance of indigenous grape varieties. Croatia has more than 130 registered grape varieties, some of which are found only in the country. This adds to the appeal and intrigue of Croatian wine for wine lovers seeking uniqueness. Not every variety could be found in commercially available bottles as a monovarietal wine, but many can.
- Rich History: Entire area of today’s Croatia has a long and rich winemaking history that dates back thousands of years. Wine production in Croatia can be traced to ancient times, with evidence of grape cultivation and winemaking techniques passed down through generations.
- Quality and Terroir: Croatian winemakers have been increasingly focusing on quality production, paying attention to terroir (the combination of soil, climate, and vineyard location) to express the true characteristics of the grapes and the regions they come from. This commitment to quality has led to many unique wines representing their heritage and complexity.
- Cultural Significance: Wine has deep cultural roots in Croatia, playing a significant role in traditional customs and celebrations. This cultural connection adds an extra layer of appreciation and interest for those interested in exploring Croatian wine and its history.
- Increasing Export: Croatian wines are being increasingly exported to international markets, introducing a wider audience to the country’s wine offerings. Expanding export markets have allowed Croatian wines to reach wine lovers worldwide and contribute to the positive public opinion surrounding them. On the other hand, due to winemaking circumstances, particularly many small wineries making small quantities of wine, Croatian wines are generally not price competitive. Their value is often greater than their price, but they typically can’t compete with massive wineries.
- Wine Tourism: Croatia is one of the most attractive tourist destinations in the World. With visitors attracted to the scenic vineyards, wine cellars, and tasting experiences, Croatia’s wine regions have seen a rise in wine tourism. Even if that is not the case, most hotels and restaurants offer Croatian wine to their guests, thus satisfying the demand of nearly 20 million tourists annually.
- International Recognition: Croatian wines have gained recognition internationally, earning accolades and awards at prestigious wine competitions. This recognition has helped raise the profile of Croatian wine and generate positive public opinion globally.
What is “black wine” in Croatia?
Croatians use the term “crno vino” which translates as “black wine” for the red wine. Even though in all major European languages, red wine is called “red” (Rotwein, Vin Rouge, Vino Rosso), in Croatian, it is “black.”
Could the reason for this be the very dark rich color of most Croatian red wine? It is possible. It is also possible that the term “black wine” was used as the opposite of “white wine.”
Regardless, expect Croatian red wine to be rich, full-bodied, and opaque.
What Croatian wine is like Sauvignon Blanc?
Even Croatian Sauvignon Blanc is different, embodying characteristics of specific origin and climate conditions. However, one popular variety is often compared with Sauvignon Blanc, and this is Malvasia Istriana.
To all seeking a Sauvignon Blanc experience beyond apples and apricot flavors, it’s well worth tasting some of the Croatian Sauvignon Blancs. If you are looking for a substitute or comparable wine from an indigenous variety, Malvasia Istriana could be the answer.
If you are looking for where to buy Croatian wine to compare with Sauvignon Blancs from New Zealand, South Africa, Chile, or French Sancerre, for that matter, feel free to contact Wine&More, and we could assist you depending on your country of residence.
What Croatian wine resembles Riesling?
None! Croatian winemakers produce Riesling wines, but other than misleading alternative names for the most famous Croatian variety, Graševina has nothing to do with the Riesling. For a long time, Graševina was called by its other names, such as Welschriesling or Olasrizling. Although Graševina is very versatile and able to achieve all types of wine, from sparkling to ice-harvest sweet wines, it has nothing else in common with the famous German Riesling.
If you are looking to buy Croatian Riesling wine to compare with Rieslings from Australia, Austria, or Germany, feel free to contact Wine&More, and we could assist you depending on your country of residence.
What Croatian wine is like red Bordeaux?
There are several Bordeaux blends with Croatian twists that are worth comparing to the finest Bordeaux wines, and there is one crucial Croatian variety usually described with terms reserved for Bordeaux reds. The wines made of Plavac Mali are usually big, full-bodied, and tannic. Aromatically, think of dark fruit and carob, sage, and dried figs.
However, Plavac mali is very much Mediterranean in character and flavors. It could show some earthiness, but it will express its minerality very differently from Bordeaux varieties. Aging potential is now proven as the best Plavac wines can improve in the bottle after 20 years of cellaring.
One more issue needs to be addressed if you haven’t encountered Plavac Mali before – it’s usually “love or hate” wine. To many, naturally high tannins can be overwhelming, and often low acids can result in flabby wine. This can be overcome by growing in the best position and achieving balance in the vineyard. The best winemakers will use traditional methods and avoid over-extraction.
If you are looking for where to buy Croatian wine to compare with Bordeaux blends from all over the World, feel free to contact Wine&More, and we could assist you depending on your country of residence.
What Croatian wine is like Chardonnay?
Chardonnay-like can have many meanings because Chardonnay is one of the most planted varieties in the world, but let’s assume this term refers to a structured white wine that undergoes malolactic fermentation and is aged in wooden barrels. This might be the reason why some compare Croatian wine made from Pošip grape to Chardonnay.
Pošip is grown on sun-drenched Dalmatian soil, and despite having a unique aromatic profile of Mediterranean herbs and spices, it does benefit from aging in wooden barrels. Although not necessarily undergoing malo, the acids are naturally softer, and alcohol can be quite high.
Best examples of balanced Pošip wines can be compared to some Chardonnay wines in terms of aging potential as well, but this is where similarities end. Pošip is uniquely Croatian, and many Croatian Chardonnays are also unique in their merit.
If you want to buy Croatian Chardonnay wine to compare with California, Argentina, Australia, or any other, feel free to contact Wine&More. We could assist you depending on your country of residence.
We could go on and on about Croatian wine, but we’ll leave it here for now. If you’re looking for a unique wine experience, give Croatian wine a try. You might be pleasantly surprised. Cheers!