Nenad Trifunovic

Istrian Grape Varieties and Styles

Roxanich winery near Motovun in Istria, Credits: Roxanich

From indigenous treasures like Malvasia Istriana and Teran to internationally acclaimed varieties such as Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, Istria’s vineyards offer a harmonious blend of tradition and innovation. Join us on a journey through the captivating world of Istrian grape varieties and styles.

Grape Varieties grown in Istria

Despite the differences in soil types (terra rossa and terre bianche) and climatic influences (Mediterranean and continental), in Istria, the main varieties are successfully grown in every Istrian vineyard area.

The essential indigenous varieties are:

  • Malvazija Istriana
  • Teran
  • Momjan Muscat
  • Moscato Rosa

The essential international varieties are:

  • Merlot
  • Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Sauvignon Blanc
  • Chardonnay

Malvasia Istriana

Amid the tapestry of terra rossa and terre bianche soils and the harmonious dance of Mediterranean and continental influences, Malvasia Istriana emerges as a star of tradition and innovation.

Malvasia Istriana proudly claims its place as a true Istrian variety with a deeply rooted origin. Its presence graces the terraced hills of the Croatian and Slovenian parts of Istria, extending its reach to Italian regions like Friuli and the Slovenian Karst, even touching the heart of the Vipava valley.

Within the mosaic of Istrian vineyards, Malvasia Istriana takes centre stage. Comprising nearly 60% of all cultivated varieties in Istria, it showcases its adaptability to a range of soils and exposures.

However, the hilly flysch landscapes, caressed by the southern and southeastern sun, reveal Malvasia’s full potential.

From these vines, winemakers coax wines of pale straw-yellow, kissed by a subtle hint of green. As the glass meets the nose, an array of aromas unfurl—floral notes reminiscent of acacia blossoms, the crispness of green apples, sometimes with the delicate presence of almonds.

With every sip, the palate encounters a rounded embrace, a harmony that dances with a refreshing touch.

Notable examples are many, and they will be listed in the next chapter – Different Styles of Malvasia Istriana.

Istria-Wine-Region-malvasia istriana
Malvasia Istriana grape, Credits:


A late-ripening Teran grape thrives in Istria’s sun-soaked embrace, bearing clusters adorned with densely packed, ruby-red berries. Robust and resistant, its skin shields the treasures within, awaiting the perfect moment to transform into a wine of exceptional quality.

Teran Vine’s journey is one of precision. It’s a delicate dance where the sun’s embrace can shape the future wine’s destiny, yet extreme intensity risks scorching its potential. Excessive humidity, too, is a cautious foe, threatening the grape’s purity with the lurking shadow of undesired botrytis.

When the stars align and the grapes reach their zenith of ripeness, a red wine of exquisite calibre takes form. With an alcohol content typically resting between 11 and 14%, the result is a crimson elixir that captivates the senses.

Teran’s allure lies in its specific hue—a red punctuated by vibrant purple reflections. The nose encounters a symphony of forest fruits, their sweetness intertwined with spice moments. Yet beneath the surface usually lies an earthy, irony mineral note—a testament to the soil that cradles its roots.

The marriage of naturally elevated acids and extracts yields a wine of unwavering structure—a solid body complemented by abundant but pleasing tannins that linger on the palate. This makes Teran the perfect companion to an array of red-wine dishes.

In the late 19th century, Teran presented nearly 90% of Istria’s vineyards, reigning as the sovereign grape variety of the land. Today, it remains a testament to Istria’s winemaking legacy, an embodiment of its terroir and a vessel that carries the essence of the land to the glass.

Notable examples:

Teran grape, Credits:

Momian Muscat

In the heart of Istria’s picturesque northwest lies a wine that’s as much a tribute to its variety as it is to its origin—Momjan Muscat. The name itself tells a story, intertwining the essence of the grape (Muškat/Moscato) with the geographical embrace of Momjanski/di Momiano, a tribute to the town of Momjan.

With its unique blend of climate, soil, and undulating landscapes, this corner of Istria provides a stage perfectly set for the cultivation of Muscat Blancà Petits Grains. A historical legacy echoes through time, as families of winegrowers from this very soil have nurtured this variety for generations.

Momjan Muscat has evolved alongside the hills of Momjan to claim its distinction as a separate variety. Its aroma, a delicate bouquet of wild carnations, roses, and sage, encapsulates the very essence of the land. Balanced even at the loftiest heights of sweetness, this wine carries an enchanting harmony, an equilibrium between the unfermented sugars and delicate freshness.

Yet, it’s the ethereal touch that genuinely sets Momjan Muscat apart. Grapes’ ideal ripeness, delicacy and weightlessness are a joy to the palate, leaving a lasting embrace that resonates with connoisseurs of sweet wines.

Notable examples:

Momian Muscat, Credits:

Moscato Rosa

This autochthonous grape variety flourishes in the heart of Poreč. Clusters of Moscato Rosa reveal their elegance in loose to medium-dense bunches, each weighing a gracious 100 to 150 grams. The berries themselves, round or slightly elliptical, bear a captivating mosaic of red and blue hues—a testament to the intricate play of nature. Their robust and inviting skin enfolds juicy flesh that releases sweet nectar infused with a delicate nutmeg essence.

But it’s the fragrance that truly captivates. A profusion of rose petals envelops the senses, an olfactory embrace that sets Moscato Rosa apart. This variety is a unique representative of the Vitis genus—it’s female flowering necessitating companions for pollination.

In bountiful years, Moscato Rosa bestows exceptional grape quality, a symphony of high sugar concentration. Yet, adversity in the form of grape rot can cast its shadow, leaving its mark on harvests. The wine’s hue, ranging from luminous red to ruby, mirrors the complexity within. A fine, distinct muscat aroma dances on the senses, an intricate weave of florals and fruits underscored by a whisper of rose.

Moscato Rosa usually seeks a touch of residual sweetness to achieve perfect harmony. The intricate floral-fruity bouquet finds its counterpart in a soft, rounded taste—a synergy that can be elusive in dry interpretation. A testament to favourable years, grapes can be dried to yield nectar of over 25% sugar nectar, resulting in a potent, semi-sweet elixir with 14-15% alcohol by volume.

Though scarce planting material and sensitivity may pose challenges, Moscato Rosa stands as the premier black muscat variety in Istria—a beacon of promise for the region’s viticultural future.

Notable Examples:

Moscato Rosa grape, Credits:

Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon

International grape varieties have found their voice in Istria. Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon have rooted deeply in Istria’s red soil and thrived under its nurturing conditions.

Merlot’s emergence as Istria’s most planted red variety is a testament to the land’s affinity for this grape. The terroir imparts a distinctive character to the grapes, elevating the varietal’s essence. Rich and velvety, Merlot wines emerge as a symphony of flavours, carrying the whispers of Istria’s soul within each sip.

Cabernet Sauvignon, a renowned globetrotter, finds a unique canvas in Istria. The climate and soil weave their magic here, shaping wines of depth and complexity. Even rarer yet equally persuasive, Cabernet Franc joins the Istrian ensemble, showcasing its potential in Legovina, Ferenac, and Degrassi bottles.

Yet, Istria’s prowess shines brightest in its symphonic blends. The fusion of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon results in the famed “Bordeaux blend,” an exquisite medley that captures the land’s essence while expressing each grape’s individuality. This harmony deepens further when hints of local varieties are introduced—a touch of Istria’s heart in every bottle.

The jest of “Superistrian” is no longer a mere play on words; it encapsulates the prowess of Istrian wines. A nod to the renowned Supertuscans, Istria’s own winemaking journey has brought forth wines that transcend labels, revealing the artistry of the land and its vintners.

Notable examples:

Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay

Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay are the most common out of numerous white varieties introduced in Istria.

Most wines achieve varietal recognition, often without the personality and finesse characteristic of the red wines of introduced varieties on the Istrian peninsula.

However, the achievements are promising field blends or blends of different vineyards and varieties.

Notable examples:

Different styles of Malvasia Istriana

Malvazija marked the wine scene of the whole of Croatia, and in recent years it has been breaking through local borders. With an abundant and lush harvest, it served as a simple wine for decades. Still, with the appearance of a new generation of modern winemakers in the mid-nineties, who significantly reduced the harvest, we discovered Malvasia reborn.


Young Malvasia Istriana

Istrian Malvazija emphasised its advantages with modern vinification. In Croatia, most Malvasias are stylistically determined as so-called young Malvasias. The cult of fresh Malvasia has taken root so much that bursting freshness is considered the most essential characteristic of Malvasia.

What Oz Clarke once called “clean&green” led to the affirmation of Malvasia almost exclusively in that style. Because of this market demand, many wineries have started making simple, seasonal wines designed for consumption as early as possible to preserve the primary fruitiness.

Notable Examples:


Aged Malvasia Istriana

Many winemakers persist in affirming the second category of Malvasia wines. These wines are considered aged Malvazija at the most crucial Istrian wine event, Vinistra.

As a rule, these wines undergo additional ageing in barrels, most often from oak but not infrequently from acacia wood.

Such Malvasias are structured and trained to, with some bottle time, develop a more profound balance than superficial freshness.

Notable Examples:

Istrian-Grape-Varieties Roxanich-Orange

Orange Malvasia Istriana

A growing number of Istrian wineries make their interpretation of the so-called orange or amber wines. Winemaker’s choice of duration and method of extended maceration determine the diversity in this category.

Most wines with shorter cold maceration (so-called cold soaking) or the like do not fall into this category. Still, numerous examples of spontaneous fermentation with more or less extreme skin contact certainly do.

For some wineries, the desire is to make the wine of the past, without the help of technology and especially chemistry during cultivation and processing, but still following modern purity requirements. For others, the ambition is to satisfy the growing market demand by meeting the lowest common criterion – orange colour.

Notable Examples:

Istrian-Grape-Varieties sparkling-Malvasia-CO

Sparkling Malvasia Istriana

Many winemakers take their Malvasia to nearby Valdobbiadene, where they make sparkling Malvasia using the Prosecco method in Autoclava tanks. The results are excellent. A sparkling drink reminiscent of Prosecco, but with a different aromatic profile.

Also, a certain number of winemakers spumantize Malvasia under their own direction, the Champagne method. Classic sparkling wine from Malvasia is a demanding endeavor that only the most experienced can succeed.

Notable Examples:

Istrian-Grape-Varieties Malvasia-Leonardo

Other Malvasia Istriana

There are those winemakers who never wanted to determine their wines in any of the mentioned typologies stylistically. These are either traditionalists who may have accepted some technological procedure to facilitate and better control the production of wine that is still in line, or interpreters of the variety who simply desire to express what they feel Malvasia Istriana is.

With these wines, you can feel the material, manifested best in the structure of the wine, easily expressed in the form of persistence and different balance on the palate, more medium body and different dynamics, with lower alcohol levels.

They are often spontaneously fermented and vinous in character because the controlled fermentation of the grapes might emphasise one aspect and neglect the other.

Notable Examples:

The Teran Dispute

In an ever-changing world, disputes such as this are constant. Since wine doesn’t know human-made borders, misunderstandings are inevitable in a small territory where cultural influences clash.

The Slovenian region of Kras (Carso) grows Refošk (Refosco) variety, and in their tradition, they call their gorgeous red wine – Teran. That name they officially protected as “Kraški teran” (Terrano del Carso, Teran from Kras).

Simultaneously, Istrians (Croatians, Slovene and Italian) grow a variety known as Teran (Terrano). Teran is an indigenous red grape variety from Istria, where it is widespread. 

The dispute is resolved so that both parties can use their tradition. As far as a consumer is concerned, the decision to move from a legal battle to the one in our glasses is most welcomed.

The range of wine styles made in Istria

In Istria, practically every wine style thrives:

  • Sparkling Wine,
  • Light-Bodied White Wine
  • Full-Bodied White Wine
  • Aromatic (sweet) White Wine
  • Rosé Wine
  • Light-to-Medium Bodied Red Wine
  • Full-Bodied Red Wine
  • Dessert Wine

Istrian Sparkling Wine

Istria’s winemakers not only produce still wines but also give birth to effervescent gems. Sparkling wines, with their lively bubbles, capture the celebratory spirit of the region, making every sip a joyous occasion.

It doesn’t have to be a Malvasia alone. Istria makes bubbles from orthodox sparkling wine varieties, especially Chardonnay:

Or even Teran, vinified as white wine:

  • Leonardo Palčić Giovanni

Or as a sparkling rose wine:

Not to forget the classics made with Pinot Noir:

Istrian Light-Bodied White Wine

Light white wines embody the essence of Istria’s Mediterranean charm. Delicate and refreshing, these wines are a testament to the land’s nurturing embrace.

Of course, Malvasia Istriana is the most popular option by far. Yet, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc accomplish the Istrian magic equally well, especially in blends.

But many other curiosities exist, including wine from Viognier or Pinot Blanc.

It is safe to say that Istrian most prominent wine style is not reserved for Malvasia Istriana alone, but Malvasia is, alone or in blends, an essential expression of Istrian wine.

Istrian Full-Bodied White Wine

For those seeking depth and complexity, Istria’s full-bodied white wines deliver. Dive in the depths and layers of flavour that accomplish the balance of place, variety and winemaker.

Most aged Malvasia Istriana wines are built to last. Some improve significantly with time in the bottle, achieving age-worthy expression. 

Regardless of the technique, when done meticulously from ideally ripe healthy grapes, Istrian white wines have proven they can achieve greatness.

Istrian Aromatic (Sweet) White Wine

This was traditionally one of the Istrian strong spots. Istria’s vineyards are not only home to dry whites but also to aromatic delights that tantalise the senses. These sweet wines are a melody of flavors, leaving an indelible impression.

The advantage lies in the tradition of making balanced sweet wines, from Momian Muscat to anywhere in Istria.Istrian-Grape-Varieties momian-muscat-sign

However, Mucat doesn’t have to be from Momian to excell. Muscat is a widely planted variety in Istria; in some instances, craftsmanship is tuned to perfection.

These highly awarded wines with more or less Muscat contributing, are a perfect example:

Istrian Rosé Wine

Another forte of Istria is a Rose. Istria’s rosé wines entwine elegance and vibrancy. Thanks to the vitality and other properties of Istrian red varieties, particularly Teran, Istria is ideal for making a refreshing rose.

Expect more body in a rose based on Teran but beautifully balanced with Teran’s naturally elevated acidity. The fragrance will be intensive but never aggressive, keeping everything in balance.

When other red varieties used for a Rose are in question, with hues ranging from pale pink to coral, these wines capture the idea of a refreshing rose:

Istrian Grape Varieties Rose Meneghetti

Istrian Light-to-Medium Bodied Red Wine

Istria’s red wines range from the delicate to the robust, offering options for every occasion. Light-bodied reds present a harmonious blend of flavour and finesse:

Istria’s medium-bodied red wines balance depth and approachability, inviting you to explore their nuances.

Expand your knowledge and taste:

Istrian Full-Bodied Red Wine

For connoisseurs of bold flavours, Istria’s full-bodied red wines stand as a testament to the region’s winemaking prowess. Robust and intense, they embody the land’s character with every sip:


Istrian Dessert Wine

The grand finale of Istria’s wine spectrum is its dessert wines. These luscious elixirs capture the essence of the sun-soaked grapes, offering a sweet conclusion to your journey through Istria’s terroir.

Since we covered the aromatic sweet white wine, let’s emphasise again the unique properties of Moscato Rosa wines:

  • Ritoša Dolce Amato

And as an alternative to sweet dessert wines, there is an actual Istrian take on Port style:

Or an extra dosage sparkling to lift the spirit after a good meal:


In Istria, a region where tradition and innovation converge, a remarkable array of grape varieties and wine styles await exploration.

Indigenous treasures like Malvasia Istriana, Teran, Momjan Muscat, and Moscato Rosa showcase the land’s character, while Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon bring international acclaim to Istria’s vineyards.

Malvasia Istriana takes centre stage, evolving from a simple wine to a reborn icon. Its expressions range from young and aged versions to orange and sparkling styles.

Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon thrive in Istria’s red soil, often blended to create wines that transcend labels, marrying tradition with modernity.

The diverse range of Istrian wines includes sparkling, white, aromatic sweet, rosé, red, and dessert styles, each capturing a unique facet of the region’s terroir.

These wines bear the marks of Istria’s history, disputes, and cultural influences, offering a sensory journey that embodies the region’s essence.

In summary, Istria’s wines are a harmonious blend of tradition and innovation, crafting a tapestry of flavours that tell the story of a land deeply rooted in winemaking excellence.

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