Valentina Silovic

Top 5 Croatian Zinfandel Wines

Among many native Croatian wines, one varietal, in particular, stands out. Due to groundbreaking DNA research confirming Zinfandel’s Croatian origin, this varietal is reviving in Dalmatia’s vineyards.

Croatian winemakers are making exceptional Zinfandel wines that rival the best in the world. This article will explore the top five Croatian Zinfandel wines, showcasing their unique flavors and qualities!

Zinfandel – the mysterious origin revealed

Groundbreaking research conducted in the mid-90s sparked interest in the genetic profiles of wine varieties as scientists sought to uncover the origins of popular grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Chardonnay. However, one variety eluded them: Zinfandel. That is, until a chance exchange of information between leading grape geneticist professor Carole Meredith and renowned California winemaker of Croatian descent Miljenko Grgich.

After centuries of speculation, the mystery of the Zinfandel origin has finally been solved. This popular red grape variety was long considered the beloved American native variety. But researchers discovered that Croatian Crljenak (that also goes by the names Tribidrag and Pribidrag in Croatia) is the original Zinfandel.

The discovery has profoundly impacted the local wine industry, inspiring a wave of enthusiasm among winemakers. Over the past decade, the number of Crljenak vines has grown from just a few dozen in old vineyards to approximately 350,000, planted across some 250 hectares throughout the Dalmatia wine region

It has been discovered that when grown in favorable locations, Croatian Zinfandel can produce perfectly balanced and rich red wines characterized by Mediterranean character and fruity freshness at the same time.

It is not limited to just one or two vineyards, as it is almost equally successful in the Zadar wine-growing region and the Pelješac peninsula, two Dalmatian sub-regions. This is another advantage that allows for serious development in the future. The aging potential of red Croatian Zinfandel that can be found on the market these days is so good that it would be worth focusing on that type of wine.

Due to historical significance, in the Dalmatia wine region, winemakers use different synonyms connected to Zinfandel, namely:

  • Tribidrag: the oldest name for Croatian Zinfandel, first mentioned in the 15th century;
  • Pribidrag: name used in Omiš sub-region; 
  • Crljenak Kaštelanski: where in a small vineyard plot located in Kaštela near Split, old Zinfandel vines were initially discovered;

Other synonyms of European Zinfandel are Primitivo in Italy’s Puglia region and Kratošija in Montenegro and North Macedonia. 

Let’s uncover the top 5 Croatian Zinfandel wines.

Bedalov Castel Zinfandel

Bedalov winery, Castel ZInfandel

Nestled on the highest slopes overlooking Kaštela bay lies Bedalov winery, a family-owned winery where “the wine is made in the vineyard” takes on a new meaning. Here, winemaking is not just a profession, it’s a way of life passed down from generation to generation.

Jakša Bedalov, the current owner and winemaker, follows the footsteps of his forefathers, nurturing native grape varieties such as:

  • Crljenak (Zinfandel), 
  • Dobričić, 
  • Plavac Mali, and 
  • Maraština. 

But it’s not just about the grapes, it’s also about the ecosystem that surrounds them. Bedalov winery emphasizes enabling the natural environment to thrive, creating a sustainable ecosystem that benefits the vines and the surrounding flora and fauna. 

From carefully selecting cover crops to meticulous soil management, every aspect of the vineyard is designed to promote a healthy, balanced ecosystem. The result is some of the most exquisite Croatian wines that perfectly reflect the terroir, vintage, and grape variety. But what makes Bedalov wines genuinely exceptional is that the winemaker fades into the background, allowing the natural beauty of his wines to shine through.

Tasting notes

A balanced and flavorful wine has been crafted by one of the top winemakers in the Kaštela wine-growing region. The wine is rich in red and dark fruit aromas with an aftertaste that combines ethereal resin and mineral salt. Despite its high nutritional value and extraction, the wine achieves a harmonious balance that is an authentic expression of the variety and the terroir.

The intense aroma of baked cherries is the star, with subtle spicy undertones and a hint of wood in the background. The taste is marked by high concentration and full ripeness, rich and dense texture, lively and pleasantly accentuated acidity, and a spicy warmth in the finish. This powerful wine is almost liqueur-like, yet easy-drinking and in balance. This wine represents a true testament to the skill and expertise of the winemaker, who has succeeded in creating a bold and balanced wine without any hint of heaviness.

Benmosche Zinfandel

Former MetLife CEO Robert Benmosche traded in his corporate career to pursue his passion for winemaking and has since made waves in the industry with his top-quality Croatian wines. 

After building up a wine collection of several thousand bottles, Benmosche was inspired to create his own Zinfandel during a trip to Dubrovnik. He purchased land on the Pelješac peninsula, where the Plavac Mali grape thrives, and planted his vineyard. 

Interestingly, research later revealed that Zinfandel and Crljenak Kaštelanski are genetically identical, adding to the appeal of Benmosche’s wines. Today, his vineyards in Dingač and Viganj appellations produce exceptional wines using traditional techniques, aged for 12 months in barrique barrels and a further 18 months in the bottle. 

Benmosche’s success story is a testament to the rewards of following one’s passion and taking risks to pursue a dream.

Tasting notes

This irresistible red wine boasts a stunning dark red color with a slightly brown edge. Its bouquet is nothing short of impressive, featuring an intensive and sumptuous aroma that immediately evokes thoughts of fully ripe fruits. 

Fresh notes of ripe red berries are perfectly melded with delicate hints of dried berries, thanks to their careful aging in wooden barrels. With a balanced body and harmonious, ripe tannins, this Zinfandel delivers a soft and elegant finish that leaves a warm sensation in every sip. Get ready to indulge in a fascinating wine experience!

Korta Katarina Zinfandel

Korta Katarina winery, Zinfandel

Korta Katarina winery and villa are a true wine lover’s paradise. Situated on the Pelješac peninsula, this estate provides awe-inspiring views of the Adriatic, making it the region’s first venue. Orebić, a small coastal town with a rich cultural heritage, seaports, and winemaking traditions dating back to the Roman empire, is where the estate is located. The kortas, or gardens, have been a gathering place for families of sea captains and sailors setting sail on their worldly adventures for centuries. Korta Katarina name is derived from these gardens, and the family name Katarina/Katharine of the founders and owners, Lee and Penny Anderson fell in love with Croatian hospitality and cultural heritage.

Tasting notes

Introducing the new collector’s favorite – a bold and powerful ruby-colored wine with fruity aromas of young and red fruits. The wine has an intense smell of ripe cherries, sweet cherries, and red currants, with a young and lively character, concentrated in taste and with accentuated acids. The wine’s structure is firm and full-bodied, with an abundance of cherry sweetness at the finish and hints of dark chocolate.

Upon opening, the wine releases outstanding forest notes of sour black bitter oak, crumpled blueberry bush leaves, and forest soil. It has a long duration, a perfect balance between maturity and freshness, and an intense retro taste of cherry jam. With the aging potential, the wine is expected to grow in quality over the coming years.

This wine is a treat for the senses and an investment in taste. Its quality and collector’s value makes it a must-have for any wine lover!

Stina Tribidrag

Stina winery, Tribidrag

When DNA analysis proved that the widely-known Zinfandel grape variety originated from Croatia, Stina winery planted Crljenak vines, which were on the brink of extinction, in a single vineyard located on the north side of the idyllic island of Brač.

Stina winery, famous for its Plavac Mali wines, recognized the optimal growing conditions for the Crljenak grape on the island of Brač and took the initiative to preserve and promote this significant variety. 

The winery’s name, “STINA,” is the Croatian word for Brač stone, renowned for its beauty and symbolism of the island’s wine-growing heritage under dire conditions.

The grapes for Tribidrag wine are entirely harvested by hand due to the island’s challenging terrain.

Tasting notes

This wine has a distinct fruitiness and soft tannins, which make it a crowd-pleaser. The wine’s flavor is more rounded due to its maturation in barriques for 12 months. As a result, the tannins have softened, and barrique notes have been elegantly incorporated, further enriching the wine’s bouquet and taste. So if you’re looking for a new Zinfandel wine, this elegant Tribidrag may be just what you need.

Matela Crljenak Kaštelanski

Matela winery, Crljenak Kaštelanski

Matela family winery continues the long tradition of viticulture and wine-making in Kaštela, a renowned wine-growing region near Split, where numerous old native varieties are cultivated. 

The famous Crljenak Kaštelanski (Zinfandel) is the most notable among them. The Matela Winery prides itself on producing wines using traditional methods. The red wines are made exclusively with natural yeasts, allowing the wine to maintain its distinctiveness and uniqueness.

Tasting notes

With a flavor that ranges from discrete floral notes to solid fruit flavors, this wine offers a different and delightful experience for every Zinfandel wine lover. The quality and character of Crljenak largely depend on various factors, including the place of cultivation, the age of the vineyard, and the winemaking technology. One the taste, the wine gives a deep, almost leathery scent, creating profound aroma sensations. Meanwhile, the tannins are pronounced, with good acidity and a salty feel. Its unique taste profile will satisfy even the most discerning palates.

Zinfandel is a grape variety with a rich and varied history, with different names and styles showcasing the diversity of this ancient grape variety and the different terroirs in which it is grown, but only one place of its origin – Croatia!

As interest in Croatian Zinfandel continues to grow, it is clear that this ancient grape has a bright future ahead of it and that wine lovers worldwide are eager to learn more about its unique qualities and history. 

Looking for the perfect gift for the wine lover in your life? Look no further than a bottle of Croatian wine

Not sure where to start, our expert team curated and handpicked the best examples of Croatian Zinfandel in this special case! So why add them to your collection and taste the history for yourself?

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