Croatia's diverse climate and soil allow for the production of wine and olive oil. The country has four major wine regions that span from the coastal mountains to the continental inland, providing a wide range of grapes and wine styles.
Emphasis is placed on utilising indigenous grape varieties that contribute to Croatia's distinct wine-making identity. In fact, you may have already tasted Croatian wine without realising it since Zinfandel (Primitivo) is identical to Croatia's Tribidrag (Crljenak Kaštelanski), which is also the parent grape of Plavac Mali, Croatia's most popular red wine.
Croatian winemakers primarily use native grape varieties that have been cultivated in the country for centuries, with Plavac Mali being the most common red grape grown in Dalmatia and Graševina being the most popular white grape grown in Slavonia and Croatian Uplands. These grapes are primarily grown by small, family-owned wineries, with only a few larger wineries in Croatia.
Croatian winemakers produce wines at all price points, and each region has at least one popular and highly-regarded grape variety. Here are some of the most well-known grape varieties grown in Croatia.
Wines of Dalmatia
Dalmatia is a highly sought-after tourist destination, home to world-class destinations such as Dubrovnik, Hvar, Zadar and Split.
The predominant red grape variety in Dalmatia is Plavac Mali, known for its high alcohol and tannin content. It pairs well with hearty meat dishes like pašticada. It is best to ask for recommendations from known varieties like Dingač, Postup, or Plavac Mali.
Zinfandel, also known as Crljenak or Pribidrag, is the father of Plavac Mali and is currently experiencing a resurgence in quality and price.
Pošip is a popular Dalmatian white grape variety known for its high alcohol content, nice acidity, fruity aromas, and round body. It is an indigenous variety from the island of Korčula, grown in the central part of the island around the towns of Smokvica and Čara. Pošip pairs well with heavier seafood dishes like grilled fish.
Wines of Istria
Istria is a northwestern peninsula that is well-known for its branding and development, and has made significant progress in wine-making over the last decade.
Malvazija is the most representative grape variety of Istria. It is fresh, light, aromatic, and has a beautiful acidity, making it a perfect summer comfort. It pairs well with shrimp or lighter truffle dishes, which the people of Istria excel at.
Teran is an indigenous Istrian red grape variety. Despite what Slovenian winemakers may say, Teran has a lot in common with Refosco. It is slightly lighter and more acidic than Dalmatian reds, making it a great match for certain Istrian-style pastas.
Wines of Slavonia
Slavonia, Croatia's breadbasket, is famous for the Graševina grape, the most commonly grown white grape in the country. It's vast vineyards produce the largest volume of wine in Croatia. The history of cultivating and harvesting of grapes in this region can be traced back to ancient Roman times.
Today, the wines produced here are renowned for their excellent quality at reasonable prices, making it the most extensive wine-making region in Croatia in terms of both area and quantity of wine produced.
Notable wines from the Slavonia and Dunav (Danube) wine region are mostly made from grapes grown in the Venje and Mitrovac areas in the Kutjevo wine country. While white grape varieties have traditionally been the most commonly grown, the region has become increasingly diverse, with the cultivation of international varieties such as Pinot Gris and Riesling.
Red wine production has also been steadily increasing, with Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Zweigelt gaining popularity.
The Slavonia wine region benefits from a special micro climate thanks to its proximity to the Danube, Drava, and Sava rivers, which provides perfect conditions for grape cultivation. Its cold and continental climate is ideal for white grape cultivation, producing fresh, dry, and aromatic white wines.
Moreover, the volcanic soils found in the area offer an exceptional environment for cultivating vineyards.
Wines of Central Croatia and Zagreb Region
The Central Croatia wine region, centred around the capital city of Zagreb, is gaining recognition as the official fourth wine making region. This area is famous for its light indigenous whites like Škrlet and excellent Croatian sparkling wines from Tomac and Šember.
Additionally, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are widely grown, making it a must-visit destination for Burgundy lovers. The rolling hills of the Croatian uplands provide ample sunlight and breezes, creating a cool climate with cold winters, influenced by the cold air from the Alps to the north.
Central Croatia wines are generally noted for their intense aromas and high acidity, with a focus on white wines. The most common white grape varieties grown in this region include Rhein Riesling, Chardonnay, Kraljevina, Moslavac (also known as Šipon or Furmint), and Sauvignon Blanc, as well as Škrlet.
The Central Croatia wine region is divided into five sub-regions: Moslavina, Plešivica, Pokuplje, Prigorje–Bilogorje, and Zagorje–Međimurje. Međimurje is known for its dessert and late harvest wines made using traditional methods, as well as Yellow Muscat. Moslavina and Plešivica are known for their sparkling wines.
If you plan on visiting Continental Croatia, it is likely that you will enter the country through Zagreb, the capital city of the region.