Nestled at the crossroads of Central and Southeastern Europe sits Croatia, most popularly known for its glistening Adriatic coastline and centuries-old city streets. Here, wine has been produced for more than 2,400 years. Its coastal regions and islands have homed wineries since the Illyrians first planted vines during the Bronze Age, cultivating a long, rich viticultural history that has since yielded hundreds of native varieties.
Some 130 indigenous varieties remain following the devastation of phylloxera – an insect pest particularly insidious to European grapevines – in the early 20th century. While it does have a fruitful commercial industry, most of this charming country’s vineyards are pocket-sized plots nestled on family land, making a trip to this sweet place even sweeter.
There are about 300—yes, 300— geographical wine regions in this lovely country, but don’t worry, we won’t quiz you on them. Allow me to walk you through its three broad regions…
The continental part of the country juts between Slovenia and Hungary to the north and Bosnia to the south. Here, the Croatian Uplands host vines for sparkling wine, fresh whites and lighter-bodied reds such as Pinot Noir. Further inland to the east lies flatter land, where a more moderate continental climate suits grapes grown for Graševina—the most planted grape variety in Croatia — and Traminac, more commonly known as Gewürztraminer. Five bucks to whomever can pronounce those correctly!
The northwestern peninsula of Istria has belonged to Croatia, Austria, Italy and Yugoslavia at various times during the last century alone. Its climate shares characteristics with Dalmatia and also with neighboring northern Italy, hosting both hilly topography and an extensive coastline.
Yes, there is more to Croatia than being the set for Game of Thrones. Have I convinced you yet to book a trip? Keep reading.
Dalmatia and the islands receive a warm Mediterranean climate with sunny, dry summers, making the region idyllic for both vacationing and grape growing. The region produces full-bodied and ripe wines, many of which are made from very old vines and native varieties.
Croatian wine tradition is literally older than dirt. The Dalmatian island of Hvar is home to the world’s longest continually cultivated vineyard, the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Stari Grad Plain, where grapes have been growing since 400 BCE!
Ready for the most surprising fact of all?
Croatia is the true birthplace of Zinfandel. Every year, “Zin-thusiasts” in the U.S. raise a toast to “America’s Heritage Grape,” but Zinfandel is not actually American.
Kaštela, a region in Dalmatia, is the birthplace of our beloved Zinfandel in its native form.
Today, when you’re looking for Zin in Croatia, it may fall under a few names: Tribidrag, the ancient moniker for Zinfandel, or perhaps Kratošija, or Pribidrag. Most common is Plavac Mali. Or, it may even go by its Italian name, Primativo! Keep your eyes peeled for these words to taste some sweet Croatian heritage!
Croatian wines, in their diversity and breadth, are each a unique combination of sun, soil, sweat, song, tradition and shifting borders. To quote one of the most acclaimed and widely translated Croatian writers, Miroslav Krleža, “In a drop of wine the universe sparkles.” You will feel the sparkles when you visit Croatia.
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