10 Things You Should Know About Croatian Wines
Anthony Bourdain said it himself – “Croatia is the next big thing”, and thanks to his “No Reservations” TV show, the word about the quality and variety of Croatian food and Croatian wines has been slowly but steadily getting out.
While several local producers such as Grgic, Bibic, Kozlovic, Milos, and Trapan have already found success on the international market and Croatian wines keep scoring gold medals on international competitions, they remain generally exotic on the US market where there is still much work to be done in terms of raising awareness and increasing distribution.
Want to know more about Croatian wine? Here are a few essential albeit not widely known facts:
- Croatia’s wine regions can be grouped into two main areas – the seaside including the Istrian Peninsula and the Dalmatian coast and islands (where some very nice white, but also excellent and strong red wines from native grape varieties are made), and the continental area of Slavonia in the northeast (where mostly white wines are produced).
- One of the great red grape varieties of the world, known as Zinfandel in California and Primitivo in Italy, originally comes from the Croatian Dalmatian coast where it is known as Crljenak Kastelanski, Pribidrag, or Tribidrag (good luck pronouncing those)?
- Over 130 indigenous grape varieties are said to exist in Croatia, the most famous of which is the Zinfandel.
- Grasevina – also known as Riesling in other parts of Europe, is the most widely planted white grape variety in Croatia, mainly grown in the northern region of Slavonia.
- The history of wine production in what is today Croatia goes back over 2,500 years. The ancient Illyrians started cultivating grapes on the Dalmatian coast as early as the Bronze age, but wine production started in earnest when Greek colonists settled on the islands of Korcula, Hvar and Vis.
- Prosek is a traditional sweet dessert wine (similar to port wine or Vin Santo) which is made from dried (to increase the sugar and thus the alcohol content) red or white grapes. Prosek is not to be confused with prosecco or the mass-produced Italian sparkling wine. Currently, the best Prosek comes from the Dalmatian islands of Hvar and Brac.
- Plavac Mali is the most widely grown red grape variety in Croatia. Planted all over Dalmatia, it is the offspring of Tribidrag or Crljenak and is used to make reds high in alcohol and tannins such as Dingac and Postup. Traditionally, the best Plavac Mali is grown on the slopes of the Peljesac Peninsula and the islands of Hvar and Brac.
- Despite what you may think, orange wines are (often served in Northern Croatia and Slovenia) are not made from oranges. These white wines are made by prolonged maceration of the grape skins with the must which gives the wine its distinct amber color.
- Gemist is a very popular drink in Croatia (especially in northern Croatia) made by mixing white wine, usually Grasevina and sparkling water. It is similar to the spritzer in Germany.
- If you have to remember the name of one Croatian winemaker, it’s got to be of Mike Grgich who was behind Chateau Montelena’s 1973 Chardonnay which beat some of the best white Burgundies in a blind wine tasting in 1976, known as the Judgement of Paris. Grgich now owns wineries in both California and Croatia.