Holiday in Croatia - Croatia Wines

An Introduction to the Wines of Croatia

Although the first Croatian tribes did not begin settling Croatia until the 6th century, the culture of winemaking in the region dates back some 2400 years. The Celtic and Illyrian tribes of north eastern Croatia were the first to begin cultivation of grapes for the production of wine as early as 400 B.C., before the Romans arrived in the present winegrowing regions in 100 B.C. Winegrowing in the Continental Croatia blossomed with the Romans. With the decline of the Roman Empire, its viticulture methods and traditions were lost, therefore it is not really clear how Roman wines tasted, but they were certainly very different from what we drink today. Romans kept their wine in earthenware vessels and stored it in warm places such as near chimneys or in the attic. It is believed that wines were concentrated to achieve sweet and syrupy substance and spices such as lemon peel, pepper and sage were used as well.

The fall of the Roman Empire in the beginning of the 5th century had a major impact on the wine making in the Croatian region as well as the rest of the Europe. Winegrowing almost died out in Croatia with Hungarian tribes threatening the territory between the ninth and eleventh centuries. The craft of winegrowing returned with Christianity but the production remained limited until the 12th century when the Hungarian tribes finally withdrew from the region. Wine making in Continental Croatia suffered another setback when the Turkish Empire took control of the region in the first half of the 16th century. The Muslim religion did not allow the production and consumption of alcohol, but surprisingly enough the vineyards were not destroyed. The cultivation of grapes for consumption continued while wine making was abandoned. After the battle of Vienna was won in 1683, old grapevines were pulled from the ground, new vines were planted and the production of wine began again.

At the beginning of last century, when Croatia was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, it had 180,000 hectares of vineyards. A century later the vineyards were decimated by the agriculture policies of communist Yugoslavia, today there are only 62,150 hectares remaining. However State Official Registry of Grape and Wine Producers cites only about 13,337 hectares as active production that produces about 1.3 million hl of wine. The difference between the two is explained by home use vineyards and abandoned vineyards. By the same source, there are more than 300 wines with protected geographical origin in Croatia, and more than half of those numbers are wines from small private vineyards.

With total of 50,000,000 bottles of wine with protected geographical origin, 8% are superior wines, 70% are quality wines and 22% are table wines with geographical origin.
There are 67% white, 32% red and only 1% rose wines produced in Croatia. At the continental part of Croatia, the majority of wine produced is white (nearly 93%), while in coastal Croatia red wines dominate (more than 70%).

The grapes used for whites may not be familiar, Gra'evina grapes (sometimes referred to as Graševina) are better known as Welschriesling and the Frankovka grapes you may know as Blaufränkisch. Coastal Dalmatia's reds are made from Plavac Mali named for the small blue fruit the vines produce. Plavac Mali is an offshoot of the true Zinfandel wine grapes. Most of the wine world agrees that the Zinfandel variety is a native Dalamatian grape variety, although Italy was thought to be the place where it originated. The coastal red wines produced from this grape are bringing the most attention...and awards...from the international wine community. Some of the names you'll soon know well are Babic from the island of Hvar as well as Dingac and Postup from the Pelješac Peninsula in Dalmatia.

Wine is not only a product, its significance is deeper: cultivating grapes for wine production and drinking wine is a tradition deeply embedded in the roots of Croatian culture. Numerous Croatian holidays, feasts, traditions and a vast folklore have developed around the appreciation of wine. One of the best-known traditions is the feast of Martinje, during which "peasants" celebrate "the baptism of grape juice into young wine," a comical mimicking of a church baptism. This feast is celebrated on Saint Martin's day, November 11, throughout Croatia. Martinje is celebrated during the time of the year when all work around the farm winds down and preparations for the winter begin. Other local customs, also associated with various saints' days, developed in different regions. Although with special regional variations, the common ground of these celebrations is the superstitious belief that if the grapevines were blessed during the resting winter months, they would bear better fruit in the spring.

The importance given to Croatian wine growing and cultivation is represented in special regulations outlining appropriate feast behavior called Krizevacki statuti (The Laws of Krizevci). They represent a code of rules, originally observed through oral tradition since at least the 14th century, and subsequently codified and printed in 1912. These ancient regulations are aimed at preventing disruptions at the wine celebrations, and ensuring the most enjoyable festivities.

In 2003, annual average wine consumption per capita (total population is 4.3 million) was 12.79 litres, which reflected a 16.7 % increase compared to 2001 indicating wine culture and consumption are on the upswing.

Croatia's small wine producers had to race against time to expand their vineyards and compete on the European market before it joined the European Union. The government had adopted a program aimed at planting an additional 13,000 hectares (32,124 acres) before entry to the EU in July 2014, after which new wine-growing areas will not be allowed.

Croatian Wine Labels

Bijelo vino = White wine (When ordering in restaurants- Belo)
Pjenusavo vino = Sparkling wine
Crno vino (Black wine!) = Red wine (When ordering in restaurants- Crno)
Crveno vino = Red wine
Cuveno vino = Selected wine
Desertno vino = Dessert wine
Geografsko porijeklo = Geographical origin
Kvalitetno vino = Quality wine
Polusuho = Medium-dry
Prirodno = Natural
Proizvedeno u ... = Produced at ...
Punjeno u ... = Bottled at ...
Ruzica vino = Rose wine
Slatko = Sweet
Stolno vino = Table wine
Suho = Dry
Visoko kvalitetno = High quality

Wine has a centuries-old tradition in Croatia and small suppliers are now reaping the benefits of the raised profile of the area. In September 2004 Decanter magazine awarded a Croatian wine an award for the first time.

In 1953 12,000 bottles of the finest Zelni Silvanac from Llocki podrumi , in the east of continental Croatia ,were opened and drunk in London to celebrate the Queen's coronation.

However now, very little Croatian wine is exported to the UK and the vast proportion of local wines are kept for the domestic market, so your trip will be a unique opportunity to be amongst the first to appreciate these unique wines.

Wine Regions

Wine Regions

Continental Croatia

Plesivica: Samobor, Sveta Jana - Slavetic, Pljesivica - Okic, Krasic and Ozalj - Vivodin
Zagorje-Medjimurje: Medjimurje, Varazdin Breg - Vinica, Ivanec, Krapina - Vinagora, Zlatarski Bregi, Novi Marof, Klanjecke Gorice - Marija Gorica, Zabok and Stubica
Prigorje-Bilogora: Zagreb, Zelina - Sesvete, Dugo Selo - Vrbovec, Kalnik, Ludbreg, Koprivnica - Djurdevac and Bjelovar - Grubisno Polje
Moslavina: Ivanicgrad vineyards, Moslavina and Cazma - Garesnica vineyards
Pokuplje: Vukomericke Gorice, Petrinja and Draganic - Karlovac - Duga Resa
Slavonija: Virovitica - Podravina - Slatina, Daruvar - Pakrac, Djakovo, Kutjevo, Pozega - Pleternica, Fericanci - Nasice, Nova Gradiska and Slavonija - Brod
Podunavlje: Baranja and Erdut - Dalj – Aljmas

Coastal Croatia

Istra and Croatian sea-region: Buje - Umag - Novigrad, Porec, Pazin - Labin - Buzet, Rovinj, Pula, Opatija - Rijeka - Vinodol, Krk and Pag - Rab - Losinj
North Dalmatia: Zadar, Zemunik - Novigrad, Benkovac - Smilcic, Kozlovac - Polac, Biograd, Stankovac, Pirovac - Vodice, Skradin - Bribir, Kistanje - Knin, Oklaj, Kosovo - Petrovo Polje, Sibenik and Primosten
Dalmatian background: Konjevrat - Radonic, Dugopolje - Mucko, Vrlika - Sinj, Cetina - Grabovac, Imotski - Brdsko, Imotski - Polje and Vrgorac - Brdsko
Middle and south Dalmatia: Kastel - Trogir, Split - Omis, Makarska, Vrgorac Lake, Neretva - Opuzen, Ston, Primorje Dubrovacko, Konavosko Field, Mljet, Putnikovici Peljesac, Janjinsko - Peljeska Zupa, Dingac - Postup, Korcula - Peljesac Riviera, Cara - Smokvica, Blato, Vela Luka, Lastovo, Vis, Komiza, Starigrad - Jelsa, Hvar Riviera, Brac and Solta

Classification of wines

The tradition of ensuring the reputation and quality of Croatian wines is today continued by the enactment of the Law on Wine in 1995. According to the Croatian Wine Guide, there are 620 various kinds of wine produced from 54 sorts of grapes in Croatia.

According to the amount of sugar, wines are divided in dry, semi-dry, semi-sweet and sweet wines, and according to colour, wines are divided in white, rosé and red wines.
Table wine is the wine produced from one or more grape sorts. Table wine cannot have the sort stamp. Table wine with geographic origin stamp is the wine produced from one or more grape sorts originating from the same wine-growing region.

Quality wine with geographic origin stamp is the wine produced from one or more grape sorts originating from the same wine-growing sub-region with distinct quality organoleptic (relating to the senses taste, colour, odour, feel) characteristics important for ecologic conditions of the position and of the sort of the specified wine-growing sub-region, wine-growing hills or position whose stamp it has, or which is grown in that sub-region.

High quality wine with geographic origin stamp is the wine produced from specified sort or group of sorts of grape that originate from one or several wine-growing positions in the area of one wine-growing hill with especially distinct quality, specific organoleptic and chemical characteristics important for the ecologic conditions of the position and of the sort or the group of sorts of grape. That wine has to be grown and bottled in the specific area of the wine-growing hills. If the wine has a sort stamp, it has to be produced from at least 85% of grape of the sort whose name it carries.

Distinctive quality wines are the wines that have a special quality, attained in certain years, in special conditions of maturation, manner of harvesting and processing, and have to be produced only from the recommended sorts of grape for the particular wine-growing hills.

Vintage wine is the wine that is kept in cellar conditions longer than its optimal maturation period, and not less than 5 years from the day of processing grape into wine, of which at least 3 years in a bottle. Special wines are wines obtained with a special way of processing grape, must or wine, without addition or with addition of a certain quantity of wine alcohol, wine distillate, sugar, must concentrate and aromas or other allowed substances of vegetal origin.

Sparkling wine is the wine that, together with other required ingredients, contains an increased quantity of carbon dioxide, which causes large amount of spume to develop while opening the bottle.

Carbonated sparkling wines and natural sparkling wines are also included in this category. The Croatian Institute for wine-growing and wine production is in charge of all the works defined by law in the area of wine-growing and wine production.

Croatia the home of Zinfandel

For a long time, the origin of Zinfandel was a mystery. It was only solved in 2002, after years of sleuthing by a University of California-Davis plant geneticist. With the help of DNA analysis, Dr. Carole Meredith finally identified the Old World origin of Zinfandel.

Crljenak Kastelanski (sirl yenak kassel ansky) is the Croatian name for Zinfandel. It's also the Croatian name for Primitivo, which is the Italian name for Zinfandel. And Zinfandel, of course, is the American name for Primitivo — and for Crljenak Kastelanski.

Zinfandel is an ancient Croatian grape that was carried to Italy and America by Croatian immigrants in the early 19th century. It appeared in Sonoma in 1859 and, within a decade, was widely planted throughout California.

Wines of Southern Dalmatia and Bosnia Herzegovina

Pelješac Wines

The Pelješac peninsula is famous as the producer of Croatia's greatest red wines, among them "Dingac" and "Postup"; these are wines virtually identical in strength, character and flavour to American Zinfandel, although often somewhat more refined because of many years of transmutation and selective breeding.

Frano Milos produces internationally famous wine with Mali Plavac grapes from his own vineyards. These wines are the "Premier Cru" of the Pelješac Peninsula.
Recent research has it that the Plavac Mali grape, which produces this region's famous red wine, is also the vine imported many years ago by immigrants to produce California's Zinfandel. So it is appropriate to visit the Grgic Winery in Trstenik, for it was Miljenenko Grgic a producer of fine wines in the Napa valley who had long maintained that his hometown was the forebear of California's main wine producing grape.
Immediately after the war he returned home and using his vintner's experience opened the Grgic Winery.

Another stop is the town of Kuna, dating back to Illyrian times. Mato Medovic, a key figure in Croatian Modern Art, was born in Kuna in 1857 and his paintings can be seen in the Medovic House museum.

The most famous red wine of this region is Dingac. Drive under the narrow tunnel under Dingac hill to see the vineyards that receive the double dose of sunshine (once from the sky and again from the sea's reflection) that determines the richness of Dingac.

Korčula Wines

The ancient Greeks who founded their colony Korkyra Melaina did not only establish a commercial and cultural centre but also planted vines which have since produced wines esteemed all over the world.

Elegant jugs, called Oinohoe, from which the ancient Greeks enjoyed this natural liquid can be found in the museum of Korcula. The Greek writer Athenaios wrote twenty two centuries ago about the high quality wine produced on Korcula. In addition to these artistically designed jugs, coins have been excavated with various symbols connected with wine and vine growing, all a testimony to the importance of wine to the inhabitants of Korčula. These coins can be seen in the numismatic collection of the Abbatial Treasury in Korčula. One of the most beautiful stone columns in the Korčula cathedral of St. Marks bears carved vine leaves. The tradition of vine growing by Romans and later by Slavs has produced numerous objects of artistic value. The stone presses (prese) from which wine was squeezed, the amphoras, from the sunken Roman galleys in the Korcula-Peljesac channel, the vine motifs on the Bogomil tombs, and decorations on religious monuments and household objects testify to the tradition of winemaking in Korčula . The statute of the town and island of Korčula of 1214 contains strict rules protecting the vineyards.

The Mediterranean climate, with its rather long, hot and dry summers and mild, short and windy winters with frequent rain as well as abundant sunshine, produces wines rich in dryness and alcohol.

Korčula produces Croatia's best white wine, Pošip; this wine is almost always served at Croatian state and diplomatic banquets. Pošip is an exceptionally dry wine of a golden colour and a very pleasant aroma; the alcohol strength is about 14%. The vine from which this famous wine is produced is also called Pošip, but the best quality Pošip is obtained from the combination of 50% Posip, 40% Rukatac and 10% Bratkovina.grapes. The best Pošip is made in the cellar of the PZ Pošip in Čara, from grapes grown in the vineyards of Carsko polje, one of the most beautiful landscapes on the island of Korčula.

The village of Lumbarda is situated at the eastern edge of Korčula, dating back to the Hellenic times (4th to 5th centuries B.C.) and has been known from ancient times for its production of high quality white wine - Grk (Greek) This grape grows only in the loose Lumbarda sand and has a slight resinated flavour. All of which will put you in mind of Greece, appropriately for this one time Greek trading settlement.

Hvar Wines

In the 4th century BC the Ancient Greeks brought the vine to the fertile plain of Stari Grad. The Romans further improved their technology, and, since then, people have been planting vines in fields throughout the island. Winemaking remained the basis of Hvar's economy for centuries. In the late 19th century the island had over 5750 hectares of vineyards, which is more than 19 % of its surface. This was the period of great flourishing of vine growing and winemaking on Hvar, caused by an increased demand for wines after the spread of diseases in vineyards across Europe.

New ports were built, channels and streams were dug to stop the water from washing out the fertile soil, and as the number of vines grew, the population of Hvar increased by 30%. Today, vineyards only cover 8% down from the high of 19% of the 1800's.

The famous 19th century climatologist J. Hann referred to Hvar as the 'Adriatic Madeira', describing its mild Mediterranean climate with dry warm summers and mild rainy winters. Hvar's 2730 hours of sunshine makes it very suitable for vine growing. High winter precipitation and low relative air humidity in the grape growing and ripening season, all help prevent diseases and is crucial for the quality of grapes.

Hvar is blessed with a variety of "terroir": the southern slopes, the northern part of the island, and the 400-500 m high longitudinal ridge. Each locality has its own benefits and the varieties it suits best.

The most commonly used grape varieties are Plavac Mali and Plavac Veliki as the red varieties, and Bogdanuša, Maraština and Prč as the white.

There are many wine sorts that grow only on Hvar, such as, "Bogdanuša", "Drnekuša", "Prč" and "Mekuja", whereas "Plavac" grows on the southern part of the island. If you enjoy red wine we suggest "Faros", "Ivan Kolad", or "Zlatni Plavac". "Bogdanuša", "Hvarski Pelegrin", "Zlatan Otok", "Dobrogost", and "Parč" are quality white wines. Apart from these wines, there is "Drnekuša", the unique, world renowned red wine. You will definitely enjoy drinking "Drnekuša" while eating "Fritule" - a Hvar specialty.

Bosnian and Hercegovina Wines

Current estimates state the per capita wine consumption in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) is around 3.5 litres, low when compared to other European countries (an official public survey conducted over 10 years ago reports per capita consumption at 2.1 litres). Bosnia and Herzegovina population is around 3.8 million. BiH citizens consume more beer (around 15 – 20 l) and brandy (around 8 l).

Grapes and wine are mostly produced in southern part of the country, in the Herzegovina region, an area with favourable climate and a long history of wine production. The most famous local varieties/wines are "Zilavka" (white wine) and "Blatina" (red wine). Popular local varieties also include Plavka, Dobrogostina, Vranac, Trnjak, Krkošija, Smederevka and Bena. According to Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), pre-war production of around 178,000 hl dropped to 75,000 hl. This happened because the 1992-1995 war destroyed infrastructure and production capacity, and many vineyards and nurseries were damaged. Also, existing vineyards are aging and are not being renewed. The big state-owned wine producer "Hepok", in Mostar, that controlled the whole market before the war, collapsed. Bigger wineries are located in Hercegovina (Mostar, Citluk, Ljubuski and Domanovici - Capljina), as well as a number of small private cellars, very proud of their tradition in wine production.

BiH imported a total of 72,060 hectolitres of wine in 2001. Imports of wine rose to 86,690 hl in 2002. Around 90% of total imports came from Croatia, Serbia & Montenegro, and Slovenia.

The BiH mostly imports from Croatia and Slovenia and exports around 90 % of its wine to Croatia.

Vis Wines

This island's wines deserve a mention for the fact that you are drinking pre –phylloxera wines. Uniquely in Europe the vine disease never reached Vis.

There are many vineyards and Vis has for centuries been famous for its wine. Opol is an outstandingly good light red wine; Black Vis (Visko Crno) is a strong heavy red and Vugava a rich white wine.

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