Croatia’s winemaking tradition dates back hundreds of years. What we know today as Dalmatia was an ancient Roman province, and it is well known that wherever Romans went, they planted vineyards since wine formed an essential part of their culture.
Croatia has two important areas devoted to winemaking: the interior and the coast. The interior area is located in the Danube plain which extends as far as the Zagreb mountains, between the valleys formed by the Save and Drave rivers.
Meanwhile, the coastal area occupies a strip that runs across the vast Adriatic coastline: over 500 kilometers (310 miles) that include four regions: Istria, northern Dalmatia, continental Dalmatia, and Southern Dalmatia, to which we must add the small islands and the towns of Postup and Dinga, located on the Peljesac peninsula.
The cultivation of vines on the Adriatic coast takes place in difficult terrains that are somewhat poor, dry, rocky, with a Mediterranean climate and many hours of sunshine during the day. This results in a minuscule production of absolutely exceptional creations.
The wines produced in these lands, unknown to most consumers, are powerful, tannic, tasty and with a personality that makes them unique and highly appreciated by critics and experts as well as lovers of good wine. They are also valued for their quality and presence and are comparable to the excellent wines of the Italian Piedmont.
The vineyards on the Peljesac peninsula occupy more than 1,000 hectares, where most of the grapes cultivated are of the plava mali variety, which is a small, fleshy fruit that produces excellent red wines. Especially noteworthy in this demarcation are wineries like Milos, which uses the native plavac mali grapes to make wines as unique as the Plavac 2010. Also highly recommended are the wines from the Matusko winery, especially its Royal Selection Dingac, made with plavac mali. Both are ideal to accompany a succulent roast beef, a mature Manchego cheese or a steak tartare.
Another prominent wine region is Istria, located just south of the Gulf of Trieste, which stands out for wineries of fantastic quality. One of these wineries is Benvenuti, which produces wines with Malvasia, teran and muscat grapes.
Another remarkable winery is Vina Cattunar owned by Franco Cattunar (one of the largest producers in the region), which excels for its Malvasia sparkling wines and its balanced and elegant mono-varietals reds made with teran and merlot grapes.
Dalmatia also produces white wines using the native grapes such as the bogdanuša strain, which grows on the island of Hvar and is used to make the Prosek, a traditional amber color sweet wine. Another strain found throughout central Dalmatia is the debit, a white grape of Italian origin.
If you find a bottle of wine from Dalmatia on the shelves of your favorite wine shop, do not hesitate and take it home. You will be pleasantly surprised. ■