Wine Culture in Croatia
Croatian wine culture has a long history, going back 2,500 years when the Ancient Greeks settled on the southern Dalmatian islands of Vis, Hvar and Korčula and applied their considerable knowledge of grape cultivation and wine production.
As the Romans took control of the region, the production of wine expanded, becoming more organised and efficient. When the Croats settled in the Balkans they picked up this knowledge, continuing to the present-day, which has seen the proliferation of small wineries across the country.
Modern production is dominated by white wine (almost 70%), with 30% red wine, followed by a small amount of rosé, sparkling wines and dessert wines. Even though most visitors to Croatia will see coastal vineyards and probably drink wine from the coastal areas (Istria and Dalmatia), it should be noted that a huge proportion of the country’s wine comes from the inland wine regions.
If you choose to take the (very) wise decision to go on a Go Croatia Sail cruise, here are some of the most famous wines from the coast you will come across, and hopefully (over)-indulge yourself in!
With a ridiculously difficult name to pronounce such as Crljenak kaštelanski, you will be surprised to hear that this is likely the most famous indigenous Croatian wine in the world!
DNA testing has proven that this indigenous variety was taken to Italy, where it became known as “Primitivo” and also taken all the way to the USA, where it is called “Zinfandel”. Obviously, it was popularised under these other names, which can be pronounced more easily. It is a robust red wine with red berry fruit flavours, such as raspberry, together with blackberry, anise and pepper notes.
Its origins are found in Kaštela (hence the name), near Split. For years its roots were unknown until finally, in 2001, it was confirmed that Crljenak kaštelanski was Zinfandel in its native form. At that time, it is estimated only 25 vines of Crljenak kaštelanski were left in Croatia!
If you are choosing a bottle of wine to bring home, consider Crljenak – it is well paired with a steak or any other dark-meat dish.
The long Pelješac peninsula in Southern Dalmatia is covered in vineyards which are often found sitting on slopes that command a breathtaking view down to the Adriatic Sea.
Wineries in this region are among the best producers of red wine in Croatia. Here, the Plavac Mali grape reigns, but other popular drinks are also produced in the locale, such as prosecco, liqueurs and rakija.
Plavac Mali can be translated as “little blue one” and produces rich wines high in alcohol (between 12% and 17%) and tannins. Typical notes and aromas include blackberries, dark cherries and pepper, You will find the most common Croatian wines from this grape include are the main 3 reds from the peninsula called Plavac Mali (as expected), Postup and Dingač.
Interestingly, the differences between those 3 red wines from the same grape comes from the fact that they grow on different gradient of slope and have more or less access to the reflected sunlight from the sea. As a rule, Plavac Mali is the cheapest wine (as low as 5 Euros a bottle in a supermarket), followed by Postup, then Dingač, which can command prices of around 30-40 Euros for a bottle of good Dingač reserve.
Grk is an autochthonous Croatian grape variety. It means both ‘’Greek’’ and ‘’bitter’’, which, ironically, does not describe the wine in question.
Firstly, Grk is confirmed to be indigenous to Croatia and a close relative to Crljenak Kaštelanski. In fact, it grows exclusively around the city of Lumbarda on Korčula Island. Even though many have tried to cultivate it elsewhere, their efforts have been unsuccessful.
Secondly, the wine is highly aromatic (like a Sauvignon Blanc), has an invigorating acidity (like a Riesling) and the richness of a Chardonnay.
Not only is Grk considered to be a high-quality, indigenous wine, but it also has an unusual way of being pollinated. As the Grk vine only has female flowers, it is mostly paired with Plavac Mali, the most planted red grape variety in Croatia. These two are almost always planted next to each other, bonding like a sweet married couple!
Many of our cruises cover the Island of Korčula, where we offer wine-tasting as an optional on-shore excursion.
The wine-tasting takes place in the Old City at a wine bar where a local guide will describe the varieties (including some of the ones described above) and wine culture while you sample.
Check out the full list of optional excursions.