The Dinaric Alps split Croatia into two widely different wine regions, both producing primarily white grapes. The interior region, with its continental climate, is home to the Slavonian oak forest, used for wine aging barrels as an alternative to both French and American oak. (Do not confused Slavonia, the section of Croatia, with Slovenia, a separate wine-producing country.) Croatia has over sixty indigenous grape varieties.
The Croatian Uplands are in the center of the country, not far from the capital of Zagreb. The region produces Pinot Noir, whites from Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, Riesling, Muscat, Silvaner and Pinot Gris, as well as sweet botrytised wines and ice wines.
East of the uplands is the region called Slavonia and the Croatian Danube. The big wine here is Graševina (Welschriesling), crisp and very clean from the volcanic soil. Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Pinot Gris also support the whites here. Reds are made with Blaufrankisch.
Coastal Croatia lies across the Adriatic Sea from Italy and has a similar Mediterranean climate. Dotted with hundreds of islands and inlets, the coast attracts major resort and tourist attention, and so do its wines (and mention ought to be made of its fine olive oils). The math is in Croatia’s favor—it has a population of just over four million and annually welcomes twelve million tourists.
On the northern reaches of the coast, Istria (Hrvatska Istra), which Croatia shares with Slovenia, has Malvazija Istarska, its own Malvasia variant. Unlike most white wines, the skins are macerated in the juice (like red wine), bringing out a deep golden color and notes of rich honey and apple. The Istrians age their wine in acacia rather than oak, resulting in a full-bodied wine that can age. Istrian reds are generally Teran and Refosco.
The red Plavac Mali makes some waves (and a full-bodied, insistent red wine) on the Croatian Coast (Hvratsko Primorje). Plavac Mali is the foundation of the popular wines Postup, Dingač and Zlatan Plavac. Crljenak Kaštelanski, related to Plavac Mali, at one time was an obscure black grape from a small island in the Split area. It is back and flourishing now that genetic tests have revealed it to be one and the same with California’s Zinfandel.
The islands of the central and southern Croatian coast produce a great deal of white Malvasia, called Marastina here. Other white grapes include Zlahtina from the island of Krk (you need to imagine the vowel) in the north, Vugava form the island of Vis, Bogdanuška on the popular touirist island of Hvar, and Pošip and Grk (imagine that vowel again) on Korčula.
Croatian wines are classified by quality.
- Vrhunsko Vino: Premium Quality Wine
- Kvalitetno Vino: Quality Wine
- Stolno Vino: Table Wine
Wines may also qualify for a geographical origin stamp, and a varietal stamp, but no uniform DOP/AOC/DOC type appellation system exists yet.