Croatia is a food-lover’s paradise, a place where you can taste the countryside while trading stories with honey makers, fishermen, and olive farmers. But our 2015 National Geographic Traveler Tours of a Lifetime winner is also one of Europe’s most talked about emerging wine destinations, with more than 800 wineries and a history of viticulture that dates back for centuries.
Today, 64 indigenous grape varieties and a new system of wine appellation are introducing Croatian wine to the world, dividing the country into four regions, 12 sub-regions, and 66 appellations. And while it’s easy to see how even the most enthusiastic oenophile could struggle with the fine print, finding your next great bottle of Croatian wine isn’t as hard as you think.
Here, 10 facts to know before you sip:
- Croatia has two main wine regions: Continental (Kontinetalna) and Coastal (Primorska—which includes the islands), and more than 300 geographically defined sub regions.
- White wine varietals such as Posip, Grk, Malvazija and Grasevina are the majority, accounting for 60 percent of Croatia’s production.
- There are more than 59,000 acres of wine-growing country in Croatia, and 17,000 registered growers.
- Croatia has been a wine-drinking society since antiquity, when the ancient Greeks produced wine on the Dalmatian islands. Later, the Romans helped to organize wine making in the country and produced vintages for export throughout the empire. Artifacts from this period of rule include grape presses and amphoras (wine vases), discovered in sunken Roman galleys.
- Croatia is also home to the Slavonian oak forest, which produces wood used to make the oak aging casks preferred by many wine-producing countries in Europe.
- Locals often dilute their wine with either still or sparkling water, creating a drink called gemišt (white wine and sparkling) or bevanda (red wine and still).
- One way to select Croatian wine is to use the quality denomination prominently featured on each label. Vrhunsko Vino indicates “Premium” quality; Kvalitetno Vino is “Quality”; and Stolno Vino for “Table” wine.
- Still not sure what to order? Ask your guide for his or her recommendations. If you’re dining on your own, the wait-staff at most local restaurants will also be happy to assist you with selecting a bottle based on your preferences.
- Croatia is also well known for their red wines; Plavac Mali from the Peljesac Peninsula is probably the most famous. California’s spicy Zinfandel is also a direct descendent of two Croatian grapes, Crljenak Kaštelanski and Tribidrag.
- Day 1 of Boundless Journeys’ Croatia: Dalmatian Coast Hiking & Kayaking features a tasting at one of the country’s most well-known vintners, Tomic, where the pillared stone cellar is modeled after a Roman dining room, and constructed using materials and methods originally employed by Diocletian.