As originally published in Wine Country International Magazine.
Story and Photos by Michelle Bainbridge
If you are a wine lover looking for a new wine country discovery, put Croatia on your travel plans. It is only 60 miles from Venice, by ferry, and an easy flight from Europe’s major airline hubs. Croatia’s location on the narrow Adriatic Sea, north of the Mediterranean, has been appreciated by sea faring travelers for millennia. Its nearly 1,000 islands provide a haven to the yachting set of Europe, yet it remains relatively undiscovered by the North American traveler
Croatia’s mild climate mirrors that of Italy, on the opposite side of the Adriatic, making it ideal for growing premium grape varietals and for a year-round holiday destination. Intertwined with the pristine vineyards you will find an abundance of Roman and Medieval ruins to explore. The cuisine of the coastal regions is dominated by fresh seafood, pasta and fresh, locally-harvested truffles and is prepared by world-class, creative chefs, making it a food-lovers’ destination as well.
Croatia is an authentic “Old World” wine growing region with history going back 2500 years to the ancient Greeks. As a member of the EU, it must follow strict guidelines for producing quality wines and modern-day winemaking is as advanced as that you will find elsewhere in the world. The majority of wine-making is done by small, independent producers. Since the Croatian War of Independence just over 20 years ago, the wines have risen to compete with some of the best of Europe and the New World. Today’s winemakers are influenced by international education and commercial marketing and are engaging in their own interpretations of the traditional techniques. A growing economy has contributed the monetary means to implement these ideas.
As in much of Europe, the small wineries in Croatia are not always ready to receive English-speaking tourists. Contact them ahead of time to ensure someone will be there to greet you. Email the winery before your trip starts, or ask your hotel Concierge to assist you. To fully appreciate the region and its treasures, plan enough time to navigate to the winery in a leisurely fashion. Once there, you’ll want to allow plenty of time to spend with your hosts to learn about their facility and the unique qualities of the region.
The perfect home base for your exploration would be the small port town of Rovinj (Rovigno). Italian is the official second language here, but you will be pleased to learn that English is widely spoken in the hotels and restaurants. All of the key attractions and wineries are short day trips away. The historic Old Town is beautifully preserved and the shops, galleries, restaurants and hotels coexists seamlessly within this tiny fishing village. Other coastal cities for a base are the cities of Porec and Pula where you will find perfectly preserved Roman ruins.
Hrvatska Istria– Located within the Istrian Peninsula, just east of Northern Italy, this region was under Venetian rule for several centuries. The majority of production is white varietals, especially the bright, lively, aromatic Malvazija (Malvasia Istriana). The dominant red grape varietal is Teran (a relative of Italian Refosco).
Vale 78, Momjan, 52460 Buje, Hrvatska Istria, Croatia | Tel: +385 52 77 91 77
Located near the northern border of Istria and Slovenia (if you have time, pop over the border for a beer and collect another country’s stamp for your passport) near the small town of Momjan. The winery was established in 1919, with the current winery being built in 1999 by second generation winemaker Franko Kozlovic. Franko fought with his father to experiment with new techniques and styles of wines, all the while focusing on the white wines from the Malvazija grape varietal.
The extreme contemporary architecture of the winery creates a juxtaposition with the remote rural scenery. The perfectly manicured grounds and vineyards are surrounded by densely forested hillsides. It’s fairly easy to find, thanks to well-marked roads.
2015 Classic Malvazija
This is the most important wine of Kozlovic, accounting for 70% of the production. A pale lemon color; it delivers highly floral aromas of orange blossom and jasmine with a “tickling” acidity. The taste is much subtler than the bold aromas would lead you to expect. It is light, dry and mineral-ly. We discovered this to be the perfect pairing with rich, cheesy truffle dishes.
2013 Santa Lucia Malvazija
This is a reserve-style wine, from a single vineyard, only made in the best vintages. The amber color is a result of oak ageing. Aromas of flowers and spices and the essence of green tea. Flavors of tropical fruit and stone fruits. It is viscous; coating the tongue, but finishes clean. You might find it similar to an aged Chenin Blanc. This is a complex wine, worthy of contemplation.
2014 Classic Teran
This is drinkable, every-day style, low in tannins and alcohol (12.5% abv). It is only fermented a short time on the skins, in large, neutral oak. The color extraction is still high, resulting in a pleasant ruby-colored wine. Aromas of berries and herbs. Flavors of blackberries, wild strawberries and forest floor earthiness. A balanced, fresh red wine.
Other producers in the area-
Kaldir 7, Motovun 52424, Hrvatska Istria, Croatia | Tel.: +385 098 197 5651
Kanedolo 90, Momjan, 52462, Hrvatska Istria, Croatia | Tel.: +385 052 779 208
Vina Matošević d.o.o., — Wine Cellar & Tasting Room
Krunčići 2 Istarska, 52448, Sv Lovrec, Hrvatska Istria, Croatia | Tel.: +385 052 448 558
Kosinozici 26, 52466 Nova Vas Hrvatska Istria, Croatia | Tel.:+385 091 617 0700
Michelle has had a career in wine sales and marketing and continues to be involved in wine education and wine-focused travel. Visit her blog at wheresthewineblog.com.