Croatia boasts as many as 60 indigenous varietals well worth discovering. Some of our recommendations to try:
POSIP is one of our favorite whites. Posip is a light-skinned white-wine grape, grown extensively (and almost exclusively) on the Dalmatian coast. It is believed to have originated in Cara on Korcula island before the 11th century. Today the Posip grape is also grown on Hvar island. Cara is still the largest produce of Posip. Grgic also has a very good Posip. The grape is full and aromatic, and the wine a beautiful golden color. If you like full bodied California Chardonnays you should try the Posips. Try the Cara Posip.
GRASEVINA (Croatia’s Riesling) is the most widely grown grape in Croatia – grown in all the inland regions, particularly Kutevo (Slavonia region of Croatia). It is worth buying the more expensive bottles – the cheaper ones can be iffy. Don’t pay less than about 50 kuna (€7). We like the Krauthaker Grasevina. Kutjevo (the oldest winery in Croatia) also makes very nice Grasevinas.
VUGOVA is a white varietal found mainly on Vis island. Jako Vino has also started growing Vugava on Brac island with good results. Vugava wines are full-bodied and high in alcohol content. Although they have lost some of their popularity in the last decade or so, these wines are regaining their place in Croatia’s wine scene.
BOGDANUSA grape is an ancient white grape variety, native to Hvar island on the Stari Grad Plain near Jelsa. Bogdanusa means godsend. Wines from this grape tend to be dry and fresh with a green-yellow to golden color. Try Dubokovic Moja B.
TRBLJAN/KUC (related to Bogdanusa) is a light white wine grape grown almost exclusively in western Croatia. Kuc grapes are often used for blending, particularly with Bogdanusa, Posip and Grk varietals. Dubokovic Moj Otok is a very nice blend of Bodganusa, Kuc , Parc & Marastina.
PARC probably originated on the island of Hvar, where it is now predominantly grown. Wines made from Parc are usually blended with other grapes like Bogdanusa, Marastina and Posip to make full-bodied white wines with a slightly oily texture and a hint of minerality. Parc is aromatic, with low acidity and medium sugar levels. Dubokovic Moj Otok is a very nice blend of Bodganusa, Kuc, Parc & Marastina.
MARASTINA varietal is found all along the coast from Cres island in the north to Korcula island, in southern Dalmatia. Marastina grapes are used in the production of a variety of medium bodied, crisp wines, including Posip, Grk and Malvazija Dubrovacka. Try Dubokovic Moja M.
PINOT SIVI is Pinot Gris. Considered a dry wine (Suho), it is fruity and fresh and a bright and clear straw-yellow color. The Pinot Sivi is a great compliment to fresh Dalmatian cuisine – light pastas, white fish and fish risotto.
KUJUNDZUSA is said to be named from the Turkish word for golden because the grape is a lovely golden color when mature. Kujundzusa is grown almost exclusively in the Imotska area near the coast. It is very drinkable & light with a slightly fruity flavor, great on a hot summer day. Try Grabovac Kujundzusa.
GEGIC is a white variety native to Pag island. The rocky limestone and salt on Pag make for a unique terroir for this surprisingly fresh and drinkable wine. Even with its high alcohol content (typically 14.7%), it is smooth. Try Boskinac Gegic.
ZLAHTINA, a white varietal native to Krk island mostly grown near Vrbhnik. The grape is a straw-yellow color, the wine is fresh & floral with a slightly fruity aroma. It has medium levels of alcohol with a hint of the mineral terroir.
TRAMINAC is a heavier, almost sweet wine with higher alcohol content. We like this wine quite well – it is like a Gewurtztraminer, but a bit heavier – aged in Oak casks with a deep yellow/amber color. Great with a fresh bowl of fruit. Try Kutjevo Traminac.
MALVAZIJA Istarska wines got their name from the Istrian Peninsula in northern Croatia between Croatia, Slovenia and Italy. Malvazija vines were introduced to Istria by the Venetian merchants, who brought the cuttings from Greece around the 14th century. Today, Malvazija is the most common varietal in Istria. Malvazija wines have dark color and rich nutty flavors. There are a lot of excellent Malvazija’s to choose from, so try several to compare as you wander through Istria. Try Roxanich Antica Malvazija.
PLAVAC MALI (literally small blue) is a coastal grape, cousin to Zinfandel. There are a variety of very good wines made from the Plavac Mali, including Dingac and Postup. Again, let price be your guide. The best wines of Plavac Mali usually come from south and southwest facing hillside vineyards by the sea, which provide good temperature stability and excellent drying breezes – the afternoon Maestral wind from the northwest along the coasts of Hvar and Korcula islands, for example. Plavac Mali wines are high in alcohol and tannins.
DINGAC is a wine growing region in the Peljesac Peninsula. Dingac Plavac Malis tend to be robust, heavier, deep red wines. These stand up well to the richer Dalmatian dishes like the Peka or a nice Brac steak. Better known Dingac producers include Matushko, Vinarija Dingač, Bura-Mokalo, Miloš, Kiridžija, and Bartulović Postup region, also in the Peljesac Peninsula on the slopes above the Adriatic, produces a somewhat lighter Plavac Mali than the full-bodied Dingacs, although they are still more robust than those grown in the interior of the Peninsula. Try Korte Katarina Dingac.
BABIC is a softer, quieter varietal than the Plavac Mali. Traditionally grown along the central Dalmatian coast, between Sibenik and Split. Zlatan Plankovic, on Hvar island, has recently planted several hundred thousand new Babić vines. Babic is a blue-skinned grape variety, related to the better-known Dobricic variety, which in turn means it is related to the signature Plavac Mali. Tasters say the Babic wines are infused with the flavor of plums, dark berries, figs and sometimes tobacco and spice.
TERAN is an old Istrian varietal, which a hundred years ago was the main Istrian variety. There are actually 2 varietals, the green stem and the red stem. Teran wine has characteristic red colour, when swirled it gets a purple tone. The aroma is delicate, with typical fruity, raspberry character. Its taste is full and strong, making it a good pair for the rich Istrian cuisine – especially aged Prsut (Croatian prosciutto), meat, wild game and rich Pag cheeses. Try Matusovic Teran.
DRNEKUS is a rare red variety indigenous to Hvar island. Darnekusa wines are wild and unpredictable. They tend to have a deep ruby color, spicy nose, peppery and herbaceous body with hints of tar, pepper and salt. Although more often blended with a Plavac Mali, some small quantities of Darnekusa wines are available. Try the Plancic Darnekusa.
GRK is an ancient grape cultivated mostly in the Lumbarda region on the island of Korcula. Wine from this varietal has a distinctive golden color with a tint of green. The wine is dry and full bodied with a slightly bitter taste.
PROSEK is a dessert wine, something like a sherry. Only the more expensive ones are worth buying. Hecktorovic Prosek is a very good one and has won international awards. Try some local tasting, many locals have surprisingly good Prosek. Try Tomic Hektorovic Prosek.
Grappa, Rakija and Liquors
Every respectable Dalmatian makes some kind of Rakija (Grappa or liquor). It is grain alcohol into which they infuse everything from cherries or citrus to berries, grasses, walnuts or even pine. There is no shortage of varieties. Orohovac is a delicious sweet liquor made from green walnuts. Pelinkivac is a bitter herbal concoction for the stalwart. Slivovic is plum liquor. Maraschino is made with cherries and Travarica with Mediterranean herbs. Locals use Pelinkovac or Travarica topically for burns, scrapes, bug bites and to prevent mosquitos from biting you! All ailments seem to lead to a Rakija prescription ;-).