Yet another hot summer arrived in Croatia, but it certainly feels a bit different this year. There are far less tourists, which is actually not that bad as you don’t have to elbow your way around the crowds. Also, winemakers have never been this eager to find an audience for their wines so the timing is perfect to locate some great value-for-money bottles, relax and turn this cataclysmic situation to your benefit, somewhat.
Let’s toast to life and enjoy while we can, because Croatia’s numerous and diverse wine regions have a wide array of styles perfect for the summer and are easily paired with seasonal food. To keep things very local, let’s try to stick to indigenous grapes since there are around 130 of them altogether. Tough choice, but here’s a short list of summer-friendly Croatian wines and the grapes that go into them which may not be familiar to everyone.
An indigenous white grape native to the microregion of Moslavina in inland Croatia. Once underrated and replaced with “fancy” international varieties, Škrlet has been undergoing a renaissance lately. It has a typical cool-climate profile with a light-bodied and crisp, higher acidity.
The ultimate southern Dalmatian white grape with lots of potential, but different styles are present on the market. A bit of a wild grape that’s not easy to tame and balance, it often reflects the character of the winemaker. It can be made as a young, fresh wine, or more robust and full-bodied, suitable for ageing.
This is a member of the Mediterranean-wide Malvasia family and is the flagship Istrian white. Despite there being far more vines of Graševina, Malvazija has become one of the most wide-spread and popular grapes in all Croatia, especially on restaurant wine lists where it’s a blockbuster. Most Malvazijas fermented in steel tanks are refreshing, young wines meant to be consumed during summer. This is great, but unfortunately many of them have become extremely same-y with uniform aromas making them rather boring and empty. There are however some real gems out there if you know where to look.
This is an old, indigenous red grape from Northern Dalmatia, thriving on poor rocky soil around the towns of Primošten and Šibenik. In past it used to drive the economy of this region, but then somehow almost sank into oblivion and the quantities reduced drastically. Luckily, it’s making a comeback. Unlike most southern reds, Babić has a nice acidity, which means it can give lighter, smoother, more refreshing wines for summer days. Think of its potential revival from rustic to refined in the same vein as Grenache in France, Carignan in Spain, or Nebbiolo in Italy.
The hills of bubbles
The tiny region of Plešivica is nicknamed hrvatski šampanjac “Croatian Champagne”, and it is home to some of the best bubbles in the whole country. Its microclimate is favorable for top-quality white grapes perfect for sparkling wines. Chardonnay is the base, but what gives the wines that special Plešivica “pop” is a small percentage of obscure local varieties like Plavec Žuti. They’re less aromatic, but come with higher acidity to give that all important crispy kick.
Croatia is gifted in that almost every region has a specific native grape that has become its trademark as well as some well-known international varieties that have adjusted quite well, yet the true beauty of wines coming from mostly small, family-owned wineries is that the best of them are always terroir-driven. The winemakers behind them want to make a mark, present their own style, deeply rooted in the land and heritage, and show the world why that specific bottle from Croatia is different from all the rest to enjoy now during the summer or whenever it suits you!
Subscribers can enjoy a selection of some excellent wines from these grapes below.