Welcome to our very personal and ever evolving guide to Croatian wine. We hope you'll find a bottle or two to fall in love with, just as we have.
– Belle & Zoran
People say island hopping is the best way to see Croatia. It's also one of the best ways to drink it.
Many of the 1,200 islands in the Adriatic were isolated communities in the past, retaining an incredible diversity of grape varieties and winemaking traditions to this day.
Head to the south side of Hvar for its famous Plavac Mali reds, to historic Korčula the home of aromatic Pošip whites, or to remote Vis for its almost forgotten Vugava.
There are over 200 indigenous grape varieties across Croatia, out of which about 60 are commercially grown today. But relax, this is not a test. We've narrowed it down to a couple of key ones you should start with.
The signature grape of coastal Croatia, Plavac Mali (plah-vats mah-lee) literally means "little blue". It grows best on sunny karst slopes of Dalmatia where it makes powerful, full-bodied reds.
The queen of Istrian cellars, Malvazija can be guided by the winemaker into a dizzying array of styles. From fresh and fun food wines to serious, macerated contemplative bottlings.
Perhaps the perfect BBQ wine, Zinfandel was almost extinct in Croatia until DNA analysis of three remaining vines near the town of Kaštel confirmed it as its ancestral home. California, you're welcome.
Part 3: Dimitri Brečević
A chance meeting in Sri Lanka led us to a WW2 bunker in Istria where we fell in love with with Dimitri's no bullshit approach and, of course, his wines.
The half-French, half-Croatian winemaker is uncompromising in his quest to find the true character of the grapes and soil of Istria.
Working with only three native varieties – Malvazija, Teran and Refošk – his wines burst with a rare energy and authenticity worth seeking out.
The ruggedness and remoteness of Pelješac (pronounced pel-ye-shatz) has kept out many invaders over the centuries. It still keeps out many tourists to this day, but those who do venture in are amply rewarded.
The long, slender peninsula is home to some of Croatia's most famous wines, and Dingač, its first PDO. Here the sun is relentless, the yields are tiny, and the slopes so steep all the work is done by hand.
But, man, the wines. We're talking big serious ones, from old masters and young pioneers alike.
Orange, amber, skin-fermented, skin-contact ... whatever you call it, this is the world's oldest and most distinctive style of wine. Today a new generation of Croatian winemakers is rediscovering what their grandfathers did instinctively.
Unlike white wines where the juice is removed after the grapes are crushed, orange wines stay in contact with grape skins anywhere from 3 to 300 days. The result is complex, layered and a unique joy to drink.
Istrian Malvazija, the elusive Grk, and field blends of Plešivica come into their own as orange wines and are worth seeking out for their honeyed herbal goodness.
"This is world class wine, this is world class cheese, this is f****** awesome"
One of the moments that put Croatia on the foodie map was the 2012 episode of No Reservations about the Croatian Coast.
Croatian chef Mate Janković took Anthony Bourdain from Istria down to Dalmatia getting famously drunk along the way.
One of their most memorable stops was the Boškinac hotel and winery on Pag island where they had an almost pornographic encounter with the local wine, cheese, olive oil, and fig jam.
We couldn't have paired it better ourselves. Here's what they ate and drank if you'd like to try it yourself.