Si­mon Woolf dis­cov­ers a wealth of ex­cit­ing lo­cal grapes and wine styles in this Adri­atic re­gion more fa­mous for its his­toric walled towns, is­lands amid azure waters and spec­tac­u­lar seafood

Decanter - - TRAVEL: CROATIA -

As Croa­tia’s coast­line snakes down the side of the Adri­atic, it tran­si­tions from Ital­ianate, tem­per­ate Is­tria to the full-blown Mediter­ranean cli­mate of Dal­ma­tia. This southerly re­gion of idyl­lic beaches, clear blue seas and is­land par­adises is also Croa­tia’s pow­er­house for red wine. In­ter­est in Dal­ma­tia’s winelands has been grow­ing steadily since 2001, fol­low­ing the dis­cov­ery that it’s the prob­a­ble birth­place of Zin­fan­del – known lo­cally as Crl­je­nak Kašte­lan­ski or Tribidrag.

The re­gion spans 350km, from his­tor­i­cally rich Zadar in the north, down to beau­ti­ful but pricey Dubrovnik in the south. Split and its lit­tle sis­ter Tro­gir sit in the mid­dle, both boast­ing vi­brant, well-pre­served walled towns with Greek and Ro­man roots.

Wine tourism is recog­nised in a ba­sic fash­ion, so you won’t find elab­o­rate wine routes, much sig­nage or in­for­ma­tion. While this may frus­trate, it’s worth some ad­di­tional ef­fort to ex­pe­ri­ence the jaw-drop­ping beauty of the lo­ca­tions.

Grape dis­cov­er­ies

Wines tend to­wards gutsy and char­ac­ter­ful, contrasting their lighter Is­trian cousins. Qual­ity is im­prov­ing steadily, with sev­eral out­stand­ing winer­ies rais­ing the qual­ity bar year on year. If there’s one va­ri­ety that de­fines the re­gion, it’s Plavac Mali or ‘small black’. This spawn of Zin­fan­del shares its par­ent’s bois­ter­ous ten­dency to high al­co­hol, but can pro­vide struc­ture, spicy fruit and real com­plex­ity when aged.

White wines aren’t the main fo­cus, but the in­dige­nous Pošip is ca­pa­ble of high qual­ity – Korta Ka­te­rina (www.ko­r­takatari­naw­in­ery.com) makes a stand­out ver­sion. Sev­eral rare white va­ri­eties sur­vive only on the is­lands scattered about the Dal­ma­tian coast­line – these also of­fer the most spec­tac­u­lar ‘get­ting away from it all’ op­por­tu­ni­ties.

Plan an itin­er­ary start­ing in Split – the state-run Jadrolin­ija fer­ries pro­vide a

Right: the his­toric wa­ter­front at Split

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