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
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.
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