Croatian wine has a history dating back to the Ancient Greek settlers, and their wine production on the southern Dalmatian islands of Vis, Hvar and Korčula some 2,500 years ago. This old world wine country still has many traditional grape varieties surviving in Croatia; perfectly suited to their sense of place. Modern wine-production methods have influenced the larger wineries, and EU wine regulations have been adopted, guaranteeing the quality of these wines.
There are over 300 geographically defined wine regions, and a strict classification system to ensure quality and origin. The majority (67%) of wine produced is white and produced in the interior, while 32% is red and produced mainly along the coast and Rosé is relatively rare.
Some special wines, such as sparkling wine (pjenušavo vino or pjenušac) and dessert wine are also produced - and in 2010 Croatia harvested an estimated 50,000 tonnes. Wine is a key part of Croatian life, traditionally served and enjoyed with their meals. Quite often, the wine is diluted with either still or sparkling water - producing a drink known as gemišt (a combination of white wine and carbonated water), and bevanda (red wine and still water).
The coastline of the Adriatic Sea is ideal for grape cultivation with its hot, humid summers 21–27°C in August and mild winters. Further down the coast, and on the islands, grapes are grown on the karst hillside, sometimes steep slopes with little rainfall. Some of the best-known wine-production areas are on the Dalmatian islands, located along hillsides and slopes. Croatia is also home to the Slavonian oak forest, producing the oak casks favoured by many winemakers in Europe for aging their finest wines.
Croatia’s continental (Kontinetalna) region in the north-east of the country, produces rich fruity white wines, similar in style to the neighbouring areas of Slovenia, Austria and Hungary. On the north coastal (Primorska) area, Istrian wines are similar to those produced in neighbouring Italy, while further south production is more towards big Mediterranean-style reds. On the islands and the Dalmatian coast highly individual wines are produced, and some of Croatia's best known.
Croatia's long history of wine production has left it with a rich tradition of indigenous varietals, especially in the more out-lying areas with extreme growing conditions. One such unique varietal is Plavac Mali, the base of many highly regarded Dalmatian red wines, such as Postup, Dingač and Zlatan Plavac. In 1961, Dingač and then in 1967, Postup were registered for Yugoslav state protection. The Croatian Institute of Viticulture and Enology was set up in 1996 to oversee the country's wine industry, and be responsible for regulating wine-growing and wine production.
Croatian wines are classified by quality, which is clearly marked on the label.
Vrhunsko Vino: Premium Quality Wine
Kvalitetno Vino: Quality Wine
Stolno Vino: Table Wine
Wines may also qualify for a ‘geographical origin stamp’, if it is produced from grapes grown in the same wine-growing region – and it must be at least 85% of the grape type on the label. Wines qualifying for a ‘vintage’ designation, known as Arhiv must be kept in the cellar longer - not less than 5 years, of which at least 3 years in bottle.
Suho: Dry, Polusuho: Semi-dry, Slatko: Sweet, Bijelo: White, Crno: Red (literally Black), Rosa: Rose, Prošek: Dalmatian dessert wine made from dried grapes - similar to Italian Vin Santo. Despite these various classifications systems, Croatian wines don't have a DO or AOP system like Italy / Spain or France which can make it confusing to understand wine qualities and origin.