Crushing Grapes: Hunt For Croatian Wine
Like most of you (or maybe not) I had no idea Croatia had a robust wine industry. How would I? None of it ever gets featured next to the Argentinian Malbecs or the New Zealand Sauvingon Blancs on the shelves at the Harris Teeter. Once I discovered, yes, there is a wine region and yes, it’s actually quite good and has won some important medals recently, I became downright curious about how to procure it and drink as much of it as I can while I am driving through the country.
Much to my chagrin, I came in off season and many of the vineyards are closed and waiting to open for the 1st crop of Spring tourists in April. Never the less, drinking wine in restaurants and buying bottles of it at the grocery store are still options and the more I taste research I perform, the more I like the smooth reds and effervescent whites.
I am writing this article in the middle of my ‘research’ and will only talk to the Northern wine regions to date. Istria and Dalmatian regions offer more coastal style wines and once I hit those regions I will put together another post.
There are 2 places around Zagreb to try:
30 km west of Zagreb and an easy drive along the motorway is a wine drinkers dream is a town called Jasterbarsko. Not
much to look at with lots of industrial buildings but hidden in the hills are countless vineyards and a christened ‘wine road’ (vinska cesta). The road has about forty wineries that offer various services (look for the brown vinska cesta signs) and will all be glad to give you a tour of their cellars. Apart from indigenous varietals Portugieser, yellow Plavec, sweet Zelenac and Šipelj, you can also taste world-famous wines, such as Chardonnay, Rhine Riesling, Sauvignon, Traminer, and Pinot Noir and Gris.
Tomislav Tomac, is probably the most famous of all of them. They specialize in sparkling wines and since 2007 Tomac has been aging some of his still wines in large ceramic vessels, buried underground and lend a sherry-like quality to the wines.
100 km north of Zagreb lies the Zagorje region which centers Krapina in it’s heart. A winery I would recommend is Vuglec Breg, which boasts a hotel, restaurant serving authentic Croatian meals, winery and a nearby hot spring. They have a lovely cabernet blend that was light and airy and a sparkling rose that knocked my socks off. After a resplendent meal of local duck and noodles, a glass or rose sec and cabernet, I walked the hilly terrain and took in the vineyard and the cottage style accommodation they created. Getting here is not hard, exit Krapina and literally follow the Vuglec Berg signs (6 km) until you see the entrance and note it’s a 10% incline to get to the top of the vineyard, my Panda Fiat barely made it up the hill.After the wine and a 20 minute drive North, you an visit a famous castle, Trakoscan, in the area complete with a 4km walking trail around a picturesque lake, a great way to walk off the booze and meals you just ate. There is also a Neanderthal museum you can visit in central Krapina complete with a 20 foot Neanderthal statue welcoming you to the museum.