Looking for the top Croatia wine regions? Like many of its neighbors, Croatia has a long winemaking heritage and like many old world winemaking nations, has deep-rooted viticulture traditions and a wealth of indigenous grape varieties. There are an incredible 300 defined wine districts within the country, which come under three main wine regions, producing mostly white wines in the continental north and a mix of reds and whites in the south.
This guide to the wine regions of Croatia includes a brief history of Croatian wine, a short list of key Croatian wine terms, a breakdown of the three main wine regions of Croatia (plus their sub-regions and further divisions of winehills), as well as the grapes, wineries and wine-focused attractions visitors can enjoy in each place.
The History of Croatian Wine
Wine has been produced in Croatia for some 2,500 years, since the land was inhabited by the Ancient Greeks. Therefore, it’s no surprise that many of the traditional, indigenous grapes originally used in winemaking continue to be used today, as they are perfect for the Croatian climate, though the names may be unfamiliar outside of Croatia.
However, early in the 20th century, Croatia was hit with phylloxera and the invasion of the vineyard pest sadly led to the extinction of hundreds of indigenous grape varieties. Around 130 varieties remain, many in small family-run vineyards, while around 40 are used in commercial wine production, often combined with common international varieties.
Today, methods of wine production have moved with the times, as have regulations and classification systems, ensuring the quality of the wine.
Although much of Croatia’s wine stays within the domestic market, Croatian wines have been enjoying more international recognition in recent years, in part aided by the nation’s inclusion in the EU in 2013, rising numbers of tourists who encounter Croatian wines and spread the word back home, as well as word spreading about Zinfandel’s Croatian origins – Croatian Zinfandel is said to be dryer than its American counterpart and softer than the Italian, making it a bucket-list must-try for Zin-lovers.
Croatian Wine Terms
- Vrhunsko vino – premium quality wine
- Kvalitetno vino – quality wine
- Stolno vino – table wine
- Arhiv – wines that qualify for a vintage designation (at least five years since the processing of the grape and three years in a bottle)
- Suho – dry
- Polusuho – semi-dry
- Slatko – sweet
- Bijelo – white
- Crno – red (the literal translation is black)
- Rosa – rosé
- Prošek – a Dalmatian dessert wine made from dried grapes, similar to Italian Vin Santo
- Gemišt – a popular Croatian drink made of white wine diluted with still or sparkling water.
- Bevanda – a popular Croatian drink made of red wine diluted with still water.
The Three Croatia Wine Regions
There are three main wine regions in Croatia – Eastern Continental, Western Continental and Coastal – which are each divided into sub-regions, which are in turn divided into winehills (vinogorje). Inland, only 10% of production is red, as white wines are more commonly made; while the opposite is true of Croatia’s extensive coastline and many islands.
1. Eastern Continental Croatia (Istočna Kontinentalna) – Croatia Wine Regions
The Eastern Continental wine region is divided into two sub-regions, Podunavlje (around the River Danube) and Slavonia (an historic region of Croatia located in the Pannonian Basin, bordered by the Danube, Drava and Sava Rivers), with Slavonia being the most famous for winemaking.
The climate here features cold winters and hot summers, while the topography is mostly flat, with some low hills rising from the plain.
Wine production is mostly concentrated on white wine and the most popular grape is Graševina (Welschriesling), which is noted for being mildly aromatic, refreshing, crisp and light. Other popular grapes grown here include Rhein Riesling, Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio (whites); as well as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Pinot Noir for reds.
Podunavlje is made up of three winehills: Baranja, Erdut and Srijem, of which Baranja and Srijem are the most famous for winemaking.
Slavonia is made up of 10 winehills: Daruvar, Đakovo, Feričanci, Kutjevo, Nova Gradiška, Orahovica-Slatina, Pakrac, Požega-Pleternica, Slavonski Brod and Virovitica, of which Kutjevo is the most famous for winemaking.
Wineries of Eastern Continental Croatia Wine Regions
- Kutjevo Winery, Pozega – This Slavonian winery is one of the most famous in the whole of Croatia and their Graševina is popular and acclaimed outside of the country too. Kutjevo, also the name of the town and appellation, is built on the site of one of the oldest wine cellars in Europe, dating back to 1232. My favorite Graševina wine is the Kutjevo Premium Graševina. With flavors of ripe honeydew melon and red pepper, with sweet butterscotch and vanilla. Very ripe fruit and fresh mineral finish.
- Krauthaker Winery, Kutjevo – Founded in 1992 with just a hectare of vineyards, Krauthaker has today expanded to 45 hectares (plus 65 additional hectares of third-party vineyards) and produces award-winning wines, with particular attention to the indigenous Welschriesling variety.
- Enjingi Winery, Kutjevo – The first vineyards of Enjingi were planted in 1890, over 130 years ago, though it took until 1972 before the family decided to try and sell their wines in bottles, and to great success.
- Iločki Podrumi (Iilok Cellars), Ilok – One of the top wine producers in the county, Ilocki Podrumi’s old cellars have a 500-year history and are used to store the winemaker’s high-quality wines in traditional Slavonian oak barrels. Grapes cultivated here include Traminac, Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Rhein Riesling, and Chardonnay.
2. Western Continental Croatia (Zapadna Kontinentalna) – Croatia Wine Regions
The rolling hills of the Croatian uplands provide ample sunlight and breezes, with this region featuring a cool climate with cold winters, influenced by the cold air from the Alps to the north.
In general, Western Continental wines are noted for their intense aromas and high acidity, with the majority of production focused on white wines. The most common grape grown is the Graševina, though other white grapes cultivated here include Rhein Riesling, Chardonnay, Kraljevina, Moslavac (also known as Šipon or Furmint), Sauvignon Blanc and Škrlet.
The Western Continental wine region is divided into five sub-regions: Moslavina, Plešivica, Pokuplje, Prigorje–Bilogorje and Zagorje–Međimurje. Međimurje is known for dessert and late harvest wines made using traditional methods, as well as Yellow Muscat. Moslavina and Plešivica are known for their sparkling wines.
Wine Attractions in Western Continental Croatia
Croatia’s capital city, Zagreb, can be found in the region and if you’re visiting Western Continental Croatia, you’ll likely be entering the country through this point. While in Zagreb, it’s highly recommended to stop by the Vinoteka Bornstein, which houses an amazing selection of rare Croatian wines (as well as foodie delights such as truffles) in an atmospheric 19th-century vaulted brick cellar. Start here for tastings, cheese pairings, souvenir items and more.
3. Coastal Croatia (Primorska)
Coastal Croatia is a large region, which starts at Istria in the north and runs down to Dalmatia in the south. This area is divided into five sub-regions: Istria (Istra), Croatian Coast or Kvarner (Hrvatsko Primorje), Northern Dalmatia (Sjeverna Dalmacija) Dalmatian Interior (Dalmatinska Zagora), as well as Central and South Dalmatia (Srednja i Južna Dalmacija).
As expected from such a large wine region, there are vastly different conditions in each sub-region, and sometimes Coastal Croatia is divided into two parts: Istria/Kvarner and Dalmatia.
Istria and Kvarner Croatia Wine Regions
Istria and Kvarner enjoy the heat from the Mediterranean, but also cooling winds from the Alps. Sometimes referred to as “The New Tuscany,” Istria is divided into the three wine hills of Western Istria (Zapadna Istra), Central Istria (Centralna Istra), and Eastern Istria (Istočna Istra); while Kvarner is divided into Opatija-Rijeka-Vinodol, Krk, Rab, Cres-Lošinj and Pag.
These regions produce fruity, dry white wines, mostly from indigenous grapes such as Malvazija (Malvasia) and Žlahtina. Bold, dry reds are also produced here, commonly Teran (Terrano), Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Refošk (Refosco).
The Momjan region is known for Muškat Momjanski (Yellow Muscat), while the town of Bakar is specifically known for a centuries-old traditional sparkling wine.
Wineries of Istria and Kvarner Croatia Wine Regions
- Kabola Winery, Buje – This historic winery has been in production since 1891 and also produces olive oil. Organic and environmentally-friendly techniques are used to produce a number of wines, including whites, red, rosé, sweet wines, and sparkling wines.
- Kozlovic Winery, Buje – This family-run winery has over a century of winemaking heritage. Croatian grapes grown here include Malvazia, Muscat Momiano, Muscat Rose, and Teran, though Kozlovic also grows international favorites, such as Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot.
- Roxanich Winery, Motovun – Roxanich is well-known for traditional and natural wines, but also for trendy orange wines (said to be “The New Rosé”). Orange wines are originally from Georgia, but are now produced in Croatia, as well as Slovenia and Italy. Roxanich is a great place to try orange wines, which feature intense flavors, such as honey, caramel, and apricot, though the aftertaste can be sour. Of course, Roxanich also produces grape wines, including reds, whites, and sparkling varieties. You can stay at the winery overnight.
- Kabola Winery, Momjan – Kabola’s family-run vineyards date back to 1891 and are famous for their incredible views of rolling hills as much as their popular wines, such as Amphora Malvazija. The Amphora Malvazija is made using recipes that date back to Roman and Greek traditions, fermenting wine in an amphora clay pot.
Dalmatia – Croatia Wine Regions
Dalmatia is everything south of the Velebit Channel and its vast size, islands and hillsides are home to numerous microclimates. These yield a diverse range of different grapes, many of which are red wine varieties and indigenous.
Red grapes to look out for include the Plavac Mali, which is a hybrid of Zinfandel and the ancient red grape, Dobričić; as well as Babić, Tribidrag (better known as Zinfandel or Primitivo), and Plavina. White grapes grown in this region include Debit, Maraština (Rukatac), Kujundžuša, Pošip, Bogdanuša, Vugava, and Grk.
Wineries of North Dalmatia Croatia Wine Regions
The sub-region of North Dalmatia (Sjeverna Dalmacija) stretches from the old coastal town of Zadar to just north of Split and is most famous for the Babić grape, which produces an inky, strong and tannin-rich red wine.
- Degarra Winery, Zadar – This small, boutique Zadar winery is a newly established winemaking facility, housed on a former military barracks and founded in 2012. Grapes grown include Cabernet, Merlot, Syrah, Plavin, Pošip, and Maraština, which produce quality wines, especially white wines.
- Rak Winery, Sibenik – One of the best places to try Babić is at the Rak Winery in Sibenik, which specializes in Babić and Marastina wines, including an Opolo rosé wine made from Babić grapes. If you prefer, you can also stay overnight at the winery.
- Testament Winery – the vineyards are located in the wine-growing region of Northern Dalmatia, near the medieval town of Sibenik. The specific weather conditions and the specificity of the soil here require a constant struggle for survival from the vine, and this age-old ritual is felt and seen in the more intense, deeper, and fuller colors, flavors, and aromas of our wines. Grapes grown include Pošip and Babić. My favorite Babić. wine is Testament Dalmatian Dog. It’s a fruity, medium-bodied, organic wine with lively freshness and firm structure. It has dark ruby color and aromas of ripe red cherry and Dalmatian herbs.
Wineries of Central and South Dalmatia
Central and South Dalmatia (Srednja i Južna Dalmacija) is where you can find some of the country’s finest (and most expensive) wines. The winehill of Kastela is known for Crljenak Kaštelanski, an ancestor of Zinfandel; while Dingac is famous for its Plavac Mali, an offspring of Zinfandel.
- Stari Grad Plain, Hvar – The Dalmatian island of Hvar is home to Stari Grad Plain, an agricultural landscape and UNESCO World Heritage Site that has been growing grapes since 400 BC, when the isle was colonized by the Ionian Greeks. There are around 100 grape varieties preserved here, as well as ancient stone ruins and other historic wonders. Hvar is particularly known for the cult variety of grape, Bogdanuša.
- Vinarija Milos, Peljesac – Another Dalmatian wine attraction to add to your itinerary while you’re in the region is Vinarija Milos on the Peljesac Peninsula, a popular winery that has been in the Milos family for generations. Production is focused around the Plavac Mali grape, which is an autochthonous cultivar of Central and South Dalamatia.
Conclusion Croatia Wine Regions
We hope this comprehensive guide to the Croatia wine regions and Croatian winemaking, in general, has helped you plan your vino-focused trip to the country. Have you ever tried orange wine? Did you know about the many different varieties of indigenous grapes native to Croatia? And most importantly, does this article leave you feeling a little thirsty for a glass of vino?
If you’ve visited Croatia before and are already familiar with delicious Croatian wines, let us know of any recommendations or suggestions you have for the best wine regions, sub-regions, and wine hills to visit in the country; which wineries you visited and liked, as well as which wines to try.