Having just returned from Croatia, it seems amazing how this country- and Slovenia- have remained under the wine lovers radar screen. All the Croatian wines we tried- and we visited 14 wineries in Croatia- were good to outstanding. Most of the Croatian wineries would be classified as boutique to moderate size; none produced over 500,000 bottles and most are in the under 50,000 bottle category. By and large, the facilities are state of the art, with some more rustic than others. But the final result is what counts and I am happy to list what I consider the top 5 of the Croatian wineries we visited. One caveat: don’t expect to find these Croatian wines soon on your local retailers’ shelves; many of the wineries in Croatia don’t export and the ones that do have limited distribution. Nonetheless if you’re fortunate to have the opportunity to try any wines from Croatia or Slovenia, don’t pass it up.
So here they are: The Top 5 Wineries in Croatia:
Tomic on Hvar Island:
Andro Tomic presents a daunting image with his wiry bushy hair but he makes some great wines. I particularly liked his plavec mali and prosek which won an award recently from Decanter Magazine.
Bibich in Sibenik:
Allen Bibich and his wife offer a wine and dine experience not to be missed. They do great work with the indigenous grape varieties and I particularly liked their red blend called R6 made up of equal parts of babich, plavian and lasin. Some good news: Bibich exports 60% of their production mostly to the US and their importer is BlueDanube.
Boskinac on Pag Island:
This family has created a resort wining and dining experience on this desolate island. Pag is noted for its sheep cheese and a wild town frequented by young people out to have a good time. But Anthony Bourdain made his way to Boskinac, as we did. Their signature wine is a white made from the gegic grape.
Katunar on Krk Island:
The Katunar family has built a Napa Valley-like tasting room with a spectacular view of the valley. Each of us had a place setting and we had a winemaker-led guided tasting of 9 wines, including a sparkling made from the debit grape and 2 whites made from the zlahtina grape grown on the plain vs the hillside, which made a dramatic difference. Their reds are intense and magnificent. They work with both native and international varieties and they export a portion of their production.
Tomac Winery in Plesivica:
Tomislav Tomac could care less if you visited his winery or not. He does welcome wine lovers but discourages visits from tourists. So we were fortunate to spend some quality time at the family winery, famous for its amphora wines fermented and aged in underground clay amphora. In fact Tomac was the 3rd winery we visited that uses clay amphora for part of the production. The Tomac amphora wines were clearly the best we tried. Eric Asimov alluded to ‘the orange wines’ of Croatia which get their color from skin contact during fermentation. Using amphora just cranks up the intensity of the color and flavor. Wines made in amphora are not immediately approachable; you acquire a taste for them. Tomac makes outstanding sparkling wines also which are first rate. But the amphora wines are outstanding, particularly the Riesling ’09, fermented and aged 6 months in clay amphora, then 18 months in oak barrels and 1 year bottle aging. This wine was selected “Best White Wine of Croatia” in 2012.
This top five rating was limited to Croatia but the Rojac Winery in Slovenia is also worthy of top billing.