Who would have thought Croatian Wines would totally win us over and leave us wanting more!
Could it have been the expertise of Anna Bitanga Jukic, who holds a Level 3 Diploma as an International Sommelier and co-founder of Insider Holidays who hosted us on their Half Day Wine Lover’s Tour of Peljesac Peninsula?
Could it have been the visit to the family-owned Milos Vineyard and tasting 3 of their wines and their Extra Virgin Olive Oil?
Could it have been stopping on the slopes of Dingac and tasting the blue grapes of Plavac Mali right off the vine?
Or could it have been sampling local food and enjoying the wines of Denis and Mia from Vinarija Kriz?
It was all of the above and more.
Coming from Australia, we are biased, we believe our wines to be superior and we will even acknowledge our neighbour across the water, New Zealand, who have superior wines that equal ours. We knew nothing about Croatian wines and had never seen a bottle for sale anywhere outside Croatia. We needed to know more. Our research on Dubrovnik wine tours led us to contact Bozidar and Ana Bitanga Jukic, husband and wife team, from Insider Holidays.
The difference with this wine tour compared to other wine tours that we had been on was that Ana held a Level 3 Certificate as an International Sommelier and had extensive experience, passion and knowledge in the wine industry as well as the restaurant business where her family owns and runs a restaurant inside the walls of Dubrovnik. We learnt so much in such a short time about Croatian wines.
As we travelled to the first winery on our visit Ana helped us to understand the wine industry of Croatia.
Why are Croatian Wines different?
Wine making in Croatia dates back to the Ancient Greeks over 2,500 years ago. 18 centuries ago the Greek Writer Athenaeus mentioned the excellent quality of wines that were produced on the Islands of Vis, Hvar and Korcula, these wines were even enjoyed in the Hungarian-Austrian Courts.
Croatia has many different indigenous grape varieties. The vineyards are on a smaller scale than other countries and as such there is not enough wine to export, the wine is consumed by locals and of course tourists (and boy! were we happy when we heard this). In Croatia wine making is labour intensive, there are no modern machines all is done by hand.
Our tour took us to Peninsular Peljesac where the best wines of Croatia are grown and produced. South facing slopes with maximum sun exposure from the ocean and the sun produce a variety of grape known as Plavac Mali. Plavac Mali means small blue and this grape variety is really small and blue and is related closely to Zinfandel. As we drove around we noticed that the vines are grown close to the ground which differs from those grown throughout Australia and New Zealand.
Our first vineyard was the family owned Milos Winery which has been in the family for 5 generations. We were greeted by one of two sons of father Frano Milos, Josip Milos, who entertained us for the next 45 minutes on the history and the production of their wine over the generations. 97% of the vines grown on their 37 acres (15 hectares) was allocated for Plavac Mali and 3% for white wine. The vines are grown on South facing steep slopes where we noticed dry stone walls were built to prevent erosion. Their organic grown wines require no additives such as yeast and are aged in large Slavonian oak barrels.
The dry stone walls are also natural habitats for a variety of herbs. The Milos family grow Sage, Heather and Mountain Germande which they use to produce a 100% natural gourmet tea.
The Vineyard also produces Extra Virgin Olive Oil which won a Gold Medal at the New York International Olive Oil Competition in 2013 and 2014. Our tasting revealed a fresh, fruity and slightly spicy flavour that would certainly enhance any salad.
And now to what we were there for…..
#1 Stagnum Rose 2015
Prior to coming to Croatia, we had spent 3 weeks in France enjoying their many varieties of Rose. This was not your typical Rose, it was actually better, it was a fuller and stronger Rose than we had ever tasted. The Rose is produced from the first juice of Plavac Mali grape and is a perfect accompaniment to Sushimi and the local Croatian oysters. The Rose turned out to be our favourite.
#2 Plavac 2012
An earthy full rich flavoursome wine that had hints of cherries and olives which would be suited to enjoy with lamb.
#3 Stagnum Dry 2007
Tasting the 2007 Stagnum Dry revealed a full-bodied strong true Plavac Mali wine. Its rich and smooth taste is perfect for sardines, wild tuna, wild boar, rabbit, chicken, turkey and pizza.
All good things must come to an end! In such a short time we had learnt so much about Croatian wines and especially the Milos family. They are pioneers in their field labelling and bottling their own wines. During Communism, they were not able to have their own labels and they were forced to sell their wines to the larger corporations who made a lot of bad wine.
For more information check out their website.
On our way to our next vineyard, we travelled through the picturesque countryside of the Peninsular with stunning views over the ocean towards the Island of Korcula. Cheekily, we stopped at one of the vineyards in the Dingac area where we tasted the dark blue Plavac Mali grape right off the vine. The Dingac area has an extra reflection from the sea and the sun from the limestone rocks that litter the mountainside and it is the ideal location for Plavac Mali.
How can they harvest the grapes on such steep slopes? This is one area where we would think twice in putting our hands up to help out in the harvest? Would you?
Kriz Winery is located in the small village of Prizdrina. Ana explained that there are 20 people only in this village in 3 families and 9 of those are children. Prizdrina is home to two outstanding organic wine makers and we were fortunate to visit one of them – Denis and Mia’s Kriz Winery, the only bio-dynamic winemakers in the whole of Croatia.
We were led through their private home to a courtyard area where we enjoyed local buckwheat bread, goats cheese, olives, roasted peppers, anchovies and almonds whilst tasting their wines.
During our tasting, Ana was excited to explain to us that one of her favourite wines Grk (which means bitter is Croatian) is made right here by Denis and Mia. Denis explained that Grk is a white wine that is orange in colour with no added additives and one that takes between 4-6 days to ferment. It has a more structured flavour than most whites. Unfortunately due to its popularity, there were no bottles left of Grk for our tasting. We may just need to return in May 2017 just to enjoy this wine, Denis and Mia have upped their production so maybe we will be lucky.
Kriz Winery makes 2 Reds, 1 Rose and 1 White wine. We enjoyed the Rose and the Plavac Mali whilst chatting with Mia and Ana. The Kriz Winery label was taken from an actual photo taken of Denis’s father and his dog in the vineyards. We were fortunate to meet Denis’s father, only briefly, as he dropped in to say hi, our lack of Croatian prevented us from a long chat. He is now 83, looks much younger, and just recently the family have stopped him from helping out in the harvest, he was so fast he was putting the younger ones to shame.
We could have stayed there all night talking with Denis and Mia. Ana did warn us that we would overstay our allotted time here, it was just so easy chatting around the table and enjoying their wines and their hospitality.
For more information check out their website.
We would like to thank Ana and Bozidar for hosting us on their Half Day Wine Lover’s Tour of the Peljesac Peninsular. On the way we visited the town of Ston, click this link to find out more about Croatia’s Gold.
Ana and Bozidar own Insider Holidays in Dubrovnik.
Apart from their Half Day Wine Lover’s Tour they also offer:
- Full Day Food and Wine Exploration
- Dubrovnik Wine Hunting
- Restaurant Crawls
- Food Heritage Exploration Tours
- Nature Outings & Picnics
They also run a Sights and Bites Dubrovnik Food Tour where you can experience Dubrovnik through food, sample locally sourced foods, learn about Dubrovnik’s culinary history and satisfy your taste buds whilst having a great time. It is a unique food/history walking tour through the ancient old town of Dubrovnik. For bookings email: [email protected]
Our tour also included a visit to the town of Ston – read our blog post on Why You Should Visit Ston?
We were hosted by Insider Holidays and as always our opinions are our own.
Who would like to enjoy Croatian Wines with us and Ana? Let us know if you are interested in a Food and Wine Tour of Croatia.
If you are planning to visit Croatia we can highly recommend that you spend at least a couple of weeks and travel to Split and Dubrovnik where you can enjoy the best of both cities and of course the Croatian Wines. The two cities are only 3 hours apart, an easy road trip, but you will need to allow some time for a border crossing. Yes, a border crossing through Bosnia Herzegovina. So don’t forget your passports.
We love Croatia so much that we have written an e-book to help travellers make the most of the vacation.
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