Welcome to the Wine Region of Istra and Kvarner!
Welcome to the wine region of Istra and Kvarner! The region is located in the north-western part of Croatia, bordering Slovenia to the north. Istria and Kvarner together make up one of the four wine regions in Croatia. The region of Istria makes up the majority of the Istrian Peninsula, while the rest is located in Slovenia and Italy. Kvarner covers the area of Rijeka, and the islands of Krk, Cres, Rab, Lošinj, and Pag. The focus of this article will be on Croatian Istria. Istria is the most developed wine region in all of Croatia, owing to its long history and recent investments into the agricultural area. Wine production in this area dates back to antiquity. Istria has a mild Mediterranean climate that is ideal for viticulture, and allows for many different authentic and international grape varieties to thrive. The signature wine of this region is fruity, dry white wine, however there are many other wines to taste when you visit.
The beginning of the Istrian wine industry is considered to be in the 6th century, when the Greeks introduced wine grapes to Istria. The region gets its name from the tribe of Histri who were the first settlers on this peninsula. Istria benefits from a prime geographic location, and as such it has had a very unique history. Due to numerous changes and military conflicts, Istria was held back somewhat from becoming one of the “famous” European wine regions. Despite not having the same recognition, it’s wine quality and rich history will not disappoint and in recent years this region has begun to gain recognition internationally. Although a very old wine growing region, it’s new development and investments into viticulture and winemaking have really started to ramp up the quality of its production. A focus on agritourism and growing native grape varieties, as well as some of the French classics, has helped to bring tourism and awareness to the region. Istria has also begun to participate in International wine shows where wines from Istria have performed very well. Previously Istria, like most other wine regions and countries that were under communist Yugoslavia, produced mostly bulk wine, but after Croatia declared independence in the early 1990s the Istrian wine industry rapidly started developing.
But communism wasn’t the only government, and Yugoslavia wasn’t the only country that claimed the region of Istria as its own. The complicated history of Istria over the past 100 years can be summed up by the statement of one Istrian winemaker: “My grandfather was born in Austria, my father was born in Italy, I was born in Yugoslavia and my daughter was born in Croatia. We were all born in the same house.” This constant change in governance over a very short period of time made developing in any industry difficult, and it left people with a strange sense of nationality and identity. Even today the region has strong Italian heritage, with road signs in both Croatian and Italian, and many of the people are bilingual.
Another factor that significantly affected this area was the phylloxera crisis. This greatly diminished the grape growing area of the region. Prior to the phylloxera crisis, there were about 44,000 hectares under vines, but today Croatian Istria has only about 4,000 hectares planted to vines. Despite this reduction in size, the focus has shifted to quality, and the area is continuing to be developed.
The Istrian and Kvarner wine region is divided on 2 sub-regions: Hrvatska Istra (Croatian Istria) and Kvarner. When Croatia entered the European Union in 2013, several other quality levels were introduced in all wine regions of Croatia. These are summarized below:
- Vino=Wine (table wine)
- ZOZP (Zaštićena Oznaka Zemljopisnog Podrijetla)=PGI (protected geographical indication)
- ZOI (Zaštićena Oznaka Izvornosti)= PDO (Protected designation of origin)
Predicate wines are classified as:
- Kasna Berba=Late vintage
- Izborna Berba=Selection
- Izborna Berba Bobica=Beerenauslese
- Izborna Berba Prosušenih Bobica=Trockenbeerenauslese
- Ledeno Vino=Ice wine
Istria is located between the Alps to the north and the Adriatic sea to the south, and it is considered to be one of the largest green oases of the North Adriatic. The climate in Istria is Mediterranean, but with a high degree of influence from the Alps which bring cold air to Istria in the afternoon and evenings. This cooler air influences the ripening of the grapes, and makes the wines more fresh and able to retain some acidity. The average rainfall in Istria is around 800mm per year, mostly during late fall, winter and spring. Summers in the area are very hot and dry, and in the last decade droughts have been more dry and more frequent. Many of the wine growers do not use irrigation for their vineyards, even though it is permitted by the region. This is becoming a bigger problem each and every year as climate change advances, and likely non-irrigated vineyards will become a thing of the past.
The soil of Istria is divided into 3 different types:
- Red soil (or Crljenica) is the name for soil which has a slightly red colour and is very rich in iron. In Istria it is often called Terra Rossa. Red soil can mostly be found closer to the sea and is considered a poor soil. This soil is typically good for growing red varieties, but some winegrowers prefer to grow white varieties here, which gives very structured and full bodied wines.
- Grey soil (or Sivo tlo) can mostly be found in the central part of the Istrian peninsula. This soil consists mostly of sedimentary rock with grey clay rich in limestone, and as such it is a cooler soil with a higher water holding capacity and it is more suitable for white varieties. Wines from grey soils usually have good acidity, medium body and a strong aromatic profile.
- White soil (or Bijelo tlo) has a higher amount of limestone and is mostly a rocky type of soil. White soil in Istria can be found at higher elevations, and wines from this type of soil typically have higher acidity and are more elegant.
5. Wine Style:
The most iconic and representative variety of Istria is hands down Malvazija Istarska (Malvasia Istriana). Around 60% of the total vineyards in Istria are planted with Malvasia Istriana! This white variety is considered to be an authentic Croatian Variety, and it cannot be found outside of Croatian Istria, Slovenia, or Friuli-Venezia Giulia in Italy. Malvasia Istriana is planted in white and grey soils in Istria, and this gives us refreshing wines with aromas of acacia flower and citrus fruit. It is typically produced as a fresh style white wine that is perfectly paired with oysters or other seafood. However, today Istria produces other styles of Malvasia Istriana as well. This variety can be used for sparkling wines, barrel-aged white wines, and it can undergo longer maceration and can be used to produce sweet wines.
The second most famous grape variety of Croatian Istria is Teran. Teran is a “troublemaker” variety, with problems ripening in the Istrian climate, which can lead to wines that are somewhat green and unbalanced. However, in good climatic conditions, Teran has a deep colour, with high acidity and tannins, and it gives us aromas of dark berries and herbs. Teren is often blended with Bordeaux varieties to balance the wines. This variety is often grown a little bit more inland.
The third signature of Croatian Istria is Muskat Momnjaski (Moscato di Momiano). This aromatic, sweet wine can mostly be found near the town of Momjan in the north-west part of Croatian Istria. The most well-known variety grown in Kvarner is Žlahtina, which is mostly grown on the island of Krk. In addition to these authentic Istrian varieties, Istria grows and produces wines from international varieties (mostly French varieties) such as Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and many others.
Overall, Croatian Istria is a very diverse region with a very intense history and many years of traditional winegrowing knowledge. There are so many different wines to try, and the entire experience of the region focuses on agritourism and locally grown food and wine. Recent developments into the area have really begun to put it on the map. We are happy to share one wine that truly represents the region and tells its story of the region in every glass. Enjoy!
WSET Global. Croatian Istria - New Old Wine. https://www.wsetglobal.com/knowledge-centre/blog/2020/february/18/croatian-istria-new-old-world
Croatia.hr. Gastronomy & Enology. The Istria and Kvarner Wine Region.https://croatia.hr/en-GB/experiences/gastronomy-and-enology/the-istria-and-kvarner-wine-region