The following copy appeared in Decanter’s Croatia 2023 supplement, a guide produced in cooperation with Vinistra, association of winegrowers and winemakers of Istria, and the Croatian National Tourist Board.

No doubt it’s the sun, sea and a romantic rugged coastline that brings some 20 million tourists to Croatia every year, but there is far more to this geographically diverse and endlessly fascinating country, writes Caroline Gilby MW.

Motovun Village with an old vineyard of Teran vines.

Motovun Village with an old vineyard of Teran vines. Credit: Julien Duval / Istria Tourist Board.

‘What better way to explore than with a glass in hand?’

It almost feels like several countries within one – there are four wine regions that each have their own very distinctive wine styles, where geography, climate and culture all play a part.

And what better way to explore than with a glass in hand? 

Quick Links

Istria and its key grape varieties | Beyond Istria: regions to know

A taste of Croatia: 15 wines to seek out | Visit Istria: a wine lover’s tour

Croatia wine regions map

Croatia wine map

Credit: Map design by Zavod za fotogrametriju d.d. for Croatian Chamber of Economy [Source: Vineyard register, Paying Agency for Agriculture, Fisheries and Rural Development].

The Croatian mainland coastline stretches about 1,800km from the north (within sight of the eastern end of the Alps) to the south and the hot rocky shoreline around Dubrovnik.

It has about 1,200 islands, too, offering plenty of peaceful spots for visitors (and pirates back in history).

But it’s worth heading inland, too, to discover a landscape of medieval hilltop villages, woods, olive groves and hiking trails buzzing with wildlife, especially in the almost Tuscan landscape of Istria. 

Further inland near Zagreb, the capital, the cool Croatian Uplands produce wonderfully vibrant crisp whites, lighter reds and great sparkling wines, while Slavonia and the Croatian Danube are noted for glowing golden Graševina (the most famous spot is called the Golden Valley), fine Chardonnays and spicy, exotic Traminers. 

Croatia has at least 95 endemic varieties, some surviving as just a handful of forgotten vines, and others proving well- suited to Croatian growing conditions – like Istria’s Malvazija Istarska and Dalmatia’s Plavac Mali. 

This special guide on Croatia will take an in-depth look at the wonderful wine landscape of Istria, where Vinistra (the regional association of winegrowers and winemakers) is determined to put this visually stunning region and its wines on the wine map. 

The association will be celebrating its 30th year in 2024 and is a welcome beacon of cooperation in a region where people often want to go it alone.

To that end, the association plans to host a showcase of Decanter World Wine Awards medal winners in June 2024, which will be open to winemakers from all over the country – and a great chance for visitors to experience the best of Croatian wine. 

Caroline Gilby MW is an awarded author, speaker and consultant with a passion for the wines of the Balkans, Central and Eastern Europe and the Black Sea. She is a DWWA joint Regional Chair for North, Central & Eastern Europe. 

The list below features four articles from Decanter’s Croatia 2023 print supplement, produced in cooperation with Vinistra and the Croatian National Tourist Board. They have been labelled as sponsored. Other articles featured in this list are independent editorial pieces from our archive.