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Explore Istria with Vinistra

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An invitation to discover the fascinating Croatian region and its flagship variety, Malvazija Istarska

Millions of tourists from around the world flock to Croatia every year, with Istria a particular favourite amongst German visitors, who can reach it by car in just a few hours. The largest peninsula in the Adriatic, Istria is surrounded by sea on three sides, with the Julian Alps to the north bringing cooling breezes.

This is a stunning landscape of clear seas, Roman ruins (Pula’s impressive amphitheatre is a must-see), fortified coastal towns and medieval hilltop villages. A unique setting, with vineyards everywhere, teeming with wildlife and dotted with olive groves producing award-winning oils.

Žatika Hall, Poreč

Žatika Hall, Poreč

The versatile Malvazija

Exploring local wine is a great way to discover the Istrian landscape, especially through the lens of the region’s amazing local grapes. Malvazija Istarska plays the starring role – a unique white variety that probably originated here and is unrelated to other similarly named Malvasia grapes. Its name originates via Venetian traders centuries ago, but what really matters today is that this grape makes delicious wines.

Malvazija is incredibly versatile; most wines are vinified in steel for fresh, vibrant fruitiness, perfect with Istria’s abundant seafood. However, the variety also lends itself to more nuanced winemaking. Cold maceration before fermentation lends extra weight and aromatic complexity, while fermentation with skins, occasionally using amphorae, makes interesting orange styles. Fermentation and ageing in wood can also work well – options include oak, mulberry and especially the gently honeyed fragrance of acacia.

Picking grapes in Croatia's Istria region

Fruits of the earth

Producers are increasingly bottling their best vineyard expressions separately, showcasing the fabulous Istrian terroir. The peninsula is largely underlaid with karst bedrock, with four main soil types: red ‘Terra Rossa’, limestone-rich white, grey flysch and humus-rich black. The red soils typically give the most structured wines (whether red or white) and the white soils the most fragrant. Meanwhile, black soils emphasise fruitiness and grey soils deliver a particular balance between aromatic nuance and weight.

There are many fascinating chapters in Istria’s wine story – especially the local red Teran with its bilberry and raspberry fruit, bright freshness, and firm tannins. Teran wine is increasingly impressive as producers have learned to tame, but not discard, its wild-edged personality. There are also fragrant Muscats in dry to semi-sweet styles in pink, yellow and white variants, and of course a smattering of international grapes. Merlot is a particular star here – as one producer says, ‘we can play in the Champions’ League with Merlot’. It keeps fine fruit expression along with freshness and balance, thanks to the Adriatic-meets-Alpine climate.

Range of wine varieties offered in the region

Putting Istria on the map

Vinistra (the association of growers and winemakers of Istria) is determined to put this stunning region and its wines on the wine map. It was founded in 1994 and is a welcome beacon of proactive cooperation in the region. It represents 120 of the most important Istrian producers and in 2024 is offering several opportunities for professionals and consumers alike to explore Istria’s wines.

Presenting to the wine trade, there will be 14 producers at the world’s most important wine fair, Prowein in Düsseldorf. ‘It’s important to us that it is held in Germany, the most important tourism market for Croatia and Istria, Vinistra President Luka Rossi explains. ‘With an emphasis on top wines and the Istrian wine tradition, we will primarily present our indigenous varieties – Malvazija Istarska and Teran.’

Caroline Gilby MW will present two masterclasses. The first, called ‘Don’t Forget the Z – why Istria’s own Malvazija should be on your radar’, will explore the styles and potential of this grape. The second session, ‘Colours of Istria’, will cover the wider range of varieties produced in the region. Global producers of Malvasia can also deliver samples for the World of Malvasia competition held by Vinistra every April (317 Malvasias from 7 countries participated last year).

From May 10 to 12, Vinistra will celebrate its 30th jubilee at the biggest fair dedicated to Istrian wines. This event, held at the Žatika hall in Poreč, is open to both public and trade visitors, and offers an amazing opportunity to explore the best of the region in one location. On June 27, Vinistra will host the first ever DWWA showcase in Croatia, featuring winners from the 2024 Decanter World Wine Awards, with a study trip (June 26 to 29) also available for wine professionals.

Considering today’s thirst for authentic, great quality wine, Istria has bags to offer – and 2024 will see plenty of opportunities to learn more about this dynamic and beautiful wine region.

Meet Vinistra and discover Istrian wines at ProWein Düsseldorf 
DÜSSELDORF March 10 to 12
Hall 13, stand A23

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