Zadar is one of the fastest growing wine regions in Croatia. Ever greater number of wine makers, international prizes, and large investments in wineries are a solid proof that a wine festival is much needed in this antique Adriatic town. And it happened for the first time in Zadar’s Arsenal, a medieval building in the heart of Zadar’s ancient peninsula.
More than eighty wine makers, liqueur producers and gastronomy exhibitors were present in Zadar. It shows immense possibilities to have such focused festivals the year round. The guests had several opportunities to enjoy and learn more about viticulture and oenology. Among the presentations particularly interesting for public were degustation and presentation of Istrian Malvasia, then of Graševina, and generally an introductory sommelier course.
But we came to Zadar to learn more about the subregion of Northern Dalmatia, where Zadar is situated. From many different aspects, Northern Dalmatia gives great opportunities to travel and taste local products. As most of the Croatian coast, it is separated in the islands, coastline, and hinterland. But the specific of Northern Dalmatia is Ravni Kotari. Instead of high mountains that picturesquely adorn the Croatian coastline, Zadar is surrounded by flat field known for excellent fruits, vegetables, and other agricultural products. This is also one of the regions for wine.
Basically, the wine region is divided among the coast and islands on the one side (Zadar-Biograd-Šibenik line) and the Dalmatian Zagora or hinterland. The criteria for this difference is ratio between soil and stone. It is a region where almost forgotten wine sorts thrive: maraštin, debit and pošip of white wines, and karinjanka and new imported sorts from the red ones. We’ve tried several of them.
First wine is also first Zadar’s sparkling wine that comes from small Degarra winery. This boutique winery situated in Zadar is a vision of two friends Dane Šulentić and Mate Pestić who had an idea of contributing to the growing Zadar’s wine scene. In nearby Zaton they made Primo – First Zadar Sparkling Wine, which is made using the traditional fermentation method in Pošip bottle.
Maraština is one of the biggest sorts of Northern Dalmatia – and one of the oldest. It is a rare type, indigenous to Dalmatia, golden, but forgotten until recently. It is an organic wine, rediscovered by Jokić Winery, situated in Ravni kotari, and brought back to the world as a light wine. It is also called “rukatac” because the cluster resembles a body with two arms. Maraština ripens late, so the grapes are quite sweet. Due to its flowery smell and lower alcohol percentage it is called a ladies’ wine. We tasted Jokić Maraština 2015, a white, dry, mineral and refreshing wine, with wonderful acid and fresh fruit contents.
A gracious Pošip comes from Kraljevski vinogradi – Royal vineyards in Petrčane. Director Mr Zoran Pantalon gave this name because the Croatian King Petar Krešimir IV gave the vienyards at this post in 1066 to the new established St Mary’s Benedictine Monastery in Zadar, which was run by his sister and nun Čika. They Pošip, an excellent and elegant wine with pronouced freshness, bouquet of southern fruits and elder flower, and harmonic taste, which somewhat resembles the purity of the eccesiastical orders.
From Biogad na Moru winery comes Rosé Syrah Grenache 2015. Rather new wine story is part of a bit older Sklad Group from royal Croatian town of Biograd. They do not have their own vineyards but buy the best grapes to produce excellent wine. Mr Branko Bungur started this new project in a former bakery and has large capacities.
Winery Škaulj from Nadin is yet another example of potentials and eco-production in Ravni Kotari. Among many satisfied guests in this winery was also Swedish King and Queen! We have tried its Moscato Giallo (Muškat Žuti), a clear semi-sweet wine with gentle yellow colour and very aromatic. Its bouquet boasts with fresh fruit, candid fruit, rose, and some tropical fruit. Sweet and balanced taste round up this great wine.
Figurica Winery is located in Smilčić and is one of the most modern wineries in the area. Here in complete peace and quiet mature wines made by the family Anić. But they hide a real treat – svrdlovina. This red wine with strong tanines and very young wine is like stepping to the everyday life in the past times. A mystic wine was completely forgotten and this festival returned it to life. Many older generations remember svrdlovina from their youth, but Ravni kotari didn’t see this wine for a very long time.
Another winery from Nadin, Vrsaljko, brings blend of Merlot and Syrah Nadinska rana 2015.The red wine with deep ruby colour is excellent dry wine with rich extracts. It shows well how imported red wines blissfully succeed in the Zadar area and with the inherited knowledge of Zadar’s wine makers.
Last but not least, there is red Crljenak from awarded winery Mas-Vin in Polača. Another fine example of Ravni kotari agricultural endevour, Mas-Vin is proud on its Crljenak/Zinfandel 2013 with a fantastic 15,5 per cent of alcohol. Producers remind this is the wine of our ancestors, with rich fruity bouquet and soft taste, excellent blended with the mild Mediterranean foods.
Probably the most missing representative of Northern Dalmatia is Babić. But, as this is indeed Zadar’s wine festival it should be noted that Babić is more Šibenik’s sort of red wine. Missing are also the islands, but this was a golden opportunity for Ravni kotari to shine. And this region truly deserves such an attention, as the wine is treated here as „gift from heaven, tear of Mother Earth, and source of life“. To visit the area and not see famous vineyards makes your trip utterly wasted.
Text and Photos by: Josip Paškov