We read an announcement recently that HBO has partnered with Vintage Wine Estates, a collection of wineries based in Sonoma County, California, to produce several Game of Thrones-themed wines.
Vintage Wine Estates produces wines from Sonoma and Napa Valleys, two of our favorite wine regions. But we would have thought HBO would source a GOT-themed wine from a wine region more connected to the filming of the show. An obvious choice would have been Croatia, where significant episodes and scenes have been filmed over the past seasons. In fact, Kings Landing, the capital of Westeros, home of the Red Keep and seat of the Iron Throne itself, is filmed using landmarks in Croatia’s southern seaside town of Dubrovnik. We like to think that a hearty Croatian wine would have been an apt choice for GOT fans and wine lovers alike.
As our regular readers will know, we were in Croatia about a month ago enjoying the many natural wonders of the country as well as their spectacular food and fine wines. Although we live in California wine country, we are by no means wine snobs and always bring an open mind to other wine regions around the world. We found the Croatian wines to be sophisticated, structure, balanced, aromatic and flavorful, with their best wines the equal of the best wines of Spain, France and Italy. Certainly, Croatia has a very long history of growing grapes with wine production going back over 2,500 years. Today, there are hundreds of wineries in Croatia spread across their two main wine regions, Coastal and Continental; within these two broad regions there are 300 smaller geographically defined sub-regions. Most of the country’s production is white wine (about 2/3 of the total) with the balance red wine. Most of the white wine is made in the Continental region while the red wines predominantly come from the Coastal region.
Croatian wine makers produce wine from a host of “international” varietals, including Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. However, Croatia boasts over a hundred grape varietals that are indigenous to the country including Posip, Grasevina, Debit, and Malvasia (white grapes) and Plavac Mali, Teran, and Babic. In our Croatian adventure, we tasted several of the whites, including Posip from Korcula and a number of reds including Plavac Mali from arguably the best location in the country, Dingac, on the Peljesac Peninsula.
We brought several bottles of Croatian wine home with us to America and have shared them with friends who appreciate sophisticated, high-quality wines. Everyone that has tried our Croatian wines has told us how surprised they are by the structure and balance of the wines, especially the Plavac Mali red wines. In fairness, we should point out that we only purchased and brought back wines with the highest qualification: Vrhunsko Vino, which means “premium quality wine.” Immediately after tasting the wines we brought back, our friends have asked “how can we get some of these wines ourselves?”
There are some Croatian wines in the U.S. today, mostly from the larger Croatian producers. We strongly believe that the “next big thing” in U.S. wine importing will be wines from Croatia and other Balkan countries. As the Croatian wine industry continues to mature and blend ancient wine-making techniques with new processes and technologies, the wines will only get better. For those looking to find high-quality Croatian wines from the country’s many wine sub-regions, we have two suggestions.
First, if you are going to be in Croatia, build your trip around visiting some of the country’s most well-known wine regions: Istria in the northwest, Slavonia and Danube in the east, and Korcula, Hvar and Peljesac in Dalmatia. If you are going to be in Croatia but do not have the time to visit many wineries, the next best thing is to visit a wine bar that brings hundreds of Croatian wineries to you. Our favorite wine bar in Croatia is in Zagreb – Wine Bar Basement, which is located just below the Zagreb funicular which runs from Lower Town to Upper Town.
Wine Bar Basement is very conveniently located on a pedestrian street in the center of Zagreb and offers more than 120 different Croatian wines, most of which can be ordered by the bottle or by the glass. You can make a reservation here: Wine Bar Basement – Zagreb if you are planning to be in the area. If you go, ask for Dario Drmac and tell him that John & Irina sent you; he will take good care of you. At Basement you can not only taste many different wines but also enjoy many different cheese and meat platters to accompany the wine.
Although sorting through 120 separate wines could be intimidating, the Basement wine list is helpfully broken down by red and white wines within each of the country’s major wine regions. Their list of wines is available online here: http://basement-bar.net/wine-card/.
This regionally based list makes it more manageable to pick a wine; plus, if you need help Dario or the staff at Basement can give you specific recommendations. We spent several hours at Basement and got a really comprehensive overview of Croatia’s varietals, wine regions, and wine styles which was very useful for our later trips to wineries in Dalmatia.
If you can’t make it to Zagreb to visit Basement, you can still benefit from the hard work and expertise that went into curating Basement’s long list of high-quality Croatian wines. In addition to being a co-owner of Basement, Dario is also the founder of an impressive e-commerce site that promotes and sells Croatian wine called The Wine & More . You can search for individual Croatian red and white wines or, if you prefer to have some “virtual” help, the site recommends options for case purchase (Istrian White Wine Case, Best Croatian Red Wine Case, Best of Dingac, Selection of Plavac Mali, etc.). These case recommendations are very useful for those that may not know the individual labels but would like to taste a range of a region or varietal. There is also an interactive map of Croatia with each of the represented wineries laid out geographically so shoppers can search for wines by region. There are many family-owned and small-production wineries that Wine & More works with that are too small to have their own distribution and shipping channels. It would be very difficult for you to find their wines any other way than through the Wine & More site.
For our European friends, we believe The Wine & More is a great option to try Croatian wines. Shipping is available to at least 26 countries in Europe so availability is almost universal on the continent. For friends of ours, Dario is offering a promotion code that will allow you to save 10% on your order. At checkout, simply enter code “WQYXUBR” in the box labeled “promo code” and the discount will be applied at checkout. Currently, The Wine & More does not ship to the United States.
We are eagerly anticipating our next trip to Croatia; in the meantime, we will be jealously guarding what remains of the wine we brought home. Nothing against the Game of Thrones wine (we may even buy some), but for our money the real “Kings Landing” wine flows in Croatia.
John & Irene Ingersoll
December 9, 2016
Wine Bar Basement: http://basement-bar.net
Basement wine list: http://basement-bar.net/wine-card/
Wine & More: https://www.thewineandmore.com/