Although Dubrovnik, overlooking the aquamarine Adriatic Sea, is defined by water, the beautiful coast of Dalmatia has a serious competitor: the Dalmatian wine. The Dalmatian cuisine of the fresh sea fish, shellfish, the famous prosciutto, sheep's cheese and salted olives and capers is traditionally accompanied by wine.
Dalmatian wines, like olive oil and salted olives, have been highly esteemed since ancient times. Grape cultivation in Croatia pre-dated the Romans by several hundred years, and became more organized under the Roman Empire. Vineyards and winemaking survived invasions by marauding tribes and the anti- alcohol policies of the Ottoman Empire. This resilient winemaking culture is shared with the surrounding nations, notably Austria and Hungary. In addition, Croatia's forests have long been a prime source for cellar oak, used in casks for aging some of the finest Italian wines.
Emerging from the collapse of the former Yugoslavia and the shadow of civil war, Croatia has made a return entrance onto the world wine stage, with wines that show great potential. The most highly regarded Dalmatian reds are made from Plavac Mali, and the grape used in two wines with long-standing reputations, Postup and Dingac. DNA testing has demonstrated that Plavac Mali is an offshoot of the true original Zinfandel, a little-planted grape from the same area. For such a small land, Croatia has produced more than its share of grapes and wine, most of them selling at bargain prices, and well worth trying.
Croatian wines have had a steady presence in Europe for decades. But the first flurry of attention in the U.S. came in the 1990s, when prominent California winemaker Miljenco "Mike" Grgich, a Croatian native, announced his intention to launch an ambitious, upscale wine project back on his native soil. As one of the winemakers behind California's surprising success against the best wines of France, Grgich's decision cast a bright spotlight on Croatia. But this celebrity endorsement only revealed the tip of the iceberg for a country with rich winemaking traditions and resources.