Croatia’s Istria Wine Region
Going into this trip, we knew very little about Croatian wine. This wine is not something that is readily available to us and when we looked around for it in preparation for this trip, we could only find one bottle – a red grape called Teran. With this information, we assumed our wine tasting experience would be as red focused.
Ironically, while we could only find red wine back home, while wine is the predominant wine of Istria. The grape that runs the show here is Malvasija. Perfect for summer, this grape creates a light and refreshing wine that is very drinkable – dry, lower in alcohol content, and has sweet floral aromas without being sweet on on the palate. Even though it was by far the most common wine bottle, we found ourselves drinking this one a majority of the trip because we enjoyed it so much. The most common red grape varietal is Teran which has earthy characteristics and higher tannins.
Many of our European trips have centered around a wine region and we have always booked with a tour guide for several reasons including that it is not common to simply drop by a winery and expect a tasting, and so we did not have to drive and we could enjoy ourselves. When I started exploring the various vineyards, many had the option of scheduling a tasting so I was confident that since we had the car, we could create our own wine tasting tour in Istria. I found a handful of spots that were high on the list, including:
The locations with the * are where we made reservations for and we allotted a day and a half for wine tasting. One huge bonus of the Airbnb is that is was walkable to several of these wine yards so we did not have to worry about driving.
With a full day ahead of us, we were so looking for to learning all about Croatian wine!
Our first stop of the day was north of Motovun – practically at the border of Solvenia – at Kabola Winery. I booked a 10AM tasting for the VIP experience as that was on the only one bookable in advance for a two people minimum and sometimes its fun to splurge for the VIP Experience.
When we arrived, it was jaw dropping – the grounds were stunning! We were still so surprised to be seeing this landscape in Croatia. We were the only ones there at open so we wandered around and met our tasting guide. He explained how the tasting would work, gave us some of the history of the winery, as well as the scatology of wines they offer. Unfortunately but not surprising, cellar tours were on hold due to COVID. No worries here – the grounds were amazing on their own.
Their catalog of wine including Malvasija and Teran, as well as a few other varietals and blends. All the wines here are organic and have the biodynamic seal on the label.
We spotted a table for two under a large oak tree around the wines – is there were our tasting would be??? Yep, pretty magical. Our seats had a gorgeous view not just of the restored house but of the Adriatic sea as well.
Before we even got to tasting wines, an enormous Istrian plate was placed at our table full of various local meats, cheeses, and breads. This was the included “snack”?? I laughed because I was so concerned we would not have enough food options during the day and just looking at this plate eliminated all of that. It was a beautiful and delicious arrangement – breakfast of champions. We even got a dessert cake to pair with the final dessert wine! Worth every penny of the VIP experience and paired wonderfully with the wine tasting.
The tasting included five wines – four white wines and two red wines. Three of the white wines were Malvasija with different preparations – traditional, amfora (clay and oak barreled) as well as Muškat Momjanski as a dessert wine. We thoroughly enjoyed everything we tasted as it was all light, refreshing, and balanced.
Nothing but positive feedback for Kabola – what a special tasting from the grounds, to the Istrian board, to the wines. Highly recommend! Our tasting experience was just under two hours long and priced at 250 kuna a person. When we left, there were several people sitting in the deck area enjoying a tasting and staff were setting up more tables under the oak tree for what I assumed was more VIP tasting experiences. We were still amazed how we had such a private experience – guess we should always schedule wine tastings at 10AM!
Kozlovic winery is only ten minutes from Kabola so it was easy to pair these two tastings together. The only wine we could find back home from Croatia was from Kozlovic so this one was definitely on the to-do list. When we pulled up, it was clear this winery was more established – just look at the building, very modern.
We booked a 12PM tasting that included a snack with each of the five wines offered. We checked in with a host and escorted to a tasting terrace that overlooked the vines. There were three other tables there that would also be participating in the same tasting experience but we were each at a separate and distanced table.
Like the previous experience, the wines here were mostly white – three white wines and two red wines. The mind blowing part of this experience was the “snack” which is hilarious to call these snacks – it was as if we were at a tasting menu. Sure, the items were snack sized but there was nothing about them that said snack – these were little gourmet dishes. Each one was incredibly flavored and paired perfectly with the wine. It was so uprising and impressive.
Here we made friends with the table behind us – two families from Belgium that caught our accent spotting us as Americans. They had tons of questions and ambitions of visiting the USA one day. Even our wine server was so interested in the USA and we exchanged information in hopes that we can help her when she visits. This is what we have missed about travel internationally the most – is meeting so many wonderful people throughout the world that share a passion for travel. Now we have contacts in Belgium for when we get there! I have to admit, I was nervous that Americans lost points internationally due to the climate we endured but it turns out we were sorely missed and welcomed back.
Anyway, another incredible tasting that I would definitely recommend! The two hour tasting at 250 kuna a person ended up being a three hour experience, probably because we were chatty but keep in mind for planning your day.
After these two tastings, we dropped the car back at the Airbnb and continued the wine tasting on foot.
I had booked with Tomaz Winery for 3PM via Facebook but since the wine tasting at Kozlovic went until 3PM and it took a half hour to get back to the Airbnb, we did not arrive until 4PM. We were apologetic as they thought we decided not to show (which I felt terrible about and in retrospect should have sent a message notifying them) but they were happy to accept us.
This was a different experience than the first two which were more established and geared towards larger tourism. Tomaz is a family run operation with one of the owners greeting and serving us – along with an enormous vineyard dog named Rita.
We had their wine at dinner the previous night at Konoba Mondo so we knew the wine would be good. We tried a different kind of Malvasija, a red blend, and a Sauvignon Blanc – all of which were delightful wines. And we even got to enjoy the crispy bread sticks we loved in Piedmont.
On our second day, we ended up only doing one wine tasting. We canceled our reservation at Roxanich – while rated well, it was one of the more established wineries and since we already did two of those yesterday, we wanted to even out with a small family vineyard, Vina Fachin.
I reached out over Facebook to set up a time to taste and I was happy they were willing to have us on a Sunday. While it is certainly walkable from the Airbnb, we were checked out so we drove to the property (it would have been a twenty minute walk in the mid-day sun as well so the car was a better option).
This experience had all the feels of a family operation and it was wonderful! We were greeted by the daughter who married into the vineyard family. She was absolutely the sweetest and set us out on their outdoor seating area in front of their house. She explained how her and her husband are taking the winery to the next level – updating the wine labels, arranging for distributors, etc. I bet in a few years these wine bottles will be more accessible in the region.
To start, we were given a liqueur wine called Tarantino (made from the left over Teran grape). I was a bit hesitant but it was not harsh at all! In fact, it was more like a mead and would be perfect for Christmas time showcasing cinnamon and vanilla.
Then the brigade of plates, glasses and bottles came. This tasting experience had us giddy – her mother-in-law created two beautiful Istiran plates for us to enjoy, homemade bread, and their own olive oil. We were brought five bottles of wine to taste and enjoy as we nom’ed – including Teran, Malvazjia, and Rose. After our Istrian plate, we were brought out a slice of homemade apple strudel to enjoy with the dessert wine, Muškat Momjanski. I could have just hugged everyone – such a thoughtful and delicious tasting!
All the wine was very good with out favorite (surprisingly) being the Rose. Perhaps because we had not had it in this region yet but it was super delicious – we bought a bottle to enjoy later in the trip! The hospitality at Fachin was really amazing and I would definitely recommend wine tasting here while in Motovun.
I have to say, hitting four of out four wine tastings that were awesome while it was high on the wish list, I also knew would be difficult. However, each one that we chose gave us a completely different and unique experience to showcase their wines. There are many other wineries you can visit, but I have to say these four should definitely be on your list.