The Zadar region has an excellent microclimate for growing wine. The majority of the wine-growing areas are in the Ravni kotari plains behind the city and in the Bukovica uplands a little further north. There’s also smaller-scale production on the region’s islands, notably Pag. Much of the production is still on a family scale, the products reserved for family and friends. However, the delicate shoots of change are visible like small tendrils on a vine: a number of award-winning small winegrowers have been emerging over the last few years.
The town of Benkovac was until recently best known in commercial winegrowing terms for Rosé Benkovac. However, the winemaking conglomerate that owns the Benkovac winery has planted large amounts of French vines in the village of Korlat and now offers pricey bottles of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot throughout Croatia under the Korlat brand.
Interestingly, a number of small wine growers are starting up production nurturing indigenous grape varieties and high-quality, sustainable production methods. One is Šime Škaulj in Nadin. He produces the local Maraština variety, a light, fruity wine perfect for summer drinking. He also offers Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and a Cuvée blend. All his wines are certified organic, and his Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 and 2011 are Decanter magazine silver medal winners. It seems French vines are fond of the local soils.
Not far away in Smilčić, Mladen Anić also produces a fine Maraština as well as a clutch of red wines including Crljenak, a heritage grape variety that is a genetic parent of Zinfandel.
Closer to Benkovac at the tiny village of Podgrađe near the Roman ruins of Asseria, Božo Bačić is also a certified organic winegrower. His dessert wine, Asseria, has won numerous awards including the Decanter World Wine Awards Silver Medal.
Another dessert wine from the Benkovac area is yellow muscat (muškat žuti) from the MasVin plantation at Polača (between Benkovac and Biograd). Muškat žuti is usually grown inland, but the wine has done well here, as its summery straw and acacia nose suggests. Also certified organic, you can pick up this company’s wine (which also includes Crljenak, Merlot and Syrah) in the region’s supermarkets at refreshingly reasonable prices – around 30-35 kn. Look out also for MasVin’s award-winning olive oil.
Moving on to Pag island, Gegić is a native white that the locals grow in quantity. The scant, limestone terrain bathed in sunshine produces a fairly heady brew. A fabulous place to try this and other wines is the Boškinac hotel and winery just outside Stara Novalja. The house wine is gorgeous yet affordable, and though their bottled wines are far from cheap (starting at 200kn) they are well worth splashing out on (pun absolutely intended). Boškinac wines are rarely less than 15% alcohol, but this writer spent a memorable night at Boškinac (my wedding, no less) drinking outrageous quantities of the stuff with friends. Come morning every single one of us was fresh as a daisy, a testament to the extraordinary high quality of these wines.