A Taste of Istria

Master of wine and expert on Eastern European wine Caroline Gilby gives us the low-down on this little-known wine-producing region which has so much more to offer than its undeniably beautiful coastline.

More than 10 million tourists a year now head to Croatia for its sun, sea and shoreline, dotted with fascinating medieval towns. Croatia's Adriatic coastline stretches 1,880km while its 1,244 islands add a further 4,398km giving 6,278km in total, so combined with the warm Mediterranean climate you can see why it attracts the sun seekers.

Beautiful old town of Porec Istria home of Vina Laguna

Beautiful old town of Porec Istria home of Vina Laguna

But Croatia has so much more to offer. 'Vina Mosaica' is the slogan chosen by her wine producers to highlight the huge variety of grapes and wines styles produced. As many as 200 varieties are being grown across the four main wine regions and 39 of these are indigenous - making the wine scene here endlessly fascinating.

The region of Istria is the largest peninsula in the Adriatic and while it is mostly in Croatia, parts of it lie in Slovenia and a tiny part in Italy. Residents here clearly see themselves as Istrian first and then Croatian. This may be to do with the fact that while geography remains fixed, national identities have changed many times in this part of Europe - Istria has been ruled by the Venetian Republic, Napolean, the Habsburg monarchy, Italy, Yugoslavia and today most of the zone falls into Croatia (which itself joined the EU in 2013).

'Istria's most important grape … is malvazija Istarska … which isn't related to other malvasias around the world but is properly indigenous and probably quite ancient.'

Turquoise sea looking towards Porec Istria

Istria's most important grape, and its flagship, is malvazija Istarska (sometimes anglicised to malvasia Istriana) which isn't related to other malvasias around the world but is properly indigenous and probably quite ancient. There are around 1,800ha, making it the second most important white grape of Croatia as a whole (after graševina).


At its simplest, it is vinified cool in stainless steel to protect all its fresh apple-blossom fragrance and flavours of cut pear, supported by an appetising and distinctly salty tang on the finish. It has proved popular with thirsty tourists drinking by the seaside but also makes a perfect aperitif or summer white at home in the UK too.

It also has another guise which involves picking later, then vinifying it with anything from a few hours to several days of skin contact, followed by ageing in barrels of oak or sometimes acacia. These wines may not be to everyone's taste but these can be seriously impressive and long-lived, complex wines.

The world's best olive oil region & Istria's famous white truffles

Istrian White Truffle

Istria's landscape is stunning, edged by turquoise sea and dotted with wild flowers, wooded hillsides and olive groves, and of course vineyards too. Earlier this year, it was proclaimed as the world's best olive oil region by the Flos Olei olive oil guide.

Istria's scented white truffles are another highlight - perfect shaved finely over pasta or added to olive oil and drizzled over salads and meat dishes.

The rich, rust-red 'Terra Rossa' soils are a notable feature, overlying deep limestone bedrock and many of the best vineyards are planted on these soils which provide a perfect mixture of mineral nutrients and good drainage. Sea breezes and long hours of sunshine also keep grapes healthy, so there's very little need to spray.

Typical red soils in Istria

Typical red soils in Istria

Introducing Vina Laguna

Vina Laguna is the region's most important producer and was founded in 1950s as a co-operative and eventually privatised in 2004, when it started to invest in vineyards. Today the company owns 600ha of vines including one plot of 180ha on red soil close to the sea.

Malvazija is the most important grape here, grown as sustainably as possible. 'It's an easy place to grow grapes,' according to winemaker Milan Budinski. He's typical of the new breed of winemaker in this region, normally more open-minded than other parts of the country.

Milan Budinski, Vina Laguna Winemaker

Milan Budinski, Vina Laguna Winemaker

Milan studied oenology in Croatia and then made wine all over the world for several years before returning to his home country to put down roots. He joined Vina Laguna in 2010 in time to coincide with the winery undertaking a major investment in modern equipment.'"Less is more" is my winemaking philosophy,' he says. 'I'm looking for natural balance and complexity coming from different vineyard plots.'

Vina Laguna also has a dairy, making great cheeses from local sheep and cows' milk, and even flavours some with Istria's wonderful white truffles. Olives are another important crop for the company with 220 ha of olive groves overlooking the sea - where they are focussing on reviving the local olive variety, Istarska Bjelica. And, not surprisingly, they own a restaurant where you can sample all these products.

> Chef Robert Golic shares some of his recipes with us here

For an introduction in a glass to what Istria has to offer Vina Laguna's Malvazija, is now listed at The Wine Society.

Caroline Gilby MW

May/June 2016

Caroline Gilby: Master of Wine

Caroline Gilby MW Caroline Gilby MW:
Master of Wine

Caroline Gilby is a Master of Wine and a scientist by training. She is a wine writer with a passion for the wines of Central and Eastern Europe and contributes to several wine books, magazines and websites.

> Recipes to go with the wine from Vina Laguna's chef are here

> Read other articles by Caroline Gilby MW

Members' Comments (8)

"Great to have all this enthusiasm - and do come a little further north into the border zone of Slovenia's brda and Friuli's colle orientale and talk about us here too! By the way you mention Porec but your photo is certainly not Porec and I think it is Rovinj - which is also a lovely town...We are about to take a group to visit Porec in a few days time - and I do hope Wine Society members booked to come don't see this picture and expect it to be... Read more > Porec!"

Prof John McKean (06-Jun-2016)

"Many thanks for your comments and for pointing out the error with the photo (which we will change) - it was incorrectly captioned on the photo library from which it came - shame we are not coming on your visit! Our Slovenian wines come from the east near to Austria and are, I'm told by Sebastian Payne MW, particularly good in 2015. 2014 was difficult for all in this area, especially Friuli, where 2015 was a bit too hot.
Joanna Goodman
(News... Read more > & Content Editor)"

Miss Joanna Goodman (08-Jun-2016)

"Wonderful to read that the Wine Society has discovered Croatia. We have long enjoyed visiting various regions and sampling their wines - some more to our taste than others (don't like oaked). Vina Laguna is a good start and we look forward to seeing more on your list, including Zlahtina from Island Krk.
"

Mr Robert Peden (06-Jun-2016)

"Dear Mr Peden - we are just starting to dip our toe in the water in Croatia. Prices for wines from smaller growers are relatively high due to tourism (as is also the case across the border in Friuli), but we shall continue to look out for good wines at good prices for our members from this beautiful region.
Sebastian Payne MW
Wine Buyer"

Miss Joanna Goodman (08-Jun-2016)

"Thanks for the great intro article. I will be holidaying for a fortnight in Istria later this summer with wine loving friends and would be very keen to hear of any wineries / vineyards or other places that you would suggest that we visit. Kind regards...David Doyle"

Mr David Doyle (06-Jun-2016)

"Dear Mr Doyle
Thanks for your comments and pleased you enjoyed the article. Vina Laguna would be more than happy to welcome you to the winery (find contact details on their website)...Caroline Gilby says that there are lots of vineyards to visit in this beautiful region and suggests...Kozlovic, Kabola, Benvenuti, Matosevic, Damjanic, Franc Arman, Pilato, Tomaz, Fakin, Coronica, Cattunar to name but a few.
Kind regards
Joanna... Read more > Goodman
(News & Content Editor)

"

Miss Joanna Goodman (08-Jun-2016)

"I was interested to read your article as have just returned from a fishing trip in Montenegro.
There we very much enjoyed drinking their Plantaze Varac (red) wine. Apparently 2011 is the best vintage.
I wonder if this is available in the UK.
Priced at bout £6;it would be extremely good value.
Farmer Charles, Norfolk.
"

Mr Charles E Carey (09-Jun-2016)

"My son and his Croatian wife made the following comment

"The wines they profile are some of the worst from what is otherwise an amazing region"

Would you like me to get their suggestions to see what you think?

Bing Taylor"

Mr Bing Taylor (09-Jun-2016)

Society Promise
Members before profit
Awards

Our website uses cookies with the aim of providing you with a better service. By using this website you consent to The Wine Society using cookies in accordance with our policy.

Close

4.4. Cookie Policy

By using The Wine Society website, you agree to cookies being used in accordance with the policy outlined below. If you do not agree to this, you must alter your browser settings to turn off cookies or block those types which are unacceptable to you or cease using the website.

The Wine Society uses cookies to enable easy navigation and shopping on the website. We take the privacy of all who use our website very seriously and ensure that our use of cookies complies with current EU legislation. The following guide outlines what cookies are, the types of cookies used on The Society's website and how they work.

You may alter your browser settings to turn off cookies or block those types which are unacceptable to you, but this will cause difficulties when accessing and using some areas of the site. Instructions on how to do this can also be found below.

4.4.1. What are 'Cookies'?

  • Most major websites use cookies.
  • A cookie is a very small data file placed on your hard drive by a web page server. It is essentially your access card, and cannot be executed as code or deliver viruses. It is uniquely yours and can only be read by the server that gave it to you.
  • Cookies cannot be used by themselves to identify you.
  • The purpose of a basic cookie is to tell the server that you returned to that web page or have items in your basket. Without cookies, websites and their servers have no memory. A cookie, like a key, enables swift passage from one place to the next.
  • Without a cookie every time you open a new web page the server where that page is stored will treat you like a completely new visitor.
  • More recently, cookies have also been used to collect information about the user which allows a profile of their preferences and interests to be created so that they can be served with interest-based rather than generic information about available goods and services.

4.4.2. How do Cookies help The Wine Society?

Cookies allow our website to function effectively. Cookies also help us to arrange content to match your preferred interests more quickly. We can learn what information is important to our visitors, and what isn't.

4.4.3. How does The Wine Society use cookies?

The Wine Society does not accept advertising from third parties and therefore, as a rule, does not serve third-party cookies. Exceptions to this include performance/analytical cookies (see below), used anonymously to improve the way our website works, the provision of personalised recommendations, and occasions when we may team up with suppliers to offer special discounts on goods or services.

The Society uses technology to track the patterns of behaviour of visitors to our site.

4.4.4. What type of cookies does The Wine Society use?

We use the following three types of cookies:

4.4.4.1. Strictly Necessary Cookies
These cookies are required for the operation of our website, enabling you to move around the website and use its features, such as accessing secure areas of the website. Without these cookies, services like shopping baskets or e-billing cannot be provided. Under this heading, we currently use the following cookies:

  • Authentication Cookie and Anonymous Cookie
    These cookies remember that you are logged in to your account – without them, the website would repeatedly request your login details with each new page you visit during your time on our website. They are removed once your session has ended.
  • Session Cookie
    These cookies are used to remember who you are as you use our site: without them, the website would be unable to tell the difference between you and another Wine Society member and facilities such as your basket and the checkout process would therefore not be able to function. They too are removed once your session has ended.

4.4.4.2. Functionality & Targeting/Tracking Cookies
These cookies are used to recognise you when you return to our website and to provide enhanced features. This allows us to personalise our content for you. Under this heading, we currently use the following cookies:

  • Unique User Cookie
    This cookie is used to:
    • store your share number in order to identify that you have visited the website before. Without this cookie, we would be unable to tell whether you are a member or not.
    • record your visit to the website, the pages you have visited and the links you have followed. We use this information to make our website, the content displayed on it and direct marketing communications we may send to you or contact you about more relevant to your interests.
    • This cookie expires after 13 months.
  • Peerius Cookies
    These third-party cookies are used to provide you with personalised recommendations based on your purchase and browsing history. They expire within 4 hours of your visit.

4.4.4.3. Performance/analytical cookies
These cookies collect information about how visitors use a website, for instance which pages visitors go to most often, and if they get error messages from web pages. These cookies don't collect information which identifies a visitor. All information these cookies collect is aggregated and therefore anonymous. It is only used to improve how a website works. Under this heading, we currently use the following cookies:

  • Google Analytics Cookies
    These are third-party cookies to enable Google Analytics to monitor website traffic. All information is recorded anonymously. Using Google Analytics allows The Society to better understand how members use our site and monitor website traffic.

4.4.4.4. Authentication Cookie
In order for us to ensure that your data remains secure it is necessary for us to verify that your session is authentic (i.e. it has not been compromised by a malicious user). We do this by storing an otherwise meaningless unique ID in a cookie for the duration of your visit. No personal information can be gained from this cookie.

4.4.5. How do you turn cookies off?

All modern browsers allow you to modify your cookie settings so that all cookies, or those types which are not acceptable to you, are blocked. However, please note that this may affect the successful functioning of the site, particularly if you block all cookies, including essential cookies. For example, In Internet Explorer, go to the Tools Menu, then go to Internet Options, then go to Privacy. Here you can change the rules your browser uses to accept cookies. You can find out more in the public sources mentioned below.

4.4.6. Learn more about cookies

4.4.7. Changes to our cookie policy

Any changes we may make to our cookie policy in the future will be posted on the website and, where appropriate, notified to you by email. Please check back frequently to see any updates and changes to our cookie policy.

 

Have a question?Live Chat

Live Chat