Inspiration / Lifestyle & Opinion

Andrew Jefford: Secretly Fashionable Croatia


Andrew Jefford Andrew Jefford / 30 August 2019
Zagreb, Croatia
Zagreb, Croatia

The View From Here: Of Pošip and Grk

Back in high summer, I spent a few days in Zagreb, tasting wine. There was a little time before and afterwards to explore this comely city, too. It seemed brightly washed and frocked after three decades of economic resuscitation, kicking back, relaxing, the traumas of what Croatians call 'the homeland war' left long behind it.

Then my Croatian hosts and I set off to tour three wine regions. Slavonia links Zagreb with the Danube: a long green tongue of forest and vineyard thrusting east, the eventual border closer to Belgrade than to Zagreb itself. We twisted our way through the hidden, flower-clustered intricacies of the highlands north of Zagreb, stretching up towards Slovenia and the Hungarian west. Then we crossed the Istrian peninsula south of Trieste: bright, sunlit, stony, its olive groves and vineyards punctuated with truffle oaks. There wasn't time, alas, to potter up and down the Dalmatian coast, where the land frays into Europe's most intricate archipelago. Best, I think, to find a friend who can hoist a sail for that, and take a few months over it. (I'm looking.)

The Wine Region of Slavonia links Zagreb with the Danube
The Wine Region of Slavonia links Zagreb with the Danube

I tasted and travelled with Saša Špiranec, Croatia's leading wine writer, and his colleague Ana Hozjan, an organiser so effective that she'd generally fixed something before it even occurred to you that it might be a problem. We chatted about the 'terrible times' of the Yugoslav Independence wars in which Saša fought, gun in hand – then Igor Lukovic joined us, having driven from Belgrade. He's Serbia's leading wine writer; he's Saša's good friend. It was hard not to think back to 1991. How impossible all this would have seemed back then.

Andrew Jefford tastes wine in the hidden, flower-clustered  highlands north of Zagreb, Croatia
Andrew Jefford tastes wine in the hidden, flower-clustered highlands north of Zagreb, Croatia

Time's engine can't be turned off, of course; political developments are what provide the direction of travel. Your nation can take the coastal road, head up for the mountains – or get itself lost in the marshes. From a wine perspective, as indeed in others, Croatia seems to have left the marshes behind it.

Nikola Benvenuti is one of the leading wine producers in the region of Istria, Croatia
Nikola Benvenuti is one of the leading wine producers in the region of Istria, Croatia

Which, since we are in the heart of Europe, means recovering its past. These are old Habsburg territories, and 'the Habsburg white' is one of my keen interests. What might such a thing be? The opposite of New Zealand sauvignon blanc or Australian riesling, estimable though the best of these wines are. The perfect Habsburg white should have an unfamiliar and possibly unpronounceable name, not be crisp, not be fruity, but instead be full, structured, intriguingly scented, difficult to understand, maybe a bit fat but somehow sappy and muscular and perhaps a bit stony or fiery with it, and always taste better on the second glass than the first, especially with food. It should be so unfashionable as to be secretly fashionable.

Croatian wine producers, Gianfranco and Antonella Kozlovic
Croatian wine producers, Gianfranco and Antonella Kozlovic

Croatia has some magnificent Habsburg whites: doughy, sappy, honeysuckle-like graševina; the delicately zesty, sometimes salty pošip; the oleander-scented, honey-haunted malvazija Istriana. There's even a richly decked white variety called grk, being tugged back by one or two producers from extinction: top that for unpronounceability. And a suite of similar reds to discover, too. I returned home thinking, not for the first time, that our hierarchies of wine value may be subject to imminent revision. And that the secretly fashionable may cease to be secret.

Our not-so-secret Istrian delights return this autumn. Keep your eyes peeled!

Read more articles by award-winning writer Andrew Jefford

Get help with pronouncing tricky sounding grape varieties with our guides

Want more inspiration?

Sign up for a carefully-curated selection of recipes, guides, in-depth expertise and much more.

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.


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: 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. 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. 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. 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.