I love Croatia. I’ve never been there, sure, but there are plenty of places that I love that I’ve never been: Argentina, Japan and Greece, to name a few. But before I wanted to climb the mountains of Patagonia or eat Argentine beef, before I learned about tiny village sake makers in Japan or imagined eating fresh feta as salty as the Aegean, I wanted to visit Croatia.
When I first learned about Croatia, it was the bullet-marred neighbor of Bosnia and Serbia, suffering amid the turmoil of the Yugoslav wars. Needless to say, it wasn’t somewhere I wanted to go. But, the next time I heard about Croatia was from some friends who had gone on Semester at Sea. They came back with “I heart Croatia” bumper stickers, and told of the cerulean waters of the Adriatic Sea, more beautiful than anything they had seen in the world. I decided I wanted to paddle up the Dalmatian Coast from Dubrovnik to Split, eat fish harpooned from the clear blue sea, and explore a civilization that has survived since the first millennium BC.
Now I’ve discovered yet another reason to want to visit Croatia—wine! The country is home to more than 300 diverse wine regions, producing whites (about 70%), reds and small amounts or rosé. The wines are similar in style to northeastern Italy, Austria, Hungry and Germany and include some of the same varietals, particularly Frankovka, also known as Blaufränkisch. But Croatia also makes some incredible, acid-driven wines from native varietals like Plavac Mali, which is an ancient relative of Zinfandel, and it seems that the best wines come from the Dalmatian Coast.
This Valentine’s Day, I’m paying tribute to my love of Croatia with a bottle of 2006 Bibich Riserva from the town of Skradin in North Dalmatia. A blend of three native varietals—Babich, Plavina and Lasin—the wine is full of fresh cherry and raspberry fruit, hints of clove and cardamom from aging in American oak, and an undercurrent of spicy black pepper. What I really love about this wine is its vibrant acidity and lighter body. It’s perfect for an evening when the meal might ordinarily call for a white wine, but you’re really in the mood for red (Dungeness crab, anyone?). I first tried the wine at Providence, for my birthday dinner, and it went remarkably well with the Black Bass and truffles I ate. It’s also equally tasty with a hearty roasted chicken or braised short ribs or stinky cheeses. Better yet, it’s got something for everyone—a little oak for the California wine lover and plenty of acidity for Old World wine geeks. And fortunately, since my enthusiasm for Croatian wine isn’t shared by many people, you can get this, and most Croatian wines, for less than $20.
Try it, and I think you’ll love Croatia, too.