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The Istrian peninsula, which contains portions of Slovenia, Croatia, and Italy, has loads of wine tasting opportunities, and they come at a good value. The best way to taste Istrian wine is to visit the source. Because most winemakers produce only small amounts of high quality wine, it is impossible for them to sell to large markets, such as the United States.
The Istrian peninsula is a gentle land of rolling hills, olive groves, babbling brooks, and small vineyards (I hesitate to compare Istria to Italy, but yeah, it’s just like Italy), and, when visiting, the small roads feel as though they were built just to take travelers from one culinary delicacy to another. A wine tasting trip is particularly easy to plan thanks to the high density of wineries, and signs have also been erected along official Wine Roads to help direct travelers. This guide will introduce Istria’s wine regions and conclude with a list of wineries that offer wine tastings. Most wine tastings cost around six euros, and most wines cost between six and twenty euros a bottle.
I began my wine-tasting exploration at Franc Arman winery near the town of Narduci in the Porec wine region of Croatia. I met winemaker Oliver Arman, who has “it’s not just a wine, it’s a lifestyle” stenciled on his car. His winery looked out over vineyards with red, brown, and white soils. Drinking the 2007 Teran Barrique, I found aromas of dark fruit vanilla and found acidity that straddled the border between the new and old world styles of wine-making. The wine was full bodied, dark, and had a long finish. “If you make too many corrections the wine is crap,” said Oliver, succinctly describing his wine-making philosophy. His 2010 malvasija white wine was another case in point, with a pleasantly sharp nose of citrus fruit and flowers, it also held a very clean, refreshing character. Now that’s a wine for the Croatian coast!
About 80% of the wine produced in Istria is white. It’s easy to get a handle on Istria’s wine scene, because it primarily uses three grapes: the white grapes, malvasija and muskat; and the red, teran. Most of the wines are meant to be drunk within three to five years.
Next, I tasted at Mahnic winery, located near Portoroz in Slovenia. The northern part of Istria is part of Slovenia (note that you’ll need to bring your passport to cross the border. Also note that you must purchase a road tax sticker, called a vignette, to drive in Slovenia). Ingrid Mahnic, owner of the winery and Chairwoman of the Association of Winegrowers of Slovenian Istra, is an extremely motivated woman, who not only operates the winery but raises two children and runs a restaurant. She has worked her way up in a male-dominated profession, and today she is one of only seven female judges out of 200 total judges charged with giving Slovenia’s wines their quality ratings. “I have three loves in my life,” she said, “Kim, Nik, and vineyards.” Kim and Nik are her kids, of course.
She led me into the subterranean wine cellar and handed me a glass of her ´Crna Borgonja rosé. “There are 84 types of malvasia in the Mediterranean—Madeira is actually a type of malvasia,” she explained. “Two are common to Istria: white borgonia (´Crna Borgonja) and Istrian malvasia (malvazija istarska).” This malvasia rosé was dry with cranberry and floral notes, and it was medium-bodied. I really liked Mahnic’s 2010 “Angeli” made with the Sladki Muskat grape. Slightly sweet on the nose, it had honeysuckle, pineapple, coconut, and dried-rose aromas and a medium body. In the mouth, the flavors created an interesting arch, beginning sweet then turning dry, almost tart, with subtle flavors of jasmine and tropical fruit. “Dry wine is like an open book,” said Ingrid. “You can read everything.”
Every Istrian winery that I visited recommends making an appointment before arriving to taste wine. Most wineries include excellent local meats and cheeses with your wine for a small fee.
Guide to Wine Tasting in Istria
Franc Arman: Free for groups of four or less, otherwise it’s around $9. Most bottles cost between $6-11.
Capo: $7 for a basic tasting. Most bottles range from $7-$22.
Matosevic: $12 for a basic tasting. Most bottles range from $9-20.
Sinkovic Winery: $8 for a basic tasting with local snacks. Istrian grappa and other liqueurs are also available for tasting.
Mahnic: 7€ for a basic tasting. There’s a great, onsite restaurant. Address: 6333 Secovlje, Dragonja
Korenika & Moškon : 8.60€ for tasting. Most bottles range from 6.50€-18€.
Bordon : 6€ for a basic tasting. This winery also provides the option of having a four-course meal, featuring local and traditional foods and five wines, for 30€.
Accommodations in Istria
I recommend staying in one of the hilltop towns in the northern part of Istria, such as Buzet, Motovun, or Groznjan. Unfortunately, hotels can be scarce and tend to cost $80-$125/night. Vela Vrata is a boutique hotel in Buzet with trendy décor and great views. Locals also rent out private apartments , which can be a more budget-friendly option.
Written by Mattie Bamman for EuropeUpClose.com