The wine region of Istria, in Croatia

The wine region of Istria in Croatia is a unique destination. Located in the North-West of Croatia, just a two-hour drive from Venice, this long-standing wine region is experiencing a resurgence. This offers a great opportunity to discover the area and indulge in some of its wines made from native vines.


  • The Istrian peninsula
  • The vineyards of Istria
  • Istria’s varietal range
  • A magnet for wine tourists

The Istrian peninsula

The turquoise sea, rolling hills, terraced vineyards, olive groves, mediaeval hilltop villages and islands all welcome visitors to the countryside surrounding the Croatian wine region. This is not Tuscany or the French Riviera, but Istria, located in north-western Croatia. Bordered in the West by the Adriatic, the peninsula shares its borders with Slovenia and Italy. When Croatians present the region, they like to say that it is virtually in the heart of Europe, halfway between the Equator and the North Pole. Over the last century alone, the region has been Austro-Hungarian, then Italian, Yugoslavian and now Croatian. According to one observer, this mixture of influences is “why the people who live there consider themselves primarily as Istrian rather than Croatian, Slovenian or Italian. The Istrian identity is very clear and strongly mirrored in the wines grown here”.

The vineyards of Istria

Croatia has 17,600 hectares under vine and 1,575 producers, including 336 grape growers/producers who own over 5 hectares. The country’s wine production in 2022 totalled 525,751 hectolitres, 76% white, 21% red and 3% rosé.

But what about Istria? English Master of Wine Caroline Gilby expounds further: “Istria is the smallest wine region in Croatia with 3,010 hectares under vine but it is also one of the most renowned”. One of the main reasons for this is the impetus and co-operation among winegrowers who founded the ‘Vinistra’ association in 1994. Its present-day membership groups together the majority of industry representatives, with over 120 members.

Their aims are to improve and develop grape growing and winemaking in Istria in a bid to become Croatia’s leading wine region by 2030.

Istria’s varietal range

The star here is a native grape variety known generically as Malvasia, and more specifically Malvasia Istriana. It is an integral part of the region’s identity and as a rule accounts for 70% of the varietal range at the region’s wineries.

A white variety, it delivers very different aromatics depending on the winemaking techniques used. ‘Fresh Malvasia’, with no oak ageing, are very energetic wines showing acidity, tension and salinity. Barrel-aged examples, known as ‘aged Malvasia’, deliver greater complexity with floral and yellow fruit notes. The variety is also used to make orange wines, sweet wines and even sparkling wines.

For the reds, the king of native grape varieties is Teran. It has been grown on the Istrian peninsula for over 600 years. In the 19th century, it was the most widely grown variety in Istria, covering over 80% of vineyard acreage. It now covers 250 hectares. Although it is a little austere in terms of accessibility, it can also deliver lovely red and black fruit aromas with peppery notes.

The other red grape varieties in the region are the native Refošk and international cultivars Merlot and Cabernet-Sauvignon.

A magnet for wine tourists

The vineyard-clad peninsula is a magnet for wine tourism. Firstly due to its beautiful varied scenery, ranging from the Adriatic coastline to its hilltop villages. Magnificent villages like Motovun, inland, and Porec and the Brijuni islands along the coast are wonderful places to live, offering a choice of cultural and nature tours, relaxing seaside venues and gourmet food and wine experiences. The cuisine across the peninsula is a mixture of Mediterranean and Central European influences. Both unique and delicious, it has the added bonus of featuring Istrian truffles. The range of tourist solutions is also very extensive, and wineries are opening up to wine tourism. One such example is Koslovic winery where you can taste some of the finest wines from the Istrian peninsula on a hilltop with sweeping views out over the vineyards and olive groves.

Anne Schoendoerffer,© PHANT/Adobestock

Sources :,, Anne Schoendoerffer