Croatia’s great bounty of indigenous grape varieties makes it exciting to drink wine here. But Croatia grows international varieties as well—those familiar, comfortable types that feel like home, almost no matter where home may be. Of these, Pinot Noir and Merlot are the most successful black grapes in Croatia, and Merlot is the most-planted international variety.
Merlot is easygoing. It grows in the heat of Dalmatia and the cool of the Uplands and Croatia’s far east—in all four wine regions, in fact, showing different characteristics in each. And it is the diplomat of grapes. Its ample body, pleasant fruitiness and easy tannins have long made it an essential part of the famed Bordeaux wine blend, where it rounds out the angles of Cabernet. In Croatia it is used in blends, but is also prized as a varietal wine. Read on to find your favorite.
Note: This tasting is meant to be readable, not comprehensive. We tasted six wines, not 60. The wines are listed in alphabetical order by producer. A star (*) indicates wines that stood out for their quality and flavor on the day of the tasting. Prices are those at the winery or winery webshop.
*Crvik Negromant Merlot 2018 (Konavle) 80 kn
From the southernmost part of Dalmatia, this Merlot is rich in flavor and alcohol—a wintery crowd-pleaser that wants meaty, gamy foods. Look for the black cherry aromas typical of Merlot, but also Red Delicious apple and an earthy barnyard or horse saddle note that lasts. “This is giving me the body that I love in red wines, but without the tannin. It finishes so smooth,” said one guest taster. Another summed up, “This one’s a symphony for me.”
Dubrovački Podrumi Merlot Grande Reserve 2017 (Konavle) 138 kn
This former cooperative, now privately owned, makes a highly regarded top-end Merlot, but we chose the more affordable Grande Reserve for this tasting. It offers typical black cherry fruitiness, with a twist of cherry cough syrup (not a bad thing). Totally dry, with medium body and fairly light tannin—smooth-drinking perfection for roast chicken or a summer picnic.
*Ivan Buhač Merlot 2019 (Podunavlje) 40 kn
“My session wine,” raved one guest taster—and an amazing value. Intensely black cherry, lightly floral, with an intriguing mineral-metallic touch and refreshingly good-bitter radicchio, tobacco and black tea flavors. Guest tasters commented, “It’s almost peppery, spicy—it’s biting back!” With its complex flavors and a good dose of all-important acidity and tannin, this Merlot way over-delivers.
Kolar Merlot Personal Collection 2017 (Podunavlje/Baranja) 130 kn
With its aroma of cherries and savory beef broth introducing soft wild herbs on the palate and a long finish of black tea, this might be the Merlot-iest Merlot in this tasting. It nails everything Merlot is about, with nothing unexpected—just a lovely balance of fruitiness and earthiness, medium body and solid tannin. Guest tasters found it pleasantly “soft on the palate.”
Meneghetti Merlot 2018 (Istria) 115 kn
Perhaps it is the proximity of these Istrian vineyards to the sea that gives this Merlot its unique salinity, which comes across as a hint of roasted meat among the flavors of tart red cherries and herbs. It also stands out for its fine balance and complexity—“more layers,” as one guest pointed out. Also: “I would love to have this wine with cheese.” This wine, especially, proves that terroir makes a difference.
Pinkert Merlot No. 1 2016 (Podunavlje/Baranja) 65 kn
A brightly aromatic wine offering a glass full of red cherries and ripe apple. Simple, comfortable, with light body and unchallenging tannin. Easy quaffing for drinkers who don’t need to think about their wine.
Cheers Croatia Magazine conducts wine tastings in the semi-blind format. This means that we know what wines we have, but they are placed in numbered bags so we can’t identify them during the tasting. Wines for tastings are purchased, or occasionally donated by the winery. See the magazine’s Affiliations and Gifts Policy for more information.