Thursday, April 18, 2024
Dalmatia Travel

Split for Wine Lovers

Split, Croatia, for wine lovers

Croatia’s second biggest city has a lot to offer, but most visitors come for two main reasons. One is Diocletian’s palace, and the picturesque stone architecture of old-town Split. The other is the port, which is the best way to access the southern Dalmatian islands. Those in the know may eagerly await the wineries of Hvar or Korčula. But while you explore Diocletian’s cellars, imagining ancient amphoras of wine, their modern-day ancestors await you above. Here is Split for wine lovers.

The only winery in Split

No doubt there is wine fermenting away in Split’s private garages and cellars—this is Croatia, after all. But there is only one real winery in Split: Divina

Owner and wine maker Ivan Dragičević has captured the essence of urban wineries, offering a luxurious welcome in the least likely place. The winery and tasting room are one outcome of a program in Split that leases empty bomb shelters for business use. 

Ivan Dragičević, Divina Winery, Split, Croatia
A former engineer, Ivan Dragičević now makes wine in the most unlikely of places: a repurposed bomb shelter in residential Split.
Photo: Staff/CCM

Divina is located beneath a 12-story residential block in a part of town there’s no reason to see. But get a group of friends together, descend the ramp beneath the building and pass the blast-proof vault door into the cool, and you will find a chicly designed space and seven expertly made wines from grape varieties sourced all over Dalmatia. 

Dragičević is a generous host who will introduce you to Pošip, Babić, Trnjak and other local grapes while you enjoy regional delicacies in the safest place in Split. He prefers groups; if you can’t form one or join one, you can try the Divina wines at MoNIKa’s (see below).

Contact: Ivan Dragičević, +385 (0)97 7762 407

Tasting wine in the land of castles

Kaštela may be confusing for non-Dalmatians: is it one place or many? The answer is both. It is the collective name of the town on the coastline facing Split, beneath the mountains on the way to the airport and Trogir. It is also seven villages, each named Kaštel-something and each originally built around a coastal fortification/palace (the kaštel, or castle). These were erected by Venetian noble families or clergy, mostly in the 1500s. As recently as 50 years ago the area was largely agricultural, and a handful of wineries thrive there today. 

Vina Bedalov, Kaštela, Croatia
Photo: Staff/CCM

Two of the best of these offer wines made from old traditional varieties that are grown nowhere else. Stop in at the seaside tasting room of Vina Bedalov, in Kaštel Kambelovac, and try a trio of reds that have family ties: the hearty Crljenak Kaštelanski (the original Zinfandel grape); the rare, local Dobričić; and the “child” of those two grapes, Plavac Mali. Other wines are available as well, presented with appetizers in themed flights.

In Kaštel Sućurac, just off the café-lined riva, is Matela Winery. Arrange for a small group in advance, and sit in the shade outside the fermentation room to try wines that will thrill your palate with their difference. They are made from Kuč or Babica or Ninčuša grapes, varieties referred to as “unknown sorts” that are nevertheless slowly becoming known again. Some are aged in acacia-wood barrels rather than oak. All are exciting, a chance to taste the history of Kaštela and wider Dalmatia in a personal, local setting.

Contact: Matija Kovač, +385 (0)91 5179 383

Contact information for these wineries and hundreds of others is available in the Winery Finder Tool, on the side of our home page. Look here for more about local Croatian grape varieties.

Wine bars: two classics 

In a casual setting filled with happy chatter, an array of wines in different hues marches across the table in front of you. Small plates of local snacks stand waiting on the side. If this is your ideal wine tasting, stop at one of Split’s two beloved wine bars.

MoNIKa’s Wine Bar combines the names of owners Monika and Nikola, who have created a home for wine lovers in a picturesque square at the edge of Varoš. The list features the excellent wines of Monika’s family, Prović, from Neretva Valley, to the south. Choose a tasting or design your own—there is a selection from other wineries, as well as an assortment of finger foods.

MoNIKa's Wine Bar, Split, Croatia
The all-star staff at MoNIKa’s are always generous with wine knowledge. Photo: Staff/CCM

Starting this summer, you can also visit Monika’s Wine Cellar, a riverside barrel-aging cellar in Žrnovnica, about 15 minutes from old town. Groups of two or more people can arrange a wine tasting with tapas or a full seven-course dinner with 10 to 12 wines, transportation included. It’s a more relaxed and attentive wine experience away from the urban bustle.

Back in Split old town, whether it’s dinner and live music you want, or perfectly presented flights of Croatian wine, you can find it at Zinfandel Food & Wine Bar. A mainstay of the Split wine scene for nine years now, Zinfandel offers 20 to 30 wines by the glass and about 100 by the bottle. Just as important, the staff are educated and enthusiastic about the wines—the key to this friendly, bustling destination in a narrow stone lane.

Zinfandel Food & Wine Bar, Split, Croatia
Zinfandel awaits the wine-loving crowds. Photo: Staff/CCM

A new tasting room on the block

A new tasting room called Professor Thrill is set to open soon in the old town. It’s not exactly a wine bar, though. “It’s like a university of flavors,” says owner Danijell Nikolla, who owns Corto Maltese and Pandora Greenbox on the same street.

At Professor Thrill, guests can try wine or cocktails with small plates. The wine list is by Sven Kordiš, whom Nikolla describes as “sommelier of the whole street.” Kordiš plans a list of more than 20 Croatian wines, plus some sparkling options. He is not yet sure how many will be available by the glass. Professor Thrill tops off Obrov ulica, at the corner of Trogirska. 

A glass with a view

If two wine bars seems like a shortage, there is an elegant solution. Some of the finest restaurants in Split devote an expert eye to their wine list, and offer alfresco afternoons, wineglass in hand, gazing out over garden, city or sea. The restaurants here all have an excellent selection of wines by the glass.

Artičok  At the base of the Varoš neighborhood, Artičok offers arty indoor or rooftop seating, a closely curated wine list and contemporary food inspired by fresh Croatian ingredients.

Dvor  Enjoy bay views and the fresh scent of the sea in a terraced garden setting just above Firule beach. A favorite hideaway of Split locals.

ZOI  Perch above the masses on the Split riva, on a terrace among the palm-tops and the ancient columns of Diocletian’s palace. A luxurious spot for an evening glass.

Zora Bila  Zora Bila has a spacious terrace, some of the most innovative fine dining in town and an eclectic list of wines from all over Croatia. Find it near the top of the complex of restaurants overlooking Bačvice beach.

Wine shops

There are many different places to buy wine in Split, including supermarkets and gift shops. If you want an interesting selection of higher-end wines at the best prices, though, you want a wine shop. There are four to choose from. All will deliver in Split for larger orders, including to the marinas. A website is provided for each shop or related company, but all are in Croatian. An in-person visit is your best bet, if possible, and the staff speaks English.

Photo: Staff/CCM

Moments is the smallest of the four, and perhaps the fanciest, with good gift options including gourmet food products. It is tucked just inside the back of old town near the art museum. They also have a web shop, which is separate from the store.

Vinoteka Vijola is across from the theater, at the top of Marmontova. It is run by a wine distributor on the island of Hvar, where their other shop is located. See the distributor website for some of their selection.

Vinoteka Terra is near Briig Hotel, above Bačvice beach. Enter the restaurant Ma Toni and the wine shop is in the front of the old stone-vaulted cellar. Stay for lunch!

A little farther from the old town, Winebox is off Poljička cesta, past the hospitals. Their excellent selection of sparkling wine is especially worth the trip.

Wine Fairs

Time your trip for spring and you may be able to attend one of Split’s two wine fairs. Both are open to the public and offer hundreds of wines for tasting. Each winery has its own table and the wine maker or a knowledgeable family or staff member is on hand to answer questions.

The Wines of Dalmatia Festival takes place in March or April, sponsored by Vino Dalmacije, a regional wine association. The most recent festival featured 60 wineries from all over Dalmatia, plus informative workshops (in Croatian) on Dalmatian native grapes, food pairing and other topics.

Vinski Podrum, in late May, takes us back to the beginning—Diocletian’s cellars. More than 400 wines are available for tasting beneath the ancient stone vaults, from wineries in Dalmatia and beyond. A gourmet food section features cured meats, olive oils, chocolates and other delicacies. Wine workshops and evening parties are also part of the program. 

Imagine the ghost of Diocletian looking on with approval, wineglass in hand!

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