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The Istrian Terroir

Old Malvazija bush vines staring at the historic hilltop of Motovun in Istria where the Alps and the Mediterranean meet.

Old Malvazija bush vines staring at the historic hilltop of Motovun in Istria.

Istria, the largest peninsula in the Adriatic, sits on the tip top of the Mediterranean at a latitude averaging 45 degrees. It borders both Italy and Slovenia. Since the beginning of the 20th century, it changed from a province of the Austro-Hungarian empire, to Italian, Yugoslavian and today Croatian.

With over 450km of coastline, this triangle-axe shaped peninsula, has over a third of its surface covered with oak and pine forests. Dubbed as the “New Tuscany” for its rolling hillsides, picturesque nature, and excellent cuisine, it has as Simon Woolf puts it the “Balkan’s most elegant wines, not to mention olive groves, truffles and idyllic coastal towns”.

The specificity of Istria lies in its borderline Mediterranean and continental location. In general terms, springs are warm, summers are hot (without extremes) but the weather tends to be very cool at the end of September and the beginning of autumn. The result is perfect grape maturation with very nice acidity.

The interior part of Istria can be very cold when strong winds known as the “Bura” descend from the north.

Istria boasts four soil types – white, grey, red, and black. They are all predominantly clay-based but often mixed with limestone, rocks, marl, and sandstone. Ferrous-rich red soil (terra rossa) is commonly used for wine production, especially towards the coast, followed by white by the flysch-rich white soils.

Limestone is almost omnipresent and gives Istrian wines their mineral characteristic.

Drought is not a problem. Vineyards are mostly planted on the hillsides for the sun effect, but also for drainage.

The hills are also very windy which favours organic agriculture.

Wine has been made in Istria for over 2,400 years. The region boasts a good number of indigenous varieties.

The most emblematic of all is the Malvasia Istarska or “Malvasia Istriana” in Italian, which makes up over two-thirds of Istria’s wine production.

Malvazija Istarska (Malvasia Istriana) one of the earliest varieties that were recorded in a written document (1385) is very specific to Istria, although the variety can also be found in the neighboring Koper appellation in Slovenia, as well as in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia area of Italy.

Malvazija ranks as Croatia’s second most planted wine grape variety. It has a tendency to over crop, but as Cliff Rames puts it “when the weather is right, vineyard management techniques hit the mark, and the terroir tenders its sweet spot, something magical and mystical happens and malvazija reveals its many charms and depths”.

Often referred to as liquid gold, the styles can vary from light, fresh to macerated barrel-aged malvazija.

For reds, the principal varieties are Refosk (called Teran in Slovenia!) and Teran (similar to the Italian Terrano).

Check out our collection of Istrian wines and olive oil