Continuing our wine-tasting adventures up the north Dalmatian coast with the Blue Danubians, we now arrived in Benkovac, where a special event introduced us to the local food and wine with a traditional flourish! It had been arranged by Alan Mandić of Secret Dalmatia, along with the Benkovac Tourist Board, the Mayor, Benkovac Heritage Museum, and a fine cast of local winemakers!
I must say Benković castle is a very classy place to hold a wine-tasting event. Dating from the 15th century, this was part of the defensive line between the Republic of Venice on the coast, and the Hungarian Empire inland, and later the Turkish Empire. With the tables set up in the grassy courtyard of the square keep, we enjoyed the dappled shade of a gorgeous horse chestnut tree, which in May was covered with flowers.
The castle sits on the highest point of the town of Benkovac, and houses the Heritage Museum for the area – including the very best preserved stone monuments from nearby Asseria. As we’d just been exploring the stunning walls of that ancient city that morning, I was fascinated to see more of the stone reliefs that had been found there.
The selection of traditional foods was served by people wearing the beautiful costumes of the area. It really gives you a feel for a place and its history. The outfits look very special, and not something you normally see. The food also was very special to the local area. Prisnac is a special savoury cheesecake made with fresh sheep’s cheese, and as this is the season for snails in the vineyards, we had snails two ways – as a salad, and in a stew served with polenta. The accompanying round of bread was heavenly!
It’s very encouraging to see that so many of the local winemakers in this area are using EU organic/ecological standards of production, and the bottles bear the little green leaf of certification, as well as the national Eko badge. It’s great to see sustainable cultivation practices that minimise the impact on the environment, and you know the wine comes from natural products only.
Mas Vin (Kotar Superior) (Eko)
Mas Vin is short for “Maslina i Vino”, or “Olives and Wine”. It’s an agricultural cooperative set up in 2006 to encourage small family farms in the Ravni Kotari area around Benkovac. Products are ecologically certified (Eko) and locally grown, while the marketing expertise is provided centrally under a common brand. It’s only 10 years ago that they started clearing the land for planting, and now here they are producing award-winning, top-quality (Vrhunsko) wines and extra virgin olive oil. For red wines, they grow Crljenak kaštelanski, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Plavina and Babić, while for white wine they have Maraština, Chardonnay, Debit and Muškat Žuti.
We got to try a selection of their current wines, and a very tasty olive oil! Lovely reds!
- Rose – Crljenak 60% Plavina 40%
- Shiraz / Syrah 2011 – Commended in the Decanter World Wine awards!
- Merlot – Decanter bronze medal 2013 in London
- Cabernet Sauvignon
- Muškat Žuti
Vina Vrsaljko (Eko)
This small winery is based in nearby Nadin, where the local mud is reputed to make the fields there particularly fertile! Currently produces around 12,000 bottles a year using grapes from their own vineyard, plus some from other local growers. With a long tradition of ecological production, they have been winning national and international awards for their wines.
- Syrah 2013
- Nadinska Rana 2013 – a blend of Syrah and Merlot
The Anić family winery in the village of Smilčić grows a combination of indigenous traditional varieties Debit, Maraština, Crljenak, Plavina – and a grape that’s a new one on us – Svrdlovina. We had to look that up, and it seems Svrdlovina Crna is very local to the Ravni Kotari area and almost died out so it’s really good to see someone bringing it back! In addition to the local varieties, they also grow the more internationally-known Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. The Anić family pride themselves on combining the best of the local traditions with today’s modern winemaking.
- Maraština Zadar
- Rosé Kalelarga – Plavina, Crljenak and Svrdlovina
Winemaker Tomislav Glavić from Nadin has been producing wines to ecological standards since 2008. At present the winery is the cellar of the family house, but plans are afoot to increase planting of Croatian indigenous varieties, and construct a brand new winery. Their wines have only been available on the market since 2013, and are named after next generation of the Glavić family – Martin, Marta and Martina.
- Martin – Cab Sauvignon
- Martin – Merlot 15% alcohol
- Marta – Rosé
- Martina – Maraština
In our visit to the ruins of Asseria this morning, we must have gazed out on the vineyards producing this wine! Winemaker Božo Bačić has branded his wines for the ancient walled city that overlooks his vineyards near Podgrađe. Over 18 ha of vineyards has been carved out of the rocky hillside and planted with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah. What with the shallow soil, hot, dry summers and the occasional fiercely chilly bura, this is a fairly extreme place for growing grapes – which is turning out to be an advantage in the quality of the wine produced. Ecologically certified right from the start, Asseria wines have been winning awards at national and international level.
His Aromatizirano (aromatized) dessert wine is a blend of three red varieties, the grapes dried on the vine, and Maraska sour cherry added. It has high unfermented sugar (130 grams), 15.1% alcohol and 8 grams of acid. The Maraska flavour is subtle yet unmistakable. In 2011, it was awarded a silver medal at the Decanter Wine awards in London.
- Syrah 2015 – recently bottled!
- Aromatizirano vino
- Cuvée 2012 – Merlot, Syrah, Cab Sauvignon
Škaulj Winery is also based in Nadin, in the heart of the Ravni Kotari district. They have the distinction of having produced the first wine in Zadar country to be awarded the Premium quality designation. Winemaker Šime Škaulj has received numerous awards, including a silver medal at the Decanter Wine awards in London in 2012. They grow Maraština, Merlot, Syrah, and Cabernet Sauvignon on 11.5 ha of vineyards, and produce around 200,000 bottles annually, and are ecologically certified.
- Cabernet – vrhunsko – strong! 17%
- Merlot – vrhunsko 15.4%
- Tomislav –blend of 4 different varieties moderate alcohol 13.8%
This was a lovely afternoon to round off our trip, and we’d like to thank the lovely folks from Benkovac for their generous hospitality. There’s a local Wine Road to visit these wineries, see the Agrotourism Zadar link below for details.
Find out more:
More wine from north Dalmatia…
Part 1: the wines of Birin and Gracin