This year Zadar won the coveted prize of being Europe’s Best Destination for 2016. Being one of Europe’s longest continually inhabited cities, Zadar has everything from beautiful beaches, idyllic islands, pristine nature and “the best sunset in the world” as stated by Alfred Hitchcock.
What many people don’t know about Zadar is that it produces some wonderful wines which primarily come from Zadar’s hinterland, Ravni Kotari. It’s a narrow stretch of land that lays between the Adriatic and the mighty Velebit mountains. Whilst not nearly as popular as the wines from Central Dalmatia and Pelješac, Zadar’s wine scene has significantly improved over the past 10 years with the emergence of some new producers as well as significant investment in existing infrastructure and mass vineyard planting by the largest and oldest wine and spirit company operating in Croatia.
Ravni Kotari is made up of a large number of settlements with the biggest being Benkovac. The town of Benkovac is very easy to spot, with the Benkovac castle perched on top of the hill in centre of town. A short drive from town you have the Benkovac Winery which is by far the largest winery in the region.
In 2005, the winery planted 103 hectares of syrah, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, and mouvedre in the rocky terrain of Stankovci. Here the vines are literally growing out of the rocks! This unique terroir is responsible for the colourful character of their Korlat wines. 11 years on they are reaping the rewards for their efforts with some outstanding affordable wines like the rose, benkovac cuvee, syrah and cabernet sauvignon.
If you head 12km north-west from Benkovac you’ll come to Nadin, where you’ll find the largest number of organic wine producers in Croatia. The winemakers in Nadin are all small family run wineries, with some offering wine tastings by appointment. Don’t expect to see million dollar polished tasting rooms here, this is an authentic dalmatian wine experience, where you’ll get lovely wines and some homemade salami and cheese. One of the Nadin wineries not to miss is the Škaulj winery.
A great way to explore Ravni Kotari wine region is to cycle to the wineries. Each May the Benkovac Wine and Cycle event is held where the local wineries open their doors for the day and allow cyclists to come and try their wines. If you can’t make the event there are numerous inexpensive wine and cycle tours offered by local tour operators so you can do it anytime of the year.
Stepping away from the Ravni Kotari region for a moment, there is another winery which arguably has the best views of any in all of Northern Dalmatia. Kraljevski Vinogradi is located on the South-West facing slopes above Petrćane and overlooks the majestic Adriatic sea.
This vineyard is spectacularly beautiful and you get to drive right through it on your way to the tasting room and restaurant which are located at the top of the hill inside the vineyard. An afternoon of food and wine at Kraljevski is a superb way to enjoy the picturesque landscape while enjoying their wines. They produce three Croatian varieties, pošip, plavac mali and crljenak with the latter being particularly good.