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Croatian Wine: Ten Istrian Red Wine Blends To Try

Croatian Wine Istrian Red

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Istria is a heart shaped peninsula located at the top of the Adriatic Sea. It changed hands many times throughout its history, belonging to the Venetians, Austrian Empire, Italy, and Yugoslavia. Today, most of the peninsula is within the borders of Croatia.

Traveling through the peninsula, it is hard to ignore the Italian influence, especially in western Istria. Medieval hill-top towns and rolling villages support Istria’s “The New Tuscany” moniker. The local producers are doing everything they can to push Istrian wines to the forefront of Croatia’s quality revolution.

Istrian Red Wine Grapes

Viticulture has always been important in this land, regardless of who controlled it in the past. Malvazija is the main grape here and it’s easy to find fresh and fruity bottlings of this white grape. The red grapes grown include Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Teran (Terrano), Refošk (Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso), and Borgonja (Blaufränkisch).

*Teran is a grape that Istria claims to be its own, it is part of the Refosco family. It also grows in neighboring Italy where it is known as Terrano. When made into wine, the grape gives off wonderful red berry and blood iron flavors. The only problem is the searingly high acidity that the grape possesses, making varietal wines that rip off tooth enamel. Producers are getting better working with the grape. Many winemakers experiment with dropping grapes and later picking times. Today, varietal Istrian wines made with Teran can be excellent.

Refošk is known in nearby Friuli-Venezia Giulia as Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso. It is known for making tart and fruity wines. We have tasted some serious examples in both Italy and Croatia that have black pepper and leather notes, almost like Syrah from The Rhône.

Borgonja is actually Blaufränkisch which is native to nearby Austria. In Istria, it’s often blended and very rarely seen as a varietal wine. Refosco (cousin of the Teran grape) has high acidity as well but makes dense and delicious wines when handled right.

Super Istrian Wine

Winemakers have started blending their local grapes with the ubiquitous Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The Teran and Refošk can add acidity, while Borgonja adds spice these red wine blends. These Istrian wines can be unique, yet strangely familiar to wine lovers with experienced palates.



Lovers of Central Italian red wines will feel at home drinking these Istrian blends. Because of the plush fruit flavors and juicy acidity, these wines go great with food. Grab one of these bottles and pair it with some Istrian hand-rolled pasta. A match made in Croatia!

After many months of tasting countless wines of this style, these emerged as our favorites.

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  • Collis Cuvée 2015 

A blend of 34% Merlot, 33% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 33% Teran. Collis is a fairly new Istrian wine producer that is working towards being certified Eco (organic). This comes across very rich with red fruit, capsicum, earth, and wild forest berry notes. This has juicy acidity and is delicious now, but has all the elements to improve with bottle aging.  


  • Clai Ottocento Crno 2014

Clai is a legend amongst Istrian wine. He is certified organic and a regular attendee of natural wine fairs in the region. This is his entry-level wine, a blend of Refošk, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon with a small amount of Teran. A touch of meat, leather, black plum, and spice flavors with deep color. This is very fruity without being overly jammy. Nice full feel on the mouth with smooth tannins for a young red wine. This has an intense saline note on the finish. You can’t go wrong with any wine from Clai.   

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  • Damjanić Clemente 2011

This is one of my favorites and a wine that I go back to time and time again. It’s juicy enough as a daily quaff but complex enough to show fellow wine geeks. A blend of 60% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Teran, and 5% Borgonja. The 2011 is our favorite vintage of this wine. Juicy and full of leather, wild berry, blood iron, and tangerine peel. Medium weight on the palate and silky smooth tannins.

Available at The Wine & More with EU-wide shipping


  • Degrassi Terre Bianche Cuvée Rouge 2009

Moreno Degrassi is another local legend within the Istrian wine scene. He has a large portfolio of wines and this one may be our favorite. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Syrah, Pinot Noir, and Refošk. Aged for 18 months in 225L barriques. This is full of red forest fruit, minerals, and a touch of tangerine peel. This is a juicy red, fans of Italian wines will feel right at home here. This is a wine that is fun and serious at the same time.

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Degrassi Terre Bianche Cuvee Rouge


  • Domaine Koquelicot Nomad 2013

A French man and an Istrian woman make up the husband-wife team of Domaine Koquelicot. Their white wines and sparklers are taking the local wine scene by storm. This is their only red wine, a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Teran aged in 300 L French oak for two years. Wonderful nose of meat, blood, red berries, and toast. This is juicy and red fruit driven on a medium-bodied frame. This needs more time in the bottle for the oak to integrate but the fruit, acidity, and tannins are very good.

Domaine Koquelicot Nomad


  • Kozlović Santa Lucia Noir 2012

Gianfranco Kozlović is most famous for his white wines made from Malvazija. This wine shows he has the hand for reds as well. A blend of 50% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 20% Teran. Extraordinary effort. Aged for 18 months in barriques, followed by 12 months in stainless steel inox, and another 24 months in bottle. This is full of wild berry, black cherry, sweet oak, blood iron, and tangerine notes. Intense mid-palate and nice acidic core that guides the long, spicy finish. Tannins are mouth coating but fine. Drinking well now but built to last, this is of outstanding quality.    

Available at The Wine & More with EU-wide shipping

Kozlovic Santa Lucia Noir


  • Matošević Grimalda Red 2015

Ivica Matošević is one of the spokesmen for Istrian wine. Most of his portfolio centers around Malvazija but this single vineyard red is noteworthy. A Merlot-dominated blend with 15% of Teran added. Full of red plum, red berry, cedar and earth notes. It is full-bodied and long on the finish. A full, juicy, well made red wine. This will only improve for those who are patient to cellar it.

Available at The Wine & More with EU-wide shipping

Matosevic Grimalda Red


  • Roxanich SuperIstrian Cuvée 2009 

Roxanich is a producer that utilizes native yeasts for fermentation and long barrel aging. This 2009 is the current release on the market. A blend of 40% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 20% Borgonja. This is a beautiful and elegant wine with some age. Sweet tobacco, cedar, dark cherry, and earthy notes are there, but there is a heck of a lot more going on here. The tannins have rounded out with age and the wine is incredibly silky with some pepper on the finish, this is still a wine built to please. Roxanich amber wines are also noteworthy and are among our favorites in Croatia

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Roxanich Super Istrian


  • Trapan The One 2013

Rockstar winemaker Bruno Trapan is full of charisma and energy, which are the same traits in his reserve wine. The One is a blend of 50% Syrah & 50% Teran. Aged for 24 months in French Oak. Black fruit, red berry, toast, tangerine, and leather. Tangy on the mid-palate with big tannins and a long finish. This is such an interesting play between red and black fruits. The toastiness from the French oak will definitely draw people into this wine while the juiciness from the Teran will make sure they stay for a while.

Trapan The One


  • Vina Laguna Terra Rossa 2015

This can found in supermarkets all over the country for less than five euros. This is the entry level red wine from Vina Laguna, which makes solid wines at all price points. The 2015 vintage won a silver medal at the 2017 Decanter World Wine Awards. A blend of 60% Teran, 30% Merlot, and 10% Borgonja that saw no time in wood, it was made and matured in stainless steel. This is juicy with sour cherry and a touch of graphite. A fresh red wine with a lot of character and no fuss.  

For those that want more complexity, the Vina Laguna Festigia Castello may be up your alley. It’s a barrel aged Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah blend that packs punches beyond its price point. 

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Vina Laguna Terra rossa

*There is currently a messy EU dispute between Slovenia and Croatia over the name “Teran.” Slovenia uses Teran as a protected name of a wine, not a grape. Teran wine in Slovenia is made of the grape referred to as Refošk. Some feel that the grape Refošk in Slovenia is the same as Teran in Croatia. Sounds confusing? It is, that’s why the situation is still a point of contention.

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5 thoughts on “Croatian Wine: Ten Istrian Red Wine Blends To Try

  1. Actually – “Teran” is a wine of Slovenian Protected Designation of Origin, protected within EU geographical indications scheme.

    It is produced out of Refošk grape variety on the terra rossa soid of Karst, geographic region that extends on the border osf Slovenia in Italy. In Italy they call this wine Terrano.

    Croatian teran is – as they claim – a DIFFERENT grape variety, but this has been disputed. There has been a lot of fuss around this, since EU commission just a couple of months ago allowed Croatia to enter EU market with “teran” indicating “teran” as grape variety (including some labeling conditions).

    Slovenian producers, who are cultivating this wine for many centuries, have been strongly opposing this. They are convinced that this will cause confusion in the market – and obviously they were quite right 😉 .

    Karst (Kras) geographical region is much smaller than Istria, and has very different climate properties as well as different terroir. The wines produced in this tiny wine region are very specific.

    I know you are preparing a book, and it would be great if the misunderstandings around the teran wine are not perpetuated.

    Many greetings form Slovenia!

    1. Ursula,

      Thanks for the nice response. We are well-aware of the Teran dispute between Croatia and Slovenia. We are also fans of Slovenian wines, we just got back from a week of tasting in Brda, Vipavska, and Kras and there will be posting a few articles on our page in the near future.

      Nomenclature is always a delicate and sensitive issue in regions that have a political border. So I took your suggestion and put a small asterisk at the bottle of the article.

      1. Thank you, Matthew 🙂 Yes we have seen that you have been visiting Slovenia as well!

        Confusion can be easily avoided by using naming
        – “Terrano” / “Kraški teran” / “Teran KRAS” for one wine and
        – “Istarski teran” or “Teran ISTRA” for the other

        I have to say this dispute has nothing to do with the political border, rather economic interest.

        Kras Teran producers in Slovenia sell 99% of the wine to the local market. Because of the high iron (coming from terra rossa) Kras teran is believed to have properties beneficial to health, and has even been sold in pharmacies in former times (believe it or not). Producers are afraid they will loose their market share to a DIFFERENT wine because the consumer is confused.

        Personally I think EU solution to label Croatian teran “ISTRA teran” is totally acceptable in this perspective. The rest is legal (and indeed) political cr*p 😉

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