Winter Wine Patrol, the largest Croatian wine expo, has just ended, and this is a good opportunity to reflect on how lucky Zagreb is to have a richness of wine regions around it.

We had a chance to see all these winemaking families in one place, try their new labels and check how the old favourites are holding. Late autumn and winter is maybe not the nicest period for winery hopping in Zagreb's surroundings, but then again, it's the time when winemakers are not that busy and have time to relax a little bit and sit down with their guests. But even if you can't make it to the wineries, at least you can do is check some of their wines, because it's that time of the year when we need a good bottle or two at hand for all those holiday gatherings around the table.

“Just part of the atmosphere at the 13th, the largest local wine festival.” Image credit: Vinska Ilegala FB

Although Zagorje, Međimurje and Moslavina regions are also just an hour or so from Zagreb by car, we'll stay within Zagreb County limits for this occasion. Officially, there are three different wine roads in this ring, or more precisely a horseshoe, around Zagreb – Plešivica, Zelina and Samobor. All of them are within easy reach, but unfortunately, they are often neglected as wine-producing regions. Samobor Wine Road is somewhat specific, because its forte is not a regular still or sparkling wine, but a special kind of product called Bermet. It's aromatized red wine served as aperitiv or digestif, made from red wine, herbs like wormwood, coriander, anise, sage and others, and spices like clove, orange and lemon peel. There are a few major producers, Filipec family being the most famous name. Trust me, this drink is also a good material for cocktails, or just mixing with tonic.

“What a nice setting for spending a lazy winter afternoon!” Image credit: Vina Kos

Plešivica is the tiniest, but without any doubt the most prolific, successful and recognized wine region in Zagreb's vicinity. Sparkling wines, Pinot Noirs and Rieslings from Plešivica are regular items on all decent wine lists across Croatia. We've already written about them, so for now I'll focus on what's new and interesting, as well as give some recommendations for the holiday season. If you like Chardonnay, look no further than rich and complex Chardonnay sur lie from Korak winery. Their ambitious new tasting room with a restaurant should finally be finished in spring, and this will really be a giant step up for wine tourism and gourmet scene of the whole wide region. After building a big new cellar this year, Šember family launched their most elaborate sparkling wine so far – Pavel. It's a blend of Chardonnay and the indigenous Plavec Žuti grape, their first vintage sparkling wine. I don't know about you, but I have a bottle stored for New Year's Eve.

"Šember family proudly displaying their Pavel vintage sparkling wine." Image credit: Šember family

And speaking of serious sparkling wines, you can't go wrong with anything from Tomac winery, but if you want to wander off the beaten path, try something new from Drago Kurtalj - Kurtalj Cuevee Prestige, a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, vintage 2013, aged for four years on lees. For heavy and filling dishes like the kind of Christmas roasts that we prefer in Zagreb, the ideal partner is Ivančić's Griffin Darkside Barrique, rich and fruity Portugizer aged in oak barrels. Also keep an eye on the Pinot Grigio line from Kolarić winery, branded under the name Coletti. Now, if we move to the somewhat lesser known Zelina Wine Road, the name to watch is the modest and hard-working Kos family, with Rosula, an excellent value-for-money rose sparkling wine. This region is notable for the native Kraljevina grape, giving easy-drinking, light and crisp summer whites, but if you look further, you'll also find some very fine bottles suited for cold days.

“Kurtalj's new premium sparkling wine should be on everyone's holiday gift list.” Image credit: Silvija Munda, GET Report

Whether you decide to knock on the doors of the wineries or find their stuff in one of Zagreb's many specialized wine shops, there's absolutely no fear that you'll end up thirsty for good local wines compatible with good local food.

"Wineries around Zagreb can be a very warm place in the winter.” Image credit: Taste of Croatia

Header image credit: Taste of Croatia

Author: Morana Zibar / Taste of Croatia