This spices up our job and makes travelling abroad even more interesting and challenging. When we enter a new country, we simply act as tourists, first studying transport options, then the food culture, and finally we select the restaurants to test. And this isn’t the end. Once we’re in the field we slowly begin to discover the reality of life on the ground – the local customs, the best places to go and the local produce.
In these difficult times, we’ve been travelling with restrictions and have plenty of paperwork to fill in, along with quarantine considerations, Covid testing, etc… but we managed to get through the spring and summer period, our most important time for our southern Europe selection.
One of our inspectors spent time in Zagreb, an extremely beautiful city known for its cultural vibe, its winter markets – and less famous but excellent wine production! We came across some interesting wine producers from the Zagreb area and decided to talk to Ivan Jug, director of Noel restaurant and one of the best-known sommeliers in the country, to hear more about the wine region around Zagreb and the main producers.
Here is what he said :
"Covid threw tremendous challenges at our industry. I would lie if I told you we weren't facing harsh times for a brief period, since that's natural in those peculiar circumstances. Fortunately, we are an incredibly motivated team, so we took the situation as an opportunity to be the best we can.
Unpredictable circumstances during lockdowns prompted some changes that we should've implemented long ago. Instead of cost cutting, we decided to step up our game and focus on even greater quality. We had time to learn, to experiment, create, find great new suppliers. For example, we are now growing produce in our own gardens just outside Zagreb. We stopped serving lunch, which was a light, bistro-oriented occasion and focused solely on our fine dining experience. Clients soon recognized our qualitative growth and rewarded us with even greater attendance.
Fortunately, the City of Zagreb is blooming yet again. Plenty of cultural, music, sport and gastronomy events have taken place this summer. Our restaurant Noel works even better now than in 2019 – we can say this has been our best summer since opening. Tourists are plentiful and Croatia has been a hugely popular destination this summer due to the favorable Covid situation, so all of our tourist spots were full. During lockdown, our need to socialize struggled the most – restaurants are not here just to feed people, they provide an important social role in our society, and people couldn't wait to start visiting us again.
Wine? I fell in love with wine long ago. It has somehow influenced my whole life from that point and not a single day has passed by without my broadening my knowledge about wine. In that quest, I have gathered many incredible memories and experiences. Maybe one of the most memorable was a visit to the Romanée-Conti winery, which is an opportunity not many of us have had".
An interesting region is Plešivica hills, with wineries such as Korak, Tomac, Šember. Korak is a respectable winery with its own restaurant and Bernard Korak could be the next star on the Croatian chef's map. The Zagreb region, although not as well-known as Istria for example, produces a lot of great wines. Its gentle hills, combined with continental climate, resembles Burgundy.
Maybe their best wine is Pinot Noir, with the flavours of red berries, fresh wild strawberries, a hint of earth, forest mushrooms, green tea, black olives. I would pair it with our signature quail dish: quail, blueberry, truffle, lavender".
The Plešivica Wine Road will take you straight to the magical hills along which kilometers of vineyards stretch. In recent years, Plešivica has established itself as a serious wine region, and is most recognizable for its top-quality sparkling wines, but you’ll also find something completely unexpected - wines from an amphora. In line with world trends, more and more Plešivica winemakers are turning to completely natural production, and the same goes for food also. Inspired by a long tradition of producing their own food, which has been the standard here for many generations, Žumberak restaurants will delight you with local traditional and high quality cuisine.
Zelina Wine Road is ruled by the Kraljevina It is an indigenous variety of wine that you will find only here, and it is characterized by lightness and freshness and is therefore traditionally used for larger gatherings and is ideal for warm summer days. In addition to the Kraljevina, there is also the Kraljica, a sparkling wine made from the same variety.
Let’s imagine a day out in the region and some interesting itineraries.
“If chance takes you to one of the wine roads of Zagreb County, you can be sure that you will have not only experience top wines, but also a series of incredible adventures, regardless of whether you are traveling with a special person, a larger company or family".
Samobor is a traditional excursion spot for the people of Zagreb, where top treats await you - and we don't just mean foamy Samobor custard cream cake ! There is a traditional special aromatized wine called Bermet, to which carob, raisins and figs are added during the fermentation process and wormwood, which gives Bermet a characteristic bitter note. Unexpected Samobor flavor combinations don't stop there ; muštarda is a mustard to which red grape jam and red wine are combined. The result is a spicy and sweet side dish to meat dishes.
However, not all Samobor attractions are in a glass or on a plate - some are hidden deep underground, such as Grgos' Cave, in which you can take a walk under the guidance of the finder himself. We might suggest you try the Rudarska Greblica (Miners' cake) – a salty cake – now a protected geographical indication by the European Union (the 29th Croatian product to be protected in the European Union and the first in Zagreb County).
Back to the Plešivica wine road – take a wine tasting at one of the many wineries (Jagunić winery) wine tasting autochthonous varieties. Try traditional cuisine in one of the many restaurants holding the "Flavours of the Zagreb region" standard ; not to be missed is plešivički copanjek - traditional autochthonous salty pie.
Sometimes the day is simply not long enough for all that Zagreb County wine roads can offer. That is why there are holiday homes, from modern to traditional wooden ones, that will turn a trip into an unforgettable weekend experience.
Hero Image : Noel Restaurant / Zagreb