Croatia

Like a Local: Zagreb’s 8 Best Wine Bars

by Mike Dunphy  |  Published April 6, 2017

The weighty Baroque Austro-Hungarian architecture of Zagreb may seem to better fit a dense, frothy beer, but Croatia’s alcoholic ace card still remains the wine. Geographically fixed near the junction of its four main wine producing regions—Istria and Kvarner, Dalmatia, the Croatian Uplands, and Slavonia and Danube—Zagreb has easy access to the best of all.

Yugoslavia’s oldest wine shop, Bornstein, is now also a bar (Photo: Bornstein)

Yugoslavia’s oldest wine shop, Bornstein, is now also a bar (Photo: Bornstein)

Interestingly, Zagreb’s wine bars are often younger than the wine, having only opened after Croatia joined the European Union in 2013 and began welcoming more tourists. Start with these eight wine bars in Zagreb to sample the highlights of Croatia’s reds, whites, and even oranges.

Basement

Tucked under an archway next to the bottom of Zagreb’s old town funicular, Basement looks every bit the romantic, sophisticated wine bar, with a brick vaulted ceiling and candle light throughout. If the weather is bearable, make a point of taking at least one glass out to the stepped patio, as the pedestrian-only street makes for prime people-watching. Try one of the 90 varieties of Croatian wines on tap. Basement gets an extra dose of love from its regulars, as it’s one of the few bars in town that prohibits smoking.

Tomićeva ul. 5

Vinoteka Bornstein

Although you can get a good education in Croatian wine at many bars in Zagreb, at Bornstein, you can get a Masters. Originally just a wine shop, the oldest of all Yugoslavia, Bornstein transformed more than half of the 200-year-old basement into a bar in 2015 and stocked it with bottles from mid-sized and small family wineries. Among the highlights are the native Škrlet and the peculiar “orange” wine. By processing white wine grapes using the method of reds, vintners have created a product with an amber hue and significant body.

Kaptol ul. 19

La Bodega

La Bodega pours posh wine in vintage ambiance (Photo: La Bodega)

La Bodega pours posh wine in vintage ambiance (Photo: La Bodega)

Expensive watches flash among the candle-lit steampunk and vintage accoutrements of this trendy place at the heart of Zagreb’s nightlife district. This posh approach takes direct inspiration from the celebrity heavy La Bodega Negra in London and translates into a more concerted design effort than most places in Zagreb.  Sewing machines, radios and TV sets jut from the walls; hocks of prosciutto hang above the bar, and Euro disco lights illuminate the bar. In the back, seating becomes tiered, with prime spots looking over the entire scene. Happily, wine prices rarely get above a few dollars a glass, but stick to the major Croatian producers.

Bogovićeva ul. 5

Pod Zidom

Pod Zidom is great for a date (Photo: Pod Zidom)

Pod Zidom is great for a date (Photo: Pod Zidom)

This upscale, trendy wine bar “under the wall” is a prime spot for a date. Its clientele of fashionable, well-groomed young professionals emanate an aura of fun, energy, and good cheer that all but ensures a successful evening. The quasi-industrial ceiling, pictureless vintage frames, patches of exposed brick and bursts of organic greenery add design originality. Heaping plates of nibbles draw fresh ingredients from the city’s main farmers’ market. The wine moves beyond the fashion, happily, including a few rare bottles, like the biodynamic Batič Malvasija, which is only available here and at one restaurant in Kobarid, Slovenia.

Pod zidom ul. 5

Zinfandel’s Hotel Esplanade

Croatia’s first sommelier, Ivan Šneler, continues his charm offensive at Zagreb’s most prestigious accommodation, the Hotel Esplanade, where he’s worked for 35 years. You’ll find him passing from diner to smiling diner in the hotel’s main restaurant, Zinfandel’s. If you don’t like Croatian wine before meeting him, you certainly might after, not so much because of the content of his presentations, but his sweet avuncular manner (you will want to pinch his cheeks). He also has an ability to pair the perfect wine with your meal, an effort no doubt aided by the 400 kinds of wine in the hotel cellar.

Mihanovićeva ul. 1

Sherry’s Wine and Bites

Sherry’s Wine and Bites squirrels itself away underground (Photo: Ana Solic)

The wine and bites dominate the name of this place, but it’s the comfy, living room-like atmosphere of this downstairs bar that is its main attraction. Arm chairs, sofas, and thickly cushioned banquettes are scattered throughout. On occasion, the grand piano near the entrance is moved to the stage for performances, otherwise DJs spin records from the booth adjacent. Renewed enforcement of a smoking ban keeps the air fresh. The concealed location—through an archway—keeps the clientele predominantly local. Croatian wines—Duboković, Trapan, Bibich and Korta—are available a-plenty but the rarer acquisitions tend to be international.

Ilica 73

Cheese Bar

Although cheese remains low on the list of Croatian culinary delights, the country does contain some treasures for those willing to do the digging, particularly from the island of Pag, where the sea salt-infused herbs consumed by the sheep filter into the milk. Enhance the taste with a glass of red Dingač, one of about Croatian 100 wines available by the glass. Located just around the corner from the main square, the smallish space inevitably fills up quickly (although the patio outdoors doubles the size in good weather), and the somewhat higher prices keep the clientele specific.

Augusta Cesarca ul. 2

Dubravkin Put

Pass through an archway moments from the main square onto Dežmanova Ulica and 15 minutes later you’ll hardly believe you are in a city, much less the capital of Croatia. On all sides, dense forest slopes down to the street from the hills and envelops this upscale restaurant and wine bar. Housed in a former lodge with peaked, Alpine-esque gables, Dubravkin Put is perhaps more famous for its modern Mediterranean cuisine, having won several local awards for it. But wine is taken just as seriously by its finely tailored sommelier, who only allows the best of the best onboard, including a rare local cuvee of Chardonnay and Gegic and the Plešivica (sparkling wine) by the “new king” of Croatian sparkling wine, Ivančić Griffin.

Dubravkin put 2

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