Travel Off the Beaten Path in Eastern Europe’s Wine Country

Korta Katarina
Photo courtesy of Korta Katarina

Wine lovers in today’s world are regularly awarded the opportunity to discover something new, or at least new to them. It’s easier than ever to find different and exciting bottles to enjoy, as selections from a broad range of wine regions have become increasingly more available.

But it’s now becoming easier to add some wine-spired adventure to your travels as well.

The countries that composed the former Soviet Union and Yugoslavia have made wines, in some cases, for thousands of years. These were focused more on quantity than quality, and they were kept from our shores due to Cold War-era embargos.

A new generation of producers is on the rise, however, and as its high-quality wines become more accessible, so, too, increases the ability of curious consumers to visit the places that produce these pours.

Wineries and wine-centric restaurants in Croatia, Slovenia, Hungary and Romania offer world-class options for inquisitive tipplers, and those who choose to venture off the beaten path will be richly rewarded. Read on to discover where to begin your wanders through Eastern Europe.

Cityscape of Budapest, Hungary
Cityscape of Budapest / Stocksy

Budapest, Hungary

Often called the “Paris of the East,” the Hungarian capital is awash in Baroque charm. Eight graceful bridges span the Danube River and link the once-separate cities of Buda and Pest. Hungary is home to 22 wine regions, and Budapest’s restaurants and wine bars feature the best that the country has to offer, from well-known regions like Tokaj, Villány, Eger and those around Lake Balaton to locales that are a bit less familiar.

A bright, inviting space, 0,75 Bar & Bistro serves everything from small plates and snacks to entrées and share platters. It’s all offered alongside an extensive wine list that features selections from across the country.

At Drop Shop Wine Bar, a wide-ranging wine list is offered by the glass or bottle to enjoy onsite or take home. Simple plates of cheese, charcuterie and panini allow wine to star in this concrete- and brick-walled industrial space.

Hungary is home to 22 wine regions, and Budapest’s restaurants and wine bars feature the country’s best.

Co-owned by Chef Lajor Biro and József Bock, a Hungarian winemaker, Bock Bisztró Pest serves a mix of traditional Hungarian dishes and inventive fusion cuisine. Every one of Bock’s wines is available to guests, though the bistro also serves a vast selection from throughout the country. Feel free to carry home bottles you don’t finish with your meal, or specifically order one to go.

A Budapest institution that features live Romani music in an elegant setting, Rēzkakas Bistro presents artfully plated traditional cuisine, available á la carte or via a seasonal tasting menu. Wines from Hungary’s most recognizable regions and top wineries are offered by both the glass and bottle.

Views from near Medana, Slovenia
Views from near Medana, Slovenia / Alamy

Goriška Brda, Slovenia

Named for the hills near the town of Nova Gorica, this subregion of the larger Primorska wine area sits just across the border from Italy’s Friuli-Venezia Giulia region. Medieval hilltop villages cap rolling vineyards as far as the eye can see, and many producers have vineyards that straddle both countries. Midway between the Adriatic and the Alps, Goriška Brda draws its winemaking influences primarily from Austria and Italy.

At Vinoteka Brda, found in the cellars of Dobrovo Castle, you can taste upwards of 300 wines from more than 50 producers. Make sure to tour the impressive 17th-century structure, previously owned by Venetian and Austro-Hungarian royal families, before or after your tasting.

This subregion of the larger Primorska wine area sits just across the border from Italy’s Friuli-Venezia Giulia.

Founded in 1700, the Movia estate has been in the hands of the Kristančič family since 1820, and it has since become one of the most well-known Slovenian wineries. Vineyards here cross over into Italy, and the winery offers tastings, cellar tours and gourmet meals with wine pairings, all available by appointment only.

Winemaker Marjan Simčič represents the fifth generation of his family to grow grapes and make wine at this namesake winery, where three quality tiers of wines are produced from local and French varieties. Cellar tours and tastings can be arranged by appointment.

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Owned by 480 grape-growing families, Klet Brda winery, also called Goriška Brda Wine Cellar, is the country’s leading producer and exporter. In addition to cellar tours and tastings, Klet Brda organizes tours of local villages that highlight winemaking history and culture.

On the Pelješac peninsula
On the Pelješac peninsula / Alamy

Peljašac Peninsula, Croatia

A narrow ribbon of land that points to the islands north of Dubrovnik, the Peljašac peninsula affords jaw-dropping views of steep vineyards that plunge toward the Adriatic Sea. Only around 40 miles long, you could drive from top to bottom and back again in a few hours, but that would defeat the purpose of wine country travel. Linger instead, and you may begin to wonder why Plavac Mali, the abundant local red grape, is not featured on more wine lists back home.

Dine under ancient vaulted stone ceilings at Bota Šare restaurant in Mali Ston, near the base of the peninsula. The Croatian-dominated wine list skews heavily toward local producers, while the menu features oysters and fresh seafood prepared with classic local recipes.

Only around 40 miles long, you could drive from top to bottom and back again in a few hours.

Founded by winemaker Frano Miloš, Vinarija Miloš is known for Stagnum, a red wine made exclusively from Plavac Mali that’s said to be the first cult wine from Croatia. Tasting tours include visits through the organic vineyards, as well as stone cellars filled with Hungarian oak barrels.

Saints Hills Winery Proprietors Ernest and Ivana Tolj expertly renovated an old village home into a modern operation, which also boasts a guesthouse and a restaurant that features local produce. French consultant Michel Rolland oversees winemaking.

Toward the northwest tip of the peninsula, in Orebić, Korta Katarina winery offers three options for tasting its wines by reservation, all of which include a meal component. A stunningly refashioned seafront villa serves as a hotel, from which a 201-foot luxury yacht is available for hire.

Lacerta Winery
Photo courtesy of Lacerta Winery

Dealu Mare, Romania

Among the world’s oldest winemaking countries, with production documents that date to the 14th century, Romania is the sixth-largest producer in Europe. Its finest region is Dealu Mare, situated in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains. Dealu Mare, which is Romanian for “great hill,” lives up to its name, as rolling, vine-covered hills stretch as far as the eye can see. Roughly a two-hour drive from the capital city of Bucharest, the region remains a pristine rural haven.

Established by Count Guy Tyrel de Poix from Corsica, SERVE is a Romanian acronym for Societatea Euro Română de Vinuri de Excepţie, or The Society for Exceptional Euro-Romanian Wines. Its winery was built in the 1990s, and now utilizes estate-grown indigenous and French varieties. Private winery and vineyard tours, as well as tastings in a separate pavilion, are available by appointment.

With production documents that date to the 14th century, Romania is the sixth-largest producer in Europe.

Marchesi Piero Antinori owns Viile Metamorfosis, which he built up after realizing that the climate and soil were ideal for high-quality wine. Cellar tours culminate in a tasting of four wine ranges.

Ferma Dacilor is a rustic, wood-beamed restaurant that serves local specialties made from ingredients grown and raised right on the property. The menu leans heavily toward meat and game, a good match for the full-bodied red wines of the region.

The 200-acre Lacerta Winery estate accommodates tours upon special request, which can include a visit to impressive arched cellars. Pre-arranged tastings of either three or six of the winery’s red, white and sweet bottlings are also available.

Published on July 17, 2019
Topics: Travel
About the Author
Mike DeSimone and Jeff Jenssen
Entertaining and Lifestyle Editors

Mike DeSimone and Jeff Jenssen are Wine Enthusiast's Entertaining and Lifestyle Editors. DeSimone tastes wine from Israel and the Mediterranean Basin, while Jenssen tastes wine from Eastern Europe, including the former the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. Both co-authored Wines of California, Wines of the Southern Hemisphere, and The Fire Island Cookbook. Wine educators and presenters, both gentlemen serve as frequent guests on national and local television. Email: mikeandjeff@wineenthusiast.net



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