Over the years I have developed something called the Beleca Test when looking at wine lists in restaurants and wine bars.
It is named after the delicious white wine from the Tomic winery in Jelsa on Hvar (Andro was my first next door neighbour when I moved to the island in 2002), and coupled with the Tomic Plavac, these two wines are among the most prevalent in restaurants and wine bars all over the country. Tomic wines are served in more than 500 places in Croatia, and so the 'Beleca Test' is a perfect way to compare prices in restaurants.
The most expensive place I have seen the 'Beleca wines' for sale was in an exclusive restaurant (location undisclosed) for 300 kuna, and the cheapest - and much to my surprise a couple of years ago - given its prime location, was Toto's on Palmizana, on Hvar's Pakleni islands. Price 140 kuna.
So when I went to check out the Basement Wine Bar, which is delightfully located under the Zagreb Funicular off Ilica, the first wines I looked out for were one of the Beleca Twins. Price 149 for the bottle. Impressive indeed for such a nice location and obviously quality wine bar.
Price was something that owner Dario mentioned a couple of times as we sat to chat over a couple of glasses of rather drinkable white in the early evening. People are motivated to open businesses for various reasons - to make money, to build empires, or because they love what they do. Dario definitely falls into the latter category, and his mission seems to be incredibly simple - he just wants people to drink more Croatian wine.
Basement's range is now an impressive 120 Croatian wines, most of which are available by the glass, and the small kitchen prepares cheese and cold meat dishes by region, so that you can truly enjoy a regional introduction of Croatia sitting in downtown Zagreb watching the train go back and forth.
The original wine bar in Zagreb, Basement is a great meeting point, with generous outside space and a cosy basement interior.
I asked the knowledgeable waiter to recommend something, and the second glass he poured brought home the importance to Croatian wine and its winemakers of these wine bars in prime locations. We were drinking the Jerkovic Kujundzusa from the Imotski region, a wine had ony tried once before at a tasting at the Imota winery in the Imotski region. Wine bars such as Basement offer an essential bridge between winemaker and the market, where visitors can get to know the regions of Croatian wine in one place, and then explore further.
Furthering his mission to get people to drink more Croatian wine, Dario recently started his own online wine shop, The Wine and More, with extremely well-priced wines and shipping prices.
And while Basement is primarily a wine bar, it is also a place of celebration, from small concerts to weddings, and whatever your reason for visiting, you are sure to discover an important (and affordable) slice of Croatian wine bar heaven.
Tomićeva ul. 5, 10000, Zagreb
Tel - 01 7774 585