The Wine Wanderers find sublime drops in Croatia

8 Jul

Could we soon be asking for a nice glass of malvasia on a summer’s day instead of the ubiquitous chardonnay?    It would not be the first time a beautiful and distinctive grape has put a whole new country on the wine map.         The country in this case is Croatia, whose winemakers are winning increasing numbers of awards.  Its indigenous star is malvasia, an elegant, floral white wine which could do what spicy gruner veltliner, now a commonplace on restaurant wine lists, has done for Austria, and rich, robust malbec, one of Britain’s favourite reds, for Argentina.

The Wine Wanderer who purports to be a travel writer(aka @aceglobetrotter) was persuaded by the one who stays closer to home to accept an invitation to Istria, which has a strong foodie and wine-making culture.   For centuries Istria was part of the Venetian empire, and only wars and redrawn boundaries separated it from Italy.    You can still get to the beautiful little harbour town of Rovinj by ferry from Venice, and will now discover a new design hotel, the Lone, behind the harbour which has a very 70s-style Italian kind of vibe.

The Lone also serves very good food, and has an excellent sommelier, who introduced me to some wines which knocked my socks off.  I particularly enjoyed  the pinot noir by Krauthaker, one of the best houses, though the wine I loved best was Simfojija by Dobra Vac, a “garage winery” on the edge of Rovinj, as they self-deprecatingly call themselves.  If you can find this bottle of 50% malvasia and 50% chardonnay, it will be the best 11 euros you’ve ever spent.  I mourn that they have no UK distributor and that I didn’t buy more than bottle.

Croatia is an increasingly popular holiday destination for Brits, who have discovered the joys of a zesty glass of malvasia in the seaside cafes of Dubrovnik, Split and Rovinj.  But until recently it was hard to repeat the experience in Britain, despite the fact Croatia made news by scooping no less than eight gold medals at the Decanter World Wine Awards in 2009 and increasingly does well in competition.

One man who has stuck his neck out is James Waddell, who set up Croatian Fine Wines last year to bring the best of the affordable into Britain.   He has succeeded in getting Pilato’s Malvazija Istarska 2011 into the mainstream via Marks and Spencer, and also lists an even nicer version by organic growers Kabola.       Croatian Fine Wines sells direct, with many bottles in the £13-35 price range.

As well as malvasia, try the rich but sutble chardonnay by Franc Arman, whose Teran Barrique 2007 was singled out by Masterchef judge John Torode at a BBC Good Food show earlier this year.  Teran is also uniquely Croatian, but this big, often tough and tannic red will not be to everyone’s taste.     Malvasia, on the other hand, looks set to win the hearts of a nation, and will not disappoint, whether enjoyed as an aperitif or with a nice piece of fish.

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