Cuttlefish, cloudy wine and other Croatian discoveries

As you may have read in a previous blog,  there is a great pleasure to be found in travelling to new and unknown places, and we approach our holidays with excitement and anticipation of new discoveries, sights, people, foods and, of course, wines.  Croatia is a country that we have never visited, but the promise of history and adventure and wine was so inviting.... 

We spent only two nights in Split, our apartment being located in the middle of Diocletians Palace, against the wall of the Temple of Jupiter. Split is an amazing place, where you walk amongst surviving Roman and medieval buildings. Every corner you turn and every alley you glance down is a surprising and intriguing peek into more ruins, more antiquity.  The term “rubber-neck” has never applied more aptly, as we explore twisting, narrow streets with their pavements of gleaming white polished stone; looking left, right, up, down, in our determination to see it all. Here the columns of the ancient Roman peristyle, or central court; there, the remains of  Emperor’s living quarters and baths. Roman pillars and medieval homes lean against each other, whilst ancient Egyptian lions recline and stretch on their pedestals, surveying the passing centuries and constantly changing tides of humanity with unending patience and inscrutability. 

I am not alone in my appreciation and enthusiasm for such a wealth of antiquity.  Diocletians Palace, the heart of Split,  is a UNESCO heritage site, and hordes of tourists throng here, to gaze in awe at the sights, whilst traipsing along the humid streets behind the guide, arm held aloft with a flag, scarf or sign to keep the faithful close.  In fact, the throng and press of tourists is such that we head to the beach at Bacvice, and spend the afternoon lying on a sun bed, enjoying Croatian sparkling wine and beer from the nearby bar, the sun, and the clear waters of the Adriatic, and watching a summer storm roll in. 

The approaching storm eventually scares us back to the shelter of our apartment, where we alternate between reading and snoozing. Such a delicious but tranquilizing torpor arrests us, and it is with some effort that we rouse ourselves and head out to explore the town further as evening approaches.  The tour groups have tramped back to their buses, a sea of colourful, sweaty shirts and hats, with plastic bags full of souvenirs.  The town is more peaceful, and we sit in a square overlooking the harbour, enjoying pre dinner drinks. The sea breeze is warm and caressing, but our tummies are hungry, so we hunt down dinner. Our dinner is progressive;  fresh oysters first, randomly available at a sushi bar, followed by another restaurant, down an alley, away from the bright tablecloths and pizza menus of the generic tourist restaurants. This one has a small menu, but it specialises in olive oils. We choose meaty pasta, slow cooked pork; but the most striking dish is the Venetian cuttlefish, an inky Black stew of cuttlefish surrounding an island of soft polenta, and partnered with rather aggressive hot climate local white, made from Malvasia grapes, all broad texture, overripe fruit and alcohol. Sounds tough, but this wine, which is not unlike ripe Marsanne, is perfect in this context. The meatiness of the cuttlefish, and the stewiness of the dish, would swamp a lighter wine, but the delicate and subtle flavours would be lost if paired even with a lighter style of red wine. I pause several times during my meal, just to savour and appreciate the food and wine, and reflect upon the joys of new culinary discoveries. 

Interestingly, the Malvasia we taste on the island of Vis, off the coast of Dalmatia, is lighter, fresher, more citrusy - whether it has been picked earlier, or it is just the more maritime and cooler climate of Vis Island, I am not sure. Partnered with a seafood risotto, it is an absolute pleasure, as we sit with the sea lapping below us, overlooking the port of Komiza. 

We also tried Vis Island’s Vugara. Again, this wine shows all the hallmarks of a hot climate white - broad;  ripe fruits and slightly oxidative. However, we have it as an aperitif with some anchovies and peppery green local olive oil, and in the company of centuries old culinary companions, the wine shines. 

It could be argued that, sitting around the harbour of a small island fishing village, ANYTHING would taste great, and there is that.  But as a winemaker, my focus is drawn to the array of local wines, and I do not allow myself to be swept away by the ambience. I was surprised to find myself thoroughly enjoying a local Posip (Vis Island’s star white grape) that had not been fined or filtered. It sat, cloudily, in our glasses, looking for all the world like one of my tank samples before fining trials. Matilda and I were dubious; it tasted like an unfinished wine... until the grilled squid was brought out, and then, there could be no more appropriate choice. 

So our wine tasting holiday continues. We are looking forward to visiting some of the vineyards on Vis, and learning about their warm climate whites, and viticultural and oenological techniques. You never stop learning... Zivjeli!