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A Wine Lover's Diary, part 246 (July 7, 2009)

Monday, June 29: Worked on the wine tours for Niagara and Prince Edward County for the Reader's Digest book. For dinner a bottle of Cathedral Cellars Merlot 2003, having read an emailed story from South Africa castigating Jane McWhittie, the British wine writer who wrote that all South African reds taste of burnt rubber. Certainly some do. In the evening, a dinner party celebration at Steve & Paula Elphick for the launch of the Grapes for Humanity Women & Wine Calendar.

Tuesday, June 30: This evening I fly to Munich en route to Croatia to learn about their wines. Had to take Pinot the Wonder Dog to the vet as she started throwing up. Couldn't be a worse time as tomorrow is Canada Day and I will be out of the country. The vet called to say that the X-rays were fine and she didn't need a blood test. When Deborah dropped me at the airport at 6 pm for my flight the Air Canada check-in clerk told me that the flight had been over-booked and I was on standby. A very nervous hour as I waited in line to see if I could get on the plane. I got the very last seat at the back of the plane by the toilets.

Arrived in Munich with just enough time to make my connection to Zagreb. On board I met two British wine writers – Anthony Rose and Oz Clarke – who are members of a small group of international wine writers and sommeliers invited on this tour. At Zagreb airport we are met by Ivona Grgan and Morana Stincic from the FW Croatia Organizational Committee. We hear that today as we arrived the Prime Minister of Croatia, Iva Sanader, resigned.

Project organisers Morana Stincic (left) and Ivona Grgan

We are led up to a private lounge in the airport to meet other guests and committee members. We are offered a local dish – a strudel filled with cottage cheese and pumpkin and a local aperitif called Bermet produced by the Filipec Family – a kind of vermouth-cum-Fernet Branca made from a base wine of Blaufränkisch and Portuguiser infused with herbs (a closely guarded secret but probably wormwood being one of them). But it had an aromatic rose water note that contrasted with the bitter, medicinal taste. The concept, apparently, was introduced to the region during the Napoleonic invasion at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Saša Spiranec, who has written the most authoritative guide to Croatian wines, tells me that the locals put a few drops of Bermet in sparkling wine.


The Bristol Hotel

Then we get on a bus for a two-hour drive to Opatija, a coastal town west of Zagreb, called "the Pearl of the Adriatic." We are staying at the Bristol Hotel. Instead of sleeping, as I should, I go for a walk in town with Michael Apstein, a wine writer (and doctor) from Boston. Opatija is tourist town with grand hotels along the sea front and palm-treed lined streets.


In the evening we take the bus to Kastav, a hill town where there is one of the ten best restaurants in Croatia, called Kurkuriku. The owner tells me that he is a fifth-generation restaurateur with 111 years' tradition. The reception wine before we sit at a long table under bowers of wisteria is Persuric Misal Brut, a sparkling wine with 60% Malvasia, 20% Chardonnay and 20% Pinot Noir (dry and minerally with apple and pear flavours, clean and long – delicious). We are treated to an olive oil tasting by Duilio Belić, who produces a range of 10 mono-varietal and blended olive oils. He predicts that there will soon be sommeliers for olive oil who will recommend them for different dishes. To prove his point he dashes around the table drizzling different oils on our dishes as they arrive. Even the dessert.

Our first wine is Radovan Chardonnay 2008 (straw coloured, minerally apple nose, fresh with lively acidity (88)). We are taught how to say "Cheers!" in Croatian – zivijele, which sounds like Givry au lait and means "To life." The amuse-gueule is a cube of fresh cheese wrapped in a grilled sliver of zucchini. The appetizer is fresh scampi and fresh cheese with tartar of dorade. The accompanying wine is Zdjelarevic Sauvignon Blanc 2008 (fresh, grassy, good varietal expression but a little short on the finish (86)). Something tells me we're going to have trouble with these names. The next course is ravioli stuffed with scampi and basil in a light sauce, a fabulous dish, served with Roxanich Malvazija Antica 2006, which tastes like a mature Rhône Viognier (old gold colour with a spicy, minerally melon and toffee flavours (89)). The next dish, which works beautifully with the Malvazija Antica, is a vol-au-vent of foie gras served with black summer truffle shavings. (Croatia has 10 varieties of summer truffles.) The wine for the main course is Boskinac Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2006, a 50/50 blend made in international style, over-extracted, oaky – spicy, cedar, plummy and meaty with a dry, dark chocolate finish (88). This accompanies the filets of lamb. At this point there is a fireworks display and I tell the group that it's in honour of Canada Day. They look blankly at me. The dessert wine is Andro Tomic Hectorovich Prosek, named for the fifteenth-century Croatian poet Hectorovich. It's dark orange in colour with a spicy, toffee and fig nose with a floral grace note; full-bodied, aromatic, well-balanced Muscat-like with a lovely honeyed tangerine flavour (91). The desert is a fig, cinnamon and flaked almond concoction over which Belić pours his Acolana Tenera olive oil. As we end the meal a seven-voice male choir appears to serenade us. By the time we get back to the hotel it's 1 am.

Thursday, July 2: A good night's sleep before we depart by bus to Istria and the town of Kastelir for our first organized tasting of Malavazija.


  • Terzolo Malvazija Istarska 2008 (red soil): straw colour; minerally, leesy, peach pit nose; rich, spicy, minerally, with an aromatic note; full in the mouth, powerful with good length. Warm alcoholic finish. (88)
  • Peter Poletti Malvazija Istarska 2008 (red soil): medium straw; muted nose, white peach, minerally; medium-bodied, good mouth feel, minerally, white peach with a dry earthy finish. (89)
  • Dajla Malvazija Istarska 2008 (co-operative): straw; minerally, mealy, dry, aromatic, with a Muscat-like note. (86)
  • Festijia Malvazija Istarska 2008: medium straw; spicy, citrus, with a rubber note, green pepper. (85)
  • Arman Marijan Malvazija Istarska 2008: deep straw; acacia flower, apricot nose; minerally, full-bodied, touch of residual sweetness; firm with a touch of bitterness on the finish. (87)
  • Arman Franc Malvazija Istarska 2008: straw; lifted floral nose with a mineral note; dry, aromatic, with a almond-like note on the finish. Good length. (88)
  • Geržinić Malvazija Istarska 2008: straw; minerally smoked bacon note, dry, white peach flavour; good acidity; full on the palate. (87)
  • Matić Malvazija Istarska 2008: straw colour; minerally, peach; richly extracted, peach and citrus flavours with a stoney, smoky note on the finish; good length and engaging bitterness. (89)
  • Trapan Ponente Malvazija Istarska 2008: straw; minerally, herbaceous; very dry, quite austere and stoney with a bitter almond finish. (86)
  • Matošević Alba Malvazija Istarska 2008 (white oil): light straw; more elegant, dry, citrus rind with a citrus flavour. Elegant and restrained but high alcohol. (87)
  • Coronica Malvazija Istarska 2008: straw; minerally, peach pit; Pinot Blanc-like, full on the palate, lively acidity with a long minerally finish. (87)
  • Radovan Malvazija Istarska 2008 (red soil): medium straw; grassy, banana note; fresh and round on the palate with a bitter almond note; warm alcoholic finish. (88)
  • Benvenuti Malvazija Istarska 2008: minerally, truffle note; aromatic, dry, herbaceous and honeyed tone; good length, spicy. (88)
  • Kozlović Malvazija Istarska 2008: straw; floral, tangerine; spicy, citrus; firm structure; a touch hard on the finish. (86)
  • Matošević Alba Barrique Malvazija Istarska 2006 (white soil): deep straw; intense, toffee, creamy nose; full in the mouth, mature, toasty, caramel and butter flavour; full-bodied, good acidity. (90)
  • Trapan Uroboros Malvazija Istarska 2007: (acacia oak) developing barnyard notes, smoky, spicy; oak overpowering fruit; toasty finish. (87)
  • Matošević Alba Robinia Malvazija Istarska 2008 (acacia oak): deep straw; toasty, orange; showing some oxidation. (86)
  • Kozlović Sanata Lucia Malvazija Istarska 2006: golden straw; vanilla, peach; rich and spicy, full on the palate with lively acidity; mouth-filling with a warm alcoholic finish. (89)
  • Clai Sveti Jakov Malvazija Istarska 2007: old gold colour; vanilla, spicy, dried flowers, mature, fig and dried peach flavours; full-bodied and complex with good length; hot alcoholic finish. (89)
  • Roxanich Antica Malvazija Istarska 2006: pale amber; woody, dried peach; spicy, peach and caramel flavours; full-bodied, rich and spicy. (89)

Croatian vintages:

  • 2008 – a difficult vintage, lots of hail in July and the beginning of August
  • 2007 – above average
  • 2006 – a great year, a top vintage for whites and reds

In Croatia there are four quality levels of wines: Table wine, Table wine with controlled origin, Quality wine and Top quality wine.

Istria's IQ quality neck label

Top quality wines from Istria have an IQ neck label – a higher designation of quality based on yields (9 tonnes per hectare). Producers have to apply every year for this designation. In Istria there are 3,000 hectares of Malvazija and not more than 100 hectares of 1Q designated wines.

Lunch at San Rocco hotel in Brtonigla. We start with Misal Blanc de Blanc Extra Brut on arrival (lemony, minerally with a toasty oak note). We lunch under large umbrellas on the patio overlooking the swimming pool. A slow food menu that takes four hours. An amuse-gueule of Ricotta cheese and a shot glass of gazpacho served with Degrassi Mukat Bijeli 2008 (pale colour; grapey, orange blossom nose; elegant, off-dry, light bodied (87)). First course, marinated scampi with two types of salt, served with Pilato Chardonnay 2008 (fresh apple, lively acidity (87)). Second course, octopus in an olive oil sauce, followed by ravioli stuffed with sea bass and black truffle, with Verdala Malvazija Istarka 2009 (minerally, vanilla oak, peach nose; full-bodied, well balanced, full on the palate (90)).

Moreno Coronica and his vineyard train

The red soil of Coronica vineyards

Next stop: Coronica winery in the village of Koroniki. Moreno Coronica is very proud of his vineyards of red soil. He takes us for an extensive tour in a. toy train pulled by a tractor. Then to the winery for a tank sample tasting of his Merlot 2007 and the indigenous variety Teran (2007) that tastes like Teroldego. Moreno describes the latter as "an Oxford-educated peasant." His wines are carefully crafted and well extracted. Then we drive to the mountain village of Ipsi for an outdoor olive oil tasting as well as smoked and marinated sea bass and sea bream. A Muskat producer, Kozlović, has his wines on the fish table - not the best match but terrific wines: Kozlović Muskat Momjanski 2008 (straw colour, fragrant, orange blossom, off dry (89)); Kozlović Muskat Rosa 2008 (pink colour with a rose-like bouquet; off-dry, clean, fresh (88)) and Kozlović Muskat Black Label 2008 (a sweeter version, grapey flavour, clean (89)).

A black summer truffle as big as the Ritz

Inside the old stone house with its low ceilings is the Ipsa olive oil production, kept in stainless steel tanks. We taste two styles of oil and then back to the garden for a buffet dinner, replete with black truffles that keep coming. We shave them ourselves over everything. A real truffle orgy. A long drive back to Zagreb. We get to our rooms in the Westin Zagreb at 3.30am.

Friday, July 3: Up at 9:53 am. Showered and shaved in ten minutes. Tasting of Graševina (Welschriesling) on the 17th floor of the hotel in an art deco room, overlooking the city. The wines are arranged geographically, starting in the northwest to east, served in flights of seven.

  • Frian Graševina 2007: pale straw; minerally, stoney, light aromatics; some effervescence; dry, light-bodied, apple peel flavour. (87)
  • Krizevacka Barrique Graševina 2006: straw; dry honeyed note, with evident oak; round and full on the palate with a spicy note, sweet apple and peach; good length. (89)
  • Zigrovic Graševina 2007: straw; minerally, neutral nose; spicy, apple with a dry finish; good length. (87)
  • Daruvarska Graševina 2007: straw; honey, light floral note; off-dry, raisiny flavour; soft on the palate, mouth-filling. (87)
  • Mihalj Graševina 2006: medium straw colour; minerally, winter apple, off-dry, nicely balanced, fresh, lively, good length. (89)
  • Krauthaker Graševina 2008: medium straw; dry honey, apple peel; lovely mouth feel; generous, good clean finish. (88)
  • Kutjevo Graševina de Gotho 2007: neutral nose with a musty note; broad, heavy, dried peach flavour. (85)
  • Bartolovic Graševina 2007: straw; honey, apple peel; rather heavy, initial sweetness dries in the mouth. (86)
  • Krauthaker Mitrovac 2008: minerally, apple peel; soft, off-dry, sweet apple, hefty, clean finish but a little hot. (86)
  • Adzic Hrnjevac Graševina 2007: straw; shy nose but opens on the palate to a soft, sweet apple and orange peel flavour; full on the palate with a warn alcoholic finish. (88)
  • Enjingi kasna berba Graševina 2006: straw; minerally, honey with an oily, stoney note; fennel, bitter note; short finish. (86)
  • Belje Graševina 2008: straw; leesy, rich, big, good acidity but shy on flavour, rather sweet and heavy on the palate. (87)
  • Kalazic Graševina 2007: golden straw, honeyed apple; rich and spicy; orange, off-dry, well balanced, elegant, good length. (91)
  • Goldberg Graševina 2007: deep straw; peachy, minerally; full on the palate initially, unctuous, mouth-filling, but falls away on the finish, high alcohol. (86)
  • Gerstmajer Graševina 2007: light straw, green tint; petrol, Riesling like, sweet, honeyed, soft on the palate, elegant, rich peach flavour; well balanced, good length; lovely mouth feel. (92)
  • Dvanajscak Kozol Graševina 2006: light straw with a green tint; minerally, leafy, apple; off-dry, round, peach; full-bodied, good mouth feel, good length. (89)
  • Daruvarska izborna berba bobica Graševina 2004: straw, green tint; honeyed botrytis nose; toffee; orange, tea; rich, spicy, medium-sweet; full-bodied with a dried apricot flavour. (90)
  • Enjingi izborna berba Graševina 2004: straw; botrytis note, honey, dried peach; spicy; surprisingly lean; fades on the palate to a hot alcoholic finish. (87)
  • Krauthaker izborna prosusenih bobica Graševina 2007: golden straw; honeyed botrytis nose; sweet, unctuous honeyed peach, spicy, rich; well balanced with good length. (93)
  • Kutjevo ledena berba Graševina 2005 (Icewine): old gold; spicy, melon with a herbal, floral note; burnt sugar and rose petal; elegant, medium-bodied, great length. (93)

Lunch on the outside terrace downstairs – a buffet of lamb, veal, red snapper and stuffed squid served with Orahovica Silvaner 2007 (gluey, flat – 84).

The Malvazija tasting at the Westin Zagreb

Plavac Mali tasting

Afternoon tasting of Plavac Mali ("little blueberry," pronounced Plav-atz Mahli): the best wines are named after the appellation rather than grape variety. The berries are small and hard skinned, yielding highly tannic, sweet juice and low in acidity. Needs poor rocky soil for best expression. Best comes from the island of Hvar, the hottest growing area in Croatia.

  • Mediterano Plavac Mali 2007: deep ruby; cedar, tobacco; initial plummy sweetness of the fruit fades into drying tannins and cocoa powder flavours. (87)
  • Zlatan Crljenak 2006 (Zinfandel): dense, mature ruby; high toned, plum; soft, spicy, volatile with edgy tannins. (85)
  • Tomic Plavac Mali barrique 2006: deep ruby; spicy, floral, black cherry jam; sweet, chocolate, prunes, soft, earthy tannins; mouth-filling; full-bodied. (88)
  • Svirce Plavac Dolac 2005: deep ruby; high toned, red berry fruit; herbal, medicinal note; chalky tannins; warm, bitter chocolate finish. A touch green on the finish. (86)
  • Zlatan Plavac barrique 2005: ruby, mature rim; high toned, plum, old oak nose; sweet, black cherry flavour with a herbal note; soft tannins; good length. (88)
  • Zlatan Plavac Grand Cru 2006: dense ruby; intense, oaky, spicy, medicinal black fruits; concentrated, dark chocolate, black cherry, animal flavours; chunky mouth feel, full-bodied; firmly structured, good length. (88)
  • Dubokovic & Babic Medvid 2005: mature ruby; tobacco, vanilla oak, floral grace note; elegant, sweet plummy fruit, firmly structured, quite forward. (89+)
  • Donja Banda Postup 2006: mature ruby; minty, smoky, oaky; peppery (Barossa Shiraz-like), sweet fruit; firm structure, spicy blackberry. (88)
  • Libertas Plavac 2006: ruby; earthy, red berry; mouth-filling, sweet fruit, rustic but charming; soft tannins but well structured. (89)
  • Dignac Saints Hills 2008: deep ruby, mature rim; jammy, strawberry; sweet, soft mouth feel with a peppery finish; full-bodied, good acidic spine, supple tannins. (90)
  • Dignac Dignac 2006: deep ruby; minerally, rubber note, sweet black cherry fruit, firm structure with ripe, drying tannins. (87)
  • Korta Katarina Plavac Mali 2006: deep ruby; cedar, currants, sweet fruit, elegant, firmly structured with a tannic lift on the finish. A very polished wine. (90)
  • Dingac Mairazza Reserve barrique 2006: deep ruby; spicy, earthy, red berry; pencil lead; sweet and savoury flavours with firm structure of tannins and acidity. (88)
  • Dignac Milicic 2006: deep ruby; minerally, vanilla oak, rose petal nose; elegant, sweet fruit, firmly structured; good length with firm tannins on the finish. (89)
  • Dignac Skaramuca Reserva 2006: dense, mature ruby; smoky, malty, caramel, vanilla oak; forward fruit, drying out; firm structure; full-bodied, hefty on the palate. (87)
  • Dignac Matsuko Reserva 2004: dense purple-ruby, very youthful colour; high toned, vanilla oak with a floral note; sweet black cherry, porty, chocolate flavour; full-bodied with lively acidity; firm structure; good length. (90)
  • Milos Stagnum 2003: dense ruby with a mature rim; soy, leather; vanilla oak; drying out with harsh tannins. Will never come into balance. (86)
  • Dignac Kolekecija 2004: ruby with a mature rim; cedar, tobacco, dried red berries; mature, sweet berry and chocolate flavours; soft tannins; well balanced. Ready for drinking. (89)

After the tasting I walk around Zagreb to buy a pair of earrings for Deborah. Dinner is a gala event for delegates to the OIV Conference Dvori in the old part of Zagreb. As I walk into the courtyard I run into Serge Hochar of Chateau Musar. A delightful surprise. We chat during the sparkling wine reception, at which three bubblies are served – Frajona, Misal and Tomac Classic. Then into dinner.

The menu:

Istrian prosciutto with melon and goat cheese marinated in Mediterranean herbs with Kozlocić Santa Lucija 2006 (deeply coloured; spicy, honeyed, minerally nose; off-dry with a barley sugar flavour (88)).

Second course: Octopus terrine with jelly made from tangerines and lemons from Konavle and infused vinegar and olive oil, served with Plenković Pošip 2008 (grassy, sweaty, Sauvignon Blanc-like with a Muscat note (88)).

Third course: Fuži (Istrian pasta) with truffles and sun-dried tomatoes smoked in fresh rosemary, served with Badel 1862 Ivan Dolac 2006 from the island of Hvar (earthy, tobacco and plum with a touch of bitterness on the finish (86)).

Main course: Fillet of Adriatic tuna, julienne vegetables, reduced shrimp-prawn sauce, purée from broccoli and polenta with curd, served with Krauthaker Graševina Mitrovac 2008 (medium straw colour; minerally, honey, peach and melon flavours; very Pinot Gris in style (89)). By this time of the evening (near midnight) I'm fading fast and can't stay for the tangerine soufflé. Walk back to the hotel to bed.

The joys of bus travel

Saturday, July 4: Up at 6:45 am. Pack and have breakfast. We're meant to be on the bus at 8 am but some members of our group went on to bars to party last night and missed wake-up calls. We're finally on the road to Kutjevo and Ilok by 9:15 am.

First stop: Krauthaker, where we are walked through the vineyard by Vlado Krauthacker. He shows us the stable with the horses he uses to work the vineyards so as not to compact the soil. Then into the winery for a tasting.

Vlado Krauthaker pours his wine

  • Sipun Zlahtina 2008 (Krk): straw, neutral peach pit nose; dry peach flavour with minerality, thick on the palate with an almond finish. (87)
  • Korak Sauvignon 2007 (Plesivica): straw colour; intense sweaty, grassy, dry, mouth-filling green bean and grapefruit flavours. (88)
  • Krathacker Sauvignon 2007 (Kutzevo) straw colour; ripe, evolved nose, touch of oak; ripe melon and tropical fruit flavours with a lively acidic spine; full-bodied, fresh and lingering. (90)
  • Vinarija Daruvar Sauvignon 2006 (Daruvar): old gold; gooseberry jam, vanilla oak; sweet gooseberry and passion fruit; full-bodied, grassy with a little bitterness on the finish. (88)
  • Krajanćić Prošip Intrada 2008 (Korćula): straw colour; peach, grassy; Sauvignon-like without the acidity; a cross between Pinot Blanc and Sauvignon. Well made. (89)

Prošip is a cross between Bratkovina and Zlatarica and is predicted to be a major grape in Dalmacia.

  • Korta Katarina Pošip 2007 (Korćula): golden straw; vanilla oak, peach with a grassy note; mouth-filling sweet peach; well balanced, Alsace Pinot Gris style, full in the mouth. (89)
  • Krauthaker Rosenberg Chardonnay 2007 (Kutjevo): straw colour; barnyard, spicy, apple; apple, peach and green pineapple flavours; full-bodied, well integrated oak, long, clean finish. (90)
  • Korak Chardonnay Sur Lie 2006 (Plešivca): straw; oaky, off-note on the bouquet, nutty, caramel with a sour cream finish. (86)
  • Bartolović Chardonnay 2007 (Kutjevo): deep golden colour; spicy, oily, apple; rich, creamy; full-bodied, powerful, full on the palate, well balanced, fleshy, warm alcoholic finish. (87)
  • Kutjevo DD Chardonnay de Gotho 2007 (Kutjevo): straw colour; earthy apple nose; sweet apple, mouth-filling, a little blowsy and raisiny. (87)
  • Enjingi Rajnski Rizling Kasna Berba 2006 (Kutjevo): golden; petrol, honey, botrytis note; off-dry, honey and grapefruit, full on the palate, orange finish. (89)
  • Enjingli Ranjnski Rizling Izborna Berba 2002 (Kutjevo): old gold; honey, peach, botrytis note; sweet, elegant, tropical fruit flavours with a toffee finish; well balanced, clean, great length to a dried apricot finish. (93)
  • Krauthaker Zelenac (TBA) 2007 (Kutjevo): old gold colour; vanilla, honeyed peach; thick and viscous on the palate, beautifully balanced; spicy honeyed peach. Great length. Just a beautiful wine. (94) (The grape a.k.a Rotgifler, although Krauthaker disputes this.)
  • Korak Pinot Crni 2007 (Plešivca): ruby; earthy, red berry; firm, cherry with a clove note; firm structure, more Sangiovese in style than Pinot Noir; warm alcoholic finish. (87)
  • Krauthaker Pinot Crni 2006 (Kutjevo): deep ruby; vanilla oak, meaty, black cherry; medium-bodied, well balanced, dry with good length. (89)
  • Istravino Teran Dajla Vineyard 2007 (Istra): dense ruby-purple; earthy black fruit nose with a vanilla oak note; dry, rustic flavour of plums; firm with a gripping tannic finish. (87)
  • Roxanich Teran 2005 (Istra): dense ruby; spicy, black cherry, vanilla nose; dry, elegant, firmly structured with lively acidity and pliant tannins, crab apple finish. (88)
  • Menengheti Blended Wine 2003 (Istra): (from a double magnum): dense ruby-black; cedar, blackcurrant, vanilla oak; firmly structured, still youthful, currant and cherry flavours; sweet ripe fruit; well balanced with supple tannins. (90)
  • Bartolović Blended Wine Kapitol 2007 (Kutjevo): Merlot/Syrah/Cabernet Sauvignon – deep ruby; minerally, cedar, black fruits with a smoky note; lighter on the palate than the nose suggests; elegant, well balanced; firm structure with ripe tannins. (89)
  • Gracin Babić 2007 (Primošten): deep ruby; spicy, minerally, cherry; lively acidity, medium-bodied, firm structure with a Valpolicella-like flavour. (87)

The all-girl Croatian band

Chef Zlatko Marinović at work

Simon Tam surveys lunch at Krauthaker

We then sit down to a lunch of seafood (amongst the dishes are sea eggs – that look like a cross between an oyster and a tennis ball that's been run over. They taste of iodine and sea water). The hit is barbecued finger-shaped mussels. Then two different soups arrive – one fish, one chicken. Both are delicious. All the while we are serenaded by six young ladies dressed in traditional blouses, pants and boots, singing traditional Croatian songs – County & Eastern songs of lost love and longing for the homeland. Then outside to the BBQ, where chef Zlatko Marinović is preparing rolled pork on a spit and flat white fish and squid on the grill. The chef signs copies of his cook book for all of us.

Our next stop is Kutjevo DD, one of the biggest wine producers in Croatia, with a huge archive of 70,000 old wines. We taste in the cellar that dates back to 1232. In the centre is a stone table said to have been "graced" by Maria Teresa and her noble lover, Baron Franz von der Trenk.

Kutjevo's archive cellar

Maria Teresa's assignation table

  • Kutjevo DD Graševina 2008: minerally pear flavour; dry with a citrus finish. (86)
  • Kutjevo DD Graševina de Gotho 2006: deeply coloured; dry caramel flavour with a woody note; good length to a bitter almond finish. (87)
  • Kutjevo DD Traminac Icewine 2007: intense, sweet rose water and honey flavour; thick and unctuous; needs more acidity for balance but very tasty. (88)
  • Kutjevo DD Graševina TBA 2006: thick and unctuous on the palate with that honeyed rose water flavour; very sweet, needs more acidity – but delicious. (91)
  • Kutjevo DD Muskat Ottonel 1979: drying out; spicy, aromatic, dried peach flavour. (87)
  • Kutjevo DD Pinot Crni 2007: solid ruby colour; dry, lean, tannic and green. (85)
  • Kutjevo DD Pinot Crni 1965: blackcurrant and loganberry nose; good acidity with a firm finish, drying out but still interesting. (89)
  • Kutjevo DD Rajnski Rizling kasna berba 1992: deeply coloured with a nose of petrol, honey and dried apricot; rich and thick on the palate with a marmalade flavour; great length (92). I buy a bottle on the way out.

On the bus again to Ilok, the most easterly point of Croatia by the Serbian border. This is a region known for its aromatic wines, especially Traminac (Gewürztraminer). Our final winery visit is Iločki Podrumi. The estate, with its 13th century cellars, has been turned into tourist hotel. As we arrive there is an outdoor dance in progress; virtually everyone present is female and they are dancing together to the music of an all-male string band playing traditional Croatian music.

Iločki Podrumi's castle

Miss Croatia and me

In the reception area I see a tall, stunningly beautiful blonde in white pants and a floral blouse. Suddenly she whips out of her large handbag a sash and a crown: she is Miss Croatia. The owner of Iločki Podrumi, Juraj Mihaljević, is a sponsor of the Miss Croatia pageant. The male members of our party all have our photos taken with her. Her name is Ivana Vasilj; she won the contest three weeks ago and will go on to compete in the Miss World competition. There is some controversy around her selection – though born in Croatia, she was brought up in Germany and now lives in Cologne. She is joining us for dinner in the renovated castle on the hill overlooking Iločki Podrumi's 87-hectare vineyard.

We are welcomed here by another string band augmented by an accordion playing traditional Croatian music and a glass of rosé sparkling wine. We sit down to eat at 10:45 pm and there is a daunting number of knives and forks at each setting. The Slavonian menu starts with white bread spread with pork fat and dusted with paprika accompanied by Iločki Podrumi Chardonnay 2007: fresh, apple nose; dry, soft mouth feel, easy drinking (87).

This is followed by a piperade of scrambled eggs and cow's brain served with Iločki Podrumi Graševina 2007 (half dry): minerally, pear skin nose; off-dry, pear flavour with good fruit; clean, a touch of bitterness on the finish. Next course: chicken and dumpling soup with a leg of chicken and horse radish served as a side dish. The accompanying wine is Iločki Podrumi Traminac 2007 (half-dry): straw colour; aromatic, lychee and rose petal nose; spicy, off-dry orange and lychee taste that sustains well to a dry finish (89). This course is followed by steak, potatoes, pears and cauliflower with Iločki Podrumi Cabernet Sauvignon 2006: dense ruby colour; blackcurrant, cedar and vanilla oak nose; soft and plummy (86). Dessert is a dish of two rolled pancakes containing eggs yolks and chopped walnuts. This is served with Iločki Podrumi Traminac Icewine 2007, the first Icewine made by the winery: copper-gold colour; spicy, rose petal and honeyed nose; medium-bodied, spicy and elegant; not too sweet with wonderful balance (92). This is followed by their amazing Iločki Podrumi Traminac TBA 2006: bronze colour; burnt orange, tea nose, rather like a Tokaji; very elegant, well balanced with a spicy rose petal flavour and a marmalade finish; sweet but not cloying (93). By this time it's 12:30 am and Saša announces that the owner of the winery, Juraj Mihaljević, will sing with the band – a traditional Croatian song for which he has changed one word to introduce the name of his company. He sings with gusto, off-key. Back at the hotel the band is still playing at 1 am and the ladies are still dancing. Half an hour later they stop and I go to bed with a 7 am alarm call.

Juraj Mihaljević sings his company anthem

Ilok soil, great for Gewurz
Vukovar's water tower

Sunday, July 6: At 8 am we are taken on a tour of the 13th century cellars. And then a bus tour of the vineyards before Anthony Rose, Oz Clarke and I are driven in a van back to Zagreb because our flights leave in the early afternoon. We drive through Vukovar, a city destroyed by the Serbs in the 87-day siege between August and November 1991. There are still many damaged buildings showing shell and bullet marks, including a water tower that flies the Croatian flag as a memorial. A final lunch for our group has been arranged on the Tiara restaurant at the Aristos Hotel by the airport, prepared by one of Croatia's top chefs, Miro Dolovčak. I have half an hour before I have to check in for my flight but they insist I sit down and have as many courses as I can before I leave. The dishes arrive as the previous one is taken away beginning with cured ham, Slavonian Kulen, Dalmatian prosciutto, cottage cheese with cream and Istrian Ombolo (ham), served with Enjingi Graševina kasna berba 2006, potato, mushroom and cured meat soup, followed by grilled pork filets in bacon, pickled cucumber and dry plum sauce with sautéed potatoes, served with Korak Rajnski Rizling 2007 and cheesecake with berries, served with Iločki Podrumi Traminac izborna berba 2007.

Then a quick drive to the airport to check in for my 2:35 pm flight to Frankfurt. With ten minutes to spare I connect to the Toronto flight. It's full and I am in a centre seat, row 34. As I walk down the gangway I hear my name being called on the PA. Great, I think, they've upgraded me because the flight is full. At the check-in desk I am asked if I would mind switching seats because a woman with a baby needs the extra space. Her seat is ten rows back behind mine. Once seated in row 44 I'm asked by the woman next to me if would change seats with her husband who is in the row behind. I change seats again and find myself in front of a woman with a crying baby and next to a guy who is coughing every two minutes. Ultimately, you pay for your pleasures.




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