Wine Tasting on Hvar Island, Croatia
The first four days of our honeymoon in Croatia were busy, acclimating blur. Since I left our guidebook on my nightstand at home, we had a lot of unanswered questions about the history and culture of Croatia, which has spanned from Roman emperors to Communist dictators, and sovereign statehood. After four days of driving through bustling cities and interpreting Slavic roadsigns, Rob and I were ready to take a ferry to Hvar Island for some time out of the car in the beautiful countryside.
The week before we set off for Croatia, I stumbled upon a private wine tour of Hvar Island and booked it without hesitation. When you read about Hvar on the internet these days, chances are you'll see more information about the bumpin' nightlife (i.e.: Hula Hula Beach Bar and Carpe Diem) rather than the centuries-old history and agricultural heritage. Rob and I were so looking forward to having a local tell us all about the landscape and history of this fascinating country.
After nearly missing our ferry on the Jadrolinija line, we arrived at our apartment in Hvar where Jadrian, our guide from Secret Dalmatia tours, met us in an SUV. All-wheel drive was apparently a must, since we traversed over mountains on old roads to make our way to Jelsa, the hot spot for Hvar winemakers.
When we reached the top of the mountain, we could see the Stari Grad plain far in the distance, where grape vines were planted 2,200 years ago by the Greeks. In fact, at one point, Hvar was a prominent exporter of wine with over 14,000 acres under cultivation. Then, a harsh tax enforced by the Austro-Hungarian empire, as well as a bout of the phylloxera wine blight caused the wine industry to emigrate from the island in search of a kinder market.
Fortunately for the world, winemakers on Hvar are experiencing a renaissance, and are most notable for their production of indigenous white wines and plavać mali, a potent red wine with knee-knocking alcohol contents ranging from 15-17%.
Our first stop was the cellar of Teo Huljić, a small, but talented wine producer, who is especially passionate about reviving grape varieties indigenous to the island. He produces about 6,000 bottles annually, and is particularly noted for his white wines, which we tasted along with a delicious platter of freshly prepared canapés.
At the Huljić cellar, we tasted a cabernet sauvignon, a very young plavać mali from the south of the island, and two, very delicious whites. The first, Put Sunca, is a blend of three indigenous Dalmatian whites: bogdanuša, parč, and maraština. The second, Mekoja, was one of our favorites from the entire evening. It's a white grape, indigenous to Hvar, which has nearly gone extinct until Huljić revived the variety. Light on the palette and extraordinarily crisp, it is the perfect summertime wine. It's one of five bottles we packed in our suitcases and I cannot wait to open it next year!
The wine cellar of Ivo Duboković was the grail of red wine. Highly regarded as one of Croatia's top boutique winemakers, Dubokovic produces about 25,000 annually, which are usually snapped up by restaurants in the capital city of Zagreb. The red wine perfectly captured the aromas and sensations of Dalmatia. 2708 (named for the hours of sunshine the vines receive each year), Medvedica, and Medvid are among his top-selling wines. They were all so smooth and musky, we completely forgot about the stronger alcohol content. Lastly, we tasted Prui Poljubac, a lovely dessert wine to end the tour.
We left Duboković with four bottles, and made our way to dinner at Stori Komin, a small restaurant in the abandoned village of Malo Grablje in the hills of Hvar. I wish I was able to capture this charming place on camera, but it was dark when we arrived! Inland Malo Grablje was deserted in the 1950's when beach tourism became a complete gold rush and every last resident left. Frustrated by the noise and irksome tourists of Hvar town and nearby Milna, Berti Tudor returned to his old family home in Malo Grablje. He restored the brick oven, kitchen, and cellar, and opened a small family restaurant with five tables for guests. Assisted by his wife and three daughters, Berti welcomes his guests with traditionally prepared meals of ingredients found in the surrounding area, such as marinaded quail, lamb, and boar.
Later that night, when Jadrian poured us out of his car in front our apartment in Hvar town, we felt incredibly full, happy, and over-served. The evening remains one of our absolute favorites from our honeymoon.