I’m not a wine expert, just a happy enthusiast. We like to try the local wines wherever we go, and it’s got us into trouble more than once – most notably on Sicily some years ago when we managed to get lost in Catania’s tiny municipal park on our way back to our hotel from a restaurant! Be aware that the exported version of Sicily’s wine does NOT have the power of what you’ll be served on the island to go with your pizza! But enough of Sicily, and let’s get back to the Adriatic…
I’ve already mentioned some of Hvar’s more unusual white wines. Let’s look now at the red wines – most notably Plavac Mali, which is an ancestor or a cousin of the new world’s Zinfandel, depending on who you listen to. This island has been producing and exporting wines since the time of the first Greek settlers in 384 BC, and to say there’s a long history of wine-making is a fine under-statement. The ancient Romans took over from the Greek settlers, and improved the production, as they tended to do.
What we have on Hvar is supremely good red wine. The absolute best wine is produced from the south-facing vineyards, known as the “south beaches” – južne plaže – because they’re pretty much a steep drop right down to the water! Still pretty good and a lot more reasonably priced, is the wine from from the north facing slopes of the mountain ridge.
To help research, there are two local wine festivals – the Dalmatian Wine Expo in late April, and the Hvar wine Festival in September. We visited both in 2010, with quite different experiences. The Dalmatian wine festival in Makarska had producers from a wider area (obviously!) and with your entry ticket, you could taste as many wines as you liked, for as long as you could still hold your wine glass! At the Hvar wine festival on the other hand, the entry ticket gave a limited number of wine tastes, but there was also loads of food provided and some wonderful live klapa music. Of the two events, I have to say I preferred the friendly party atmosphere of the Hvar festival, though I learned a lot about the wines at both. Looking forward to this year’s events!
We’ve also started to visit the wineries and meet the wine-makers. There’s no Napa-style wine road here with handy map, and it can be tricky to find the wineries. No need to put signs up, everyone knows where they are – right? If you don’t fancy driving, Secret Dalmatia will organize a tour for you, and we’ve promised ourselves to try that one day. That has to be the only way I’ll consider drinking at the Plenković tasting rooms down on the south coast, the other side of the Pitve Tunnel!
Our winery tastings so far have included Tomić winery (impressive tasting room in Roman-style dining room, or they have tasting rooms in Jelsa), the Svirče P.Z cooperative (handy tasting rooms in Jelsa, Stari Grad and Hvar), Carić Winery (lovely friendly people gave us cheese and wine tasting in their stunning location in Svirče) , Pinjata (offers tasty food and wine tastings in a lovely old wine cellar in the heart of Vrboska). We’ve yet to visit Plančić winery in Vrbanj (their excellent wines are quite widely available), and there’s Vujnović winery in Sucuraj we must visit, with their superb organic wines. That’s unfortunately at the wrong end of a long, twisty road! And as mentioned above we’ve still to visit the island’s best known winery – Plenkovic’s winery with its underwater wine cellar.
Our absolute favourite red wine from Hvar at this point comes from a small cellar in Jelsa. The Dubokovic family has been making wine here for the past 600 years, and all that experience shows. Their top of the range Medvid is truly sublime. We went to buy some, having tried it at the Hvar Wine Festival the week before, and although the family were were just sitting down to lunch, we were offered a taste from the barrel. Our serious plans for the afternoon went right out the window in a happy glow, as we set off to enjoy ourselves instead! Their Medvjedica is also highly recommended. Both wines are simply labelled stolno vino – table wine, but this may be the best table wine you’ll ever taste.