ANOTHER MONTH, and another vinous first for me: the vineyards on the Croatian island of Vis. Nominally, I was there to play cricket, but the worst April weather for years meant that I spent more time studying the wines than was perhaps good for me.
Vis has an interesting history. During the Second World War, the island was, for a time, the headquarters of Tito and his Yugoslav partisans. The island is littered with relics. On the site of a former airstrip laid by British forces, there is now an assortment of vineyards, and a cricket pitch.
The first mention of the wines of the island goes back more than 2000 years, when the writer Agatharchides of Cnidus claimed that “They had no match anywhere.” In the 15th century, the best wine of the island was known as Tibidrago, and was exported widely around the Adriatic.
Production reached its peak at the end of the 19th century, but after this the area under vines went into decline, and the island is covered with abandoned hillside terraces that once were covered with vineyards.
Recently, there has been renewed interest in the production of both wine and olive oil, with most of the growers owning less than a couple of hectares of vines, and selling their grapes to one of the two co-operative cellars or the handful of independent wine-makers.
There was some initial confusion over wine lists offering Trbljan, Kuc, Babic, and Kurteloska (I apologise for my computer’s inability to produce Croatian accents), but it did not take long to realise that the best red wines were made from the Plavac Mali; and the whites from the Vugava.
The Vugava, grown mainly on the stony soil in the south-east of the island, is the pride of Vis. It gives a full-bodied dry wine, with apricot flavours reminiscent of a Viognier. The best I tasted came from the Lipanovic winery, where they make both unoaked and barrel-fermented styles. The latter is a world-class wine, and sells for approximately £8 a bottle at the winery.
The Plavac Mali gives full-bodied, intensely coloured wines, sometimes with a touch of sweetness. The president of the cricket team, Oliver Roki, has both a winery and a restaurant in the hamlet of Plisko Polje. I really enjoyed his Plavac with a meal of lamb cooked in a cast-iron pan.
Sadly, these wines are not available outside Croatia; so this month I have trawled multiple websites to find some interesting rosé wines, in the hope that summer will be with us by the time this article appears.
Chapel Down Rosé 2006, from Kent, is an interesting blend of Pinot Noir, Rondo, Regent, and Schonburger grapes, which give it an appealing strawberry yogurt flavour (Booths, £8.49; Waitrose, £8.54); La Serrana, Campo de Borja, is a full-bodied dry wine made from the Grenache grape (Majestic, £2.99); Bonterra Californian 2007, is largely made from Sangiovese (Waitrose, £9.49); and, just because I like it, Gulf Station Pinot Noir 2006 from Victoria’s Yarra Valley (Oddbins, £8.99; £7.19 by the case).