In fact he knew very little about the wines of the territory of former Yugoslavia since they have split into several smaller states. All he remembered were some fairly indifferent 'Laszki Rizling', probably from what is now Slovenia. So this part of Croatia was a complete blank sheet for him.
As he steered his battered old Honda off the autoput his navigator told him to head for the town of Vukovar. Vague memories of some attrocities happening here during the Yugoslav Wars during the 1990's came to his mind, but the extend of the damage to this town still visible was shocking. Every house bore bullet holes, was damaged or destroyed by shell fire or had simply a fresh coat of paint. The inhabitants of the town followed his car with suspicious looks. He wondered if he made the right decision coming to this area...
As he turned right though, driving along the Danube, he spotted acres of vineyards along it's shores. The scenerey became friendlier, even though a storm was brewing overhead. Finally he arrived in the the remarkably pretty historic town of Ilok, the last place before you cross into Serbia. And it became immediately clear that the town was dominated by wine with signs for wineries on every street corner.
The Wine Anarchist and his motley crew sought refuge at the Hotel Dunav right on the banks of the Danube, where he proceeded to have a dinner of perch pike, caught that morning by the hotel staff, washed down by a jug of very pleasant Grasevina, the local name for Welsh Riesling.
Next morning, on recommendation of the hotel staff, they went to visit the Stari Podrum winery. Unfortunately their website does not do English.
One of our questions was why nearby Vukovar was so comprehensively destroyed during the war, whilst Ilok, 12km closer to the border had remained pristinely beautiful and seemingly untouched by the war. The answer was that the Serbs had taken Ilok without much resistance and it had remained in Serb hands for 7 years. The invisible damage they left behind for this particular winery was that historic large oak barrels were emptied for destillation and then left to rot. These irreplacable barrels will never be able to hold wine again as they dried out and started to rot.
Also the vineyards were left unattended, meaning that most of them needed replanting after the departure of the Serbs. This is a great shame as this winery is not only one of the the largest (with 380ha vineyard holding), but also the oldest winery in Coatia, established way back in 1450.
The cellar boasts large wine archives of historical vintages dating back to the Gewurztraminer 1948, which was served during the coronation of Queen Elizabeth the second herself. A proud moment for the winery.
All old vintages, except that one are actually for sale to the general public.
The 1948 is only served to any visiting heads of state to the area. The Wine Anarchist tried to explain to his guide that he had only just declared himself an independent republic, but was still not served said wine. He might break off diplomatic relations with Croatia in retaliation...
Anyway, what are the wines like I hear you shout! Well the WA learned that this was principly a white wine region with Welsh Riesling dominating the scene. His opinion of Welsh Riesling as opposed to the true Rhine Riesling had never been very high, so expectations were low. However he was looking forward to tasting some of the much lauded Gewurztraminer (locally known as Traminac). Here some notes of what was tasted:
Rainski Rizling (Rhine Riesling) 2011 Premium: Light golden in colour; the nose brings out classic slatey, minerally and steely Riesling characters; on the palate there is some residual sugar and plenty of lean Riesling steelyness but it lacks fruit and finishes fairly short. Welsh Riesling does seem to do better in this terroir.
Bielli Pinot (Pinot Blanc) 2010: Medium golden colour; the nose is rich and honeyed showing plenty of maturity already; the palate is rich soft yet dry with some vegetal undertones. The acidity is still just about holding on, but it was felt that this may just be a little over the top
*all price quotes ex-winery converted from Kunar into Euro.
All in all this turned out to be a very pleasant and educational visit. As Croatia is about to become a full member of the EU, it is recommended to visit this region, not only for it's wines, but also for it's historical sites and it's picturesque location on the Danube river and te Stari Podrum is certainly a good place to start exploring the region's wines.