Could we soon be asking for a nice glass of malvasia? It would not be the first time a beautiful and distinctive grape has put a whole new country on the wine map.
The country in this case is Croatia, whose winemakers are winning more and more awards. Its indigenous star is malvasia, an elegant, floral white wine which could do what spicy grüner veltliner, now a commonplace on restaurant wine lists, has done for Austria, and rich, robust malbec for Argentina.
Croatia is an increasingly popular holiday destination for Brits, who have discovered the joys of a zesty glass of malvasia in the seaside cafes of Dubrovnik, Split and Rovinj. But until recently it was hard to repeat the experience in Britain, despite the fact Croatia scooped no less than eight gold medals at the Decanter World Wine Awards in 2009 and does consistently well in competition.
One man who has stuck his neck out is James Waddell, who founded Croatian Fine Wines last year to bring the best of the wines into Britain. He has succeeded in getting Pilato’s Malvazija Istarska 2011 into the mainstream via Marks & Spencer, and lists an even nicer version by organic growers Kabola.
The Pilato appears as part of an eastern Med showcase, which includes Israel — off the M&S radar until this year. Larger branches are now listing a clean, fresh Israeli sauvignon blanc from Barkan, better known in Britain for its reds, and a soft, rich merlot from Binyamina.
Barkan’s affordable reds have waved the flag for Israel for a few years now in other supermarkets, but none has yet stocked Croatian wines.
However, Croatian Fine Wines sells direct, with many bottles in the £13-£35 price range.
Try the rich but subtle chardonnay by Franc Arman. His big, tannic and uniquely Croatian red, Teran Barrique 2007, was singled out by Masterchef judge John Torode at a BBC Good Food Show earlier this year, but may not be to everyone’s taste.
On the other hand, easy-drinking malvasia looks set to win the hearts of a nation, and will not disappoint, whether enjoyed as an aperitif or with a nice piece of fish.