croatian wine is not wine
For centuries, people the world over have fermented grape concoctions, adding various herbs, spices and other curious ingredients, in hope of producing a life-changing elixir. In Croatia, Intrepid’s Shannon Moore sipped a medicinal brew that is considered much more than mere wine…
“Most people come to Korcula and spend their time lounging on the beaches or wandering around the cobblestones of the old city. When I was last on this magical Croatian island (rumoured to be the birthplace of Marco Polo), I found myself on the less-travelled interior of the island, dining with new friends on a farm and vineyard in the tiny town of Pupnat.
Pupnat was originally settled by the Iryllians, has only 300 inhabitants, and is situated at the highest point on the island. From our dinner table on a simple, unadorned terrace, we were treated to views of vineyards and fields of flowers as far as the eyes could see.
The locals with whom I dined included Stanka and Aljosa, both born and raised on Korcula. In fact, the farmer was Aljosa’s brother-in-law, and with his niece and nephew serving us dinner, tonight we were dining on dishes made exclusively from products Mate and Milianna produce on their farm.
Crooking a finger in my direction, Mate beckoned me towards a tiny closet just off the terrace and pointed to the ceiling. Hanging above me were about 20 cured hams (heavily salted and smoked to combat the warm Mediterranean climate). Then Biba, their daughter and unofficial maitre d’hotel took me up behind the house to show me the wine cellar where the wine was bottled.
Korcula natives are wine drinkers – on average a litre a day according to national statistics and the saying goes that to a Korculan, “wine is not wine, it is medicine.” To this end, the sheer variety of wine products we had with dinner was staggering. First, there was an aperitif of travarica, a grappa-like liquor made with the lemon-scented herb verbane (verbina). With dinner we had red and white wine from the vineyard Korcula style – which is to say, mixed with a bit of water. Reds are mixed with tap water and called bevanda and white wine is traditionally mixed with mineral water and known as gemist. I was glad for the tradition when I saw the giant carafes of wine headed our way. And we hadn’t even gotten to the dessert wine (prosek-a port, or rozulin which is a sweet wine made from the rose garden).
As the sun set and we savoured our entree of grilled aubergine and zucchini, a selection of sheep and goat cheeses, chicken liver and aubergine pate with hunks of warm, crusty bread and sliced proscuitto from the farm, followed by an asparagus and proscuitto omelette made (of course) with domestic eggs, I wondered if I could make room for our main. But Milianna was having none of it and as she brought out the traditional Dalmatian pasticcada (a kind of meatloaf made from pork on this night), I realized I had better settle in for a long dinner, Korcula-style.
Before the night was over, there were a few more dishes, dessert, and hugs all around from my new friends, with invitations to come back and stay any time in Pupnat. I couldn’t resist buying myself a small bottle of the rozulin and the white wine so I can show my friends at home how they do it on Korcula in this magic little town. I have a feeling they will be converted, just as I was!”
* photo by Tess Follett – Intrepid Photography Competition