Lately, our Sunday afternoons have been overflowing with opportunities to learn about Croatian winemaking, thanks to our wine connoisseur friend, Srđan. Ever on the lookout for immersive travel opportunities, Shawn and I were introduced to a bottle of Zinfandel that had been aged under the Adriatic Sea for one year. How fitting given that Croatia is Zinfandel’s ancestral home and that these grapes, known locally as Crljenak Kaštelanski, have been grown in the area for more than 1,000 years!
Our host for the night, Jakša, was the winemaker who was eager to experiment with the wine’s aging process. Jakša is also a gourmand who partners with Srđan for wine and food tours in and around Split, Croatia’s second-largest city. We met him and Srđan on an ‘Original Zinfandel’ tour last winter, and have been in touch ever since. We asked Jakša what led him to age the wine in such an unconventional fashion.
“Everyone’s looking for optimal conditions to age wine. I thought… Why not ‘dig’ it into nature somewhere and see what happens?” he explained, with Srđan acting as translator.
Jakša’s friend, a diver, knew a small underwater cave in which to stash the bottles, 25 meters (roughly 80 feet) underneath the water’s surface. After he secured them inside the cave, he simply closed the cave off with rocks. With restraint befitting James Bond, Jakša didn’t hint at where this underwater site might be.
The green bottle sitting before us on the green and white checkered tablecloth had remnants of barnacles on its exterior. Its smoky exterior reminded me of the weathered pieces of glass I’d seen washing ashore on beaches near Lake Michigan, when I visited my grandparents as a child.
The outside of the bottle’s cork was sealed with wax, which Jakša carefully cut through before uncorking the wine and pouring it into a decanter. He explained that a screw cap would’ve offered a strong seal, but that seawater could’ve gotten through it in just six months. The cork and wax combination lasts longer.
Sitting next to a candelabra, studded with candles that had been burning down during the course of our afternoon together, Jakša was the first to swirl, sniff and taste the wine.
“It smells like the sea, like cuttlefish,” he said, with a faint smile. Jakša guessed that the wine possibly had 14% alcohol content, but he wasn’t certain.
As I held up my glass of wine to the light, I noted its lovely garnet color, reminiscent of jewelry storefronts in the Czech Republic studded with the brilliant, deep-red precious stone. Shawn and I noted hints of blackberries and sour cherries. It had a light and smooth finish.
We reflected on how special the experience was. The grapes had grown in Jakša’s vineyard 400 meters above the Adriatic Sea, they were aged 25 meters underneath the sea, and then they were enjoyed with friends who live alongside it.
P.S. Before this experience, I’d never heard of wine being aged underwater. Is this a new concept to you too? Have you ever tasted wine aged under the sea?
For you foodies out there, I’ll be sharing details about our traditional Croatian cuisine cooking class this coming Sunday. The post will include the recipe for Jakša’s celebrated Zinfandel Risotto, which is delicious and rather easy to make.
Photography & text © Tricia A. Mitchell. All Rights Reserved.