An Immersive Experience: Tasting Croatian Wine From Under the Sea

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.

“Everyone’s looking for optimal conditions to age wine. I thought… Why not ‘dig’ it into nature somewhere and see what happens?”

– Jakša Bedalov

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.

cork and wax used to age Croatian wine underwater

Where in the World?

More Details & Planning Pointers:

  • You’re probably thinking that we’re lucky to count Srđan and Jakša among our circle of Croatian friends, and indeed we are. If you’ll be in the Split area and also want to learn about Croatian food and wine, get in touch with them through Bedalov Winery or the Art of Wine to coordinate a customized experience.
  • Shawn and I have spent two winters in Split, finding accommodation in apartments that would be packed during the summer months, but are practically empty during winter. During our first 2.5 months there, we stayed at the lovely Kaleta Apartments (affiliate link), which are located within Diocletian’s Palace. Our studio apartment (called the ‘Diocletian’s Suite’) featured much character, including Roman brickwork embedded into our wall, and overhead views of Split’s Old Town streets. Owners Novica and Negri were thoughtful citizen ambassadors too. Two years later, we returned to Split, staying in the charming Varoš neighborhood, which is known for its quirky stone homes sporting hunter-green shutters and flower boxes. For those 2 months, we stayed in quaint studio apartments at the Guesthouse F (affiliate link). We especially enjoyed our tiny terrace and the kindness of our hosts, Anja and Miro. One of Guesthouse F’s apartments was originally a horseshoe maker’s workshop, which previously belonged to Anja’s grandfather. Shawn and I dubbed it the ‘horseshoe cottage’.
  • If you’ll be staying in Split for a few days, you might be interested in the Split Card, which gives you free entry to certain museums and galleries, and reduced rates to others. Back in 2014, people staying in Split for 3 days or more could pick up the Split Card for free, but as of 2016, there is a fee to purchase the card. The link above details the current cost, as well as the participating museums and businesses.
  • Would you like more ideas as you plan your Croatian holiday? This link contains an index of all my posts from Croatia.

Photography & text © Tricia A. Mitchell. All Rights Reserved.

Published by Tricia A. Mitchell

Tricia A. Mitchell is a freelance writer and photographer. Born in Europe but raised in the United States, she has lived in Valletta, Malta; Heidelberg, Germany; and Split, Croatia. An avid globetrotter who has visited more than 65 countries, she has a penchant for off-season travel. Tricia has learned that travel’s greatest gift is not sightseeing, rather it is the interactions with people. Some of her most memorable experiences have been sharing a bottle of champagne with distant French cousins in Lorraine, learning how to milk goats in a sleepy Bulgarian village, and ringing in the Vietnamese New Year with a Hanoi family. She welcomes any opportunity to practice French and German, and she loves delving into a place’s history and artisanal food scene. A former education administrator and training specialist, Tricia has a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a master’s degree in international relations. She and her husband, Shawn, married in the ruins of a snowy German castle. They’ve been known to escape winter by basing themselves in coastal Croatia or Southeast Asia. Her writing has appeared in Fodor’s Travel, Frommer’s, and International Living.

19 thoughts on “An Immersive Experience: Tasting Croatian Wine From Under the Sea

  1. That winemaker friend of yours takes the craft of making wine into the artistic level! I love to hear stories about foods/drinks being crafted in very unique ways; living in the US where each supermarket is a minefield of GMOs and chemical experiments, these stories are music to my ears :-)

    1. Your comment echoed what we’d been saying too, Annette – that winemaking is an art and a science! I’d love to get out into the vineyards here during the spring/summer months, and learn more about the everyday work they do to tend to the vines.

      Regarding genetically-modified food and chemicals, we’re hopeful that some of the produce that we’re getting at our local outdoor market is indeed organic. So much of it looks gnarly and irregular, and we like that it’s not waxed to perfection. This is our first time buying mostly from the growers themselves. Do you have farmers’ markets in your area?

      1. I grow my own food, Tricia. And there are quite a few farmer’s markets. Actually, the Shenandoah Valley nearby has a profusion of artisan food crafters (vinegars, beers, cheeses, breads, etc). So I feel lucky to be in this area. However, there are few restaurants in my vicinity (an hour’s drive) that serve local, organic foods. And Walmart’s and the Dollar General’s produce departments unfortunately are thriving because people choose cheap food over more expensive quality food. It’s a real dilemma.
        But I love making my own sauerkraut, various pickled vegetables, jams and jellies (some from wild crafted, socalled ‘invasive’ foods even). I enjoy looking for wild edibles, wild medicinals in the fields and woods around me….

      2. That all sounds marvelous, Annette. I would very much enjoy shadowing with you as you pickle and jar your goodies. My grandmother used to do much jarring, but I never got a chance to see how she did it. I miss her delightful preserves and peach pies!

        When you mentioned the big stores’ thriving produce departments, it reminded me of what we observed here. Supposedly, some of the world’s best garlic, or at least very good stuff is grown in our vicinity. Still though, garlic from China has infiltrated some of the grocery stores here. We saw the same thing in Germany.

        You mentioned foraging for ‘invasive’ foods, and I’m curious what some of them are? I think I mentioned in one of my last posts that we’ve taken quite a liking to some of the bundled wild greens available at the fresh markets here. All we could identify were wild onions, perhaps dandelions and wild fennel, but we heard there were about 10 varieties in a bundle.

      3. I pick the autumn olives/Russian olives, tiny orange-red berries and make a jam out of it. It has a ruby red color like no other fruit. Also, I like the taste of mustard garlic a highly maligned invasive green. Of course, dandelions, to me, are never weeds, but always friendly greens, roots and flowerheads (one of these days I’ll make dandelion wine!). I have identified about 40 different wild foods on my property like nuts, berries, greens, rosehips and hawthorn, etc. It’s always fun to get free food from Mother Nature.

      4. Annette, sounds like you have a unique and bountiful harvest there. Today as I was picking a dandelion bouquet, I was pondering what I could use them for, besides as an aesthetic addition. Dandelion wine it is! :) It’s too bad you’re not back in Germany, for it’d be fascinating to go on a nature walk with you and identify all of Mother Nature’s hidden treasures.

      5. Wish you sunny and warmer days ahead, then. Surprisingly (or perhaps not so since we are in the mountains) we had snow here a few days ago. Finally though, the snow is melting from everywhere except the mountain-tops, and the spring blooms are again emerging.

  2. Your photo shows the external and internal warmth of the experience, Tricia. It does sound a little James Bondish, doesn’t it? I can only imagine what a bottle of this extraordinary wine must cost. :)

    1. Hi Lynne, when we joined our friends for lunch that afternoon, it was a rainy and grey day along the Adriatic Sea. The cheery red candles, comforting food, and good conversation definitely warmed up the day though. :)

      Something that we’ve found quite interesting here is that so many of the people we meet actually make their own wine, olive oil, etc. Our friend does sell his own wine, however, I don’t think these submerged bottles are generally for sale. (That’s why we felt so honored that he opened the bottle while we were there.) I’ll have to see if I can find a tactful way to ask the next time we see our friend. :)

    1. Thanks, Gerard, glad to hear the image was a good accompaniment to the story. Speaking of a fine accompaniment, the wine paired really well with our lunch/dinner that day. I’d never heard of anyone aging wine underwater, but apparently it is done in the wine world. I know you’re a vino fan too – had you heard of this technique? :)

    1. True, Dorothy! What I’ve read mentioned that consistent temperatures and low-lighting are advantages, not to mention free storage. I think it’d be especially fun to see the divers pull up the wine after it’s aged. :) I’m curious how it’s corralled and secured during the process…

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