Herzegovina: A wine lover’s guide

Stari Most bridge spans the Neretva river in MostarStari Most bridge spans the Neretva river in Mostar.

Herzegovina, the smaller, southern part of Bosnia and Herzegovina, has at least 2,000 years of viticultural history, but it has really blossomed during the last 20. More than 30 modern wineries dot this sun-drenched strip abutting Croatia. Alongside these contemporary vineyards, the majority of families in this region of roughly 350,000 inhabitants make their own wine. Only-try-here bottles of humble yet hearty ‘vina’ are sold on the roadside next to wild honey and pomegranates. Bordeaux it isn’t.

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Wine-tasting in Herzegovina – a resolutely welcoming experience, where wine is often paired with prs?ut (local prosciutto) – revolves around two indigenous grapes. Blatina is a madcap red that erupts in the glass like a plum volcano. Yet it’s tricky to grow even here. Its flowers are auto-sterile, meaning they can’t fertilise themselves and the vines must be planted with another variety, though this still doesn’t guarantee fruit production, hence the variety’s nickname: ‘empty barrel’. The Austro-Hungarian emperors, who ruled Herzegovina from 1878 until World War I, preferred the zingy, mineral-rich white Z?ilavka. In the words of one of Herzegovina’s hottest young winemakers, Milena An?elic?: ‘Our guests didn’t fly thousands of miles to try Cab Sauv.’

Opened in 2007 and upgraded and re-launched in 2023, the Herzegovina Wine Route, which starts in the pretty regional capital of Mostar, reveals this burgeoning wine region to a wider audience. This year, 300 wine-friendly hotels, restaurants and experiences are expected to join the 30-odd wineries on an interactive route map, alongside canoeing, bike trails and historic towns in the hilly hinterland. Best of all, the route unites wine lovers of all faiths in a region once riven by difference. Visit now and you’ll be among the first to sip the latest generation of one-off wines.

Two people looking over Svitavsko lake on the ?iro bike trail

Looking over Svitavsko lake on the ?iro bike trail

Striking out from Mostar

Andrija C?oric? is vice president of the Herzegovina Wine Route. His great-grandfather S?imun soldiered for 12 years for the Austro-Hungarian Empire and was repaid with some sloping, stony land in the village of Paoc?a near C?itluk. Here the Andrija vineyard, named after S?imun’s son, was established, a 30-minute rollercoaster drive southwest from Mostar. In 2019, the historic winery was modernised, and it’s now a viticultural playground with a wine library, stroll-through cellars, tasting rooms, boutique guestrooms and a gourmet restaurant. ‘God gave us stones, sunshine and two grapes you won’t find anywhere else,’ says C?oric?.

During the socialist era, when families in the former Yugoslavia were limited to making 100 litres of wine a year for personal consumption, Andrija was given special dispensation to produce creamy Z?ilavka whites, with the honeysuckle subtlety of a wildflower meadow, for national leader Josip Tito. When war came to the Balkans in the 1990s, the C?oric? family didn’t miss a single vintage, despite a bomb falling on its vineyard. Wine and food tastings (€10-€40), conducted by generous hosts Andrija, his sister Katarina and loquacious patriarch Miro, are superb. Their Blatina Andrija Selection revs like a Formula 1 car then finishes like a slow cruise through an orchard of cherries.

Also southwest of Mostar is biodynamic pioneer Brkic?. This bucolic vineyard produces a landmark organic Z?ilavka. Like most wineries in Herzegovina, a call or WhatsApp a few days in advance will allow host Josip and his three young sons to prepare a wine tasting with some homemade bread, prs?ut and two types of cheese (€25 per person), or arrange a local driver or activities. Visitors are welcome to help with the September harvests. Other wine-related activities and tours in Herzegovina are generally open from Easter until…

Source : https://www.decanter.com/wine/herzegovina-a-wine-lovers-guide-527465/