Occasionally, but not that often, a wine tasting comes along that not only appeals to the palate and the mind, but to the soul, too. So it was with 'The Voyage', a wine tasting showcasing quality Mediterranean growers' wines put on by the Theatre of Wine shops with importers Vino Nostro and Eclectic Wines.
I had met Leo Gracin on a visit to Croatia and here was my hero in person. Gracin is a charming winemaker who has done much to revive the fortunes of the native babic grape. By planting afresh in the stony, windswept terraces overlooking the Adriatic at Primosten, he has succeeded in drawing the lifeblood of the grape from unpromising terrain to produce the distinctive 2009 Suha Punta Gracin Babic, £32.80, a red with spicy, floral aromas whose earthy, dark fruit is richly textured.
The hero of Istria, based in Croatia's heart-shaped peninsula, was not present at the tasting, but a couple of Moreno Coronica's wines were. His 2012 Malvazija Istriana, £15, is wonderfully fresh, intense and apricoty with a saline mineral quality that's mouthwatering from start to finish. Coronica's tour de force is his terra rossa-based 2008 Teran, £31.80, a bright, vivid red with the most succulent cherry-sweet fruit and damsony freshness imbued with a peppery twist of spice.
The cross-section of distinctive local Croatian grape varieties at this tasting including posip and grasevina and not least plavac mali, a red Croatian speciality related to zinfandel that adapts well to the rocky hillsides and sunny climate of the Dalmatian coast. It can be powerful, and the 2009 Bura-Mgurdic Dingac, £42, from the Peljesac, showed just that in its rich, sweetly dried, amarone-like fruit, while the 2011 Tomic Plavac Mali from the Island of Hvar, £20.20, is made in a more modern style, all bright, spiced plum and damson fruitiness with elegantly layered, ripe-fruit freshness.
After tasting a particularly good pinot noir-based, champagne-method rosé from Bulgaria in the 2008 Edoardo Miroglio Metodo Classico Brut Rosé, £16, it was time to catch up with another Mediterranean hero. Haridimos Hatzidakis is a grower on Santorini, who uses the so-called bird's nest method of vine-pruning (circular, lying low to the ground) for his superb wines.
Best of his whites, for me, was the 2013 Santorini, £13.90, made from the assyrtiko grape, a wonderfully mineral, fresh white, almost chablis-like in its bone-dry intensity. If not in store yet, the superb 2012, £13.75, Vinoteca, is well worth snapping up. I loved his red, too, the 2010 Mavrotragano, £29, all succulent, bright-liquid cherries.
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