Tuesday, 30 April 2019

Meet 2 Brits Raising the Gourmet Level on Dalmatian Islands (VIDEO)

April 30, 2019 - While British cuisine may not have the best global reputation, meet two Brits who are raising the level in the land of the UNESCO Mediterranean Diet, Michael Unsworth on Korcula and Jo Ahearne MW on Hvar. And when the two combine... 

It is perhaps my favourite of all expat integration stories in Croatia. 

The year in 1972, and a young British student meets a pretty Croatian student from what was then Yugoslavia. Things develop, and our lovestruck British hero decides to visit his new love in her native Orebic on the Peljesac Peninsula. While that love flourished throughout the summer, a new love developed for that young British student - Peljesac and Korcula. So much so that when his girlfriend headed back to London, the young Brit stayed on with her family, despite having no language in common. 

The Michael Unsworth love affair with Dalmatia had begun. And if burns ever brighter, almost 50 years on. 


A very successful financial career in the City of London and in Asia helped to finance some projects in Croatia, including the 5-star Lesic Dimitri Palace boutique hotel in Korcula Town. Having bought the property in 2001, Lesic Dimitri Palace, one of only four Relais Chateaux hotels in Croatia, and with its own Michelin-recommended restaurant, opened in 2008. It quickly set the standards not only for Korcula but also for the region. 

There are few locals who will disagree that the arrival of Lesic Dimitri Palace has been the inspiration for the raising of quality of Korcula's restaurant and accommodation offer. 


Not content with simply running and enjoying the hotel, Michael has also been very active in helping to extend the season and promote the island's considerable culture. Great examples of this are the Korkyra Baroque Festival in September, and the Korculanske Pjatance Spring Food and Wine Festival, the latter of which was responsible for bringing another overachieving Brit over from the neighbouring island of Hvar. 


I first met Jo Ahearne MW five years ago at Dalmacija Wine Expo. Her love affair with 'my' island of Hvar began soon after (although she had visited back in 2003), when she moved to Hvar and became the first Master of Wine to make wine in Croatia, and from indigenous Hvar grapes. How better to describe her background that her biography on the Master of Wine website:

Jo is a winemaking consultant. In 1998 she completed her Oenology Degree in Australia where she has worked with iconic boutique wineries such as Charles Melton and Pipers Brook, as well as making wine for global brands such as Jacobs Creek and Hardy's. During the early 1990's she worked with UK wine merchant Oddbins, returning in 2004 as winemaker/blender for the influential supermarket Marks & Spencer. In 2011 Jo moved on to become the Head Wine Buyer for Harrods. In Europe she has had a variety of consultancies in Spain, France, Italy, Hungary and Macedonia working with wineries to refine and improve the quality of their wines in general and to fit the UK market specifically. Since 2014 she has also been making her own wine on the Dalmatian island of Hvar in Croatia.


The occasion which brought these two gourmet Dalmatian island Brits together was a 5-course dinner at Lesic Dimitri Palace, paired with local wines chosen by Jo. As you can read here, it was quite an evening, with the escargot tempura, above, just one of the many highlights..  


A true gastronomic masterclass from Lesic chef, Marko Gajski, who is clearly enjoying life working with his British boss. 

Both Jo and Michael kindly agreed to a TCN interview on the Lesic terrace the following morning, before just had to rush off for wine judging duties at the Dubrovnik Wine Festival and then the Decanter Awards in London. 

You can follow Jo Ahearne MW's wine journey on the Ahearne Vino Facebook page, and explore the Lesic Dimitri Palace website here.

Saturday, 27 April 2019

British Gourmet Class on Korcula, as Lesic Dimitri Palace Combines with Jo Ahearne MW

The 3rd Korculanske Pjatance Korcula Spring Food and Wine Festival opened on April 26, 2019, with two Brits combining to provide an unforgettable gourmet treat at Lesic Dimitri Palace.  

Someone asked me recently to name my favourite place in Croatia. 

With so many incredible things to see and do here, the list of top places is long, and it was a question I have been thinking about ever since. And then this morning, I think I had the answer, or at least a strong candidate for that favourite place. 

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There is something about the terrace at Lesic Dimitri Palace in Korcula Town that you cannot find anywhere else. Perhaps it is the waves gently lapping against the rocks below, the subtle wind blowing to nullify the intense heat of the day, the engaging company of British owner Michael Unsworth, the food of course, and the general laid back ambiance of this magical historic walled town. It is a little spot of perfection which celebrates the very best of tourism in Croatia, and I feel privileged to have experienced it on more than one occasion. 

I felt even more lucky when I was not only invited back to cover what was for me one of the highlights of 2018 - the Korculanske Pjatance Spring Food and Wine Festival - but an invitation which came with accommodation at the fabled Lesic Dimitri Palace itself. I was beyond excited. 

The hotel has just 9 rooms, all themed on parts of Marko Polo's Silk Road - Venice, China, Ceylon, India, Arabia and China -  but an astonishing 32 employees in the season, which probably makes it the highest ratio in the country for staff to guests. Just one more reason why Lesic Dimitri Palace is considered by many to be the top boutique hotel in Croatia. It is one of just four hotels in the country which are members of Relais Chateaux, while its fine dining restaurant also features in the Michelin Guide.

And we were here for the food...  

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I managed to catch some of the impressive Lesic team before the evening started. You see the same faces year on year at Lesic Dimitri, one of the most cohesive and professional units I have seen in my time in Croatia, and a team which clearly loves that they do. 

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After a very successful career in the City of London, Michael Unsworth turned his attentions to Korcula, an island he has been in love with since meeting it while visiting his future wife in Orebic back in his student years. With the opening of Lesic Dimitri and its excellent restaurant, he has been the driving force and pioneer for Korcula's focus on higher quality in both gourmet and accommodation. 

It was fitting that the evening at Korculanske Pjatance also starred another Brit doing amazing things on another Dalmatian island - Master of Wine Jo Ahearne on Hvar. After the welcome and introductions from Lesic Dimitri sommelier Drazen and Michael, Jo introduced her paired selection of Korcula wines to go with the menu of Lesic chef Marko Gajski, beginning with an aperitif of Merga Victa Posip 2018.

And so to the food, which was truly one of the best meals I have had in a long time. Marko Gajski is a rising star of the Croatian gourmet scene and is improving year on year. This dinner was a wow.

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Gambero rosso, with a glass of Grk Bartul 2018 by Zure.

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Jo was on hand to introduce each wine as every course was served, explaining both the wine and the reasons for her choice. It is not every day you get an education from a Master of Wine included in the meal.  

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Sashimi  - sea bass, bottarga and horseradish, with Rukatac Single vineyard 2016 from Radovanovic. 

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Escargot tempura, with garlic, parsley, lardo and egg yolk. Jo paired this with Amfora Milina. 

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Rubia Gallega beef, with beetroot, demi glace with marinated tarragon seeds sauce and spring onion. Bire might be famous for its Grk, but the red Plavac Mali Bire 2016 went very well with it.  

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And to finish, a cheese selection with a glass of Luka Krajancic Posip Orange 2012. 

A superb evening, and congratulations to all involved.  

It is 7 years since the late Anthony Bourdain told the world about Croatia and its 'world-class food, world-class wine, and world-class cheese.' I am sure he would have enjoyed last night on Korcula.

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It was nice to capture some special moments from the evening. Chef Marko, who has benefited from the opportunity and faith Michael has put in him.  The respect, love and appreciation is mutual.

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And it was nice to see Jo and Marko talking shop and exchanging their views after the meal. 

A truly lovely event. Make sure you put the Korculanske Pjatance in your schedule for next year. You can follow the rest of this year's festival on Facebook

Learn more about Lesic Dimitri Palace.

Both Jo and Michael kindly agreed to a video interview, which I recorded this morning, and which will be published as soon as I overcome my technological ineptitude. 

Friday, 15 February 2019

From Melbourne to Kyoto, Hvar Grapes on Tour with British Master of Wine

February 15, 2019 - A British Master of Wine, some grapes from Hvar, and wine-drinking audiences in Japan and Australia. 

It is one of my favourite Croatian wine stories, and one which is truly going international. 

Croatia, of course, has already made several significant contributions to the international wine story. The original Zinfandel comes from Kastela, just outside Split, the contribution of Miljenko 'Mike' Grgic in California is much talked about since the famous Judgment of Paris in 1976, and the rise of the New Zealand wine story owes a debt to Sir George Fistonish, whose family hailed from Hvar. 

And now the grapes of Hvar are popping up in the unlikeliest places - Tokyo, Kyoto, Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney. And not through a Hvar winemaker, but a British winemaker making the very best of the indigenous grapes of Hvar - grapes from Hvar, hands from London - including one which was named in the top 10 wines in all Croatia in 2017

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It is almost 5 years since I first interviewed Jo Ahearne MW at a Plavac Mali masterclass by Sasa Spiranec at Dalmacija Wine Expo. Things moved quickly after that, with Ahearne deciding to move to the island of Hvar to make her own wine using the indigenous grapes of the island. Her first product for the market was a rosé called Rosina from the local Darnekusa grape. 

The first Master of Wine to make wine in Croatia, Ahearne faced the additional challenges of island living, Croatian bureaucracy and running a business in a country where she does not speak the language. But progress has been steady, and the national - and international - reputation of her wines has been growing steadily. 

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And reaching parts of the globe where no Hvar wines have gone before. New clients in both Australia and Japan have imported the wines from Ahearne Vino, and Jo Ahearne is currently on a promotional tour of her wines. it has led to some rather interesting food pairings:

"Rosina paired with red prawn Vietnamese rice roll and a hint of orange skin grated over it. Genius pairing." 

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Ahearne in action in Tokyo, at a seminar organised by Japanese importer, Vins d''Olive

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The tastings in Tokyo and Kyoto followed Australian appearances in Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney. Above, Wild Skins, a cuvee of Bogdanusa, Kuc and Posip, relaxing in the shade in the Barossa Valley. 

Grapes from Hvar, Hands from London - a winning combination which is taking the Hvar wine story to a different level. 

To follow the latest from Ahearne Vino, follow them on Facebook


Sunday, 12 August 2018

A Master of Wine Scores 93 With Her First Ever Posip

August 12, 2018 - One of the more interesting stories on the Croatian wine scene continues, as British Master of Wine Jo Ahearne hits the mark with her first Posip. 

Saturday, 3 March 2018

British Master of Wine Jo Ahearne Putting Hvar on Wine Map, Says Wine Enthusiast

March 2, 2018 - She is the first Master of Wine producing wine in Croatia, using the indigenous grapes of Hvar, and the international wine community is beginning to take note. More great promo for the Hvar wine story thanks to the efforts of Jo Ahearne MW. 

Saturday, 23 April 2016

Master of Wine Jo Ahearne Goes Full Circle at Dalmacija Wine Expo

Master of Wine Jo Ahearne, the first MW to make wine in Croatia, returned to the place where her Croatian adventure began - Dalmacija Wine Expo - this time delivering an outstanding presentation on her Hvar wine journey. 

Thursday, 10 March 2016

Master of Wine Jo Ahearne to Debut Hvar Rose at Pink Day in Zagreb

A great addtion to an already strong event, as the first Master of Wine to make wine in Croatia will be presenting her rose at Pink Day in Zagreb. 

Monday, 13 July 2015

Master of Wine Jo Ahearne: Why I am Making Wine in Croatia

There are just over 300 Masters of Wine in the world. Only one of them is currently making wine in Croatia. Jo Ahearne MW from London via Australia explains why she has taken the plunge to try and get the very best out of the grapes of Hvar.