Miss Croatia and I – part 1

POSTED ON 12/07/2009

Miss Croatia, the personable and not wholly unpulchritudinous 21-year old Ivana Vasilj, is learning how to hold a wine glass. Like me, she is in Ilok in the far eastern corner of Croatia on the border with Serbia. I’m there for the wine while in her case it’s because she’s being sponsored by Juraj Mihaljević, owner of Principovac Wine Cellars, for this year’s Miss World contest in the US.

note position of wine glassnote position of wine glass

Ivana was actually brought up in Germany and lives in Cologne, but little things like that haven’t stopped South Africa’s Kevin Pietersen from playing cricket for England so why should it prevent Ivana from representing Croatia at Miss World. She loves things Croatian after all, especially the food and wine, even if she hasn’t quite yet mastered the art of holding a wine glass.

This is where Oz Clarke and I come in. Her English is as schrecklich as my German, so not only has she engaged us for language classes before the Big Night in three months time, but more to the point we are to give her wine tuition as part of our newly launched Miss World Competitors Wine Tuition Course. The first thing she needs to do is to learn how to hold her glass not by the bowl but by the stem to avoid getting unwanted paw marks all over the glass and warming up her pre-chilled white wine. She begins to get the hang of this. Then she learns the importance of ‘nosing’. Unconvinced to start with, she sticks her perfectly formed nose into a glass and yes, it’s working. Through the make-up, a smile of realisation lights up her pretty face as the aromas go to town on her olfactory bulb.

time to get yer kit on, luvtime to get yer kit on, luv
that's more like itthat's more like it

Ivana starts making funny faces at me, pursing her lips and sucking in air as if about to draw blood from my neck. Then I realise she’s imitating the correct method of tasting, which someone, our host perhaps, already appears to have shown her how to do. She takes a sip of Principovac’s spicily refreshing, dry 2007 Graševina, sucks in air, her lips pursed, rolling the delicious liquid around in her mouth without dribbling. Impressive. Does she like wine? Yes, she loves wine and proves it by demolishing the glass in one ladylike go before moving swiftly to the 2007 Traminac and then the gorgeously rich and exotic 2006, Croatia's answer to Alsace Gewurz Selection de Grains Nobles. Nectar. She also likes her food.

What’s her favourite? McDonald’s. Clearly, we have our work cut out. I have to advise her that an answer like that at the Miss World contest could be fatal, so she agrees to eschew Big Mac for her favourite Croatian food and the kind of strudely filo pastries they do so well. We had one stuffed with foie gras and shaved with summer truffles a few days ago and I can vouch for the fact that they make McDonald’s look like, er, McDonald’s.

bad newsbad news

The lesson seems to be going well. Miss Croatia is having a good laugh but a bit too much apparently as her chaperone brings her to heel for having too good a time with Oz Clarke and me when all we’re trying to do, her best interests at heart, is help improve her tasting technique. Although it’s late (we don’t sit down to dinner until 10.30 as our extravagant lunchtime barbecue makes us three hours late for our appointment), our host makes up for his faux pas by getting up and lustily singing a song of corporate welcome, in the same breath thanking us for our visit and welcoming us to the wonderful vineyards of Principovac in the little border town of Ilok. This brings a smile to the lips of Ivana Vasilj and everyone feels good again. I feel sure she can win Miss World, as long as they ask contestants how to hold a wine glass. More on Croatian wine, food and culture soon.

Principovac Cellars, Ilok, Croatia, Serbia in the far distancePrincipovac Cellars, Ilok, Croatia, Serbia in the far distance

Our sponsor