Two Croatian yachts have weighed anchor on an expedition dedicated to finding the true roots of the Malvasia grape.

The brainchild of flamboyant winery proprietor Ivica Matosevic, the Malvasia Mediterranea MMV expedition left the northern port of Istria earlier this week.

On board the two 65-foot yachts are Croatian scientists Edi Maletic and Ivan Pejic, who are famous in California for being the first to use DNA to trace the roots of Zinfandel to Croatia’s Crljenak Kastelanski variety.

The rest of the 20-strong passenger list consists of Croatian businessmen and well-connected food and wine journalists.

The expedition’s final destination is the southern Greek port of Monemvassia, from which Malvasia was shipped all around Europe in its heyday. The name of the grape is itself a corruption of the name Monemvassia. The boats will also stop at Venice and other ports along the route.

Malvasia was as popular as Chardonnay in the 13th and 14th centuries, mainly because of its ability to withstand long sea voyages. It was said to be a favourite of English kings.

It is widely believed that Malvasia originated in the Greek Peloponnesian islands, but the scientists now want to scientifically prove the genetic bond between the Greek version and its Croatian cousin Malvazija Istarska.

‘All the evidence shows that Malvazija Istarska was brought into what is today Croatia from the Peloponnesian peninsula, but we would like to see some hard evidence for that’, said Ivan Pejic.

Malvazija Istarska is an authentic Croatian white variety grown on the Istrian peninsula in the Adriatic, producing light, floral wines.

The idea of the expedition is to revive the fortunes of Malvasia, Matosevic said.

‘Today, Malvasia is mostly mixed with other varietals and is not as popular as it was. The expedition’s aim is to revitalize a grape that lost its appeal sometime after the Middle Ages.’

He said he is aware Malvasia will probably never be as popular as it was but he hopes it will become something of a Mediterranean speciality.

Written by Marko Kovac