The Indigenous Grapes of Croatia: Plavac Mali

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Plavac Mali is an autochthonous Croatian red grape, one of the best known and respected wine varieties in Croatia. Its genetic linkage to the Zindfandel grape, very famous variety in various regions around the world, especially California, has been researched to the minute detail, and now we know that Plavac Mali is a cross between the variety that the Croatians call Tribidrag – and the rest of the world calls it Zinfandel – and a less know variety, Dobričić. Both of those varieties have recently been resurrected in Croatia and are being produced at a growing rate, but have not been able to achieve the high quality and esteem that the best wines made of Plavac Mali have.

It is grown almost exclusively in the southern-most Croatia, as produces the best wines if grown in abundant heat and sunshine and as little rain as possible in the late spring and summer. So, the Pelješac peninsula, as well as the islands of Hvar and Brač, and vineyards in Konavle region, south of Dubrovnik are the locations where most of the really good Plavac Mali wines are made. The yield is quite low, per vine, but the sugar content is extremely high, so the wine has high alcohol content (13 – 15%, usually, but some producers have gone as high as 17% !), and also high tannins.

The flavour is mostly described as rustic, with hints of dark berries, cherry, pepper and spice, and the wine has excellent aging capabilities, especially in the best years, when the wine is high quality to begin with. Often it is aged in oak barrels, and the result is a rich, powerful wine that can be paired with beef, either steaks or beef stew (especially with the type of stew you can find in Dalmatia under the name “dalmatinska pašticada”) or tuna steaks. If you visit the Pelješac peninsula, a very narrow strip of land in Dalmatia, make sure to take the time to visit Plavac Mali vineyards, because their locations and the angle at which they are grown overlooking the sea (sometimes almost 50°) and then you will get a newfound respect for the wine and the people that have grown it in those locations for centuries. Maybe you’ll hear the words postup and dingač when the locals are talking about the plavac mali wines: those two denote the exact location where the vineyards are!

Among the most notable producers is Mike Grgich, the famous Californian wine-maker who is the most famous for his crucial role in the 1976 Paris Judgement, who has been making wine in Croatia for the last two decades, but whose vineyards have suffered a blow in the catastrophic wildfires on Pelješac in 2015. Other producers from Pelješac you should remember are Korta Katarina, Mokalo, Matuško, Miloš, Miličić and Madirazza. On Hvar, Plenković family is the one that started creating high-quality Plavac Mali wines, and you won’t miss with Tomić or PZ Svirče plavac. In the Konavle region, Plavac Mali tastes a bit different, so compare, if you can, one made by Dubrovački podrumi or Crvik family with the ones already listed. And, a small tip: if you like rose wine, make sure to taste a rose made from Plavac Mali variety – either by Korta Katarina, Saint Hills or Miloš’s Stagnum Rose!


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