Plavac Mali

Origin: Croatia
Croatia’s most grown red variety. DNA profiling has shown that it is the offspring of Dobričić (an ancient Croatian variety) and Crljenak Kaštelanski (better know to the masses as Zinfandel)

Interesting twist, the grape variety that everyone knows as Zinfandel (except for the Italians, who know it as Primotivo) actually originated in Croatia where it grows under the name of Crljenak Kaštelanski (red grape of Kaštela) or just Tribidrag to its friends

Grown: Along the Dalmatian coast of Croatia. Hardly found anywhere outside of Croatia, but recently planted in Japan

Climate: Hot and dry. Not particularly found of rain early in the season

Viticulture: Tends to be grown along the coast and on the small islands (Hvar and Brač) just of the coastline, generally on a very steep angle. To avoid the harsh winds along the coast it is often bush trained, which naturally gives low yields and helps to concentrate the wines even more. The name Plavac Mali means “small blue” and is a direct description of the grape, it is small, with an intensive colour and it tends to accumulate sugar quickly with gives a juice with a very high sugar concentration

Vinification: Since the grapes tends to reach a very high sugar levels, the wine can if fermented to dryness reach alcohol levels up to 17% in extreme cases, while 15% not is uncommon. Otherwise, the wine might have some residue sweetness left to give balance. Oak aging is the norm

Regional names to look for on label:

  • Postup ZOI*
  • Dingač ZOI*

*ZOI stands for Zaštićena oznaka izvornosti and is the Croatian equivalent to a PDO wine

General Personality:

  • Colour: Intense! Dense, ruby colour with hints of purple when young
  • Aromas: Black berries, cherries and plums, pepper, smoke and spice
  • Taste and Texture: High in alcohol, tannins, flavour compounds and with a balanced acidity, sometimes with some residue sweetness
  • Conclusion: Rustic is the descriptive term that keeps coming up when looking into Plavac Mali and at least for now, that is true. The wine is full-bodied, rich and savoury. This is not a wine for the Pinot Noir drinkers out there. Was is a person, it would be a loud Croatian middle-aged man, whose laughter and pipe smoke fills the room. Like it or not, that is up to you!
  • Future: The Plavac Mali wines has everything needed to be age worthy and as the quality of Croatian wines quickly improves, many wines now hitting the market will be able to age 10-15 years, without any question. As Plavac Mali spreads over the world and more focus is spent on the grape its true potential is explored

Food pairings:

  • General: The American interpretation of Crljenak Kaštelanski, better known as Zinfandel, hit it big on the international market, both as a sweet threat for the Americans, but also as a versatile food wine. Plavac Mali is following in its ancestor’s footstep, it is rich and as long as you avoid anything remotely spicy, it will be your new autumn favourite, perfect for rich stews, heavy meat dishes, and still balanced enough to work on its own
  • Obvious pairing: Steak, Ale and Mushroom Pie
    It does not get more rustic than a traditional steak and ale pie, and the veganification of any recipe works surprisingly well. Here is a good one! I highly recommend changing the water for a rich ale, it helps to bring up the savoury factor even more. Some boiled potatoes and peas on the side and it will get you through any cold autumn night
  • On the wild side : Barbecued Seitan Ribz with potato bake
    To be honest, anything slathered in BBQ sauce will work, Plavac Mali and the barbeque is just a perfect match in general. The rustic and oaky character of the wine marries well with anything smoky. Well, okay maybe not if you put asparagus on the barbeque, but with something rich and savoury you are good. I tried it with this Seitan recipe and fell completely in love. I made my own BBQ sauce of course and accompanied it with some creamy potatoes cooked in the oven. The creamy component helps to tame the wine a bit and make the match even better