Dalmatia, indeed Croatia in general, has an extraordinarily diverse range of wine grapes, many of which are unknown outside the country, while others may be known by a different name. Some are easy to pronounce, others… not so much!
Plavac Mali is a relative of Zinfandel in California, and Primitivo in Italy, so is really quite familiar. We’re generally comfortable that we know what a glass of Plavac will taste like. However, growing this Dalmatian native in its own, frankly marginal terrain can give very different results depending on the the soil, environment, heat, sea, rocks, etc, etc. With that in mind, we joined a seminar at the recent Dalmatian Wine Expo – a guided tasting by Croatian wine authority, Saša Spiranec of some of the best Plavac wines from the prestigious locations throughout Dalmatia, to assess the quality, style and aging potential.
The prime growing areas for Plavac, ie those producing the best quality wine tend to be steep mountain slopes facing south or south-east, overlooking the sea. Critically, they’re protected from that freezing north-east wind, the bura. I’ve tried to show on the map where each of today’s wineries are located, and you can see just how many are on the Pelješac peninsula, especially around the slopes of Dingač / Postup. But look, two of the wineries are on Hvar! The Ivan Dolac / Sv Nedjelja vineyards produce Hvar’s best Plavac.
Now let’s see how they all stack up. Sadly, I can’t provide media links for the aromas and tastes, so I’ll just have to describe that for you. The points awarded are from Saša Spiranec’s follow-up article for Dobra Hrana (Good Food). According to him, the quality of plavac wines has never been better, and any of these 14 have the potential to become gold medal winners. Note the producers and try these wines if you ever have a chance!
From the Komarna wine hills – Croatia’s newest wine-growing area (April 2013), with vines only planted in 2008. Tucked into the coastline opposite Peljesac, the vineyards are south-west facing, ranging in altitude from 250 metres right down to sea-level. Of the seven wineries with vineyards here, only four currently have wines on the market – and here we get to taste two of them!
1. Volarević ~ Plavac mali Syrtis, 2011, Komarna
Taste: sweet spice, fruit – ripe plums and blackcurrant, warm, jammy, and soft tannins. Young winery, newly planted vineyards are near the sea, organic cultivation. Wine aged in new barrels. 16% alcohol. (86 points)
Vinogradi Volarević website: www.vinogradi-volarevic.hr
2. Rizman Plavac mali Primun, 2011, Komarna
Grown higher up in same area as the previous wine, exhibits more tannins (aroma of wood), and has a juicier taste with subtle fruit, a little more elegant, and develops nicely in the mouth. (89 points)
Rizman website: http://www.rizman.com.hr
From Konavle – moving down the coast to our next winery, which is to the south of Dubrovnik. Konavle is known for its agriculture, but not always for great Plavac wine – but here’s one of them!
3. Crvik Plavac mali Pomet, 2011, Konavle
Nose: chocolate and toast. The colour is dense and deep red. Taste: sweet spices and ripe fruit, but not jammy. Warm on the tongue and well-blanced. 15% alcohol. Really liked this one!! (90 points)
Heading north again, here we have two wines from Hvar’s south beaches – the steep vineyards above Ivan Dolac and Sveta Nedjelja where some of my favourite wines are grown!
4. Carić Plovac Ploški, 2011, Hvar
Nose: reminiscent of fish and/or seaweed! Taste: fresh red fruit (plums), sweet on the tongue and developing warmth. One of my favourite wines, interesting to taste it when still young! (87 points)
Vina Caric website: www.vinohvar.hr
5. Plenković Zlatan Plavac, 2011, Hvar
Nose: woody with dry pine and rosemary. Quite high tannins, flavours of aromatic herbs and fruit. (87 points)
Zlatan Otok website: www.zlatanotok.hr
Moving one island to the north, on Brač, the south-facing wine terraces have recently been revived, and this area has the potential to produce some excellent Plavac.
6. Stina, Plavac mali Majstor barrique, 2011, Brač
Taste: fruit, freshness, pinewood with lots of acid and tannins. Very much a plavac with no earthy tones, no overcooked fruit. Well-balanced. (93 points)
Stina website: www.stina-vino.hr
Now we move on to Pelješac… the most famous growing area for Plavac.
7. Marlais Plavac mali Škrapa, 2011, Pelješac, Ponikve
From the south-eastern end of Pelješac, this is a young winemaker, neighbour of the more famous Miloš winery. Taste: chocolate and ripe plum, dry on the palette. Lovely tannins and fruit balance, freshness survives many years. (86 points)
8. Maestral Plavac mali 4 bofora, 2011, Pelješac
Madirazza & Terrae Dalmacija cooperative. Nose: typical plavac aroma, pine, aromatic. Colour is almost violet. There’s hardly any acid, and the tannins are strong. Very nice balance, long good taste. More like bordeaux. (88 points)
9. Saints Hills Dingač Sv Lucija 2011, Pelješac Dingač
Still from the barrel. 14.6% Plavac aroma with minerality, chocolate, baking, and toast. Black cherry, Dingač minerals = fish! Promising taste, nice tannins, concentrated fruit, not yet mature. Seductive velvet potential. Hot! (93 points)
Saints Hills winery website: www.saintshills.com
10. Korta Katarina Plavac mali 2011 Pelješac, Postup-Dingač
Classic plavac aroma with smoke. Nice balance, oak noticeable, modern steel, tart, aromatic. Much more drinkable at present than the Saints Hills. (92 points)
Korta Katarina website: www.kortakatarinawinery.com
11. Skaramuča Dingač 2011, Pelješac Dingač
Biggest Dingač vineyard. Lovely fruit aroma with honey. Feels almost sweet, well hidden soft tannins, very drinkable. Red fruit and rocks. (92 points)
Skaramuča website: http://dingac-skaramuca.hr
12. Markus Dingač Pepejuh, 2011, Pelješac Dingač
Also from barrel. 16%. Fresher fruit, plum and cherry, redcurrant, full rich taste without going jammy. Stunning, lots of hidden tannins. Big taste. 16% alcohol. (93 points)
13. Goranko Poljanić Dingač, 2011, Pelješac, Dingač
Tiny winery, very traditional plavac, fewer and fewer of those. Dry figs, plums, dried grape. Figs & blueberries – bright. Sweet on tongue at first, then aromatic herbs and ripe grapes afterwards. Sugar first, full flavour later. Acid yes, lots of tannins, great balance. Amarone. (92 points)
Goranko Poljanić website: www.gorankopoljanic.com
14. Rozić Plavac mali Mili, 2011, Pelješac, Mili
Different, traditional. Pine, smoke. Exotic fruit, deep violet. More ripe fruit, sweetens thru spices and heat. Lots of tannins; oxidative in a good way. Sugar / acid / tannin. Smoke. (85 points)
Digital Journal article on the tasting: www.digitaljournal.com/print/article/382325
Vinske Priče (Wine Stories) article: zeljko-vinskeprice.blogspot.com/2014/05/peljeskim-plavcima-ponovio-se-parker.html