If you have never tried a Croatian wine, then Plavac Mali is an ideal place to begin. This is also the Croatian wine that is likely most accessible to you, as it’s amongst the top three most planted grape varieties in Croatia. More specifically, Plavac Mali is an indigenous variety to Dalmatia. If you’re not familiar with Dalmatia or Croatia, go look at a map. Dalmatia is that thin strip of land in Southern Croatia with Bosnia and Herzegovina to the east and the Adriatic Sea to the left. If you’ve ever been to Dubrovnik or seen an episode of Game of Thrones, then you are already familiar with Dalmatia. Actually, I wonder if Cersei was sipping on Plavac Mali when they were filming Game of Thrones in Dubrovnik…I digress.
Back to the wine! Even if you’ve tasted Croatian wines or Plavac Mali before, this is a fantastic wine to revisit as the best examples are powerful, rich, and boisterous.
The Variety: Plavac Mali
In Croatian, the variety’s name translates to “little blue” and refers to the small, distinctively blueish grapes of Plavac Mali. If you love Zinfandel, then Plavac Mali could be another wine that you’ll adore. Research has show that Zinfandel is identical to the Croatian variety Crljenak Kaštelanski (also known as Tribidag). Plavac Mali is actually a cross between the Croatian Zinfandel and a lesser known variety called Dobričić.
According to Wine-Searcher, winemaker Mike Grgich initiated the research that led to this discovery. Mike was behind the Chateau Montelena Chardonnay that ousted the French competition at the famous 1976 Judgement of Paris blind tasting. He grew up on the Dalmatian coast and recognized the similarities between Zinfandel in America and the Plavac Mali he tasted when he was young. So, he engaged UC Davis researchers to further investigate the matter.
In The Glass
Plavac Mali ranges in style from rustic and homemade to more traditional and easy drinking to modern and complex. This is the wine that you will find in most restaurants and konoba (taverns or cellars) throughout Croatia. When made well, you can expect powerful, perfumed wines with dark berry flavors, like blackberry and black cherry, along with aromas of dried fig, spice, and carob. Oak-aged examples will also show more leather, cedar, baked fruit, and sweet spice aromas. The wines are typically medium to full bodied with high alcohol, powerful yet well-integrated tannins, and moderate acidity. The best examples will have a juicy, long-lasting finish.
Plavac Mali In The Vineyard
Plavac Mali is a low-yielding variety in the vineyard, yet the small, thick-skinned berries achieve a rather high sugar content. Therefore, you can expect these wines to have higher alcohol ranging from 13% – 15% on average, as well as higher tannins. Some wines may be produced with a bit of residual sugar to moderate the tannins and high alcohol. Additionally, this is a late-ripening variety that needs a lot of sunshine and warmth to achieve full maturation.
Climate And Soil of Dalmatia
Plavac Mali thrives on mainland Dalmatia, the Pelješac peninsula, and the islands of Hvar, Korčula, Vis, and Brač. All exhibit a Mediterranean climate with dry, warm summers and a lot of sunny days year-round. These conditions are ideal for producing full-bodied, developed wines. Plavac Mali is a variety that tends towards uneven ripening, so it needs all the sunshine it can get.
Winemaker Jo Ahearn, MW believes that the best Plavac Mali comes from Hvar where the variety is planted to steep slopes on the island. Sloped vineyards provide extra sunshine due to their aspect, as well as from the reflections of the sun off of the white soils (in Hvar) and the Adriatic Sea.
Traditionally, Dalmatian vineyards were planted to slopes along the coast. Though today, Croatians are planting more Plavac Mali vineyards inland where they experience a larger diurnal temperature change. Furthermore, there is increased soil variation near the regions of Skradin and Zadar in northern Dalmatia, which also translates to the wines. Otherwise, Dalmatia offers mostly stony, karst soils.
The Winery: Miloš 2016
For centuries, the Miloš family has lived in the Pelješac Peninsula. They were involved in agriculture and always cultivated vineyards. Following World War II, the family was forced to cease winemaking and sell their grapes to government owned wineries. With the fall of Communism, Frano Miloš was able to fulfill his and his family’s dream of making wine under the family name.
Miloš vineyards are nestled between the Pratpratno Cove and the Ponikve Village on the Pelješac Peninsula. Here Plavac Mali grows on rocky terrain. The vines receive ample circulation, light, and warmth amidst the slopes in this area. Check out Miloš winemaking philosophy for a better understanding of what it’s like to cultivate Plavac Mali here.
A man can truly reaffirm himself in his surroundings by continuously evolving and trying to create a better and nicer world.Frano Miloš
Tasting Notes: Miloš Plavac Mali 2016
- Medium intensity ruby red with red hues
- Medium intensity aromas of black cherry, dried figs, blackberry, spice notes and pepper
- Soft and grippy tannins, medium body with aromas of dried figs and showing more leather cedar, sweet spice notes on the palate
- I would definitely buy this wine again
- Reminiscent of Zinfandel, but a bit more refined and less robust
Plavac Mali is a fantastic wine to pair with smoked brisket, barbequed ribs, or grilled lamb burgers topped with feta, arugula, and a spicy aioli. I could even see this wine going perfectly with a branzino stuffed with aromatics and thrown on the grill. Paella or a seafood and sausage gumbo are other ideal pairings for Plavac Mali. For a simple pairing, this wine is fantastic with hard cheeses and charcuterie with bolder flavors.