Posted by: tomciocco | February 6, 2013

PLAVAC MALI – THE PRETTY SISTER FROM THE CROATIAN COAST

About 10 or so years ago, one of the “big” stories in the world of wine was the search for the origins of what has become a signature California grape variety, the singular and often abused Zinfandel (append the word “White” before the name for one example). One of the first connections made to Zinfandel’s kin was with Puglia, Italy’s Primitivo variety. It was first presumed that early Italian immigrants to California in the 1870s and 1880s brought cuttings of Primitivo and planted them in places like Napa, but as it turns out though Primitivo and Zinfandel are closely related, they are not identical, and the earliest plantings in California (there’s evidence that Zinfandel or one of the family was actually cultivated in Long Island, N.Y. as early as the 1820s) were in Amador County and date to the 1850s.

And then there are the Croatians…As it turns out, the deepest roots of the “Zin” family are sunken deeply in Croatian soils. It seems that a mouthful-of-a-name grape called Crljenak Kastelanski is actually Zinfandel’s most direct parent, with other varieties like Dobricic, and this evening’s grape Plavac Mali also being close family, though all of the precise connections within the family tree is still not completely clear. This Plavac (they drop the “Mali” part in these parts) hails from the Peljesac Peninsula on the azure-watered, rocky, and unspoiled southern Dalmatian Coast close to the ancient city of Dubrovnik. One entire section of this peninsula – a huge cru vineyard in essence – is composed of a particularly rough, Karst-rich section that goes by the name Dingac.

Remarkably, and frankly quite wonderfully, this often very steeply pitched vineyard is entirely forbidden to any sort of motorized vehicle, so all harvesting here is done entirely by hand, with the help of lots of donkeys to haul the harvest (no joke – note the label in the picture). And if Zinfandel and Primitivo produce unmistakably ‘masculine’ wines, Plavac Mali is decidedly feminine – fresher, lighter, and more elegant than any Zin, Primitivo, or any of the other Croatian cousins I’ve ever tasted, and this goes double for Plavac from Dingac…

To go along with this very charming and expressive wine, I made a quite peculiar and local, creamy roux-based caraway soup with egg and sour cream as a first course, and then a simple brown-and-braise of sauerkraut, kielbasa (the local sausages are very similar) with bacon, juniper, onion, paprika, and garlic. And bread.

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Vinarija Dingac Plavac Peljesac Peninsula, Croatia 2010

Slightly browned, translucent, dusty ruby color. Pretty, complex, and well defined nose of mulberries, light soy sauce, violets, sweet spices, fresh mixed herbs, and fine black tea. The body of the wine is medium-light, with a lithe and nimble character, softly dry with a fresh acidity, and an overall wonderful balance clearly enunciating flavors of strawberry and black raspberry, subtle prune and cocoa notes, nori seaweed, and a clean and pure minerality. Long, warm menthol finish. A really alluring and surprisingly sophisticated wine.

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