Plavac Mali grapes ripening towards the end of summer on the island of Hvar.
So, what is Plavac Mali? Where is Plavac Mali? How do you even say, Plavac Mali? Let’s take a look at all of these items as we delve in detail into this particular grape.
Plavac Mali (pronounced Plahvahts Mahlee) is a red grape varietal that is native to Croatia and more specifically, native to Southern Dalmatia. This is a strip of land that has Bosnia Herzegovina to the east and the Adriatic Sea to the west. It gets an obscene amount of sun throughout the year, so Plavac Mali is a happy grape to have Dalmatia as it’s home.
The rugged karst of the Dingač wine region.
By far and away, Plavac Mali is the dominant red grape in Dalmatia. Others like Merlot, Shiraz, and a number of minor native grapes pop up here and there, but inevitably, if you see a field of red wine grapes, they will be Plavac Mali. It wasn’t always this way though. Many, many years ago, there was another grape that enjoyed the Dalmatia summers which was called, Crljenak Kaštelanski. It has since been discovered that this wine is one and the same with Zinfandel in California and Primitivo in Italy. It just happened that as history went, Crljenak Kaštelanski didn’t have the staying power of Plavac Mali and it’s actually the case that while the Croatians loved the taste of Crljenak Kaštelanski, it can be a tricky grape to grow in the area. Thusly, they crossbred it with Dobričić and Plavac Mali was the outcome, which has grown far and wide over the rugged karst that forms the Croatian Adriatic Coast.
As to how Plavac Mali tastes, there isn’t any one way to describe it. It varies whether it was grown in the north, the south, the mainland, the islands, or even by different neighbors. When grown in more of a New World, California style, it can pick up Zinfandel qualities, being a very deep, intensely flavorful wine full of fruit in the front of it. When grown in the traditional manners, the wine is a good deal lighter. The body isn’t as thick and the finish can be very smooth. This allows it to be paired very well with meals.
My personal preference for the wine are the years where the vines get a great deal of sun with little to no rain. 2007 was a year such and the wines that I tasted in Dalmatia last year as they were aging showed all the signs of being strong, flavorful, and extremely welcoming to those of us accustomed to New World characteristics. Even still, the winemakers of Croatia tend to hold back a bit and at around 14% alcohol at most, the Plavac Malis we’ll be seeing will pair better with most any meal than the California Zinfandels that can sometimes hit 19%.
If you’re curious to taste this for yourself, check out Plavac Mali today.