Now that the holiday season is drawing to a close, we can take a moment to pause and catch our breaths. Our wallets are a little slimmer, and our waistlines a little larger after all the delicious holiday cooking and lack of exercise to which we’ve treated ourselves. Of course, as we assess our goals for 2016, we will try and reassign those adjectives, move those pounds from our paunch, convert them to dollars, and load up our bank accounts. Each year, I like to look back and see just how much I’ve accomplished, instead of constantly focusing on how far I still have to go. One major highlight of 2015 was a rather spontaneous “Cannonball Run” road trip through the Balkans over Easter, beginning in Austria and running the circuit down to Thessaloniki in Greece. This afforded me an opportunity to view a region of the world that is remarkably under appreciated. Each Slavic country boasts beautiful and picturesque landscapes, as well as a fierce sense of personal identity and pride to distinguish a uniqueness in each place. During the trip (and thanks to the linguistic acumen of my friend Danny and his fluent Serbian), we interacted with locals on a deeper level, got to hear their thoughts and opinions on a wide range of topics from politics and religion to the best places to get Burek (a delicious slice of flaky filled heaven) and drinking rakia (a high-proof moonshine-esque spirit) at 9:30 in the morning.
One of the most beautiful spots we visited was the Dalmatian coast, culminating with a stop in Dubrovnik, deep in the south on a sliver of a peninsula bordering Bosnia and Montenegro. Directly across from the tiniest piece of Bosnian coastline lies the Pelješac Peninsula, home to winemaker Frano Miloš. Frano Miloš is a no-nonsense eccentric character (the best kind of personality!), unwaveringly passionate about producing high-quality wine, and he voices his opinion in a direct way. And rightly so; he and his wines refuse to compromise.
Plavac Mali is the cornerstone of Dalmatian wine production. Much in the way Cabernet Sauvignon is a hybrid of Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc, Plavac Mali (meaning “little blue” in Croatian) is a cross between Crljenak Kaštelanski (the grandfather of Zinfandel) and Dobričić, and is the key varietal in other wines from this region, including Postup and Dingač.
The view from this vineyard is idyllic – right up against the Adriatic coast with crystal clear blue waters and warm sea air breezing in from the coast. Our very own Eric Danch refers to this grape as “Nebbiolo by the sea” in terms of acid, grip, and aging. The wine is rich and flavorful, with hints of that salty air and a minerality that is unbelievably crisp. The grippy tannins are perfectly balanced to drink on its own, but enjoy pairing up with traditional pasta and meat dishes from Dalmatia. Other flavors are dark berries, blackberries, licorice, and hints of vanilla and mocha from the aging in Slavonian (northern Croatia) oak barrels. One of my favorite experiences was sitting by the water on a beautiful 75º day in Dubrovnik’s old city, sipping on Plavac and enjoying a meal consisting of both meat and seafood heavy dishes, and each sip takes me back to that warm sunshine and historic cobblestone streets. As you ring in 2016, grab yourself a bottle of Miloš Plavac Mali and add it to your New Year’s Resolution to explore the beautiful Croatian coast.