PLAVAC MALI: An Outsiders Wine From An Outsiders Perspective

The Donkey Plavac & Milos Plavac: two typical Dalmatian wines. Like many people present at last week’s Croatian wine festivities, I was unfamiliar with Croatian culture. Sure I’ve eaten cevapcici and even made ajvar recently, but I do not come from there, nor does my family, and before Croatian wine entered my life I knew only one Croatian, philosopher Daniel Kolak. I was excited for the first ever Grand Croatian tasting, having tasted a handful of their local wines, and being particularly intrigued by a former vintage of Dingac Winery’s Peljesac, or ‘The Donkey Wine’ in some circles. I knew that the variety had alluring aromas of flowers and herbs, an elegant translucence, and beguiling sense of fruit. Still I was not prepared for the diversity and terroir-specificity this grape offers. The Big 3 Plavac. The grape most commonly linked with Plavac Mali is Zinfandel, which originates in Croatia and is a relative of Plavac. I typically describe the wines as exhibiting the deep, dark fruited spiciness of Zinfandel, with the old-world body of Gamay. The grapes and wines are surely related, though each with a very distinct personality. Between the Hudson Terrace grand tasting and consumer event put on … Continue reading PLAVAC MALI: An Outsiders Wine From An Outsiders Perspective

Food and Wine on the Road to Dubrovnik

Ancient fortifications built to protect Ston where the Peljesac peninsula connects with the main land. Marija and Anita pick us up in the morning for our drive to Dubrovnik, the last coastal destination on our journey. On the way out of Orebic, we stop at the old Riviera Hotel to pick up some rootstock for Marija. The old hotel, which looks like a Communist-era castle but is probably earlier, has been bought by a man from Texas and his Croatian wife. They’ll remodel it into ten or eleven luxury suites, and there is already a winery in the cellar, where we taste a very promising pošip from a tank that will be blended with the same wine matured in barrels. Next to the hotel they’ve planted zinfandel vines, which will begin producing in another four years or so. A little later as we drive through the countryside we stop unannounced at Frano Milos’s winery, where we hurriedly taste three wines while he waits for an American tour to arrive. Frano is a curly-headed artist, perhaps in his early forties, and very charismatic—as testified by the magazine articles posted in his tasting room, showing him in GQ-esque poses. His work also … Continue reading Food and Wine on the Road to Dubrovnik

The Hanging Vineyards of Dingač and Postup (part 2: Bura)

Niko Bura in the middle of an extensive tasting at his kitchen table. Niko Bura is a Croatian garagiste, with his setup on the ground floor of his house, and he is one of this region’s leaders in quality. Niko is making wine in the vineyard, not in the winery. Indeed, we met him this morning tilling the soil between newly planted vines on the family’s Dingač hillside. Niko himself is soft-spoken, clearly proud of his artist daughter, whose painting hangs on the wall of the small tasting room, and appears on the label of Bura Galerija, a light cabernet sauvignon that was first released this year, made from grapes grown in a prime valley location. He is also experimenting with marsellane, a cross between cabernet and grenache. It will be three or four years before the first bottling. The wine called Bura, of 100% Dingač plavac mali, was first produced in 1995. This year saw the release of the first bottles of Mare, from Postup plavac mali and named after its maker, Niko’s sister Marija. MARE 2004, Postup. For this vintage, the grapes were partially raisined due to lack of water on the hillsides. The wine is an unfiltered … Continue reading The Hanging Vineyards of Dingač and Postup (part 2: Bura)

The Hanging Vineyards of Dingač and Postup (part 1: Grgic etc)

The Dingač at its best: steep slopes, old vines, tons of sunshine right at the coast. We arrive by ferry on one end of the island of Korčula and are picked up by Marija Mrgudic and her son Boris, who drive us to the ferry dock at the other end of the island. This is a sneak preview only—we’re leaving the island immediately for Orebic, on the mainland, and will return to Korčula in a day or two. Orebic is a waterfront town on the edge of the Pelješac peninsula, where the renowned wine producing areas of Dingač and Postup cling precariously to hillside terraces overlooking the Adriatic. In terms of prestige, Dingač and Postup are the Napa and Sonoma of Croatia. Marija Mrgudic and her brother Niko Bura and their families are a leading wine producer in the area, under the name Bura Estate Winery. Boris is in his twenties, and does marketing and PR for the winery while also working in marketing for a local hotel group. He spends his weekend driving us through vineyards, crisscrossing the Pelješac, and talking with us about the growing private wine industry and rampant experimentation in the region, notably with plavac mali’s … Continue reading The Hanging Vineyards of Dingač and Postup (part 1: Grgic etc)

Miloš, Popular Beyond Pelješac

Over a summer, two travelers drink their way through the wines of Mediterranean Europe Driving up the Pelješac peninsula from the Croatian mainland, Miloš is one of the first wineries one comes across. It is located in the little village of Ponikve just a few kilometers north of the walled town of Ston with its beautiful fortress. The StagnumIt Although the Miloš family has been making wine for over 100 years, like most families in the countries of the former Yugoslavia they had to sell their grapes to the state-owned cooperatives. So it was only in the beginning of the 1990’s that Miloš became a private business, and is now producing about 50,000 liters of wine annually. Today Frano Miloš has managed to make the family winery into one of the most successful in the Pelješac region, and frequently receives large tour groups in their new tasting room and century-old family cellar. Miloš produces a broad range of wines in each of the quality categories existing in Croatia (table, quality, high quality and special). Since we couldn’t try them all, we decided to taste their most popular varietal, the Plavac. It was a vintage from 2004 with a 12.6% of … Continue reading Miloš, Popular Beyond Pelješac

Meet the Pelješac Peninsula with Bartulović

Over a summer, two travelers drink their way through the wines of Mediterranean Europe Their very nice brochure Another interesting small wine producer that we found on the Pelješac peninsula was Bartulović, in the little village of Prizdrina near Potomje. We met Mario Bartulović, the manager of the winery located in his beautiful 500-year-old family house. His father Teo started producing in 1989 after having spent some time in Italy. They had to play a bit of catch up initially due to the long pause in production and until 1996 they were using a 220-year-old grape press. The old wine press With a small production of around 20,000 liters a year, Bartulović produces three red wines, a white, a rosé and a few bottles of a very exclusive dessert wine, a Prošek. One of their reds, the Puncta, is a limited vintage biodynamic wine, made of Plavac Mali grapes grown on an ecologically tested vineyard, free of artificial supplements and chemicals. We tasted the white Rukatac from 2005, with 12.5% alcohol, made of a local varietal that is also known as Maraština in the Konavle region. It had a very light nose but a bit of a sharp taste at … Continue reading Meet the Pelješac Peninsula with Bartulović

The Craft of Kiridžija and Matković

Over a summer, two travelers drink their way through the wines of Mediterranean Europe In Kiridžija’s cellars While there is a great deal of large-scale wine production going on in Potomoje on the Pelješac peninsula, there are also a number of small producers who are crafting excellent wines on their own terms. They’re not easy to find and if you were to ask us where they were, we’d most likely have to point you to the first place we asked a person who knew a person who knew a person that eventually led to the homes and cellars of Kiridžija and Matković. Both of them are tucked away in homes where you’d never suspect that some fantastic wine making was taking place. Kiridžija’s wines We started with Kiridžija. He has been making wine for the last 12 years, which is right in line with most of the region, as that was the time when the former Yugoslavia fell apart and they were able to start producing on their own again. In his 300 year-old home, he produces small quantities of both Plavac and Dingač. Let us reiterate that these are actually the same grape, but grown in very different regions … Continue reading The Craft of Kiridžija and Matković

Miličić: A Hobby Goes Big

Over a summer, two travelers drink their way through the wines of Mediterranean Europe Pavo Miličić had a long career working on the sea. He eventually made his way up the ranks to being a captain and worked in the cruise industry for some time. Despite traveling the world, winemaking was in his blood though. Like many in the Pelješac region, his family were growing wine previous to WWII when they stopped due to the new Communist regime not allowing any private wine production.Twenty years ago, Pavo started to try his hand at the grape again. Time passed and what started as a hobby quickly grew in to a company that produces about 300,000 bottles a year now. The production level of his winery has gotten so large that a year ago he formally quit his seafaring job to focus solely on his wines and built a new, larger facility that could produce upwards of 500,000 bottles. For all appearances, he seems to be handling the transition in stride and showed us around despite being deep in the middle of construction. We tasted everything straight from the barrels as many of his wines are still in the process of aging … Continue reading Miličić: A Hobby Goes Big

Two-Donkey Matuško

Over a summer, two travelers drink their way through the wines of Mediterranean Europe To distinguish themselves from their very close neighbor, the Dingač winery, Matuško has been putting two donkeys on their label to make them distinct from the one donkey that Dingač uses. The differences aren’t label-deep though, as Matuško is a much smaller winery, producing 500,000 bottles a year that are sourced mainly from their own vines that are nine hectares in size.Their winery is very friendly and set up to receive tour groups who can get a tasting of all 11 wines that they produce. Additionally, there is a downstairs tasting room with old farming implements and salutes to the donkeys that are no longer needed to carry the grapes over the mountain from the Dingač vineyards now that the Dingač Tunnel exists. We were told by our host that while we may see donkeys in the region still, they are strictly for the purposes of tourists and then their lives are much easier now. We selected several wines for tasting from their lineup and started with the 2006 Rukatac. This is light white wine, which is also called Maraština in areas such as Konavle, further … Continue reading Two-Donkey Matuško

One-Donkey Dingač

Over a summer, two travelers drink their way through the wines of Mediterranean Europe There is a bit of confusion surrounding the wine producer, Dingač on the Pelješac Peninsula in Croatia. The issue primarily revolves around the fact that the major wine region in Pelješac is called Dingač and that this is also the name of this company. This in by itself wouldn’t be so bad except that several other winemakers in the area also make a wine which is called Dingač, because their wines are made from the high-quality grapes of this region. So, to clear this up once and for all, the wine producer, Dingač, is what’s left from the cooperative that was built there in 1982 for wine production in what was then, Yugoslavia, and the one that features a donkey logo in its wine labels. >The cooperative had been actively producing wines before then, since about 1960. Today, they still function in a similar fashion wherein they buy the grapes from small, local farmers for large-scale wine production to the tune of 1.5 million liters a year. The big difference between now and before the fall of communism is that grape growers now have the choice … Continue reading One-Donkey Dingač