Which Came First: Plavac or Zinfandel?

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The day after Valentine’s Day in February, Blue Danube Wine Company announced a contest on twitter, to befriend them on Facebook. The 222nd “fan,” I won Zinfandel: A Croatian-American Wine Story by Jasenka Piljac. Along with it, the nice people at Blue Danube Wines sent me a bottle of Plavac.

What is Plavac, you ask? Plavac Mali is the most widely planted grape along the Dalmatian coast of Croatia. The name describes the color and size of the grape. In Croatian mali means small, and plavac; “what is blue” (Croatian for blue is plavo). According to Piljac’s book, X.F. Trummer first recorded the existence of Plavac mali in Damaltia in 1841.

For at least two decades, it was thought that Plavac Mali was the ancestor, or Croatian counterpart of Zinfandel. Coincidentally, it is thought that Zinfandel arrived in California around 1852. And when, between 1890 and 1900 most of northern California’s vineyards were destroyed by phylloxera, Zinfandel was among the survivors.

But in truth, Plavac mali is actually the genetic offspring of Zinfandel! In the book Piljac recounts her time as a student lab assistant to Dr. Carole Meredith at the University of California at Davis. Piljac and Dr. Meredith traveled to Croatia in 1998 to research the origins of Zinfandel. There they met with researchers Dr. Ivan Pejic and Dr, Edi Maletic from the University of Zagreb, and all collected leaves from Plavac mali vines. Scientists in both Croatia and at UC Davis conducted genetic research over a two-year period to finally determine that Zinfandel together with a native Dalmatian and ancient variety known as Dobričić is the parent of Plavac mali! Extensive scientific research on Plavic mali by the Croatian scientists is available here.

The bottle of Plavac has been waiting patiently for us to drink it since it arrived in March.  Every time I suggested it, Joe vetoed, because he assumed it would be too cloying for his taste. I didn’t want to drink the entire bottle by myself, so it remained in our wine jail. So, the other night when I was writing, he surprised me by suggesting we open the Plavac. When I finished writing and joined him to taste the wine, he was already on his second glass!

2005 Plavac from Frano Miloš

This 2005 Plavac comes from “the home of the highest quality of Plavac mali wine,” Pelišac, a peninsula in southern Dalmatia. Part of the Dubrovnik-Neretva County, it is the second largest peninsula in Croatia. While the wine  had light pepper and spice notes like some of the California Zinfandel we’ve tried, it had much more subtle, or per Joe’s notes “teasing” fruit.

We both noted an earth nose. The earthy, forest floor on the nose, and the light ruby color reminded me more of Pinot Noir or a Châteauneuf du Pape. On the palate I tasted black pepper and smoked meats. Joe’s notes describe the flavor as a cross between a light New Zealand Pinot Noir and Côtes du Rhône. We both found it to be an excellent food wine pairing it with a variety of cheeses and crusty bread.

Alcohol by volume is 12.8%. 2500 cases produced. Blue Danube Wine has it listed at $22.95, and we found other on-line merchants pricing it at around $20.

You can find out more about Zinfandel: A Croatian-American Wine Story, which sells for $30 here.

And check out this video to learn more about Croatian wines!

Cheers!

The WineWonkette

About Amy Corron Power

A licensed attorney, Amy is a wine-lover, foodie, photographer, political junkie and award-winning author who writes about Wine, Food, Beer & Spirits. As Managing Editor & Tasting Director for Another Wine Blog, she travels all over the world's wine regions to share her experiences with her readers and nearly 10,000 twitter fans. She holds certifications from International Sommelier Guild, regularly attends Houston Sommelier Association events and is currently studying for her California Wine Appellation Specialist certification through the San Francisco Wine School.
  • sippitysup

    I have been to Croatia and tried this and all sorts of wonderful wines from that country! GREG

    • http://www.anotherwineblog.com WineWonkette

      You are so lucky! We hope to go there one day as well!

  • http://www.rodaplats.com miquel

    Need to correct a couple of items.

    First, Croatian employs genders (three in fact) and grape is grožđa, feminine. So, “blue” for a grape would be “plava” not “plavo” (which is actually the neuter form). “Plavac” is actually the diminutive for “blue” then and not “what is plavac”. I'm not sure who translated that as such for you, but it's not really correct.

    I assume that you mean “phylloxera” instead of “ohylloxera”. In truth, it was just hitting Europe in the late 19th century. California (as well as Chile and Australia) was largely free of the disease due to using different rootstock grafts.

    Lastly, it's “Peljašac” not “Pelišac” for the Peninsula where these wines comes from. On top of that, it's actually the Dingač area within there where the highest quality grapes come from. Arguably though, even this is a misnomer as the most sought after Plavac Mali-based wines in Croatia are from the island of Hvar.

    • http://www.anotherwineblog.com WineWonkette

      thanks for pointing out the typos. We thought we caught them all. I would love to have an editor. Do you work for free? ;)

      But here's a riddle for you. If the actual grape is, according to the scientists/geneticists, a “hermaprhodite” would the word for it be considered masculine, feminine or gender neutral?

      The information about Pelijac and the best grapes came from the book to which I refer. Thanks for stopping by.

    • http://www.anotherwineblog.com WineWonkette

      Unfortunately, you are incorrect in your comments regarding phylloxera. It was first discovered in the 1860s and had spread and decimated nearly all of Frances vineyards by 1894. In fact the French government was offering prizes for a cure as early as 1870.

      As I stated, Zinfandel survived, but many of the northern California vineyards were destroyed by phylloxera between 1890-1990s. The grafting of rootstocks came in response to phylloxera. Unfortunately, it returned to California nearly 100 years later.

      The only grape, to date, that has been totally unaffected by phylloxers, as far as I know, is Assytiko, on the island of Santorini.

      For a refresher on the history of phylloxera, as well as some mention about the effects in California you can check out the following links:

      http://ucce.ucdavis.edu/files/repositoryfiles/c
      http://www.zinfandel.org/uploads/Zin3_web%20ver
      http://www.dapp.boku.ac.at/fileadmin/_/H95/H953
      http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=… (“Phylloxera In California” August 14,1880)
      http://napavalleyregister.com/lifestyles/real-n
      http://www.ajevonline.org/cgi/content/abstract/
      http://www.wineeducation.com/phyl.html
      http://goosecross.com/2007/07/q-where-did-calif

      Should come in handy when giving wine tours in Northern California ;)

      Cheers!

    • http://buonsangue.wordpress.com/ buonsangue

      I, too, need to correct a couple of items, Miquel.
      a) “grape is grožđa, feminine”___________ wrong. No such noun exists in Croatian. The existing related nouns are “grozd” (meaning: bunch of grapes, cluster / masculine), “grožđe” (collective noun meaning: grapes / neutral), and “grožđica” (meaning: raisin / feminine).
      b) “Plavac” is actually the diminutive for “blue”_____________The word “Plavac”, as such, is most certainly not a diminutive of any kind: it is a noun derived from the adjective “plav” (blue) and simply means “the blue one”. The diminutive effect is only achieved by putting the word “mali” (small) next to it (as you would expect).
      c) “Lastly, it's “Peljašac” not “Pelišac”” ______________ Well, actually, it's neither. The correct name is “PeljEšac”. This is getting slightly ridiculous. If you actually go to the trouble of nitpicking like this, one would certainly hope that at least you would want to make sure you get it right. Which you don't.
      d) “On top of that, it's actually the Dingač area within there where the highest quality grapes come from.” __________ Arguably. The best Pelješac wine comes from elsewhere, though.
      e) “the most sought after Plavac Mali-based wines in Croatia are from the island of Hvar.” __________ What exactly makes you so sure Hvar rates better than Pelješac as a source of sought-after wine?! What you phrase as a fact is, in fact, no more than a claim – and one that is, at the very least, open to debate.

      • http://www.anotherwineblog.com WineWonkette

        Thank you for the information. It sounds like you know a lot about Croatian wines and the area!

      • http://www.rodaplats.com Miquel

        I don't know which dialect you speak, but I only know grape as being “grožđa”. This could be in learning a different standard than you did, but grožđa is the word that I know.

        Plavac is too tricky to really get in to and you can even look up the meaning as being “pumice”, which I'm unfamiliar with. And you know very well that “mali” is not the only form you can use to state an item in a diminutive form.

        Yeah, you got me on “Peljašac” which I had meant to type as “Pelješac”, but my crap screen at work didn't show this small font well and I couldn't see that it was an 'a' instead of an 'e'.

        As for your last two points, those are obviously subjective. Your choice is your own. Both myself and several of my co-authors rank Hvar as the highest quality with Dingač in second place for Plavac in Croatia.

        • buonsangue

          “I don’t know which dialect you speak, but I only know grape as being “grožđa”. This could be in learning a different standard than you did, but grožđa is the word that I know.”_____
          Miquel, with all due respect, this is not really a matter for debate. Why don’t you go back and re-read my original reply to you? As you may already know, in addition to using three grammatical genders, Croatian also uses a total of seven cases. “GrožđA” is the genitive case of the noun “grožđE” (again, you will find the definiton in my previous post, including the correct gender, which you also got wrong). For obvious reasons, nouns are always cited in the nominative case. No small matter, since you were the one here to start nitpicking on minor points such as single letters and the correct spelling. There are no “different standards” in the Croatian language: there is just one standard, and a number of local dialects/varieties of the language. In the point that you raise (which, as I have been trying to tell you, is in fact so completely moot, it is no point at all), the only thing we might be possibly looking at are different standards not of language, but of literacy: I hope you understand the distinction.
          “Plavac is too tricky to really get in to and you can even look up the meaning as being “pumice”, which I’m unfamiliar with. And you know very well that “mali” is not the only form you can use to state an item in a diminutive form.” _________ Don’t take this in a bad way, please, but I still don’t understand why you, or another person in this thread, would so doggedly pursue this ‘discussion’ with someone who is a) a highly literate native speaker of the language; b) a linguist; c) a wine person. You really could do a lot worse than to just accept my advice and thank me for my time.
          “Yeah, you got me on “Peljašac””__________ Sorry, Miquel, but, you see, I wasn’t really after you or out to get you. I was just trying to clear up the general confusion that your intervention engendered and provide some accurate information instead – for the benefit of those reading this blog. Other than that, frankly, I really couldn’t care less how you spell Pelješac and grožđe or, indeed, about your general level of proficiency in Croatian or any other language.
          “As for your last two points, those are obviously subjective. Your choice is your own. Both myself and several of my co-authors rank Hvar as the highest quality with Dingač in second place for Plavac in Croatia.” __________ You know, Miquel, it is quite true that everyone is entitled to their own choices, but that doesn’t mean that all choices are equal. Are you familiar with the phrase “an informed choice”? Again, there is “better informed”, “less well informed”, etc. I hope you get the idea. So, if you, or any of your “co-authors” (something tells me you should be more careful about the somewhat troublesome semantic distinction between the word “co-author” on the one hand and handy little expressions like “fellow writer/critic/author” on the other – more for you to look up, if you can be bothered…), need a helping hand or a piece of advice, I’ll be glad to give you a hand. Except … you and your “co-authors” know best, don’t you? Having said that, I’d best just leave you to it. Have a great day!

        • http://buonsangue.wordpress.com/ Eltvrle

          “I don’t know which dialect you speak, but I only know grape as being “grožđa”. This could be in learning a different standard than you did, but grožđa is the word that I know.”_____
          Miquel, with all due respect, this is not really a matter for debate. Why don’t you go back and re-read my original reply to you? As you may already know, in addition to using three grammatical genders, Croatian also uses a total of seven cases. “GrožđA” is the genitive case of the noun “grožđE” (again, you will find the definiton in my previous post, including the correct gender, which you also got wrong). For obvious reasons, nouns are always cited in the nominative case. No small matter, since you were the one here to start nitpicking on minor points such as single letters and the correct spelling. There are no “different standards” in the Croatian language: there is just one standard, and a number of local dialects/varieties of the language. In the point that you raise (which, as I have been trying to tell you, is in fact so completely moot, it is no point at all), the only thing we might be possibly looking at are different standards not of language, but of literacy: I hope you understand the distinction.

          “Plavac is too tricky to really get in to and you can even look up the meaning as being “pumice”, which I’m unfamiliar with. And you know very well that “mali” is not the only form you can use to state an item in a diminutive form.” _________ Don’t take this in a bad way, please, but I still don’t understand why you, or another person in this thread, would so doggedly and misguidedly pursue this ‘discussion’ with someone who is a) a highly literate native speaker of the language; b) a linguist; c) a wine person. You really could do a lot worse than to just accept my advice and thank me for my time.

          “Yeah, you got me on “Peljašac””__________ Sorry, Miquel, but, I wasn’t really after you or out to get you. I was just trying to clear up the general confusion that your intervention engendered and provide some accurate information instead – for the benefit of those reading this blog. Other than that, frankly, I really couldn’t care less how you spell Pelješac and grožđe or, indeed, about your general level of proficiency in Croatian or any other language.

          “As for your last two points, those are obviously subjective. Your choice is your own. Both myself and several of my co-authors rank Hvar as the highest quality with Dingač in second place for Plavac in Croatia.” __________ You know, Miquel, it is quite true that everyone is entitled to their own choices, but that doesn’t mean that all choices are equal. Are you familiar with the phrase “an informed choice”? Again, there is “better informed”, “less well informed”, etc. I hope you get the idea. So, if you, or any of your “co-authors” (something tells me you should be more careful about the somewhat troublesome semantic distinction between the word “co-author” on the one hand and handy little expressions like “fellow writer/critic/author” on the other – more for you to look up, if you can be bothered…), need a helping hand or a piece of advice, I’ll be glad to give you a hand. Except … you and your “co-authors” know best, don’t you? Having said that, I’d best just leave you to it. Have a great day!

    • Jerry@baldwinwines.com

      Actually Miguel, there was phylloxera in Sonoma Valley in late 19th Century also, probably due to planting the scion without grafting onto American rootstock.

      • http://www.anotherwineblog.com WineWonkette

        Thank you for your comment.

    • http://www.mojevino.net/ Marko

      The word is “grožđe” which is neutral gender. The term Plavac is not widely used except maybe as part of local Dalmatian slang. It could mean “what is blue” in masculine gender.

      The most sought after Plavac is Dingač.

      • http://buonsangue.wordpress.com/ Eltvrle

        “The word is “grožđe” which is neutral gender.” _____ Uhmmmm, yes… For slightly more detailed and accurate information, see my reply to Miguel.
        “The term Plavac is not widely used except maybe as part of local Dalmatian slang.” ____ What on earth do you mean by that? It's the name of the grape variety we're talking about here. As such, well of course it's bloody well used and it has nothing to do with slang. As to the meaning, again, see my reply above.
        “The most sought after Plavac is Dingač.” ___________ Uhmmm, again – arguably. The situation is just not as clear-cut as perhaps it used to be 30, 40 or 50 years ago…

        • http://www.mojevino.net/ Marko

          Put your gun down please :)

          What I'm saying is that word plavac is used only in relation to wine as far as I know and not for any other purpose except maybe locally as slang which I wouldn't know since I do not live there. That being said plavac can not mean “something that is blue” because for instance we never say “plavac” for a blue car, it's only used for a specific sort of wine.

          I agree the situation is not clear cut but my impression is that Dingač is the most popular.

        • http://www.anotherwineblog.com WineWonkette

          Well now I feel obligated to visit and drink Plavac from all OVER Croatia just so I can taste it from the different areas! Now if only someone would send us on a mission ;) Thanks you guys for your spirited debate!

          • http://buonsangue.wordpress.com buonsangue

            Dear WW, far be it from me to discourage you but, for the time being, there aren't that many really good or even great wines being made from Plavac/Plavac Mali. The natural potential is there, but cultural improvements are desperately needed. So, unless you want to drink your way through a lot of plonk and clumsily made woodsy/jammy wanna-bes with high alcohol and no real structure, your list will be mercifully short. You were lucky this time, though: if you like the style, you can't do better than Frano Miloš. By the way, good job describing the wine: I like the PN/Grenache analogies (I might have gone with a nice village-level Burgundy, not NZ, but I'm fine with either :)). Once again, good job and thanks for the note!

          • http://www.anotherwineblog.com WineWonkette

            Thanks. Sorry about some of your other comments not appearing immediately. For some reason longer stuff is getting stuck in our spam filter. And Disqus doesn't like my Evo, so I have to wait and “release” them using the laptop! Love the debate!

  • Pingback: Which Came First: Plavac or Zinfandel?

  • http://www.anotherwineblog.com WineWonkette

    Thanks. Sorry about some of your other comments not appearing immediately. For some reason longer stuff is getting stuck in our spam filter. And Disqus doesn’t like my Evo, so I have to wait and “release” them using the laptop! Love the debate!

  • April Yap

    Hi Amy,

    Thank you for the post and letting us know that you give reviews for wines by just informing you and emailing you.

    BTW, I wanted to ask you a question about your blog but I couldn’t find a contact form. Let me know if I can email you!

    April

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