Which Came First: Plavac or Zinfandel?

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!


The WineWonkette

Posted in Best of AWB, Education, Featured, Pairings, Reviews, Video

Amy Corron Power View posts by 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 legions of twitter, Instagram and Facebook friends and fans. Amy holds certifications through the International Sommelier Guild, and is also certified, with honors, as a California Wine Appellation Specialist (CWAS). She is a member of the Guild of Sommeliers, The Wine & Food Foundation of Texas and regularly attends Houston Sommelier Association events. Amy is also a contributor to the Chicken Soup for the Soul series of books, and was most recently published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Gratitude.
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