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Plavac Mali - Zinfandel's Long Lost Croatian Sister

Updated: Jul 16, 2023


Plavac Mali - Zinfandel Relative

Overview of the Plavac Mali

Plavac Mali, which literally translates as "small blue," is the primary red wine grape grown along the Dalmatian coast of Croatia. The grape is indigenous to this region, flourishing in the harsh Mediterranean climate and rugged terrain of southern Croatia.

The vineyards of Plavac Mali are most abundant on the slopes of the Pelješac Peninsula and the islands of Hvar and Brač. Here, the vines grow in the unique "terroir" of limestone soils and are influenced by the Adriatic Sea's cooling breezes. The grape has deep roots in the local culture and is integral to the region's winemaking tradition.

Flavor Profile

Plavac Mali produces wines that are robust and high in both alcohol (typically around 15% but can go higher) and tannin. When it comes to flavors and aromas, Plavac Mali wines offer a fascinating complexity. They typically open with a bouquet of dark fruits like blackberry, dark cherry, and dried fig, which then evolve into notes of pepper, baking spices, and sometimes a hint of Mediterranean herbs.

With age, Plavac Mali develops more nuanced flavors and aromas - think along the lines of tobacco, leather, and even a hint of bitter chocolate. These are wines that benefit from decanting, as it helps soften the tannins and allows the layers of flavor to open up.

Food Pairings

Given its robust nature, Plavac Mali pairs wonderfully with rich, hearty foods. Traditional Croatian dishes, such as Dalmatian "pašticada" (a slow-cooked beef dish) or grilled lamb, are particularly fitting. The wine's robust character and high tannin content also make it a perfect match for fatty steaks and game.

Seafood lovers need not despair, though - try it with tuna or squid ink risotto, both classic Dalmatian dishes. The wine's acidity and complex flavors can hold up to the richness of these dishes, creating a harmonious balance.

Connection to Zinfandel

An interesting fact about Plavac Mali is that it's a close relative of the Zinfandel grape. For many years, it was thought that Zinfandel had originated in Italy (where it's known as Primitivo) or Croatia. However, DNA testing in the 1990s revealed that Zinfandel is genetically identical to an obscure Croatian grape called Crljenak Kaštelanski, which is a parent of Plavac Mali. Thus, Plavac Mali and Zinfandel are more like siblings, sharing a deep-rooted family connection that traverses the Atlantic.

Vineyard Sites

The best expressions of Plavac Mali are often associated with specific vineyard sites. The steep, sun-drenched slopes of the Pelješac Peninsula, particularly the areas of Dingač and Postup, are famous for producing some of the most profound Plavac Mali wines. These regions were among the first in Croatia to gain appellation status, further underlining their quality.




On the island of Hvar, the southern slopes also yield high-quality Plavac Mali, while on the island of Brač, the Stina winery is known for its excellent renditions of this distinctive varietal. In conclusion, Plavac Mali is a grape that reflects the land and climate from which it hails - wild, untamed, and full of character. Whether you're a wine novice or a seasoned oenophile, this Croatian gem is well worth exploring.



Winery Botaro - Plavac Mali

Dubrovnik is the best city to start your Croatian wine journey. Check out our travel guide to make the most of your trip.


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