01-01-2018 ~ 2 Comments

Pure Plavac Mali

When I wrote about the passing of Zlatan Plenković last year, I made mention that his wines and in reality, a wine of Plavac Mali were largely responsible for moving me into a broader appreciation of this lovely liquid overall.

I came back from Croatia in 2004, electrified to the idea of drinking Plavac Mali. Then, after finding it in the US and having a few bottles of different vintages, I wasn’t as amazed. Then upon returning to Croatia for the book research and tasting throughout 2007, I fell back in love.

This back and forth saga continues to this day as this grape, the progeny of Tribidrag and Dobričić (not the other way round…) is a tricky grape. It’s always wanting to show itself a bit scarce in acidity, which can lead to wines that are less “fresh” in profile. Climate Change and often being planted directly-facing the sea are both doing it no favors.

Mixed in with this is the fact that there were and to a certain degree still continue to be winemakers that aren’t running the cleanest of operations. Long story short, in a great year, like 2013, in specific areas, truly excellent wines can be attained. In years that are a bit more adverse, well, stardom isn’t as likely to be found except in the cellars with well-trained enologists at the helm–thankfully there are ever more of these.

The evolution of the winemaking is not just encouraging to see but tantamount to onward progress. Despite this however, I hold in my heart a soft spot for the very old school, dare we say, “original” styles of Plavac Mali. When not crusted up with brett (that maybe good but more often than not flavor-eating bacteria) I enjoy this purity throwback from the outside of the bottle to within.

This “Selekcija” (Selection) from Vina Matela in Kaštela notches nearly every single checkbox I can think of in this regard. There’s gold lettering on the label (bitch to photograph.) There’s a drawing of a donkey (no one uses donkeys anymore.) The label is a bit askew making me think it was applied by hand. The back label is so generic that I think it’s the same back label they use in all their wines. Punchy alcohol at 15.5%. About all it’s missing is “Barrique” which used to be the mark of a “top wine” as it had passed through the barrel. Also missing is the “Kvalitetno Vino” or some other classification like “Stolno” or “Vrhunsko” but I think this is thankfully being phased out as it’s no end of stupid. Let it die with Communism from whence it came to be.

Then there’s the wine itself. How to describe classic Plavac Mali? It’s a unique grape and making comparisons always falls short but perhaps (and very much, perhaps) if you were to smash together some bits of Argentine Malbec with Northern Rhône Syrah then you’d start to get close. It’s the fact that I usually find a mix of fruits in the wine that sets it apart along with the pronounced eucalyptus note. But this last note, I usually find more in the older style and am not finding it in the newer wines which makes me think it’s purely from vinification and these guys are just doing a straight up ferment in stainless steel with nothing else happening. It could also be the selected yeast strain that they’re using as in a tasting I led in Barcelona, one wine that was a spontaneous fermentation had none of it.

Whatever the case, I’m fully convinced that fine wine can be created from Plavac Mali and from time to time we do see this. It’s only a matter of time that, much like in other regions, someone coming at everything with a scientific approach is going to go back and taste these older-style wines and incorporate them into the mix as well. Once that happens, I think we’ll finally have Plavac Mali cracked.

Vina Matela – Plavac Mali Selekcija 2015
Dark plum and red cranberry, blueberry, prune, menthol, eucalyptus, leathery, a touch confected. Medium low acidity, alcohol well integrated, dry tannins marked by barrel, medium finish.

100% Plavac Mali 15.5% 12€