Sampling Crljenak

Crljenak (Kaštelanski) is not the easiest wine to find, at least in Croatia. In California, it’s Zinfandel and in Italy, it’s Primitivo. These are pretty much household names at this point. But in Croatia, where the wine is originally from, it had all but died out until the famous research was done to link a couple of stray vines near Split to Californian Zinfandel. These stray vines in turn led to more planting and eventually for Zlatan Plenković to grow a whole vineyard of the grape in his winery on Hvar.

When we last dropped in to Plenković & Company, these vines were not yet producing. Now they are and while in NYC a couple of weeks ago, we got the chance to taste the wine which is something we’ve been looking to do ever since we heard that Vinum had started importing it. But before we get to how it tastes, it needs to be noted that one of the reasons it’s so rare is that it’s a bastard to grow in Croatia. The winemaker, Baković (who makes an outstanding Plavac Mali) had tried to grow it sometime back only to have it randomly fail on him in the very hot summers they get on the coast of Croatia. For these reasons and a few others, it was crossbred with Dobričić (which we’ve heard has a hearty root stock) to give us the much more prolific Plavac Mali that you find all over Dalmatia now. Nonetheless, Plenković persevered and somehow brought this grape to bottle, 35C summers be damned.

It’s important to state that the 2008 vintage we tasted was a really young wine. The vines are only around seven years old we believe, so it simply isn’t possible for it to get the body that you’d find in a wine coming from older vines. Also, the wine runs rather “hot” for a European vintage clocking in 14.5% alcohol. We don’t mind this as it’s gotten to be de facto in Californian wines, but for some this might be a bit of a shock is one if used to 12%. Overall, we found the body to be plush and enjoyable with just a touch of oak, which was good to see as we were fearing that “young wine” equaled “tons of oak” in order to boost it up, but this wasn’t the case. Otherwise, unsurprisingly, it comes across much like a good, young Californian Zinfandel. I’m sure that given a year in the bottle or in future vintages, it will take on more of its own distinctions, at least one can only hope with a retail price of around $40.

Both the price and the name are probably going to make for an uphill battle in selling it as it’s a tough name to say, which is joked about in this video. We hope that Plenković and the others selling it are able to stick it out though as it’s a unique wine that with time could get a good following–once people get down the pronunciation of course.

We talk a great deal more about the wines of Plenković as well as the other Croatian wineries in our Dalmatian wine guide.