Marathon lađa race, held in August, which has only been receiving growing interest.
Plavac Mali was the first Croatian grape to have its own appellation, Dingač, which was established in 1961. Dingač, located on the Pelješac peninsula, continues to be known as one of the best regions for Plavac Mali. The grape is also said to be the most widely planted red grape in Croatia, though it's primarily found in the Dalmatia region. It grows best in areas with lots of sunshine and heat, and minimal rain during the late spring and summer.
It's a late ripening grape, and when I visited Croatia in mid-September, many of the vineyards hadn't yet harvested their Plavac Mali, though would soon do so. I should note though that some wineries, which produce Rosé from Plavac Mali, have separate plots for those grapes and had already harvested them. Plavac Mali grapes commonly have high sugar levels, which can lead to high alcohol levels, and they also often have high tannins as well. Although this seems like it would only make powerhouse wines, that is far from the case, and I was impressed with the wide variety of expressions I found in the various Plavac Mali wines I tasted during my time in Croatia.
Common flavors found within Plavac Mali wines includes blackberry, black cherry, plum, pepper, and spice, though sometimes you might also find herbal notes and earthiness. It produces wines that can age very well, and often is aged, at least for a short time, in oak. In Croatia, I tasted fresh and light Plavac Mali, at 13% ABV, but also bigger, bolder Plavac Mali at 16% ABV, and even a few at 18% ABV! However, the best versions were well balanced, and the high alcohol content wasn't readily noticeable. The tannins were commonly well integrated, and within the best wines, there was ample complexity and depth of flavor. This is a grape which can present greatness, which can compare well to other famed red grapes around the world.
Their Plavac Mali commonly spends two years aging in oak, a blend of French, American and Croatian barrels, which they believe is the best blend of barrels. They use only about 10% new oak, and Josip also mentioned that Plavac Mali doesn't need much time in oak.
The primary focus of Josip's research, for the last four years, has been on evaluating Plavac Mali harvesting times as well as various maceration periods. In addition, Josip is "participating in a research project in collaboration with the Faculty of Medicine in Split on the topic: Biological effects of wine - the impact of vinification technology, deal-making and wine aging. It is funded by the Croatian Science Foundation." Eventually, Josip plans to publish a book with his findings, and he already helps his colleagues with Plavac Mali issues. And once Josip concludes his work with Plavac Mali, he will then start research and experimentation on the Pošip grape.
I loved Josip's passion and intelligence, his ardent curiosity about figuring out the puzzle of Plavac Mali. His endeavors will benefit the Komarna region, as well as many other areas of Croatia. Croatia needs more people like Josip, more people willing to study the grapes and terroir of Croatia to make their wine industry even better. Josip was also personable and humble, a very gracious host, and the type of person you want to sit down with over a glass of wine, and a plate of cheese, and just chat about life.
With a little age, how would this Gold Edition turn out? We got a glimpse into this through the 2013 Volarević "Gold Edition" Plavac Mali, with a 15.5% ABV. It still possessed a fresh element, though it had also mellowed some, with less tannins, presenting even more of a silky feel. The black fruit flavors and spice remained, though the spice had grown more subtle and there were now notes of leather and chocolate. Complex, well balanced and superb, just a true pleasure to slowly sip and enjoy. smooth. Highest recommendation!
It was fascinating to get an insight into Josip's research, and it seems possible it could have significant ramifications for the Croatian wine industry and their use of Plavac Mali. If a longer maceration provides more complexity and depth of flavor to Plavac Mali, then maybe the norm of 7 days could change across the industry. It might also persuade other wineries to conduct their own research and experimentation, whether with Plavac Mali or other indigenous grapes.