Viticulture and wine production in Croatia was introduced by Greek colonists. The most prominent centers at that time were the Greek settlements in Cavtat (Epidaurus) and island Korcula (Korkyra). The longstanding tradition of the region has been preserved in the areas of Korcula and Peljesac to the present day almost without interruption. However, due to turbulent historical events and the influence of the Ottoman Empire, the coastal region suffered substantial damage. During those troubled times, the Republic of Dubrovnik played the leading role in the continuation of viticulture. Wine-growing was highly regarded by its citizens, which may be seen in numerous documents and city laws regarding wine production and trade. Those historical events play a part in the development and protection of many indigenous varietals, most of which are currently grown in the area.
Indigenous Grape Variety
Croatia has many indigenous grape varieties (over 60 in total) that are not very well known internationally, partly due to their complicated names!
Plavac Mali – is the most planted red wine variety in Croatia, has long been confused with Zinfandel. DNA research has revealed that the grape is a cross between Zinfandel and Dobričić grapes, two very old Dalmatian grape varieties. ‘Plavac’ means blue and ‘mali’ means small, which is very descriptive of the grapes. It produces very powerful reds, high in alcohol, high in tannins with rich flavours of dark fruits, pepper and spice.
Plavac Mali grows in the Southern part of Dalmatia, on the Peljesac peninsula, and produces some of the best wines in the region. It was also the first grape variety to have its own appleations – Dingač and Postup. The climate of the Peljesac peninsula region is typically Mediterranean, though noticeably more humid and considerably cooler when compared with the islands of Central Dalmatia. Therefore, when compared with Central Dalmatia, the wines of the region show noticeable variances in style, even when considering the same varietals. Plavac Mali shows two very distinct styles. If, cultivated on superior locations, such as Dingač and Postup, varies from those cultivated in the area of Peljesac and the South Dalmatian hinterland. The former, with its full-bodied, rich taste and firm personality can compete with some of the most famous international wines. The latter, being light and fruity, seem to fit to a completely different variety. The microclimate, characteristic of Peljesac inland, is one of the causes for such dissimilarity. Due to its significant height above sea level, Peljesac shows characteristics of the continental climate, such as typically cold nights, early spring frost and lower rate of exposure to sun, especially during spring and autumn.
If Plavac Mali is to achieve the top results, it is not to be cultivated on a very fertile soil. Therefore, the very central part of Peljesac, with its fertile and fecund soil, is not the most suitable location for the cultivation of Plavac. When evaluating Peljesac with other Croatian regions, it is interesting that, with few exceptions, the particular varieties are used for wine branding only in the cases of lower quality wines, while top quality ones declare just the specific location where the variety is cultivated, such as Dingač, Postup and Zuljana. Thus, it is usual that winemaker produces wines of different quality, depending not on the variety but on the location where is grown. However, despite the lower quality varieties from Peljesac inland, this region is still a leading producer of top quality red wines. Therefore, Plavac Mali is most certainly the leading variety of Southern Dalmatia!
To read more about Dalmatia wine region, our region of the month this March, please visit our Dubrovnik-Dalmatia travel guide page. If you are planning a trip to the region and want to taste the wines first hand at the wineries why not join one of the wine tours led by our passionate wine lover and regional expert Mario.