As grapes are living, breathing organisms they have DNA just like us humans. And also like us humans, grapes have traceable ancestry. Parent grapes, going back to the country of origin and finding relative grapes have become a science. Plavac Mali (pronounced Pla-Vatz Malee)had been thought to be a parent of Zinfandel, but has been found to be offspring of Zinfandel. The Zinfandel grape which has been considered an “American grape” has been widely thought to be the same as Italian grape Primitivo, from the southern part of Italy. DNA testing shows that the Zinfandel ancestry relates to the Croatian grape Plavac Mali and grown in vineyards along the Dalmatian coast. All are related though none are identical.
With the help of Mike Grgich, owner of Grgich Hills winery in Napa Valley & born in Croatia, DNA testing shows that Plavac Mali and Zinfandel are not the same grape but related and that Zinfandel could actually be parent, along with Dobricic, to Plavac Mali. DNA tests show that Zinfandel is actually the Croatian grape Crljenak.
Plavac Mali translates into “small blue” and refers to the grape itself, which tends to be lighter in body than Zinfandel. Milos Plavac Mali is one of Croatia’s most respected producers of the grape. Making only about 2,500 cases of Plavac Mali, winemaker/owner Frano Milos doesn’t manipulate the wine and uses only natural yeast before aging the wine 1 year in oak then, 2 years in the bottle before release.Garnet to the eye it’s spicy with good fruit you can see the relation to Zinfandel. Cherry and currant flavors evolve along with a smoky flavor that screams for wild game or a beef roast pairing. With a 12.8% alcohol level it’s not over powering or “hot” as we say. It should retail for between $20-$25. With the popularity of Croatian wines in the United States in recent years don’t be surprised if you see this delicious wine on restaurant wine lists and wine retailers shelves.
Reference: Meredith, Dr. Carole “Looking for Zinfandel in Croatia” in Zinfandel Express January 2002.