Who is Plavac Mali? Parent or Offspring?

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.

Wines of Croatia & Slovenia



Some of the most exciting new wines coming to the United States are the delicious and racy wines from Eastern European countries such as Croatia & Slovenia. Situated on the north and eastern side of the Adriatic Sea and across from Italy both countries have centuries of wine making tradition that has only recently become evident in the U.S. Making both wines from grapes only found in their respected countries and grapes that are internationally known, both Croatia and Slovenia wines are being widely accepted by great retailers and restaurants around the country. Many are practicing natural methods of wine making using only grapes and natural yeast, which allows for the terroir to speak through the wine. So don’t be surprised to see some of these wines at your local wine shop or restaurant. And more importantly give them a try.

Coronica Malvasia is a crisp, acidic white wine that offers good fruit, minerality and is a well balanced food wine. Grown in nutrient rich soil & near the sea, it benefits from the Mediterranean climate found in the Istrian region of northern Croatia. This wine would go great with both fish and lighter fare foods. Retails for about $20.

Kabaj Sivi Pinot is known as pinot grigio outside of Slovenia and is made by Frenchman Jean Michel Morel and his wife Katja Kabaj at there western Slovenian winery, not far from Collio Italy. The Kabaj family has been selling grapes for generations and only started making wine in the 1993 after Slovenia disbanded from Yugoslavia. With vineyards near the Italian border, Kabaj makes wine in a very old world style using clay vats (called “Qveri amphora”) for fermenting and aging in some of their wines.
This full bodied pinot is crisp, lively and dry also shows good fruit and complexity rarely found in pinot grigio’s. It is aged for a year in oak and held back 3 years prior to release. It would go well with shellfish, cheese’s and fruits. Retail is about $20.

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