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article imageA lesson in Plavac Mali: MW Jo Ahearne discovers Croatian wines Special

By Paul Bradbury     Apr 28, 2014 in Food
Split - Interest in Croatian wines is increasing, and there was a strong international attendance at this year's Dalmacija Wine Expo in Split.
With more than 130 (mostly unpronounceable) indigenous grape varieties, there is much to discover for international wine lovers on the Croatian wine scene, and this year's Dalmacija Wine Expo, which finished on April 25, 2014, had strong expert interest from around the globe.
Among the highlights of the two-day event, held for the first time in Split, was a tasting on the potential of the 2011 Plavac Mali vintage, given by leading Croatian wine expert Sasa Spiranec, highlighting both the quality and the diversity of Dalmatia's noble grape variety and relative of the better-known Zinfandel.
The Plavac Mali tasting  round one.
The Plavac Mali tasting, round one.
In attendance were Master of Wine Jo Ahearne from London; Cliff Rames from New York and founder of the popular Wines of Croatia; Dusan Jelic, whose online promotion via his Wines of Balkans business is unparalleled in the region; and sommelier Robert de Young from Oslo, who is working hard to bring Croatian wines to the Norwegian consumer, and who has already hosted an exclusive Croatian wine tasting at fashionable Baltazar restaurant in Oslo.
Sommelier Robert de Young from Oslo  who has done much to promote Croatian wines in Norway.
Sommelier Robert de Young from Oslo, who has done much to promote Croatian wines in Norway.
After the tasting, Digital Journal caught up with Ahearne to get some feedback on the Croatian wine scene. While she was clearly impressed with the wine of Croatia (in subsequent correspondence, she wrote: "When I came here first 11 years ago, I thought it was stunning then but a bit boring on the food and wine front, but how things have changed!), Ahearne had some great advice for Croatian winemakers trying to enter international markets. I asked first about how Plavac Mali might go down with UK consumers.
Master of Wine Jo Ahearne on a voyage discovery of Croatian wines.
Master of Wine Jo Ahearne on a voyage discovery of Croatian wines.
Mirabeau Wines
When you have something which is so part and parcel of a country or a region, it splits itself into traditional and modern, and then some winemakers are between modern and traditional, which results in the consumer being a little confused and asking "Would the real Plavac Mali please stand up?" It happens with Rioja especially.
This can be a problem particularly when you are trying to develop a market in another country which does not necessarily understand the region as much. Someone might buy and really like a traditional Plavac Mali and then buy another which is more modern, not like it as much, then become confused about Plavac Mali and run away.
Saša Špiranec gave a fascinating presentation on the 2011 Plavac Mali vintage.
Saša Špiranec gave a fascinating presentation on the 2011 Plavac Mali vintage.
It is showing a real level of sophistication and thought about what style you want to make and I think that's really exciting, but in terms of the end consumer, they would have to know all about these producers to decide which style they like. It is exactly the same with people who always thought they liked Rioja, which for them is very oxidative and has lots of American oak, and they will buy something new with lots of French oak and it is not oxidative at all. For them it is not Rioja as they know it. It doesn't mean it is a bad thing, just that it is confusing for the consumer.
New York sommelier and director of Wines of Croatia Cliff Rames added his thoughts on the range of P...
New York sommelier and director of Wines of Croatia Cliff Rames added his thoughts on the range of Plavac Mali on show.
Is Plavac Mali well-known in the UK?
Obviously it is one of the Croatian grape varieties that people might have actually heard of in the UK, but the recognition is still minuscule, and Plavac Mali has still not built up a head of steam in the UK. On the plus side, it is almost pronounceable. It has some vowels in it, which really helps...
Introducing new things to the UK is always a slow process, although there is a huge interest in new regions in the UK. There is a growing interest in wines from the Balkans and Eastern Europe, so it is a very exciting time.
Dusan Jelic from Serbia  the power behind Wines of Balkans was also in attendance.
Dusan Jelic from Serbia, the power behind Wines of Balkans was also in attendance.
To the average person in the UK, when you mention Croatian wine, is the recognition zero?
I would say so. There may be some people who would recall a wine beginning with 'P' on holiday in Croatia, or a more educated consumer knowing that there is a Croatian red which is related to Zinfandel, but that is probably as far as it goes.
What excites you about the wines in Croatia in general that you have tried?
The tastes of Croatian wines are really quite specific, and they have a blend of brambly fruit and a herbal character, but in a nice way, as well as this minerality which Sasa kept on referring to in his talk. Given that they are big wines with quite a lot of alcohol, that herbalness and minerality make them fresher, so it is not just big, bold and lots of alcohol. They have personality, and there are a lot of people raging against the globalisation of wine, and so to have something which is indigenous and has a personality from where it comes I think is a real positive.
But you have to deal with the problem that there are no vowels...
My kingdom for a vowel. Prc  one of the linguistically challenging varieties from Hvar.
My kingdom for a vowel. Prc, one of the linguistically challenging varieties from Hvar.
Vinopia
What is your assessment of the threats and opportunities of EU entry?
For the whites, many of the wines are quite heavy on the phenolics, which is a problem for UK consumers who are used to either fresh easy drinking wines or more complex ones, and to have these crunchy phenolics (and I am being positive here, as sometimes phenolics are not crunchy but just bitter), and so if you want to make something for the export market, you might have to look at the phenolic structure of some of the wines. If they are present they need to be refreshing not bitter but for the more large volume wines it could be a problem if they are there at all. And sometimes the more southern whites can lack freshness.And that doesn't mean that the wine is wrong, more that it is not suitable for the UK market, for example.
Digital Journal interviews Jo Ahearne at Dalmacija Wine Expo.
Digital Journal interviews Jo Ahearne at Dalmacija Wine Expo.
Dusan Jelic
There are lots of over-extracted wines which come from lots of places in the world. For reds the problem is over packing and over extraction and green unripe tannins. But this is a global problem. When you have wines with a specific personality from a region or country, then you have to think about whether that style is suitable for export. But there are some real positives for Croatian wine, and the image of Croatia, which is about sun and holidays, certainly helps.
The wines tasted at the Plavac Mali seminar were:
1. Volarević Plavac mali Syrtis (Komarna)
2. Rizman Plavac mali Primun (Komarna)
3. Crvik Plavac mali Pomet (Konavle)
4. Carić Plovac Ploški (Hvar)
5. Plenković Zlatan Plavac (Hvar)
6. Stina Plavac mali Majstor (Brač)
7. Marlais Plavac mali Škrapa (Pelješac, Ponikve)
8. Maestral, Plavac mali 4 bofora (Pelješac)
9. Saints Hills Dingač Sv. Lucija (Pelješac, Dingač)
10. Korta Katarina Plavac mali (Pelješac, Postup-Dingač)
11. Skaramuča Dingač (Pelješac, Dingač)
12. Markus Dingač Pepejuh (Pelješac, Dingač)
13. Goranko Poljanić Dingač (Pelješac, Dingač)
14. Rozić Plavac mali Mili (Pelješac, Mili)
More about jo ahearne mw, Croatia, hvar, plavac mali, dalmacija wine expo
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