Zlatan Plavac Grand Cru 2004
The island of Hvar in Croatia on the Dalmatian coast is the location for this formidable dry
red wine, produced from 100% Plavac Mali, a relative of a grape that is more familiar to
Americans, the Zinfandel. Weighing in at 14.5% alcohol, this is a $40 wine. Nor was it easy
to find; I had to trek to the New York City neighborhood known as Astoria, where I was able
to fill my trunk with the bounty of southeastern Europe: Croatia, Romania, Slovenia, Georgia,
and of course Greece. Though I am a committed Francophile, I realize there is more to wine
than the Hexagon. (It happened that a French wine I bought with this eastern-European bunch
did not fill the bill and so won't be reviewed; if I don't like 'em, I don't review 'em.)
Produced by dedicated winegrower Zlatan Plenković, the Grand Cru is his top of the line Plavac Mali wine. The wine is a clear, deep ruby with pronounced intensity on the nose and a first note of that alcoholic heat. That's all right, since there is so much more. Aroma notes include prune, plum a spicy/floral bit (violet), shades of tobacco and cocoa. The wine is dry, with acid punch, tannic punch, and plenty of extracted fruit on the palate: raspberry, plum, prune, pomegranate, dried cherry, black cherry, dried apricot with red licorice, a powdery stoniness and a tannic presence of oak. That's a longer list than I usually provide, but this is a lot of wine.
The finish on the Zlatan Plavac is long and detailed, a troika of acid, tannin and delicious fruit, particularly a fine extraction of black cherry, jammy and luscious. In an ideal world this wine would be allowed to age in bottle to burnish the tannins and integrate the fruit and acidity. In the real world of opening bottles now because you cannot wait, I was able to enjoy the forward fruit and drying tannins in the here and now without wishing for a more developed wine.
This is a big wine, but it brings more than sheer size; it is also a civilized wine, offering the generous mouthfeel of a Bordeaux, a touch of the brambly-ness we associate with its relative the Zinfandel, but ultimately a great deal of bold-flavored Croatian pride.
Croatia is more than wine (and fine tennis players). Watch the markets for Croatian olive oil; the country parallels Italy across the Adriatic and these people have energy.
James Beard Award Nominee Elliot Essman