The DingaÄ Agricultural Cooperative is the country’s biggest producer of DingaÄ wines. The Cooperative possesses a large winery in which, alongside DingaÄ and Postup, less expensive wines such as Potomje and Pelješac are also produced. Their DingaÄ, first with a brown and then a red label bearing a characteristic sketch of a donkey, has for decades symbolized the wine from what is indisputably the best position in the whole of coastal Croatia. DingaÄ produced by this Cooperative, which operates within Badel, a large, Zagreb-based company, has always been a thick, full-bodied, rich wine with a high alcohol volume. It will be interesting to see the company’s response to the challenge posed by numerous private producers of DingaÄ. In 1990 a semi-dry version of DingaÄ won a silver medal at one of the wine fairs in France.
Vedran KiridÅ¾ija of Potomje on the Pelješac peninsula is one of about ten wine producers who have the honour of putting the name of DingaÄ on their wine labels. He owns a small vineyard in the locality of Mokale in the DingaÄ area where vines grow on gravel-based soil and from which he picks about 6.5 tonnes per hectare. And that is no small amount. But this relatively high yield by no means reflects adversely on the quality of his DingaÄ. Quite the contrary! KiridÅ¾ija’s wines are rich, concentrated, but at the same time exotic in their aromatic combination, as Danijela KramariÄ‡ Tariba, Croatia’s leading female sommelier, observed.
Palate-wise his DingaÄ wines, in contrast to the majority other premuim Plavac wines from Pelješac, are almost completely rounded, with a lingering, sweet and fruity aftertaste. In his cellar, which contains barriques, KiridÅ¾ija’s bottling plant produces around 5000 bottles of DingaÄ. These practically microscopic quantities mean that this is a wine which should be bought and consumed wherever and whenever it can be found. Vedran KiridÅ¾ija, who also produces and bottles about 6000 bottles of Plavac, is particularly and justifiably proud of his 2003 vintage.
In the summer of 2002 the prestigious Bronstein wine boutique in Zagreb organized a vertical tasting of Stagnum. Up until that point no other Croatian wine had either the honour or the opportunity to pass through the test of time and changes obligatory for all the great wines of France, Italy or California. This wine tasting was also attended by the Norwegian Ambassador in Croatia, a passionate collector of great and expensive Vega Sicilia Spanish wines; in other words a man who really knows wines. He was extremely impressed by the 1993 Stagnum, one of the very rare Croatian red dry wines to show a potential for maturing and which is therefore worth buying as an investment. Frano Miloš, an amateur wine maker who until recently was of the opinion that tannins from a barrique only enhance the naturally high tannins in Plavac mali, is the author of this wine which, alongside PlenkoviÄ‡’s Gran Cru, is probably the most original of all Croatian dry wines. Stagnum (four stars from 1992 to this day) is a wild, utterly inelegant, but simply unbelievably rich and complex wine whose virtues more than compensate for its deficiencies. This is a wine to be savoured with heavy, hard old cheeses, for game, lamb chops and large, really, really rare steaks. For this wine Frano Miloš commands the highest price of all Dalmatian dry red wines. Stagnum is a wine that once tasted is long remembered; a wine which provokes either distinctly positive or distinctly negative reactions, but it is also a wine which most definitely belongs to the few Croatian wine treasures of world relevance. It is produced from grapes grown in an impressive vineyard located on rock-based terrain above the village of Ponikve, on the Pelješac peninsula. In addition to the dry version Stagnum is occasionally vinified in a variety of semi-sweet or sweet wines (three to four stars). Frano Miloš who, in the late 1990s was producing wines literally in his garage in Ponikve, thus quite unconsciously anticipated the trend of ultra expensive “garage” wines of the Bordeaux style. Miloš also produces Fatiga (two stars), an ordinary Plavac, quite light and inexpensive, as well as NadahnuÄ‡e [Inspiration], an unusual white wine, a very heavy, rustic blend of the indigenous Dalmatian varieties, Pošip and Maraština.
Both the Croatian wines produced by the famous Miljenko GrgiÄ‡ (Pošip and Plavac) rate between three and four stars and deserve a great deal of praise in what is unfortunately a still far too narrow spectrum of Croatian wine production. In the second half of the 1990s GrgiÄ‡ built a modern winery in Trstenik, not far from Dubrovnik. He procures grapes for his Plavac from the DingaÄ and Postup locations, while grapes for his Pošip come from prime positions on the island of KorÄula. His arrival to Croatia has undoubtedly set new, higher wine standards and has had a vital and positive influence on both the development of the Croatian wine industry and on the recognizable identity of Croatian wines on international markets.
One innovation introduced by GrgiÄ‡ was his introduction of a system of the rigorous selection of grapes which local wine producers had not dared to implement. His popularity was certainly unaffected by his habit of turning away individual grape suppliers literally from the doors of his winery if he considered their grapes not in a good enough condition. That is also among the reasons why his Pošips are vastly better that those produced by any other Dalmatian wine maker from this same indigenous Croatian variety.
In the late 1990s, before the new wave of young Istrian wine makers had won recognition and before Enjingi and Krauthaker raised their standards to their present level, GrgiÄ‡’s Pošip was the only Croatian dry white wine truly relevant in world terms. The Plavac produced by this famous Californian Croat has shown great potential for maturing. Specifically, the 1999 vintage has now reached its full form, while the most recent vintages demand few more years of aging in bottles. GrgiÄ‡ produces some 20,000 bottles each of barrique-matured Pošip and Plavac. Part of his Croatian programme is exported to the USA through his Grgich-Hills Californian Winery and still achieve rather good grades in American wine publications. His Cabernets consistently command relatively high prices and his contribution to the development of the Californian wine industry will remain a part of the history of Napa Valley.
Andro TomiÄ‡ of Hvar is the first Croatian wine maker whose wines received positive reviews in the highly regarded French professional journal La Revue du Vin de France. A wine tasting held in the spring of 2004, French wine critics and sommeliers ranked two of TomiÄ‡’s wines among the best 100 wines outside France, and both found their way onto the front cover of the May, 2004 issue of the journal.
In describing Hectorovich Prošek (four stars), named after Petar HektoroviÄ‡ of Hvar, a well known Croatian poet of the Renaissance period, La Revue du Vin de France used only superlatives in reference to its richness and thickness. Hectorovich is produced from local white grape varieties such as Maraština, which are left to dry from three to six months prior to vinification. Even though the wine is made wholly from dried grapes and containing one-third boiled mast it is still a wonderful dessert wine,replete with aromas of candied orange, honey, dried apricots, dried figs and walnuts. TomiÄ‡ believes that in the not too distant future, when he is able to vinify Prošek exclusively from dried raisins, he will be able to achieve an even higher quality.
Although in all honesty one must say that Hectorovich Prošek as it is now is a beautiful wine with flavors of candied orange, honey, dried apricots, dried figs and walnuts. La Revue du Vin de France also gave very favorable reviews to TomiÄ‡’s 1999 Plavac barrique, which differs from other wines produced from Plavac mali in its velvety elegance, mellow and integrated tannins, lower alcohol content (c. 13.5% vol.) and a somewhat less obvious, characteristic varietal aroma of Plavac mali.
This is a wine produced almost in the style of a Supertuscan. At the time of writing the 2003 and 2004 vintages can be found on the market. Regrettably, TomiÄ‡ produces both his Prošek and his Plavac barrique in small quantities (less than 10,000 bottles each) and so they can be sound only in top-of-the range restaurants and in several leading wine boutiques. In his Bastijana Winery Andro TomiÄ‡, formerly the leading oenologist in Dalmatia for the Zagreb-based Badel barrique company and who spent six months in the wine cellars of France, also produces a dessert wine, Hektor, which in its method of production (addition of strong alcohol which arrests fermentation) and its aroma is a kind of Croatian Porto.
His range of products includes several Plavac wines of lesser significance. Of late he has begun experimenting with Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon, which he grows on a small (total of 1.5 hectares) vineyard situated in the small, picturesque islets of Pakleni otoci, near the island of Hvar.
Plenkovic is, in better years, one of the best Croatian wines generally speaking, but is particularly applicable to the 1999 vintage which has a great potential for maturing but can, sadly, still be found only in the Sveta Nedjelja winery. Later harvests (as we write, the 2003 and 2004 vintages are on the market) were more than satisfactory: these wines are exceptionally rich, expressive, slightly hard but already quite smooth, especially with red meats and hard cheeses like, for example, Pag cheese. And finally, Zlatan plavac Gran Cru (four stars) with a white label which comes from the best selected locations above Sveta Nedjelja. Its vinification began only recently. This is an incredibly intense wine with high alcohol volume (over 15%), bottled in minimal quantities and one which should be allowed to age for at least three to four years before it is capable of showing its full potential.
But bearing in mind that Zlatan plavac Gran Cru is a totally original, unique and undoubtedly precious wine, one should taste it wherever its can be found. Zlatan PlenkoviÄ‡, a wine maker and wine grower on the island of Hvar, also produces two white wines: Zlatan otok and Zavala and Zlatan plavac rosé, but neither of these is worthy of any special interest. Besides his inferior white wines PlenkoviÄ‡ also produces and bottles an exquisite, thick, sumptuous Prošek.
In contrast to the majority of other Prošeks, which are based on a blend of white varieties, his is produced from Plavac mali. From about eighty hectares of vineyards the Zlatan PlenkoviÄ‡ Winery, founded in the early 1990s (one of its founders was oenologist Andro TomiÄ‡, the most prominent wine maker on the Dalmatian islands alongside Zlatan PlenkoviÄ‡), produces around 400,000 bottles of wine per year, which even this is unable to meet an ever growing demand. We sincerely hope that market demands will not have a negative impact on the truly high quality standards of Zlatan plavac. Operating within the PlenkoviÄ‡ Winery is the Jidro Restaurant.
The most constantly produced red wine in Croatia, needless to say, from Plavac mali, is Zlatan plavac, produced in the village of Svetan Nedjelja on the island of Hvar, and which comes in three versions: The standard, widely available Zlatan plavac with a light-blue label (two to three stars) which achieves the same quality practically each year and which has a similar taste and aromatic structure. This is a full bodied, rich and fruity, relatively finely rounded wine, enhanced by the typical earthy aromas of that variety, offering good value for money.
DingaÄ of Pelješac is the best known winegrowing location in Croatia and there are mentions of it in foreign literature before WWII. There was a time when some 1200 hectares of the peninsula were under vineyards with red grape varieties accounting for 90% of the area.
Today it is not possible to say with any degree of exactness how much of the Pelješac peninsula is under vineyards (as, after all, is the case elsewhere in Croatia). DingaÄ is located on the southern slopes, on calcified soil facing the sea, which means that all day they are exposed not only to direct sunlight but also to the reflection of the sun off the sea. In order to facilitate the harvesting of grapes at DingaÄ, some thirty years ago a 380 metre-long tunnel was built through the hill linking the location with the winery at Potomje, the site of the DingaÄ Agricultural Cooperative, until the emergence of private wine makers after 1990 the only producer of wine of the same name and the production of which at one time was limited to 1200 hectolitres per year. Adjacent to DingaÄ is the locality of Postup, the second most valuable location on Pelješac, with similar characteristics and with a slightly larger production.
Just as on DingaÄ the only variety grown here is Plavac mali.
When the great Mike GrgiÄ‡ returned to Croatia one of the main tasks he set himself was to prove the identicalness, or at least an affinity, between the American Zinfandel and the Croatian Plavac mali. Subsequently, scientists established that Zinfandel is in fact Crljenac and that it is not directly related to Plavac mali, which ultimately might be better for Plavac, for it thus remains an absolutely indigenous Croatian variety. Wines produced from Plavac mali are not only the best that Dalmatia has to offer (with the exception of the sweet Prošek) but it can also become an important export product since they are truly unique both in aromas and in their structures.
Owing to Plavac mali a significant wine stage emerged in Central and Southern Dalmatia, dominated by producers from Hvar and Pelješac. While the Plavac wines from Hvar are less aggressive, more fruity and round bodied, those from Pelješac have a higher alcohol content, are more robust, with stronger, more pronounced tannins. There are, of course, exceptions, but generally speaking this division, also based on the type of soil, stands.
An exception here is Mario Mendek, a Zagreb vintner recently turned wine-maker, who is now producing what is to date the most unusual Frenchstyle Plavac from Pelješac-grown grapes. Mendek’s wines are still too new and are generally unavailable, which is why we have not included them in the review of wines and wine producers. The second important fact concerning Plavac mali is that it yields premium wines only on steeply sloping locations; Plavac mali grown in the lowlands yields significantly inferior wines. The superior Plavac mali does indeed possess the character of Dalmatia: it is hot, temperamental, sumptuous, tart, somewhat rustic and, quite simply, unique.
Honey sweet, sumptuously rich Prošek with high alcohol content is possibly the most valuable Croatian contribution to the world’s wine industry. How original a wine Prošek is and how great it can be is borne witness to by an almost ecstatic review given to TomiÄ‡’s Hectorovich, one of the best Prošeks, by La Revue du Vin de France. And that to a wine which, according to TomiÄ‡ himself, has not been produced in accordance with the highest standards for such wine.
If a Prošek that is made to less than the highest standards was able to delight French wine critics and sommeliers, we can only imagine what reaction an ideally produced Prošek would cause.
What, in fact, is Prošek? Well, it is a dessert wine which, in ideal circumstances, should be vinified from dried grapes, mostly a combination of white varieties such as Maraština, Grk and Vugava, but also from lesser known indigenous varieties. It contains between 15 and 17 vol. alcohol and over 100g of unfermented sugar.
Prošek can also be produced from Plavac mali, as Zlatan PlankoviÄ‡ is proving with no small success. In practice, however, there are precious few producing Prošek from dried raisins only. Even Andro TomiÄ‡ makes his Hectorovich with 30% of cooked must. He does however say that he is soon to begin the vinification of Prošek exclusively from dried grapes, and goes on to suggest that there should be two categories of Prošek: a more expensive version, made completely naturally, and a less expensive version to which cooked must could be added.
Whatever the case, Prošek, this great sweet wine of Dalmatia, which blends ideally with a range of cakes containing walnuts, almonds and dried figs, could become almost as important for the Croatian wine industry as Tokay is for the Hungarians. In short, Prošek possesses the potential of assuming the role of the most elite Croatian export wine.