Plavac Mali – a name worth remembering
Some grapes just have it easy. Their parents named them with memorable, easy-to-pronounce names with just enough exotic edge to give them a chance as a mixed race supermodel. Adriana Gisele Pinot, please take the runway.
Liz Lemon, please stay off the runway
Most grapes have no such memorable moniker and have to rely on comedic controversy, word of mouth and/or cute labels to sear their imprint into a wine drinker’s mind. Yes, Liz Lemon – that cute alliterative label is working. We remember you from the cheese curl in the hair episode. Oh, and that disturbing photo on the cover of your new book.
Plavac Mali seems to have wisely taken the Liz Lemon approach to fame and it’s only a matter of time before it goes mainstream. First, there’s the cute donkey on the label (see below) – interesting enough to stand out from the cursive letting on all the other bottles, happy enough to disassociate any sad childhood memories of Eeeyore and his dour nail-in-the-tail moping.
Then, we have a bit of word of mouth controversy about Plavac Mali’s family relations. No, no weird sex tape or anything – just a mix-up of parent with son, which is basically as incestuous as the wholesome grape community gets. See, for years, people thought Plavac Mali was Zinfandel, the famed grape of California and the grape that Ian, Mark and I kept trying to order the night we stumbled across Plavac Mali in the East Village. “Zinfandel = Primitivo = Plavac Mali!” went the cry among the tiny subculture of ampelographers. Sadly, only the first part of that transitive property holds up: Zinfandel = Primitivo.
Plavac Mali is another grapey beast. But a RELATED grapey beast to Zinfandel and Primitivo. After some fancy DNA sequencing at UC Davis, the conclusion came back that Zinfandel is a parent of Plavac Mali, closely related but decidedly different. Now discovering a parent has to be at the top of the emotional scale. Somewhere just above turning a double play to end the inning or playing “Nexus” across three vertical columns of Scrabble tiles. Plavac Mali has definitely that emotional umph going for it.
Plavac Sighting in East Village
But Plavac (we’re already on a first-name basis) also has a surprise up its sleeve. It’s at New York’s hottest restaurant chain, or at least at their noodle bar last weekend. No, it’s not on their website yet and maybe never will be, but it’s on their written menu. Or at least last weekend it was, when Mark (a 9th place finisher in a national Magic tournament), Ian (a designer of less-stressful bridges who refuses to discuss his work with bartenders) and this wino (a blogger who once played “Yucas” on a triple word score yet lost when “Qi” was played in retaliation) walked into the noodle bar at 2am looking for 2nd dinner.
And when that 2nd dinner happened (because really it was too early for pizza slices and too crowded at The Immigrant) this Zin-Son was waiting with pork buns and pork belly ramen. As stated above, it’s just a matter of time before it goes mainstream.
Plavac Mali varies widely based on its location and alcohol levels, according to Those Who Know. Their conclusion seems correct to me based on an irrefutable sample size of one: “there isn’t any one way to describe it.” Ours happened to be from the southern tip of Croatia and on the lower end of the alcohol spectrum at 12.0%.
Now, these tasting notes might be swayed by being paired with excessive amounts of pork and it being 2am at the time, but our collective notes read as follows:
“Dry, muted fruit, berries, lot of fig, short finish, red aftertaste (strawberry or raspberry) with plum.” So yes, there isn’t any one way to describe it. But if you’re a Zinhead like Nathanimal, you’ll be happy once you’ve tried it.
Plavac Mali 2009 Dingač Vinarija Winery with 12.0% alc. – Pelješac Peninsula, near Dubrovnik on the southern tip of Croatia.
* Plavac Donkey, the very wine tasted late that night at Momofuku, is listed as No. 1 Best Wine of 2011 by the energetic importer Blue Danube Wines. Not that we knew about the accolade at the time of 2nd dinner, but sometimes even Eeyores get luck.
* “Little Blue” is how “Plavac Mali” translates from Croatian when Nina is translating, which has a better ring than “Small Blue.” You can probably guess what color the berry is.
* Donkeys, in addition to being cute enough to attract wine purchasers, are useful in extremely steep regions when you want to harvest your grapes. The Pelješac peninsula, close to UNESCO World Heritage site Dubrovnik and the site of this Plavac Mali, is one such donkey-steep region.