Wines from around Dubrovnik – Pošip, Plavac Mali, and Dingač

If you read my last post, you will know by now that Pošip and Plavac Mali are names of grapes used in South Dalmatia for varietal wines, white and red respectively. Also you will know that Pošip tends to be grown on the island of Korčula, while a lot of the Plavac Mali comes from the Pelješac Peninsula. Dingač on the other hand is a PDO name, for Plavac Mali wines from a particularly favourable site on Pelješac. Of the wines from around Dubrovnik, these are the ones that I tasted and drank enough of to get to know, and you will find them readily available if you visit.

Pošip

There was quite a variation in the Pošips I drank and tasted. None were exactly bad, but some were rather unexciting – neutral and fresh was the best you could say of them.

Others were considerably more intense and aromatic, and they were the ones I enjoyed most. An example was the one shown here, which I drank at Buffet Peninsula on Pelješac. This Pošip was 2016, 13.5%, Central and South Dalmatia PDO, made by Toreta, and from Korčula. It was intense, and in my opinion pungent in the Sauvignon Blanc cat’s-pee way. But while this was most definitely dry, it also had some honeyed aromatics that tempered the pungency. And those honeyed notes moved it away from anything that could be considered to be Sauvignon Blanc. Were it available in the UK, I think it would retail for a very reasonable £15. Another favourite was a little cheaper, and from D’Vino Wine Bar in Dubrovnik. It was made by Antunović, 2016, 12.5%, and with the same PDO, but this one was from Pelješac. It was hugely intense, fresh and herbaceous, and had a good smooth mouthfeel.

There were also sur lie Pošips, which were more rounded and complex. These seemed to be generally highly regarded and attracted a small price premium. I must admit they were good too, but on balance I preferred the more aromatic versions that were perhaps less nuanced.

Plavac Mali

Looking through my tasting notes, the Plavac Mali wines I tried also had a lot of variation. The fruit varied from red to black berries, and there were varying degrees of oakiness. Levels of astringency also varied, but tended to be a bit on the high side compared with most other varietals. And the degree of complexity increased, perhaps predictably, with price and age. I will highlight below a couple of Plavac Mali wines I particularly liked.

At the cheap and very cheerful end of the spectrum was the 2016, 13.5%, Plavac Mali made by Bura, illustrated here. It was the equivalent of £4.80 retail for a bottle at Buffet Peninsula, which I guess would be just under a tenner if it made it to the UK. The bottles I saw were labelled for the US market, and under screwcap. This wine was immediately appealing, with fresh acidity, low astringency, and bursting with juicy blackberry fruit and violets. Absolutely delicious in a straightforward sort of way, and absolutely a bargain.

A lot more expensive, and considerably more serious, was the 2005, 14.3%, Stagnum, made by Frano Miloš. This was beautiful – intense, complex, smoky and spicy. It had acidity to match the Bura described above but, even after 12 years, a good whack of tannin. The only problem with this wine was that it was very ambitiously priced at around £80 direct from the winery, so maybe £120 UK retail. In the sense that I have had worse wines that have been a lot more expensive, the price is maybe not so stupid, but nevertheless such a high price did act as a deterrent to buying. I did though get a bottle of the 2006 vintage, at around £50 from the winery, which had similar structure and I would characterise as lifted, complex, and aromatically delicate. The 2007 Stagnum was being sold for only £25, so obviously the winery put a large premium on aging. Miloš also make a cheaper Plavac wine, which was also good enough for me to buy.

Dingač

I found Dingač to be similar to non-Dingač Plavac Mali wines in their variation, but with the volume turned up – more intense, more alcoholic, more tannic.

The wine illustrated here is a 2015 Dingać produced by Šimunković, a small producer I believe, which we drank at Lady Pi-Pi with barbecued meat. I absolutely enjoyed it, but the main reason I mention it here is because that it was perhaps the most memorable wine of the trip. If Dingač is Plavac Mali with the volume turned up, this one was playing at full blast, with a declared 16% of alcohol, good acidity, massive tannins, and dark fruit aromas that managed to be both fresh and raisiny at the same time. Not usually my favourite style of wine, but in this meat-filled context it worked exceptionally well. It was £44 on the restaurant wine list, and I would guess that would be the equivalent of £25-30 retail in the UK.

My notes tell me that I enjoyed a couple of other Dingač wines even more, but the descriptive part of those notes is very poor, so I will just give them a quick mention. They were both tasted at the Peninsula Buffet wine bar. One was produced by Bura. It was 2015, 15,5%, and with an estimated UK retail price of £37. The other was a little cheaper at an estimated UK retail price of £25. The producer of this one was Ponos, and the vintage 2015. At 14.9% it was the lightest of the three Dingač wines mentioned here, and was also more moderate in tannin. Lots of donkeys on the label – a common motif for Dingač, as they were used to carry the harvest over the mountain to the winery.

And here ends my series of posts on Dubrovnik and South Dalmatia. Do feel free to let me know if you have any questions or comments.

The wine regions of South Dalmatia

I am going to be a bit more vague than I would like to in this post, because I found it very difficult to get up-to-date and authoritative sources of information. However, I saw that as all the more reason for pulling together what facts I could to serve as an introduction to the region. Here’s my best shot…

At least I can speak with certainty about the PDOs and PGIs that exist in Croatia, as the EU maintains a list centrally. Croatian PGIs are easy – there are none! Of the PDOs, there is one that covers all of this region, and more, called Srednja i Južna Dalmacija, which translates as Central and South Dalmatia. Judging by the wine labels I have seen, this is quite commonly used, and wines of several different varieties seem to qualify for it. The only other two PDOs that it is clear to me are in South Dalmatia are Dingač and Dalmatinska zagora.

Dingač and its sister area of Postup are on the Pelješac Peninsula, and discussed below, while Zagora lies somewhere between Dubrovnik and the peninsula and I know hardly anything else about it. Another major wine-growing area is the island of Korčula, of which I shall presently write a little more.

The Konavle Valley also deserves a brief mention. This is in the area around the symbol for Gruda in the map below. I don’t think the Konavle Valley has the same level of status as Pelješac and Korčula, but I have had at least two very good wines from there, and it is now accessible from Dubrovnik as a wine tour, complete with tourist train ride to take you between winery visits. There are also wine tours to the Pelješac Peninsula, which is a bit more of a schlep from Dubrovnik.

On wine labels you will additionally find a type of geographical area that is neither PDO or PGI called vinogorje, which could be translated as vineyard but in this usage it is a much larger wine area. I am not sure how strictly regulated these vinogorje names are, but South Dalmatia examples I have seen are Pelješac, Korčula and Konavle.

Probably the most important grape in the South Dalmatia is Plavac Mali. It is certainly the most important red variety – if I may presume to call it red that is, as the name translates as little blue one. It is grown principally on the Pelješac Peninsula, the entrance to which is around 40 miles North-West of Dubrovnik.

The vineyards of the peninsula are not all of Plavac Mali, and are scattered along most of its length. However there is quite a cluster of producers in and around the village of Potomje, and the flat land just to the North of the village contains what is probably the peninsula’s largest concentration of vineyards. The village, and its vineyards on the plain, can be seen in the image below. Just over the mountain ridge from Potomje, to the right in the image, are the steep South-facing slopes of the Dingač vineyards stretching down to the Adriatic. Dingač was the first protected geographical area in Yugoslavia, achieving this status in 1961. With its South-facing aspect, and possibly with the help of reflected light from the sea, grapes achieve high levels of ripeness and can make particularly powerful and tannic red wines. Dingač seems to be a strong brand – when I was there in Dubrovnik, most wines types seemed to be referred to by grape variety, but Dingač was always Dingač.

If Dingač was the first protected area for Plavac Mali, both chronologically and in terms of prestige, Postup must be second, in both respects. This area was protected in Yugoslavia in 1967, and is somewhat larger than Dingač – 70ha to th 40 ha of Dingač. Somehow however the Yugoslavian Postup has not yet managed to make it as a PDO. Postup’s wines are not as big and powerful as Dingač, perhaps because, although their aspect is similar on a South-facing slope by the sea, the vineyards are not as steep. (If you visit the D’Vino wine bar in Dubrovnik, do not be mislead by an information card you might be given, which implies that Postup is on the North side of the mountain ridge opposite Dingač.)

On the above map, Dingač lies by the top of the “l” in the word “Pelješac”, while Postup is further West, close to the Easternmost end of the island of Korčula. If you check on the Google Maps satellite images you can identify both these vineyard areas, and the ones on the plain around Potomje.

While the Pelješac Peninsula is best known for its Plavac Mali, Korčula specialises in white wine. The decision for it to focus on whites was taken by a Yugoslav government committee but that decision has had a lasting influence, even if on the face of it the island’s geography is not too different from that of Pelješac. Special mention should be given to the relatively rare grape variety Grk, which is grown in any quantity only on Korčula, largely at the Eastern tip of the island. However, Pošip is the variety that Korčula is best known for, and Pošip from Korčula is widely available in the region.

In summary, the local wines you are most likely to come across in Dubrovnik, or at least the ones I remember best, are Plavac Mali from Pelješac, in particular Dingač if you go a bit upmarket; and the white wines of Korčula, especially Pošip, and the rarer Grk.