[We sell five different wines from the Dingač region, all of them produced from the appellation’s signature grape, Plavac Mali. They are available at our Topochines Vino web wine store: http://www.topochines.com. Readers can enter Wine10 for a 10% discount on any of these wines.]
Every major wine-producing country has its emblematic, center-of-the-universe wine region that is recognized as such around the world. France, of course, has Bordeaux, a defining wine region if we ever heard of one (apologies to Burgundy, Champagne, and the Rhône regions). Italy has Tuscany (again, apologies to Piedmont and some other fine wine spots). Spain is still defined by Rioja. The United States? We would say Napa Valley.
While Croatia has many beautiful wine regions producing award-winning wines, its version of Bordeaux, or Tuscany, or Rioja – at least arguably – is Dingač (pronounced ding-ahhtch), the country’s first protected wine region. Compared to the world’s other emblematic regions, however, Dingač is a virtual speck on the wine map. Bordeaux has over 125,000 hectares planted to vines; Tuscany has over 60,000; Rioja has just less than Tuscany; the Napa Valley AVA has nearly 20,000. There are no exact figures on the total vineyard plantings in Dingač, but reliable estimates are around 200 hectares. In other words, the entire vineyard plantings in Dingač are about the size of a large wine estates in some of these other regions.
Like many of the world’s most iconic wine regions, Dingač has some unique soil, topographical and geographical conditions. The Dingač vineyards are located on Croatia’s Dalmatia coast, on the Pelješac Peninsula. This body of land juts out northeasterly from the coast and offers stunning views of the Adriatic Sea.
Although the Dingač vineyards have beautiful views of the sea, their terrain can be more treacherous and unforgiving. With severe slopes of more than 45 degrees and altitude of over 1,000 feet, tending vines and harvesting grapes is a severe challenge. It is simply not possible to run tractors or other equipment on such steep slopes. All vineyard management and harvesting are done by hand, with the assistance of donkeys. Often, grape pickers have to be harnessed and tied to enable them to move up the vineyard rows. Oh, and to make matters worse? There are snakes that live in the vineyards that must be avoided as workers make their way through the vineyards.
Despite its size, however, Dingač packs an undeniable punch not only inside Croatia but across the entire wine world. The most widely planted red varietal, Plavac Mali, is the hallmark grape of the region. In Serbo-Croatian, “plavac mali” refers to the size and color of this grape. “Mali” means “small” and “plavac” translates roughly as “what is blue.” In other words, “small blue,” an apt description of this grape.
Plavac Mali produces rich, full-bodied wines that are often higher in alcohol – 15.5% or higher – with strong tannins. Grape geneticists have determined that Plavac Mali is the “child” of Zinfandel (which originates in Croatia and is known as Crljenak Kastelanksi or Tribidrag). Physically, the Plavac Mali vines and grapes bear a strong resemblance to Zinfandel, and the wine produced is also similar. However, the Croatian Plavac Mali is not as “jammy” as New World Zinfandel and retains nice acidity and balance with more earthy aromas and flavors.
We are offering five different Dingač Plavac Mali wines with varying price points and vintage ages. These wines represent the best wines from the region and are excellent examples of what the region can produce.
2014 Saints Hills Dingač – $44
A full-bodied wine with pleasant acidity and strong fruit. On the nose, this Dingač wine is dominated by chocolate and ripe fruit, nuts, Mediterranean spices such as oregano, basil, and some mint. Full-bodied, rounded, silky tannins. The palate is dominated by plums, dark chocolate, carob and cookie aromas, followed by smoky scents of tobacco.
2010 Saints Hills Ernest Tolj Dingač – $187
This 2010 special edition Plavac Mali is produced from the best hand-selected grapes from three different Dingač vineyards, and only produced in the best vintages – hence the significantly higher price point for this Dingač offering. We recently tasted this wine and it is worthy of the price for those wine connoisseurs and geeks that appreciate a bold, brawny, sophisticated and layered red wine. This Saints Hills Dingač ages in oak barrels and later in dark glass bottles made just for this wine. This wine is bold and very aromatic, dominated by dark fruits and Mediterranean spices, with undertones of vanilla and a hint of smoke. On the palate, this wine has flavors of plum, chocolate, and tobacco. This wine has a silky mouthfeel and a flavor that is sophisticated, deep and balanced. This 2010 wine is delicious now and can age another 10 years.
2012 Matuško Dingač – $26
Mato Violić-Matuško is a biker and an avant-garde winemaker who is making some of the best Dingač wines in Croatia. This 2012 wine is an elegant expression of this special wine region on the Adriatic Sea; his wine has a dark ruby-red color and purple hues . On the nose, this wine has emphasized floral aromas that are characteristic of this winery but not so typical of Plavac Mali grown in Dingač. On the palate, this wine has a full and rounded flavor, a harmonious blend of astringency and sweetness. We recommend opening the bottle for at least 2 hours before tasting!
2014 Matuško Dingač Reserve – $46
This 2011 Dingač Reserve is a superior Dingač. The grapes for this Reserve wine come from the best Dingač positions, with only the best berries being selected. Confirmation of its uniqueness and quality are numerous awards in national and international wine competitions. This is a typical Plavac Mali with characteristic fruity aroma of dark berries and Mediterranean spices. On the palate, black currant, blueberries, dried cranberries and carob flavors dominate. Due to time spent aging in oak barrels, this wine is elegant and soft.
2014 Edivo Plavac Mali Dingač – $34
Big and robust on the palate, yet elegant and silky, a perfect balance between fruit and acidity. There is plenty of berry in this wine, red and black currant in particular, complemented by strong spices – cloves, cinnamon, and sweet spices – along with cedar, coffee and chocolate. This 2014 is juicy and ripe but its earthiness, minerality, and polished tannins contribute to a long and strong finish.
Try one (or all!) of these wines, I do not think you’ll be disappointed. They are perhaps the best way to get introduced to the quality and character of Croatian wines. Cheers!
August 25, 2018
Photo credit for featured Dingač photo: Daniel Pavlinovic (website: http://www.danielpavlinovic.com/index.html)
Photo credit for Plavac Mali grape photo: Pero Kvrzica – https://www.flickr.com/photos/7996705@N03/5450999810/, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=30440299)