500 Years Of Great Wine, Born In Croatia

This is one of the most intriguing wine stories of the last 500 years! The Dalmatian Coast (formerly part of Yugoslavia) of today’s Croatia has long-been a favorite vacation spot, and a great wine-growing location.

Today, the wine world is re-discovering the wonders of Croatia.

Among those discoveries: Five wines are the same, or are direct descendants of one grape, as proven by DNA testing (you can still call the USA wine Zinfandel):

  • Primitivo is Tribidrag, transplanted from Croatia to Puglia (Italy’s boot heel) in the late 1700s;
  • Zinfardal (the original spelling of Zinfandel) is Tribidrag, brought to the USA from a Viennese Empire greenhouse in 1823;
  • Crljenak Kaštelanski is Tribidrag, and was lost for years; it has now been found and DNA-matched in a vineyard near Split, Croatia;
  • Tribidrag is now the accepted name for this grape and wine, because it is the oldest name; traced to Croatia in the 1500 (thus the 500 years in the title of this article);
  • Plavac Mali is the Croatian son of Tribidrag and Dobričić, a red grape from a nearby island.

Visiting the Source
After helping to organize a 2013 conference in Dubrovnik, Croatia, we spent a day of wine tasting on the Dingac peninsula (thank you again, Mladen Radujković!), visiting a half dozen wineries. 

Among others, we visited the winery Grgic Vina, to explore their Plavac Mali. Miljenko “Mike” Grgich, originally from Croatia, helped fund the research that ties these five wines together into a close family. Long-famous for his Napa Valley Cabernets, Grgich worked with his daughter, Violet, to establish a winery in the Dingac appellation. Note: Grgic versus Grgich are the Croatian and English spellings of his family name.

We did see differences in the Plavac Mali wines that we tasted on our visits. Those differences were the result of vineyard location and age, winemaker style, and weather of the vintage year. And, all were great–if you like robust red wines!

On our return home, and wishing to share our discoveries about the history of Zinfandel, we organized a wine-tasting of interested friends. We included three of these related wines:

  • Zinfandel, from California, USA;
  • Primitivo, from Puglia, Italy;
  • Plavac Mali, from the Dingac area of Croatia.

We’d encourage you to explore these wines—especially if  you can visit the wineries in a part of the world where visitors are truly appreciated.

Here are a few useful links, if you are interested in more information about these wines: