Serious winemakers are seriously touchy when it comes to their wines. One of my friends claims that winemakers are much less insulted when you criticize their child than when you say anything bad about their favourite wine. In time I came to realize that he is right. That is why I was extremely anxious when, last Wednesday afternoon at the Bornstein winery in Kaptol, I had to tell Andro Tomić face to face why I don't like his Plavac wines (which are, technically speaking, nearly flawless). "Look, Andro," I began while we tasted Plavac 2007, "this is, of course, a very, very good wine, that goes without saying. However, its combination of smokiness and vanilla, a certain creaminess and density, but at the same time a softness that is entirely unusual for Plavac wines, is more evocative of certain better Australian Shirazes than of Hvar wines, although, of course, Hvar wines are nearly always softer than those from Pelješac."
The Zeus-like Tomić (this attribute was given to him by Vlado Borošić, owner of Bornstein), an old, experienced, French-educated oenologist, one of the initiators of the modern wine production in Hvar, suffered stoically, with a smile, my opinion of his most important wine, after which the conversation returned to the topic of Caplar, Tomić's new wine which I like very much.
Caplar is a coupage of Cabernet Sauvignon and Plavac Mali, from vineyards on Pakleni Islands and on Hvar. The plantations of Cabernet are still comparatively young, seven or eight years old.
Perhaps Caplar shows how Plavac wines could become internationally relevant. Over the past few years several renowned, professional, influential people from big foreign markets have tasted an assortment of Croatian wines: they were impressed most, as Decanter's awards demonstrate, by dessert wines.
Graševina is also relatively well received; according to Saša Špiranac, the author of the annual Guide to Croatian Wines, it has a considerable export potential. Mavazija wines also receive many compliments at wine tastings featuring international critics and sommeliers.
Plavac wines, unfortunately, for the most part don't. On the other hand, there is no doubt that Plavac Mali is the most important Croatian indigenous variety.
The question, therefore, is whether Plavac could be made more acceptable in a coupage with some other variety, without losing its character. Here I must point out that as far back as 2002, when I first met Angelo Gaja, after tasting a number of our Plavac wines, he fantasized out loud about blending Plavac and Cabernet.
Cabernet Sauvignon is a grape that can take up a lot more acidity than Plavac. Tomić's first Caplar, from the 2008 vintage which will be available for distribution in the next few days, has 5.6 or 5.7 grams of acid, as opposed to 4.5 to 5 grams as is usual with most Plavac wines.
This difference is felt immediately.
Caplar is vastly more refreshing than the typical Hvar wine (not to mention Pelješac). Its freshness makes it more elegant, more balanced and, of course, smoother.
Caplar's aromatic structure has been expanded from the typical aromas of earth, plums and red fruit to incorporate a wider range of fruity aromas: it is simply more open and more nuanced, although, of course, it has kept the recognizable varietal characteristics of Plavac.
In addition, Caplar boasts an excellent texture: it is half-smooth, with tannins that you can bite into (you can literally feel them on the teeth), but which won't make your mouth pucker, nor make the wine taste bitter.
And finally, its alcohol level of nearly 15% is well balanced: Caplar is one of few top-quality Dalmatian wines that doesn't have that hot, alcohol aftertaste. Cabernet and Plavac were vinified separately, after which they spent the optimal six months in barrique which added a finishing touch to this excellent wine, but did not have enough time to try to impose itself on it.
Caplar (the name is derived from the first letters of both varieties, while R is meant to stand for registered) is probably the best dry wine that Andro Tomić has produced in the past ten or so years.
At the end of the short (I was in a hurry) but characteristically hedonistic tasting typical for Bornstein, we tasted one rare wine: Plavac 1991, which developed beautiful tertiary aromas but the colour of which does not reveal the wine's age.
After that we had one for the road: Slavica and Vlado Borošić, Tomić and I dipped some bread in the emulsion of Belić's olive oil and one of the most amazing vinegars that I have ever smelled and tasted. According to the story, back in 1994 in one winery in Hvar some ten hectolitres of wine went sour.
There was too much acetic acid in it. So Tomić transferred this wine into his private cellar. The he added a lot of rosemary flowers into it. Then, after ten years, he added some cooked must as well. Then the mixture aged for another few years and, when it was ready, Andro Tomić filled 850 one-litre bottles with perfect, sweet-and-sour vinegar packing elaborate flowery nutty aromas. This absolutely fascinating product is, unfortunately, not on sale as Tomić decided to share it with his friends and business partners.