Crljenak kaštelanski is a Croatian grape, and though it is rarely found in Croatia today, it is the grape that spread to Italy and California, where it is known as primitivo and zinfandel respectively. When I was in the Croatian capital of Zagreb, I asked Chef Roberta Riplia of Gastronomadi Klub to teach me how to pronounce crljenak kaštelanski. Listen to this:
The Connection Between Crljenak Kaštelanski/Zinfandel/Primitivo and Plavac Mali
The rapidly up-and-coming grape, plavac mali, is widely grown in Croatia's Dingac region. It is related to crljenak kaštelanski, and this has led many people to think of the two grapes as identical. Plavac mali wines tend to be dry and earthy and have great aging potential. Does this sound like zinfandel or primitivo? Nope.Vinologue warns, in the comments of a recent article I wrote for EuropeUpClose.com, that plavac mali is not identical to crljenak kaštelanski: it is a mutation of crljenak kaštelanski, which makes it a distant relative (you can think of it as a cousin). Crljenak kaštelanski, zinfandel, and primitivo are identical on a genetic level.
For more information, check out the report Science as a Window into Wine History, by Carole P. Meredith. Meredith spearheaded the research into zinfandel's history. In the report, she wrote, "We think that Zinfandel (a.k.a. Crljenak Kastelanski) was once widely grown in Croatia. Disease probably killed most of the vines, but not before a chance cross-pollination took place between Crljenak Kastelanski and Dobricic, giving rise to a seedling that became Plavac Mali."