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Begić - Plavac mali from Herzegovina

The wine story of the Begić family from Prolog, near Ljubuški, is similar to most of the stories of winemakers from that region. In addition to growing tobacco, almost all citizens of Herzegovina planted vineyards with 1,000 or 2,000 vines for their own use, and what was left over could always be sold or exchanged for another product.

Practically the entire 20th century, the Begić family also worked in this way, and the first significant step in the assortment was made by their ancestor Jakov in the 1960s, when he brought from Pelješac, with the intention of increasing the vineyards with Plavac, unknowingly, in fact, he brought the nobles of Plavac mali.

As this variety is richer and stronger than the mentioned Plavac, Begićs produced wine that was in demand, but it was still in smaller quantities. When Leon Begić, the father of today's owner Branimir, planted new vineyards and entered the market with a labeled bottle, the Begić winery went into professional waters. Those two decades were a good preparation for the new qualitative leap that father and son Branimir have made in recent years, as evidenced by several Decanter medals. They positioned themselves next to other producers from Ljubuški on the professional wine road of Herzegovina.

Today, the winery has its own 6.5 hectares of plantations where Žilavka predominates with 3.5 hectares in Rastok positions (a large field partly in the Vrgorac region) and on the former wine plantation in Ljubuški. There, in the spring of 2022, the Begićs planted 5,000 Žilavka vines and 1,000 Plavac mali, which will reach full fruit in two to three years. The vineyards are also located in Prolog near the winery, they have 2000 vines of Plavac and 1000 Vranac vines that make beautiful Cuvee. The winery also leases two hectares in the area of Dubrava Stolac.

Eight labels were tasted at the presentation in a full hall of journalists and people of wine provenance in Češka beseda in Zagreb. These are in order: Žilavka 2023, 13 percent alcohol, 5.9 g/L, Rastok Žilavka 2022 selection, 13.5 percent alcohol, 5.6 g/L, Rose (plavac mali/plavina) 2023, 12, 5 percent alcohol, 5.7 g/L, Plavac mali 2022, 13.5 percent alcohol, 5.7 g/L, Plavac mali 2021, 13.6 percent alcohol, 5.6 g/L, Plavac mali barrique 2021, 14 percent alcohol, 5.4 g/L, Plavac mali barrique 2020, 14 percent alcohol, 5.7 g/L and Cuvee (plavac mali, trnjak, vranac) 2021, 14.5 percent alcohol, 5 .9 g/l.

Here I will mention four of the eight listed labels. Rastok žilavka selection 2022 is obtained from one hectare of vineyards in Rastok. The vineyards are 40 to 70 years old. It has 13 percent alcohol and 5.9 g/L acid. It is an excellent reflection of the terroir with a well-preserved relationship between variety and extraction. The wine that has not yet fermented to the end is placed in stainless steel acacia wooden barrels to remain there for seven to eight months, "scraping" the barrel and with stirring.

This mixing of sediments gave the wine its distinctive creaminess. It has not taken over the acacia scent and although it is layered, it is very drinkable. This kind of string was only the second in BiH made in this way. Branimir points out that the great Croatian winemaker Ivica Matošević helped him by advising him not to put already finished wine in the barrel, but during the fermentation process. This was also recognized by many wine lovers and makers at the Žilavka Salon in Trebinje, where they received great compliments from connoisseurs of the variety. Our well-known journalist wine connoisseur Ivo Ivaniš points out that they were a hit among dozens of winemakers. Gastronomic recommendation is white fish including eels, among others.

Rose 2023, 12.6 percent alcohol and 5.7 g/L acid, was made from 10 percent each of plavac mali and plavina. In this combination, plavac mali mainly gives the wine structure and sweetness, while plavac gives acidity and drinkability. Begić started with Rose in 2014 from the so-called rainy years. The wine was made by a short maceration of one and a half hours, which gives it a free flow. It had 1.5 grams of unfermented sugar and a modern Provençal red onion lupine color.

Sommelier Darko Lugarić finds in the aroma ripe notes of raspberry and cherry and a shade of caramel. This wine is very nice, does not have a lot of residual sugar and is very enjoyable. It was made on the instructions of their long-time oenologist Zdravko Dujmović, and Caroline Gilby (Master of wine) complimented the 2018 Rose by stating that this wine is of the quality for the British royal court. The sommelier recommends grilled salmon with wine, tuna tartar, tender one-year-old prosciutto...and watermelon and fresh strawberries as well.

The third wine is Plavac mali barrique 2021, 14 percent alcohol and 5.4 g/L. The aroma is intense, reminiscent of plum, cherry, smoke, dark chocolate. The wine is fresh, with well-integrated tannins and considerable aging potential. It was in the barrel for 12 months and it is possible that a month less would give a milder vanilla flavor. Debates have been held about the wine, whether the smell that is currently prevailing on the nose will diminish with the passage of time.

In an open discussion of several people present: Suhadolnik, Dropuljić, Lugarić and the winemaker himself, the question of the purpose of the barrique as such arose. Branimir Begić is also of the opinion that in the future it will be better to reduce the impact of wood and turn to other significant appellations - the position of the vineyard, the terroir label in the characterization and promotion of wine and winery. Speaking of plavac, Begić was the first in Bosnia and Herzegovina to receive a Decision on the geographical origin of plavac mali in 2001. From them, the nobles were later taken over by Čitluk d.d. and Nuić.

Cuvee (composed equally from plavac mali, trnjak and vranac) with 14.5 percent alcohol 5.9 g/L acid, was made with 25 days of maceration and was aged for two full years in previously used barrels. It is important to note that all three varieties fermented together. Here, we take fully ripe grapes from the vineyard, some of them dry, and the extract was 36. The aroma reveals prunes, dried figs, marmalade... The wine has a fairly well-integrated alcohol content of 14.5 percent, the color of rabbit blood, intense and extractive, and will only be at its peak in a few years. It is still in bottles and the first quantities will be released at the end of the year.

The winery has so far received several awards at Decanter. Plavac mali barrique 2019 won bronze, and Plavac mali 2020 won silver, while the one from 2021 won bronze. Rose from 2022 was also successful and won bronze, along with several awards at the local competitions.

In recent times, young oenologist Hrvoje August has been involved in the work along with his longtime collaborator, oenologist Dujmović. The winery also has a line of spirits: vine, herbal, sour cherry and walnut. Finally, it is worth quoting the winemaker himself: "I don't want to go into large-scale production, my goal is a boutique winery with a maximum of 100,000 liters of quality wine and good positioning on the market, selling at the doorstep and in HORECA. I plan to soon make orange wine from our old varieties of krkošija, bena and others... The ultimate goal is to create a good foundation for future generations in my family". After this promotion and tasted wines, and certainly the philosophy of wine thinking of young Begić, I have no doubt that he will succeed.

Photos: Marko Čolić i Podrum Begić


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