In 1991, Slovenia was the first of the former Yugoslavian republics to become an independent state. However, its vinicultural idiosyncrasies, marked by the undeniable influence of Friuli, Italy, with which it shares both a border and varieties, have always set the country apart in the Balkans and Eastern Europe.
To paraphrase Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson: “even during the era of the Iron Curtain, it was difficult to discern where Italy ended and Slovenia began.”
Climatically and geographically blessed
Slovenia is nestled into an enclave that seems preordained to grow wine. The country stretches eastward from the Adriatic and its inherent maritime influence to the interior Pannonian plain with its pronounced continental climate.
The result is a rich diversity of microclimates, which, combined with the Italian and Austrian influence on winemaking techniques and similar (if not the same) varieties, make Slovenia the perfect place to obtain well-ripened grapes and wines that meet top-quality standards.
Strictly speaking, we can identify three Slovenian winegrowing regions:
Located along the Drava river, Podrajve lies south of Austria and is the region furthest from the Slovenian coast. These circumstances have a significant influence on its production of white wines, which recall those of its neighbor, but are made from the region’s predominant grape, Laski Rizling.
A white grape region par excellence, Podrajve is home to Renski Rizling (Rhine Riesling), as well as international varieties like Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and the three Pinots.
Podrajve wines, which are (almost) exclusively white, undergo cold fermentation and mature in stainless steel. These wines are meant to be drunk young and stand out for their rich aromatic intensity, low alcohol, and delightfully refreshing acidity.
This is Slovenia’s westernmost region, which historically has the strongest connection to its Italian neighbor, Friuli. This influence is clearly reflected in the region’s wines, which are very aromatic, deep and dry, and often named after their varieties.
The Italian-Slovenian symbiosis has shaped the region, producing a rare exception in the country: half of its wine production focuses on firm, dynamic, intense reds.
It therefore comes as no surprise that the classic Bordeaux varieties thrive in Primorska, especially Merlot, which achieves an intensity and depth of fruit concentration here that tingles the spine and palate.
However, the predominant (white) variety is a local grape, Rebula. A variety of almost infinite potential, Rebula lends itself to every imaginable style: from fresh, crystalline wines aged in steel to wines with prolonged skin contact matured in amphorae.
“Plant all noble grape varieties in existence!” Archduke Johann. Maribor, 1823
The region lives in the shadow of its northern neighbor, Podrajve. It only has 2,700 hectares under vine, planted with almost the same varieties. However, these are usually blended to produce specialties that are more local in style, such as Cvicek, a crisp, light rosé.
Posavje wines are usually lighter and higher in acidity that their Podrajve counterparts. Although slightly more rustic and imperfect, these deeply traditional wines have a lot of soul.
A stand-out among these specialties is a sparkling wine by producer Bizeljsko Sremic, who enhances the end result by including a rare variety, Rumeni Plavec.
However, the Yellow Muscat produced in the Bela Krajina district, as well as its sweet wines in general, are undeniably the region’s greatest pride.
Who and What?
These days, Slovenian wines are characterized by very natural winemaking methods, which tend to look to the past and local varieties for inspiration:
- Thanks to the country’s best-known winemaker, Ales Kristancic in Podrajve, a revolution of sorts has begun among a new generation of vignerons who are striving for vinicultural gems through “extremely” natural techniques, emphasizing local and varietal identity.
- Furthermore, wineries like Verus and Dveri Pax are synonymous with reliably good wines (Renski Rizling in the latter case) that are a joy to drink.
- Finally, Marjan Simcic makes what might quite possibly be the best Rebula in Slovenia, Rebula Selekcija.
This post only offers a brief look at Slovenia, but it is enough to show that despite its small size, the country is a secret kingdom, a paradise where geo-climatic conditions and vast experience make for vineyards and wines that are well worth a visit.