This small, almost landlocked country has a long and proud winemaking tradition and the wines fully merit a wider audience, so I was delighted to introduce its charms to two groups of people on my 2017 wine tours, which took place in May. We were based in Lubljana (with a couple of nights in Maribor for one of the tours).
This beautifully picturesque region to the far west of Ljubljana, right on the border with Italy, was reminiscent of Tuscany with rolling hills and natural amphitheatres of vineyards. At the Brda Cooperative, we were treated to an unexpected guided tour of the pretty villages and spectacular countryside before heading into the tasting room. With Ales Kmet, the COO from eVino which is headed by the esteemed Gasper Carman, we tasted crisp, clean and fruit driven wines with pleasing minerality. Lots of sunshine, relatively low rainfall, good mix of altitude giving a notable difference in day and night temperatures and the famous Opoka soil – a mix of limestone and sandstone provide some fantastic terroir, and we tasted Chardonnay/Rebula, Malvasia, Pinot Grigio and Merlot as well some great fizz and an awesome oak aged Malvasia.
The highlight was the barrel fermented Rebula 2013 that could easily have passed for white Burgundy in a blind tasting.
Lunch at Osterija Klinec – as the sun shone down we were led outside to the most perfect terrace overlooking the glorious hillsides of Goriska Brda. Idyllic does not do justice to the view. Owner Simona Klinec looked after us really well – a delicious pasta, perfectly cooked beef and a stunning panna cotta. All washed down with their barrel aged Malvasia, Rebolla and a superb Bordeaux blend red.
At Edi Simcic we met Jare and Alex Simcic, who hosted us with great style and gave us a deep insight into their grandfather’s philosophy of wine making. They barrel ferment and age all their whites and reds with some stunning results. The Malvasia, Tocai Friulano all oozed minerality and richness but the highlight was the Sauvignon Blanc. From the 2013 vintage this had spent 10 months in 30% new oak and was far removed from the herbaceous gooseberry styles we have become accustomed to.
The two visits gave us a great contrast and a comprehensive understanding of the quality and diversity within the Goriska Brda region.
We completed our exploration of the Primorje region to the west of Slovenia by visiting the fertile Vipava Valley. The tiny four hectare estate of Sutor is run by Mitja Lavrencic, and we received a masterclass in barrel aged white wine production as we compared vintages to illustrate the difference in style from cool to hot years. This tasting not only confirmed the very high quality of Slovenian wines but challenged our perceptions – particularly of oaked Sauvignon Blanc. Mitja was an engaging and welcoming host and alongside the mix of Malvasia, Chardonnay, Merlot and Sauvignon, we were utterly overwhelmed when Mitja brought out one of his last bottles of Chardonnay 2000. Utterly superb with amazing depth and richness and with still a few years to go.
Lunch at Gostilna Podfarovz was hosted by Gregor who had a particularly sharp wit that kept us entertained as we munched our way through deer carpaccio, a barley, bacon and asparagus risotto, pork kebabs and a walnut strudel washed down with a selection of the local Vinska Krapez wines that the owner presented herself.
At Vina Jamsek in the village of Mance, owners Erika and Marko hosted us with great aplomb as we tasted two new indigenous grape varieties – Zelen and Pinela. Both are crisp, fresh varietals that are indigenous to the Vipava valley. Unusually, they also produce a Barbera which was excellent and we finished off with a delightfully sweet yellow Muscat.
To the east of Slovenia is the second city of Maribor. The Podravje region is the country’s most important – accounting for 50% of the country’s wine production. This is where the infamous Lutomer Laski Rizling was produced. Times have changed of course and the focus is very much on top quality.
Our first stop was at the small, 7 hectare family estate of Ducal. It has a beautiful situation surrounded by a mix of rolling and steep vineyard clad hills.
Tim Lo Ducal hosted our visit which combined an eclectic mix of modern stainless steel technology, traditional old wooden vats, ancient Georgian amphorae dug into the ground and a stunning mix of fabulous modern art and antiques. We tasted through a wonderful selec
tion of Laski Rizling, Rhine Riesling, fizz, Pinot Noir and an ‘Orange wine’ made in the amphora.
The estate is right on the Austria border so many of us couldn’t resist the opportunity to scamper up the hill to make this a two country tour!
The family owned Doppler estate enjoys a 360 degree perspective over the Sentilj hills and we arrived to find a delicious selection of aperitives, a glass of fizz and the warmest of welcomes! We lingered outside under a warm blue sky with a barley and porcini risotto, a glass of Sipon and wondered how life could get better.
Owner Mihaela showed us round and we headed downstairs for more tasting and the rest of the lunch. David from Pri Florjanu restaurant in Maribor had laid on an incredible hot and cold buffet – showcasing local breads, meats and vegetables. We stuffed ourselves senseless while enjoying some fresh Sauvignon Blanc, a rose and a red made from a Blaufrankisch/Zweigelt blend and an amazing oak aged Sipon (or Furmint as we might know it).
At Velika Nedelja we found the extraordinary Kogl winery, an estate that combines amazing modern art with a cellar that dates back to 1542. Zlatka Cvetko, the owner, is a vibrant character with very clearly defined views on her approach to wine and assertively debated and replied to the various questions posed. It was a glorious afternoon and we sat outside overlooking the views out to Croatia from the beautiful hilltop garden tasting through their range of wines accompanied by a lovely light spread of local meats and cheeses.
Istenci is Slovenia’s largest sparkling wine producer. At 150,000 bottles production is still quite modest by most standards and they have acquired a terrific reputation. Miha and Johanes Istenic were great hosts and made us feel very welcome.
The quality was exceptional and we thoroughly enjoyed the tasting which comprised a Chardonnay/Pinot Noir/Rumeni Plavec blend, a 100% Pinot Noir, a Yellow Muscat and their Prestige Brut – a classic Chardonnay Pinot Noir blend. We then headed off to their Villa where a superb five course lunch was washed down with copious quantities of fizz. It was a truly memorable end to a fantastic tour.
On our first night we strolled along the river Ljubljanica to the acclaimed Manna restaurant. We were treated to our first taste of Slovenia’s gastronomic delights: an extravaganza of delicious and innovative cuisine: clever little amuse bouches, beef tail soufflé, exquisitely precise venison and melting white and dark chocolate brownie and strawberry ice cream. All the courses were paired with Slovenian wines. We drank exceptional sparkling wine from the Istenic estate, Malvasia from Istria, Pinot Noir from Modri, Cabernet Sauvignon from Movia and Muscat from Goriska Brda in what was a glorious start to our trip.
The acclaimed Rozmarin restaurant in Maribor was the venue of the final night dinner on Tour 1 and yet another special occasion was in store. Marco, the sommelier, hosted a sparkling wine reception and gave us a sneaky tour of their Bordeaux cellar. An eclectic and beautifully presented dinner was enjoyed. Nettle soup with cottage cheese dumplings and smoked pancetta, a savoury truffle ice cream on polenta, delicious lamb cutlets and finished off with a chocolate brownie and rhubarb dessert assiette. We drank Pinot Gris, Ducal’s Renski Riesling 2010, Dveri Pax Pinot Noir and finished off with an incredible rarity – a magnum of 1996 sweet Rhine Riesling that was a majestic treat!
Our final night dinner on Tour 2 was at Gostilna AS, one of the best restaurants in Ljubljana, and we sat outside on a beautiful terrace on a warm balmy evening. A fresh tuna and wasabi starter was followed by a delicious king prawn pasta. The chef then brought out two huge flaming seabass that were then served at our table. Dessert, coffee and oceans of Malvasia made this a wonderful finish to our tour.