On Saturday we visited the Vipava Valley, in glorious sunshine and increasing heat.
Like Goriska Brda, Vipava is in the Primorska region and is probably the hottest and sunniest wine growing area in Slovenia, as the Bora wind which can whip down the valley at 200+km/hour will clear clouds away.
My group visited Jamšek winery in the morning. They have 6 hectares of vines, some of them varieties unique to the Vipava Valley. Erika described the business – just three of them work there, she is in charge of all things commercial, Marko her husband is in charge of winemarking and Marko’s father is mainly found in the vineyard. At harvest a crew of relatives and friends is drafted in, working weekdays or weekends according to their other responsibilities. Erika has managed to complete a doctorate in soil science while raising a family and engaging with people like us, she is a superstar!
What quickly came across was their ambition, and their enthusiasm to get more people to understand their region, to enjoy its wines, and best of all to visit it. In addition to making wine, they make their own prosciutto and bread (which we enjoyed with locally made cheese), and are developing add ons such as being a wedding venue! Their wines do very well in international competitions, despite the constraints of their unique local varieties rarely having an obvious class to compete in.
Sitting in what will become a barrel cellar as they expand their facilities further, we were taken through their range.
Their ‘fresh’ wines, all in screw cap, include:
Prepih (meaning breeze), a blend of their three white varieties, Malvasia, Pinela and Zelen, made to express the character of the Vipava valley – the Malvasia lending freshness, the Zelen structure, and the Pinela minerality. At €6/bottle it was phenomenal value for money, and please note that Jamšek will ship a case of wine to the UK for €15!
The single varietal Zelen and Pinela wines (both 2016 vintage) were really interesting. Pinela had fresh stone fruits and minerality on the mouth, while Zelen presented vegetal aromas, and a spicy, palate with an almost nutmeg finish. Both these wines have a ZGP designation as grape varieties unique to this region that cannot be marketed under those names anywhere else.
From their barrel fermented, lees aged range we tasted a Pinot Noir 2014 (€10/bottle) – yet another wine we have tasted on the tour from this dreadful wet vintage that is really very attractive. Erika described how they had left the harvested grapes in their crates outside to dry and evaporate for a few weeks, and the resulting wine had lively fruit, drinking beautifully now. We compared two vintages of their Cabernet Sauvignon, 2015 (€10/bottle) and 2010 (€15/bottle), and I for one plan to order some of the limited quantity remaining of the 2010 which was lovely – a classic nose and rich palate, beautifully balanced!
Our lunch was up in the Vipava hills to the north side of valley. Gostilna Theodosius provided melting beef cheeks with a Barbera matured in acacia and a very yummy pudding with a sweet yellow Muscat. Gregor, yet another enterprising Slovene is setting up a commune of glamping units, apartments with sauna and jacuzzi and his restaurant is the first step. We enjoyed the view across valley and contemplated the site of a battle between warring Roman brothers, won against the odds by Theodosius when his brother’s archers arrows were blown back on them by the Bora wind.
At Sutor in the afternoon Mitja Lavrenčič took us through his winery explaining his calm and measured approach to wine making.
With just 4ha of vines (on the best south facing slopes) mainly planted to Malvasia he does not have too many variables to play with so this was a masterclass in influencing how a wine evolves.
In his cellar we tasted 2017 Malvasia from Slavonian oak where it had fermented and rested on its lees, and just completed malolactic fermentation, and 2016 Malvasia from stainless steel tank and saw from the position of the taps how the clear wine could be drawn off from the couple of inches of lees at the bottom without the need for filtration. In the tasting room we tasted the 2015 and 2013 Malvasia and completed our impression of the wine’s evolution – a tiny bit cloudy with a green fruit nose after 8 months in wood; clear with more fruit and acidity resting on its lees 20 months after harvest (around 10 months in wood then into stainless steel); and greater minerality, structure and oak expressing itself in the vintages from bottle.
Mitja has no wines released younger than 2015, and appeared to be completely untroubled by having two or three years’ of stock in his cellar. August is busy – he needs to get the previous year’s vintage out of barrel into stainless steel in time for the new one, and before that to have moved the wine in stainless steel into bottle!
I really liked his 2013 vintage blend of Malvasia and Rebula, although Mitja appeared to say he makes this out of respect for his family’s tradition (his grandfather’s vineyards were a mix of varieties, which were all harvested and vinified together, whereas nowadays the Rebula is picked later and goes into barrique rather than the bigger wood vats the Malvasia goes into).
The Chardonnay 2015 had balanced acidity and a lovely mouthfeel, and the Sauvignon Blanc 2014 and 2012 were described by Mitja as definitely “not NZ style”, but possibly more like old-fashioned Pouilly Fumée with more vegetal characteristics and gentle acidity.
His red blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon (which spends a year in new or one year old oak barrique, a further year in slightly older oak, and then settles in stainless steel) was very attractive – the 2014 is released but we tasted the 2015 from a barrel sample. Another wine from that 2014 vintage that tasted fine, although the 2015 showed much greater complexity.