Slovenia is one of the best wine regions you’ve never heard of. This little country, tucked between Austria and Croatia, has one of the oldest winemaking traditions in Europe. Communism set back its progress, but among all the post-Soviet states, Slovenia is one of those that shows the most promise for making great wine.
Slovenia’s climate is ideal for grape growing--its neighbors are some of the best winemaking regions in the world: Austria, Hungary, Croatia and Italy. The climate changes dramatically as you travel from north to south. The vineyards on Slovenia’s northern border with Austria survive cold chills from the Alps, while the southern regions bathe in Mediterranean sun and sea breezes. The best wines from Slovenia are white, and each of the three major wine regions has its specialties.
Podravje is the largest wine region in Slovenia, located in the northeast corner of the country. It produces mostly blending wine and a small amount of high quality wine from renski rizling (riesling), chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, and sivi pinot (pinot gris). One of its best regions, Maribor, is home to the oldest grapevine in the world. The vine is over 400 years old, and produces just one gallon of wine per year, which is given to important figures around the world, such as former President Bill Clinton. Strung out along the eastern edge of Slovenia is Posavje, the least-advanced of Slovenia’s wine regions. It makes mostly bulk wine, although it does produce tasty modra frankinja (blaufränkisch).
Slovenia’s best wine region is Primorska, a stunningly beautiful region in southern Slovenia which shares much of the same climate (Mediterranean) and grape varieties as Italy’s highly regarded Friuli Venezia-Giulia region. The grapes grown include chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, sivi pinot (pinot gris), rebula (ribolla gialla), merlot, cabernet sauvignon, modri pinot (pinot noir) and refošk (refosco), as well as the local varieties pinela and zelen. There are four distinct regions within Primorska, and Goriška Brda is the best, known for its rebula and cabernet sauvignon-merlot blends. Winemakers here are young, innovative and dedicated to sustainability--a recipe for brilliant winemaking.
Slovenian wines are slowly trickling into the U.S. thanks to a few dedicated importers and sommeliers. The next time you’re browsing the wine store shelves or a restaurant wine list, take a chance on Slovenia. You won’t be disappointed.
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Photo Credit: Slovenske Novice.