Wine Regions of Europe – Slovenia

Just to put the next six (or seven) countries into perspective, each of them was once a part of the country that used to be called Yugoslavia—Land of the South Slavs. Yugoslavia was formed after World War One. After World War Two, Communist Marshal Josip Broz Tito took power, and through the force of his personality was able to keep the multi-ethnic federation together. Tito died in 1980, and by the time the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, the federation was in shambles. The subsequent civil war—actually several wars—left tens of thousands dead, and seriously disrupted the economy, including the wine producing economy. In 1991 Slovenia and Croatia, both major wine producers, declared independence. Macedonia followed the same year. Bosnia and Herzegovina declared independence in 1992, Montenegro and Serbia split into separate countries in 2006, and Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008.

Even when it was a part of Yugoslavia, Slovenia exported its excellent wine to western Europe. Slovenia is in the northwest of the old Yugoslavia, bordering both Italy (next to the wine region of Friuli-Venezie Giulia) and Austria (next to the wine region of Steiermark). Goriška Brda is seamlessly integrated with the Italian appellation of Collio Goriziano DOC. Vineyards straddle the international border, producing the same grapes on either side. Wineries in Slovenia vinify Italian grapes and vice versa. Major grapes here are Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris (Sivi Pinot), and Pinot Noir (Modri Pinot), as well as more local grapes like Rebula, Refosco (Refošk) and Friulano. Friulano used to be called Tocai on both sides of the border, but now the term is banned by the EU so as to avoid confusion with the famous Hungarian sweet wine Tokaji (pronounced Toke_EYE).

The wider Slovenian regional label here is Primorje (Primorska), also referred to as “the littoral.” A step south from Goriška Brda is Vipavska Dolina, the valley of the Vipava river, which specializes in light crisp whites from the local Pinela and Zelen grapes. The Kras (karst) plateau another step south, is an area of limestone hills and iron-rich soils, noted for a big high acid red wine called Teran made from the Refosco grape.

Slovenia’s Istrian peninsula is its only bit of seacoast on the Adriatic. Here, Refosco and Malvazija are the most widely planted grapes.

In the Posavje region, the wines and many of the grapes are delightfully local. Bela Krajina’s vineyards inhabit the alpine foothills, on limestone Karst soils. This is a region of blends. The most prominent is Metliska Crnina – traditionally a red blend of Modra Frankinja (Blaufrankisch), Modra Portugalka (Blauer Portugieser), Zametna Crnina (a Slovenian original), and Sentlovrenka (St. Laurent), highly extracted and velvety. Belokranjski is a dry rosé wine blended from Zametna Crnina and Modra Frankinja. Bela Krajina also produces high quality Modri Pinot (Pinot Noir).

In Dolenjska the signature wine is called Cviček, a blend of both white and red grapes. The red grapes Modra Frankinja and Zametna Črnina make up 70 per cent of the blend, the white varieties Kraljevina, Laški Rizling, Rumeni Plavec and Zeleni Silvanec, 30 per cent. Every year in the region a Cviček Queen is crowned. The wine is lightly colored, with fresh aromas and flavors of raspberry, cherry and red currant, and a low alcohol level.

Bizeljsko-Sremič is known for its still and sparkling white wines from Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Laski Rizling. The acid rich indigenous Rumeni Plavec, is used for blending. Bizeljcan is an aromatic, dry blend of Laski Rizling, Sauvignon, Rumeni Plavec, and  Sipon; white Sremican is a dry blend of Laski Rizling, Sauvignon, and Rumeni Plavec; red Sremican is a dry red wine blended from Modra Frankinja, Zametna Crnina, and Laski Rizling.

Podravje in the northeast, centers around the city of Maribor in the Štajerska Slovenija sub-region. Its wines are almost exclusively white. Laški Rizling (Welschriesling) is the major grape here, with Sipon (the Furmint grape of Hungary), Renski Rizing (Rhine Riesling), Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, Pinots Noir, Gris, and Blanc.  The warm climate Prekmurje sub-region near Hungary is known for its soft reds from Pinot Noir (Modri Pinot) and Blaufrankisch (Modri Franinja).