The best kept secret in winedom

The Celts were making wine in what the Romans later called Pannonia more than 2,500 years ago. In fact, the wines were so good that Italian wine merchants successfully petitioned Emperor Domitian (51-96) to prohibit them from being imported to Rome.

During the war that led to the collapse and disintegration of Yugoslavia, Slovenia was the first independent nation state to emerge, but the economy including the wine industry was badly hurt, and it took years to recover. Since Slovenes are huge wine drinkers, the focus was initially on cheap table wines which still make up most of the wines produced there, but thanks especially to a new generation of talented, well-educated and above all highly motivated wine growers, Slovenia now produces a few wines that can be ranked among some of Europe’s finest.

There are three major wine growing areas, each with its distinct character.

In the East in Podravje, where Slovenia shares a border with Austria, white wines similar to those from Styria are grown. The main varieties are Welschriesling and Furmint, known in Hungary as Tokay. Furmit produces a very sweet desert wine with fine herbal notes, but some young vintners, most notably Dveri-Pax in Jarenina or the Puklavec family in Ormož have received the highest accolades from Falstaff’s wine guide.

BTW: The Italians will tell you that Furmint was originally from Friuli, the region that borders on Slovenia, but that the Hungarians highjacked it and renamed it Tokay, causing them to switch to „Friulano“; go figure…

In the far West along the Adriatic coast, the so-called Primoska, consists mainly of the hilly regions Brda, Vipava, Kras und Koper, which are essentially an extention of the Collio and Carso wine regions of Friuli in Italy, and they make very similar wines, mostly Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, and the mighty Rébulas and Malvasias of very high quality. I love the wines from Goriška Brda, but you can find excellent and reasonably priced Posavje whites almost everywhere. In recent years attempts have been made here to produce reds like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or Pinot Noir, but mainly what you get is a rather thin and acidic Teran made from Refosco grapes like in next-door Friuli – not my favorites, personally.

The third region, the Save Valley in southern Slovenia called Posavje, which borders on Croatia, is mostly known for cheap plonk.

Someone once called Slovenia the „best wine region you’ve never heard of“, and I fully agree. The only problem is laying your hands on them, but a Google search is worth the effort. Of course, that means you’ll be paying a premium, so the best thing it to go there yourself, which is easy for me to say because I live an hour’s drive north of Slovenia’s capital city, Ljubljana, or Laibach, as it was known when the region was part of the Austria-Hungarian Empire

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