In an industry where marketing, location, and cost are often a greater influence on one’s perception of quality than the actual product, Slovenia offers an unfiltered alternative – wine that speaks for itself.
The country is well known to industry insiders for its mineral-forward whites and light, palatable reds, but it exists as a virtual blank slate to the average consumer. One primary reason is quantity: Slovenia is only the size of New Jersey, and its population has an insatiable appetite for what could be classified as the national “flower,” the grapevine. Little escapes the citizenry’s unending thirst for Rebulas, Zelens, Terans, and Pinelas – all varietals native to the Adriatic Coast.
King in this Land of the Vine is Goriška Brda (gor-EESH-ka BUR-da), a region bordering northeast Italy where endless terraced vineyards bathe the rolling hillsides, each capped by tiny Italian-style towns and churches. This is where the country’s leading winemakers call home, including boisterous Aleš Kristancic, the eighth-generation winemaker from Movia. Last August, he hosted my wife and I for a super-sized tasting – instead of pouring two-ounce samples, he brought out full bottles of his finest vintages and parked us on the back porch overlooking this verdant landscape.
"I think the guy up there, whoever he is, he created all of this,” says Kristancic of the Eden-like topography. “But then I think he felt like, ‘I need something more. Everyone is too nice. This is boring.’ So he added the fruit."
Kristancic started us with a bottle of 2005 Puro, his elegant, dry sparkling rose comparable to France’s finest, and left it for our enjoyment. “I could sit here and tell you about the soil, the temperature. But just sit and enjoy. If you have a question or need more wine, just whistle."
Movia, like many of Brda’s vintners, has been producing wines for decades without pesticides and other chemicals to maximize production; they just don’t feel the need to advertise it like everyone else. "All that you need is here," Kristancic says. “The minute you add something else..." and draws his hand across his neck.
Across the street, Marjan Simcic, another of Slovenia’s great producers, owns 18 hectares (more than forty acres) of vineyards along the border and spilling into Italy. “We are not far from the seaside or the Alps,” explains Valerija Simcic Kalan, Simcic’s wife, of Brda’s ideal location. “The sea brings this pleasant wind, so we don't get disease. The Alps help us have better weather."
Simcic counts Rebula among its featured grapes. Native to the region, it shines with a dark golden color and, in the most simplistic terms, is a tweener among the more common white grapes in the U.S. "This is to white what Pinot Noir is to red,” says Kalan. “It's a little more in the middle."
In the middle is also where Goriška Brda sits, nearly equidistant (a little more than an hour drive) from Slovenia’s overlooked, easygoing capital, Ljubljana, and the much-hyped, elegant canals of Venice—an altogether appropriate metaphor for the region’s place in the wine world.
More Information: Slovenian wines, including Movia and Simcic, are becoming easier to find on restaurant menus, but the country’s limited production can still make it a challenge to score a bottle at the local wine shop in the U.S. As an alternative, consider looking for more common Friuli or Collio wines from northeast Italy, where the cross-border vineyards may include some Slovenian-grown grapes after all. The taste of whites is a near perfect match.