From Slovenia with love – zelen, sauvignonasse and pinot noir to die for

14 May

The Wine Wanderers have tracked some great bottles to the cellar door on their travels, most often from some restaurant in France to a vineyard down the road.   But this time a glass of pinot noir in a London gastro-pub drove one of us 1000 miles to Slovenia to find the genius who made it.

That restaurant was The Jugged Hare, which inspiredly featured Marjan Simcic as winemaker of the month.  They were in good company; Simcic’s award-winning wines are listed by The Fat Duck, China Tang and good restaurants across the globe.   The wine was a pinot noir so staggeringly good, it was no surprise it commanded £16 per glass in the City.

Turns out Simcic is a fifth-generation wine-maker in Slovenia’s Goriska Brda region skirting the Italian border who has won countless international awards – and his pinot noir is just the start.   Marjan’s wife, Valerija, presented a sumptuous sauvignon blanc 2009 matured in oak, a gorgeous 2007 merlot from their Opoka range, named for the stone which peppers the soil, and the 2010 vintage of that heart-stopping pinot noir.  We also recommend Simcic’s pinot grigio, which knocked our socks off at the earthily delightful Jugged Hare.

Simcic was one of several top-class winemakers visited in this region and the nearby Vipava valley whose bottles deserve to be better-known.  They include Sutor, whose pinot noir 2008 is divine and whose malvasia won a Decanter silver medal in 2009.   The 2011 vintage was sumptuous, ditto Sutor’s 2010 sauvignon blanc.

Scurek, another five-generation winemaking dynasty on the border, has won gold for their Stara Braida white, a blend of the indigenous(but difficult as a single varietal) rebula with sauvignonasse, malvasia and a touch of  piccolit.  This last is usually a sweet wine in Slovenia, but Scurek makes a dry version which is to die for; sumptuous enough to partner foie gras, great with cheese and amazing even without food.  Scurek’s Stara Braida red  was as close as I came to any of the country’s seductive refosk; 25% of it joins merlot, cabernet franc and a little cab sauv in a heady blend.   But I wish I’d been close enough to the Adriatic coast to visit Santomas, whose own 2005 refosk, tasted at Valvas’or in Ljubljana, was sublime.

Valvas’or also introduced me to a drop-dead-gorgeous sauvignonasse from natural winemaker Borut Blazic, whose vineyards fell into Italy when the border was redrawn.  He makes only 3000 bottles from this grape (known as tokai friulano before the EU forced a name change);  the 2006 is spectacular.   Blazic has a US agent but no UK distribution, and my mission is to spread the word; this white deserves publicity!

Ljubljana’s best restaurant, the excellent and innovative JB, makes a point of showcasing Slovenia’s best wines, and I have them to thank for an introduction to a super zelen.  This grape, exclusive to the Vipava valley, is a revelation and makes the best possible aperitif in a country full of great wine; the best I tasted was by Pasji Rep and came in a distinctive woman-shaped bottle.

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