When bringing a bottle of wine to a party, one frequently is left deciding between the tried-and-true, versus something bold and, perhaps, new.
No one will ever complain if you arrive with a bottle of Cakebread Cellars Sauvignon Blanc. (Ignore them if they do.) However, if you bring a more interesting wine, one other guests may not have enjoyed before, you also have a conversation starter. A Slovenian wine is an excellent choice for that interesting oenological icebreaker, given the likelihood that guests have not drank one before, as Slovenia exports less than ten percent of its wine. (Source: Republic of Slovenia Ministry of Agriculture and the Environment)
Winemaking in this region dates back to the 5th and 4th centuries BC, even before the Romans introduced wine to the inhabitants of France, Spain and Germany. Today Slovenia's 28,000 wineries annually make between 80 and 90 million liters of wine, roughly 75% of it white wine. The import market for Slovenian wines is on the rise, thanks to distributors like Blue Danube Wines, out of Los Altos, California. I recently sampled two reasonably-priced and very interesting conversation starters: Kabaj's Rebula and Stoka's Teran.
2010 Kabaj Rebula Goriska Brda
Since the fall of the Soviet Union and breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, Slovenian wines have enjoyed a renaissance. The steep slopes of Goriska Brda are at the epicenter of the country's most creative and experimental region. The appellation shares its traditions and terroir with northeastern Italy's Collio region, just over the border. The vineyards of Goriska Brda are famous for their unique, dense sedimentary soil, which once was part of the Pannonian Sea. The vineyards couldn't be more ideal for growing Ribolla Gialla, or "Rebula," as the Slovenians call it.
Unlike most white wines, in which the grape juice is almost immediately separated from the skins for lightness and clarity, Slovenian Rebula winemakers allow the juice to ferment in open-topped oak vats with its skins on native yeasts for 30 days. The contact with the skin imparts a rare tannic structure to the wine, creating beautiful aromas and a gorgeous orange hue. The Kabaj team then allows the juice to age for twelve months in neutral French oak barrels.
The 2010 Kabaj Rebula bursts with bold citrus fruit flavors and a pulsing minerality. One may also note flavors such as toasted almond, sherry, burnt orange peel and Meyer lemon. This spicy white wine will hold its own against full flavored dishes like smoked pork or steak. Critics sometimes assail "orange" wines as faulty, oxidized wines. However, this orange wine does not at all take on the oxidative qualities of some of its peers.
Kabaj also makes an excellent Merlot, increasingly a favorite grape varietal in the Goriska Brda. While Merlot grapes may encounter difficulties ripening in cooler climates, on the sunny slopes of the Kabaj estate, their vines achieve a lovely maturation. The Kabaj team allows the grapes to ferment in cement tanks, where they macerate in the skins for 21 days before being racked into barrels for an additional 24 months. Kabaj's Merlot is much bolder and more complex than the standard Coca-Cola Merlot that gives Merlot such a poor reputation among some wine drinkers.
2009 Stoka Teran Kras
2009 Stoka Teran Kras
Teran grapes (Terrano in Italian) grow primarily in the Kras plateau near the Adriatic coast and the Italian city of Trieste. Teran is a hearty grape varietal from the Refosco family. It's highly acidic and dark crimson in color, traditionally, "black as rabbit blood." | Photo: Stoka |
Teran grapes (Terrano in Italian) grow primarily in the Kras plateau near the Adriatic coast and the Italian city of Trieste. Teran is a hearty grape varietal from the Refosco family. It's highly acidic and dark crimson in color, traditionally, "black as rabbit blood."
For two centuries, the Stoka family has produced red and white wines from the iron-rich soils of Kras, fondly known as "terra rossa" by local winemakers. Despite being grown in a very warm climate - during the summer, the Kras area is scorching - the wine nevertheless retains its acidity.
The 2009 Stoka Teran is full-bodied and velvety, with a punchy acidity and salty minerality, along with an earthy bouquet. On the nose one may smell raspberry or sugar plum fragrances, along with black currant. On the palate, one will taste a balance of the aforementioned rich acids and tannins, along with dusty cherry fruit, ripe plum and iron.
I commend both of these exceptional wines to oenological adventurers in search of something different and interesting!