by Leona De Pasquale
(*The article was originally published on The Vintage Magazine in 2018)
Slovenia boasts a rich cultural heritage. Known for its spectacular Postojna Karst Cave and the fairy-tale like Lake Bled, yet this country has so much more to offer.
Surrounded by Italy, Austria, Hungary and Croatia, this mountainous country has historically been the crossroads of Slavic, Germanic, and Romance languages and cultures. Over half of the territory is covered by forest so when you are going to Slovenia by plane, make sure you get a window seat in order to enjoy the view of magnificent mountains dotted with lush and rolling green valleys.
Slovenia is also a paradise for foodies and wine lovers. Just flip through this mouth-watering online magazine called ‘Taste Slovenia,” (https://issuu.com/slovenia/docs/taste-slovenia-en) published by its tourism board, featuring all the regional Slovenian cuisines and you might already want to book a flight!
Wines are equally exciting. Slovenia has a very long history of winemaking and grapes are mainly grown in three wine regions: Primorska (west), Posavje (southeast) and Podravje (northeast). In 1823, the Archduke Johann of Austrian ordered “all noble vine varieties that exist” to be planted on his property in Maribor, Podravje. Since then, many international grape varieties, such as Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Muscat, Riesling, Pinot Noir were introduced to inland Slovenia.
The westernmost Slovenian wine region, Primorska, is the most important amongst the three. There are around 6,490 hectares of vineyards in the region. Being close to the Italian border, you can no doubt sense the Italian influence.
Recently, I had the opportunity to visit Goriška Brda (or ‘Brda’) in the north of the Primorska region, which is right across the Italian border. Though in fact, it is very difficult to know the real border line, Brda can probably be seen as continuation of Collio Goriziano region across the border in Friuli, Italy.
Coming from the capital city Ljubljana by car, it takes around 1.5 hours to reach Brda. Not long after leaving the motor way, you will find yourself in Italy, driving around somewhere in
Udine! But then, all of a sudden, you will see a verdant countryside and notice a tiny sign saying “Slovenia,” you know you are back in the country again.
My destination was the biggest wine cooperation in Slovenia, Klet Brda, in the village of Dobrovo. Driving pass some picturesque villages surrounded by undulating hills and vineyards, it is easy to see why Brda is dubbed “Slovenia’s Tuscany”.
Being the biggest in the country, Klet Brda works with around 400 wine growers and only processes and produces wine from grapes grown in the region. They have an impressive range of wine, white, red, rosé and sparkling, made from familiar grapes such as Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Bianco, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon etc. Not to forget also some local specialties such as Rebula (Ribolla Gialla in Italian) and Pikolit (Picolit in Italian).
Rebula is an ancient white grape variety from Friuli-Venezia Giulia, typically with light body, hint of floral and has refreshing acidity but can also be made in various styles. Here in Brda, the best Rebula are grown in the higher slopes to allow them to develop the flavours slowly but also to retain the acidity. Additionally, they make a special blend of Rebula and Sauvignon Blanc just for the UK market and can be purchased through Majestic Wine (https://www.majestic.co.uk/wines/krasno-sauvignon-blanc-ribolla-21001).
Pikolit is another local specialty in the Italy-Slovenia border. It is a white grape and became famous throughout Europe in the 18th century when Conte Fabio Asquini started to export the wine bottled in exquisite hand-made Murano glass and sold at a high price. It is said that even the Pope liked it at the time. However, the variety was almost extinct due to the phylloxera epidemic in the late 19th century. Luckily some survived through it. The plantings of Pikolit remain quite small in Slovenia. Klet Brda has around 2 hectares and uses it to make a fantastic Pikolit dessert wine that has floral, peach, dried apricot and acacia honey aromas but sadly not yet available in the UK.
Klet Brda has made some stunning Pinot Grigio and Pinot Bianco from their Quercus, Krasno and Bagueri ranges. Both are full of characters and expressive. Pinot Grigio is flavoursome, not the lighter style as their Veneto counterparts in Italy. Pinot Bianco here is opulent on the palate. It’s dry and refreshing with green apple and grapefruit flavours but also very food friendly. Krasno Pinot Bianco can be found in Majestic Wine (https://www.majestic.co.uk/products/krasno-pinot-bianco-21090)and Quercus Pinot Bianco is available through hundreds of Young’s Pub in the UK.
Klet Brda is open to tourists and wine lovers who love to try their wine. Tastings can be booked through their website (https://klet-brda.si/en/klet-brda-tours/#rezervacija).
Apart from wine tastings, don’t forget to visit the charming fortified village of Smartno, Dobrovo Castle, and to appreciate a panoramic view of Brda from Gonjace Tower.
And of course, make sure you enjoy lots of local wine and food!
Where to stay:
Hotel San Martin (http://www.sanmartin.si)
They have a fantastic restaurant in the hotel and you can enjoy the striking view of the village Smartno from here.
Where to eat:
Grad Dobrovo Restaurant
Address: Grajska cesta 10, 5212 DOBROVO V BRDIH
*They are right inside the Dobrovo Castle, offering regional cuisines.
Primula Restaurant (http://www.primula.si)
Address: Soška cesta 40, 5000 Nova Gorica
*This is a fish restaurant by the river in Nova Gorica. Make sure you go to the roof terrace to enjoy the view before you go for the meal.