If you covet the zingy, electric minerality of Sancerre, and the lime-pungent funk of Smaragd Gruner, but want to keep the price per bottle below $20, do yourself a solid and check out Slovenian whites. They’re salty, offbeat little numbers that satisfy a craving for quaffing like little else.
I ordered my first glass of Slovenian white out of sheer curiosity at Hearth, Riesling Chairman Paul Greico’s New York City flagship, in 2008. It was an unpronounceable white, which I’d clearly never heard of. Intrigued, I tasted, thought, then tasted again. Exotic pink grapefruit and classy, restrained saline minerals on the finish lingered in my mind. I finished my glass and promptly another before we even sat down to table.
Fast forward a couple years: Blue Danube, a small import outfit out of Palo Alto specializing in central European selections is making headway; Slovenian autochthonic varietals are appearing on the lists of the cognoscenti: Anfora and Terroir in New York, Bar Covell , Lou, and Gjelina in LA. Skin macerated whites (see my earlier post on Orange Wine), a practice widely elaborated in Friuli, Primorja (Brda, Vipava,) and the Caucasus Mountains of Georgia, are gaining appeal in somm and consumer circles alike. Slowly but surely, this tiny country nestled into an Alpine enclave between Italy (Friuli) Hungary, Austria, and Croatia, which has quietly produced wine for 2 millennia, is establishing itself on the radar of savvy wine drinkers.
Part of the allure is that Slovenian producers are widely iterating organic and biodynamic viticulture, and that small production wine opens the door for use of natural practices. Batic Winery (in the odd-shaped bottle) was founded in 1592; their belief in making wine with minimal interference long precedes the current ‘natural wine’ fashion trend. Fermenting with indigenous yeasts and without temperature control echo the customs of their predecessors, and also make for incredibly unique bottlings. Kabaj Winery, the culmination of a Brda viticultural family and a French oenologist, applies all organic treatments in the vineyards and ferments without added yeast. In the inland appellation of Podravje, Kogl is crafting fresh, bright whites of madcap combinations (their flagship Magna Dominica is Yellow Muscat, Auxerrois, and Riesling, vinified dry) that buzz with firm acidity and minerality.
These wines offer an enlightening alternative to the same old standby whites in your fridge. They also pair well with difficult-to-match cuisines like Thai, Malaysian, and Indian.
Here are a few of my current favorites:
2010 Kogl Mea Culpa Pinot Gris – Spritzy and fresh, medium-bodied with lime and white pepper. Guzzlable.
2009 Kogl Magna Dominica Albus – Yellow Muscat, Riesling, Auxerrois. Aromatic white flowers on the nose with pear and mirabelle on the palate. Long finish.
2009 Kabaj Rebula Goriska Brda – 100% Rebula (Ribolla Gialla) Clove, cinnamon and lemon peel on the nose lead to deep macerated orange on the palate. Lots of grip – funky spicy.
2008 Batic Pinela Vipavska Dolina – 100% Pinela. Autolytic apricot on the nose leads to glyceriny Golden Delicious Apple on the palate. Pleasantly oxidative, with a full mineral finish.
Give them a whirl as the weather heats up. And let us know what you think. Thanks!