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!
It’s only since I’ve come to Los Angeles that Croatian wine has been on my radar at all. There are always those ‘buzz’ regions people talk up; it takes a certain level of time, skepticism, and patience to know if a buzzing region is actually going to emerge as a major player, and whether it’s worth getting on board. Thanks to the dedicated guys over at Blue Danube Wine Company, leading importer of high quality Central European wine, some serious red is starting to come in from Hungary and Croatia. Salty, savory Slovenian whites are also in the mix.
Croatian wine production dates back to the days of the Ancient Greek settlers who began making wine on the Dalmatian Islands of Vis, Hvar, and Korcula more that 2,500 years ago. Traditional indiginous varietals are currently thriving in Croatia’s Mediterranean climate along the coast. The hot summers and cold winters of its interior make excellent conditions for red wine production as well. Modern wine-production methods have taken over in larger wineries, and EU-style wine regulations are now ubiquitously in place, guaranteeing quality of the wine.
Part of the reason Croatia is of particular interest is because I was so skeptical. This country has been annexed in and out of countless regimes, from the Islamic Ottomans, to the Habsburgs, to the Communists. A former Balkan state making quality wine? i admit – I scoffed. Luckily, I’m someone who loves to have her mind changed. Here are my current faves.
2008 Terzolo Teran Istria. So baller. I tasted this wine in Los Feliz and promptly insisted it be brought on board here at WHWC. Clean and fresh, this red is bright and well structured. It can even take a light chill, which is a quality I love in a red.
2006 Milos Plavac Mali Pelijesac. This red is complex, elegant, and 100% unique. Its got a gorgeous balance of rich earthiness and soft dried fruits, fig and prune in particular. It’s unlike any red I’ve ever tasted which is, of course, all the more fascinating.
I’ve organized a Central European tasting here at WHWC this coming Saturday (Sept. 17th) from 2–6 to start to get the word out about these high quality, inexpensive reds. Please swing by, or feel free to email me firstname.lastname@example.org