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!
I am truly passionate about very few things this life has to offer. But well-crafted wine is one of them. So is obscure Swedish death metal but for now, let’s stick to the wine. Recently, several people, fellow wine lovers and skeptics alike, have asked why I’m so passionate about something that, at its core, is a beverage. People rarely, if ever, get as passionate about Mountain Dew, Milk, or Gatorade as I do about wine. (For those that do, get help.) Wine is magical, or at least seems to be. A great bottle stirs the soul, stimulates the mind, moves your emotions and touches the heart. It is difficult to quantify this aspect of it but I will give it a try, with some help from a few glasses of brain lube called “Pommard.”
At some point, wine drinkers move from simply drinking wine as a beverage to becoming passionate about fine wine. For some, it is a single pivotal experience. For others, it is an organic progression over time. The fire that fuels the passion after its discovery is the obsessive search for the next mind-blowing wine experience. You will ALWAYS be WRONG when you think that there couldn’t possibly be another bottle or experience as incredible as the one in front of you at that moment. What could be more fun or exciting?
Yes, it tastes good, goes well with food, and intoxicates, but it is so much more then that. If one takes a moment and considers what a specific bottle represents, it can be a very fulfilling, if not overwhelming, experience. The endless hours of labor by vineyard and winery workers, the hours of sunshine, the inches of rain, split-second decisions by vineyard managers, winemakers and cellar rats, the nitrogen content of the soil, the ripeness of the grapes during harvest, the yeast selection, punch-downs, racking, filtering…. the variables are infinite. Yet they all come together, to make those 750 milliliters of fluid that are so special. It would take several lifetimes of intense travel, research and drinking to begin to grasp the full scope of the monumental task of producing a particular wine. When we consume wine, we are just one small part of something much larger then ourselves. Ain’t that cool?
The vast majority of high-quality wine is consumed underappreciated. This is sad because in each and every bottle is an incredible story. Wine is not simple. It is art and science, with a little luck thrown in. Making it is not easy; people die in the process. In every bottle is history, geography, biography, chemistry, biology, geology, oceanography, astronomy, sociology, botany, technology, anthropology….. love, hate, anger, anxiety, triumph, joy, defeat, sorrow….. blood, sweat, tears, wars, romance, life, death…. and that is before the bottle is even open. It should be mentioned here though, that even though every bottle has a story, not all of them are worth your time, energy or money. However, for those wines that make you say “Whoa,” once the cork is out (or the screwtop removed), the story continues… your story. The circumstance and environment in which a bottle is opened and consumed is the final chapter. Make it a good one.
So, where does the passion for great wine come from? It comes from the next thrill around the corner, being a part of something bigger then yourself, authoring the final chapter of an epic story and from one last place… sharing all that with those around you. At least, that’s where it comes from for me…. where does it come from for you?