“There are strong parallels between Slovenia and Burgundy. This is a land of small domains run by youngish, determined winemakers who also tend their vines themselves… They are quite anarchic and individual in their use of oak and, to my mind, are making more distinctive wines than most of their neighbours in [Italy’s] Friuli.” – Jancis Robinson on Slovenian wine.
Slovenia is located in the very centre of the European wine-growing belt and is nestled between several other wine countries, such as Italy, Hungary, Croatia and Austria. Despite the fact that vines have been grown here since the Celts, it took a while for Slovenian wines to make their way to international markets. Years of socialist regime and the turmoil of Yugoslav war did not exactly help the cause. However, where there is a will, there is a way. Young, passionate Slovenian winemakers gradually paved the path for Slovenian wines to top restaurants in the US and Europe. And even though Slovenian wine remains somewhat obscure to wider public, true aficionados know: when it comes to vino, Slovenia never fails to impress. With a huge orange and natural wine movements and lots of exciting winemaking experiments going on, Slovenia has one of the most dynamic wine scenes out there. Discover outstanding Slovenian wine.
Slovenian Wine During The Roman Times
Slovenian wine traces its history back to the early Celtic and Illyrian tribes who lived on this land prior to the Romans. In fact, vine had been grown in Slovenia between 5th and 4th Centuries BC, long before the Romans even introduced winemaking to the territories of France, Spain and Germany.
That said, it was the Romans who took viticulture on this land one step further. To a large extent, it was a merit of the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius Probus. In the 3rd Century AD, he abolished the ban on viticulture outside Italy. Moreover, he provided the region of Northern Balkans, including Slovenia, with the latest winemaking equipment. And he even ordered Roman troops to plant vineyards on these lands!
From Middle Ages To First World War
By the Middle Ages, most of the region’s vineyards belonged to the monasteries, just as they did in the rest of Europe.
Another thing to note is that from the early Medieval time until the First World War, a big part of the territory of modern Slovenia was owned by German landlords. Naturally, Germany was the main, if not the only market for Slovenian wine. It is known that local farmers even used wine to pay rent to their to German landowners.
The most prosperous wine region of those times was Vipava valley. By the beginning of the 18th Century, wines from Vipava were famous in Austria, Bavaria and other Germanic regions. These wines were drunk by high society and even served at the royal courts.
Interestingly, Vipava also boasts one of the oldest documented traditions of skin-contact winemaking. In 1844, a local priest, Matija Vertovec, wrote Vinoreja za Slovence (Winemaking for Slovenians). The book talks about ‘the old Vipava method’ of keeping the white grapes on skins for a week.
That said, viticulture was equally important in other parts of Slovenia. In fact, wine was such a significant part of farmers’ income, that in 1635, the peasants of Lower Styria even burned three women as witches who allegedly sent storm and hail to the vineyards.
In the 19th Century, when Slovenia became part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire local winemaking flourished. Privately owned wineries appeared and in 1872, the School of Fruit Horticulture and Viticulture was founded in Maribor.
Slovenian Wine In Yugoslavia
Unfortunately, this rise was not meant to last. Slovenian vineyards did not escape the phylloxera epidemic, which destroyed European vines in the late 19th Century. Another hit on Slovenian winemaking happened after the First World War. This land became part of the newly formed Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (future Yugoslavia). As a result, local wine producers lost their traditional markets, Austria and Germany.
During the Yugoslav Socialist regime, wine production, along with other key industries, was nationalised. The state formed cooperatives and the farmers were forced to bring their crops to these organisations. Most of the wine produced during this time was cheap bulk.
In 1991, Slovenia became the first Yugoslav republic to declare independence. While the wine industry suffered greatly during the Yugoslav wars, this was the beginning of the revival of the Slovenian winemaking.
Modern Slovenia is an exciting place to make and to drink wine. Unlike in some other Old World countries, Slovenian winemakers are not subdued by too many traditions and regulations. Therefore, they are free to experiment and to take risks. Plus, Slovenian wine scene is not dominated by large factories. Instead, it is shaped by small family producers, of which there are thousands.
As a result, Slovenia has become home to all the latest wine trends, from Pet Nats to orange wines, from amphora- to even qvevri-made wines (some Slovenian winemakers brought qvevri all the way from Georgia).
These trends go hand in hand with a huge natural wine movement which has taken over Slovenia. More and more local winemakers not only go organic, but also follow the low-intervention path, making pure, honest wines with gorgeous fruit characteristics.
The quality of Slovenian wine is booming which is proven by prestigious international wine awards regularly received by Slovenian winemakers.
The most renowned wine-growing region of Slovenia runs along the Adriatic coast. This part of the country shares the same mineral-rich soils with the neighbouring Friuli-Venezia. Naturally, it has a strong Italian influence when it comes to culture, gastronomy and wine. The grape varieties grown here are mainly white, particularly Rebula (known as Ribolla Gialla in Italy), as well as Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris. The Istrian subregion is known for its Malvazija wine, however quite a bit of the red Refosko is grown here too. In the Vipava Valley, in addition to the established white and red wines, you can also taste indigenous wines, such as Zelen, Pinela, and Pikolit.
Located in south-eastern Slovenia, this is the smallest wine-growing region of the country and it is yet to develop the reputation of its bigger and more prominent peers. Posavska is home to mainly red wines and is primarily famous for the so called Cvicek wine. Cvicek is a traditional Slovenian low-alcohol wine made of a blend of red and white grapes, Žametna Črnina, Kraljevina, Modra Frankinja, Laški Rizling and other varieties.
Named after River Drave, this wine region is located in eastern Slovenia. Vines have been grown here since the Romans and today, roughly half of the country’s wines come from Podravska. The most densely-planted vineyard areas are located around the town of Maribor, in the valleys of the Pesnica, Drava and Mura rivers. Aromatic white varietals really shine here, well-suited to the mineral-rich soils and continental climate. The region is especially known for unique white wines made of Furmint, known here as Sipon. Other white varieties include Italian Riesling, Sauvignon, Rhein Riesling, Chardonnay and Yellow Muscat. Among red varieties: Blaufrankisch, Pinot Noir and Žametna Črnina (Black Velvet).
Most of the grape varieties grown in Slovenia made their way here from the neighbouring countries: Italy, Hungary, Croatia, Germany and Austria. There are over 50 different grapes cultivated here, out of which three quarters are white varieties.
Friulano grape is responsible for the majority of white wines of Friuli in north-eastern Italy. It is also widely grown in the neighbouring Slovenia where it is known as Jakot. The variety used to be known as Tokai Friulano, however it is not related to the Hungarian wine region of Tokaji, hence the European court banned Slovenian winemakers from using the word ‘Tokaj’. In response, the winemakers came up with ‘Jakot’, which is effectively ‘Tokaj’ backwards. Friulano, a.k.a. Jakot makes lively and fruity wines with notes of citruses, flowers and almonds, and often a touch of minerality… read more
This aromatic white grape was bred in Germany in 1929 by crossing Trollinger and Riesling. The grape was named after Justinus Kerner, a 19th-Century German poet and writer of drinking songs. Kerner is used both in blends and as solo grape, making dry wines with charming aromas of apple, pear and citruses, sometimes with a hint of stone fruit. Resembling Riesling, Kerner wines are fresh, racy and fruity, but yet milder in acidity and showing more body.
Sipon is the Slovenian name for the world-famous Hungarian grape, Furmint. Supposedly, “Sipon” is a corruption of the nickname Napoleon’s soldiers gave to this wine: “Si c’est bon” for ‘it’s so good’. In Hungary Furmint is used mainly to produce the acclaimed sweet wines, Tokaji. As for Slovenia, Furmint is the main grape of the region of Podravska and is usually vinified dry. The styles of these wines vary from steely bone dry to complex, layered, with generous fruit… read more
One of the most acclaimed and collectable white grapes in the world, Riesling grows and thrives in many countries outside its native Germany. Riesling is an aromatic grape which comes in a dazzling variety of styles, from bone dry to lusciously sweet. Some of the typical Riesling characteristics include citrus fruits, expressive notes of blossom, honey and steely notes. With age, Riesling develops intriguing notes of petrol and smoke… read more
Istrian Malvasia got its name from the largest peninsula in Croatia and is considered to be an indigenous Istrian variety. DNA tests proved that it is a distinctive grape, different to the other numerous types of Malvasia found across the Mediterranean. Today, in addition to Istria, this grape is widely spread in the neighbouring Slovenia and Italy. Istrian Malvasia wines are fresh and fruity with bright aromas of apple and apricot… read more
Rebula is the Slovenian name for the ancient Italian white grape Ribolla Gialla. Widely spread in the region of Primorska, which borders the Italian Friuli, Rebula is a rather versatile grape. It is capable of making various wine styles, from light, fruity and floral whites to deep, textural orange wines. One thing in common would be bright acidity which gives all Rebula wines a great structure.