One foot in a vineyard, the other in the sea. The Primorska wine growing region is nowadays undoubtedly the leading wine growing region in Slovenia, stretching from Goriška Brda on its western side, to the Vipava Valley, Karst and Slovenian Istria on its southern side. A combination of the Mediterranean and Alpine climates has created the region’s unique conditions for growing red and white wine grape varieties. Of all the wine growing regions in Slovenia, Primorska has preserved the highest number of indigenous wine grape varieties. In the Karst, you can find a variety of the Refošk wine grape (Peduncolo rosso) from which the famous Karst Teran wine is made, a full-bodied wine with a deep ruby colour. For centuries, Teran has been praised for its health-promoting characteristics (some legendary, some real) and was even prescribed therapeutically by medical doctors in the past.
In Slovenian Istria, another type of wine is made from the same wine grape variety – Refošk. Nevertheless, these wine grapes grow close to the sea, on different soil and in a different climate. The sun-drenched vineyards and the proximity of the Adriatic Sea are also excellent for the production of Malvasia and some other types of wines.
The Vipava Valley represents the furthest extent of the Mediterranean region and home to some exceptional indigenous wine grape varieties, such as Zelén, Pinela, Grganja and Klarnica. In Goriška Brda, the same grape variety and wine are called Rebula. In addition to the indigenous wine grape varieties, several other well-known wine grape varieties are grown, namely Beli Pinot (Pinot Blanc), Sivi Pinot (Pinot Gris), Chardonnay, Sauvignon, Sauvignonasse (also known as Tocai Friulano), Barbera, Modri Pinot (Pinot Noir), Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Shiraz. Oh, let’s not we forget: in that inn around the corner, they serve excellent fresh sea fish!
“To your right, the Vipava River valley opens at your feet, with smiling valleys that are cultivated like gardens all the way to Gorizia. Due to its noble crops and delicious wines it has oft been called the ‘Paradise of Carniola’,” Matija Vertovec (1784–1851), the priest from Podnanos, romantically wrote in 1820 about the beauty of the Vipava Valley. Both Vertovec and today’s winemakers believe this is a rare wine grape variety, which explains why the people of Vipava are so proud of it. That is why, the wine made from the Zelén grape variety is now bottled in a special, consortium protected bottle to guarantee that you have a genuine, first class Zelén wine in front of you. Moreover, scientific research has recently shown that the Zelén wine contains a high percentage of hydroxy-cinnamon acids which have anti-oxidant, therefore healing, effects on health. Connoisseurs have also noted aphrodisiac effects of the Zelén wine.
Another indigenous wine grape variety in the Vipava Valley is Pinela, whose geographical home is in Planina nad Ajdovščino, as it prefers higher positions with marl soil. Some time ago, on one of the Vipava Valley wine presentations at the Decanter World Wine Awards in London, Štokelj’s Pinela wine was praised by the legendary wine critic Steven Spurrier.
It would be more than a sin to miss out on the exquisite red and white wines from Goriška Brda, the most renowned wine growing region in Slovenia. The charismatic winemaker Aleš Kristančič keeps surprising wine lovers with his extraordinary novelties as the disgorged sparkling wine called ‘Puro’. The sediment of lees is intentionally left in the bottle, which contradicts the Traditional Champagne Method. The bottle must be stored upside down so that the lees collects in the neck, and it must be opened in a small vessel filled with water, where the yeast shoots out under pressure. His other wine surprise from recent times is Lunar, made from the Rebula (Ribolla Gialla) wine grape variety. The wine is left to ferment, age, and stabilize completely on its own without pressing the grapes. After 7 months of natural vinification, only the free-flowing wine from the unpressed grapes is bottled without filtration and allowed to refine in the bottle before it is released. It is called Lunar because Aleš does little work with the wine, imitating the natural method of vinification which occurs in nature through the stages of the moon without the touch of man. In contrast, traditional winemakers, who wish to produce richer and more mature wines, mix the mixture of grape skins and lees.
Another prestigious wine label is Opoka. In Briški dialect, ‘opoka’ means ‘marl’, so these wines are made from older grape varieties grown on specially selected positions that allow them to grow deep roots on soil enriched with salts of marl minerals. This adds a pronounced mineral aroma to the wines. The second wine, Up, has to be enjoyed slowly – such a rich, exquisite Merlot wine should not be subjected to haste.
Regarding the red wines of “the holy Brda four”, Kolos (Colosus) is the most renowned one. However, the neighbouring Karst wine growing region is also interesting and very eager to earn such a comparison. Stone is an important marker in the Karst wine growing tradition, but in a negative sense – it wants to come out, on the surface, causing a perennial lack of Karst soil terrarossa. Believe it or not, soil had to be driven in from elsewhere to build many of the karst vineyards. This tradition is centuries-old, with stubborn and diligent farmers digging up soil in sinkholes and driving it to where they wanted their vineyards to grow. In addition to the red soil terrarosa, limestone, to the extent tough vine roots are able to penetrate it, also contributes to the typical character of karst wines. These wines are full-bodied, robust, rich in extracts with a special, velvety taste and a pleasant earthy bouquet. Most of all Teran, of which the Karst people are extremely proud. In the past, the best, most exquisite Teran was hidden in the darkest corner of their stone wine cellars, and served only on special occasions, to special guests or as medicine. The aged Teran is called Teranton; in the past, this name was used by karst locals for the very best Teran. The Karst wine growing region produces some white wines, too. These are robust wines, yet palatable due to their vivacious acidity. Vitovska is perhaps the most indigenous wine grape variety, which has found its way back into the karst vineyards.
What Teran represents to the Karst, Refošk wine represents to the Slovenian Istria. Both are made from the same grape variety – the Refošk wine grape (Peduncolo rosso) – but it is known by a different name in the Karst. In Slovenian Istria, therefore, we only find Refošk. Refošk can be charming with candle-lit dinners or receptions and it can bravely compete with other wines in culinary marathons, as the journalist Drago Medved once wrote. This is how things are with this rex fuscusom, the ‘king of dark red wines’ in Latin, which gives it its name. The Slovenian Istrians are also very fond of another wine, calling it Istrian Malvasia instead of just Malvasia. This wine can be both a seductive Mediterranean miss and a charming, mature madame. All three littoral municipalities organise each spring a festival, dedicated exclusively to Malvasia.